THE GOOD NEWS: Jesus is your baptism
The Jordan River is a fresh water source in the north to the Sea of Galilee, a lake that is 700 feet below sea level and is teeming with life. The Jordan River empties in the south into a landlocked super salty stale body of water aptly named the Dead Sea. The lowest land elevation on Earth, the Dead Sea has no life. The Jordan River is water that flows naturally from life to death.
The Gospel of Mark reports that our Lord Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River and that, when Jesus arrived, John the Baptist was baptizing in the river all who came confessing their sins. In other words, to people dead in sin, through the ministry of John they received a water of life.
What made a water that flows from life to death into a water that flows from death to life? Jesus.
“In those days Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.” (1:9)
Jesus Christ, true God begotten of the Father from eternity and also true man born of the virgin Mary, made that Jordan River a water of life. Water is water, until God gets in it.
Martin Luther captured this in the first part of the Baptism prayer he wrote:
“Almighty and eternal God, according to your strict judgment you condemned the unbelieving world through the flood, yet according to your great mercy you preserved believing Noah and his family, eight souls in all.
"You drowned hard-hearted Pharaoh and all his host in the Red Sea, yet led your people Israel through the water on dry ground, prefiguring this washing of your holy baptism.
"Through the baptism in the Jordan of your beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, you sanctified and instituted all waters to be a blessed flood, and a lavish washing away of sin.”
In other words, the Great Flood was simple water, albeit a lot of simple water, until God made it a water of life for Noah and his family and a water of death for the wicked world. The Red Sea was just water, until God made it a water of life for the children of Israel and a water of death for their enemies. The Jordan River was merely water, until God made it a water of life for his people and a water of death for his Son.
That’s right. In his baptism, Jesus Christ, the sinless Son of the living God, was baptized with the sin of sinners. “And (the people) were being baptized by (John) in the Jordan River, confessing their sins” (1:5). Therefore, that Jordan River teemed with sins confessed — idolatry, blasphemy, apostasy, rebellion, murder, hate, perversion, pornography, homosexuality, adultery, fornication, divorce, stealing, sloth, extortion, dishonesty, corruption, greed, gluttony, lying, gossip, coveting, envy, pride. Those sins and more swirled there. That Jordan River was a spiritual cesspool. And like used bath water, all the sin that washed off the repentant served to bathe Jesus in his baptism.
Jesus plunged himself into human flesh at his birth. Then he immersed himself in sinners’ sins at his baptism. All in order to die the sin substitute at his crucifixion, to pour out his own blood and drown to death in the wrath of his Father.
In this way, Jesus has made all water a water of life. Be it the Gulf of Mexico or Choctawhatchee Bay, rainwater or Destin city tap water, all water “comprehended in God’s command and connected with God’s word” is holy baptism. Such baptism “works forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare”.
No wonder St. Paul described baptism as “the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy (Spirit)”. (Titus 3)
In other words, holy baptism is no more than ordinary water until God gets in it “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." Then it becomes a water of death to the old Adam in us and a water of life for the new man in us – Jesus Christ himself.
In this way, Jesus’ baptism is the pattern, the formula of your baptism. Jesus, the word made flesh, in the water of the Jordan River, took the sins of those baptized in that water to become for them forgiveness and life even as the Word of God in the water of your baptism takes away your sins and gives you forgiveness and life in Jesus. Or, simply put, Jesus is your baptism.
In other words, where the Jordan River naturally flows from life to death, in Jesus it was made to supernaturally flow from death to life. Even so, his resurrection from the dead reverses the course of nature so that all who through faith “believe in (him) will live even though they die; and whoever lives and believes in (him) will never die.” (John 11).
Kevin Wendt is pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in Destin.