In the name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
In a new movie, a teenage girl finds an old, beat up, yellow Volkswagen Beetle in a scrapyard. She decides that she wants the car, so she asks the scrapyard owner if it’s for sale. He’s a friend, and he knows she’s had a tough time with her father’s death, so he gives it to her for her 18th birthday. Once at home, the old Beetle at first looks like it’s falling apart, as a piece seems to drop from the underside; but as the girl inspects, the old car begins its transformation into a robot! Anyone familiar with the Transformers would recognize this particular car/robot as Bumblebee, one of the Autobots, the good robots who fight the evil Decepticons. They appear as toys, in animated series, comic books, and a blockbuster movie franchise by Paramount. Many kids, and older fans, too, have imagined, “It would be so cool if our car, that truck, and that plane, were really ‘Robots In Disguise’!” Their ability to change from a vehicle, device, or animal into a robot and back is why the Transformers are also said to be “More Than Meets the Eye.”
As cool as the Transformers might be, they are fictional characters. Yet there are real things in this world that are also often overlooked as plain, ordinary, and nothing special, but which truly are “more than meets the eye.” These are the things of God, His Means of Grace, the means through which He speaks to us, the means through which He gives us His grace, mercy, forgiveness of sins, and countless other gifts, the means through which He makes Himself present to us and for us.
Picture the scene in today’s Holy Gospel. Crowds are coming to John to repent of their sins and be baptized by him in the Jordan River. The Jordan wasn’t considerd a great river. Remember when Naaman the Syrian was sent to Elijah to be healed of his leprosy, Elijah told him to dip himself in the Jordan, and Naaman disdained the Jordan. “The rivers of Damascus are better than this!” Now John is dressed in camel’s hair and a leather belt, just like Elijah. Hmmm, the people wonder, could this be the Promised One, the Christ? He is certainly a prophet sent from God! True, John is a prophet, the messenger whom the Lord would send to prepare His way, as foretold through the Prophet Malachi (3:1). And he has gone forth “in the spirit and power of Elijah” (Lk 1:17), as foretold to his father Zechariah. Yet John is not the Lord, the Christ. John is the unworthy servant; the Coming One is the all-worthy Lord. John is the best man; the Christ is the bridegroom. John says, “I baptize you with water … He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Lk 3:16). John says, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (Jn 3:30). In among all those coming to be baptized by John is the Christ. Jesus walks down to the water with them, brushing shoulders with the jostling crowd. “Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized,” Luke says. His account of Jesus’ baptism seems rather tame compared to Matthew and Mark. Matthew tells us that John protested, “I should be baptized by You, and You come to me?” (Mt 3:14). Mark says that afterward the Holy Spirit “cast Jesus out into the wilderness” (Mk 1:12), in language like Jesus’ casting out of unclean spirits. Even John the Evangelist, while he doesn’t record Jesus’ baptism, does record the Baptist’s words about Jesus: “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29). In Luke, Jesus seems relegated to being just one of the people, an ordinary face in the crowd.
This is actually good news for us that, to all outward appearances, Jesus is so “ordinary” and just one of the people. For Jesus came to be baptized as one of us. At His circumcision, Jesus already shed His blood on our behalf. At His baptism in the Jordan, Jesus is already taking upon Himself the sin of the world on our behalf. To ordinary human sight, He’s just another Jewish male being baptized, like many others. To faith, in Truth, He is “more than meets the eye.” He is the Sinless Son of God being marked, again, as the One who has come to die to win forgiveness of sins for all mankind. The Voice, the Father, declares, “You are My beloved Son; with You I am well-pleased.” The Dove, the Holy Spirit, descends on Jesus to point to Him as the Anointed One, the Messiah, the Christ. Was this theophany, this manifestation of the Holy Trinity, a big event noticed by many, or was it quiet, with only Jesus and perhaps a few others seeing and hearing?
What goes on in Holy Baptism here is likewise “more than meets the eye.” Look at what the Apostle Paul says about it in our text for today. “How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?” There are those who say that Baptism is nothing more than a human rite, a ritual that may symbolize something, but it doesn’t actually do anything. Paul says that our baptism into Christ baptized us into His death. All this language of sin and life and death sure sounds like Paul is saying that Baptism does something. “We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death.” Death and burial are taking place in Baptism? Once again, the Apostle is saying that Baptism is more than mere washing with water. Baptism is more than meets the eye. In Baptism we were dead and buried in Christ “in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” Paul says that in Baptism we are dead and buried and raised with Christ to “walk in newness of life.” We shall be united with Him in the likeness of His resurrection on the Last Day. But that newness of life doesn’t have to wait; we have it right now, as Paul says to the Ephesians, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we might walk in them” (2:10). The newness of life in which we walk as baptized children of God and new creations in Christ is walking in His way, doing good works like He did, empowered by the Holy Spirit, showing forth the truth that we are His beloved adopted sons with whom He is also well pleased. We don’t do the good works in order to gain His approval or His love; we do them because He loves us, and as He has shown His love so generously and kindly to us that we want to show our Father’s goodness, showing our resemblance to Him, by showing His love to others. Luther says, “Baptism is a very different thing for all other water… God Himself stakes His honor, His power, and His might on it” (Large Catechism). God puts His good name on it.
So far, Paul says that Holy Baptism is being dead, buried, and raised with Christ. He continues, “We know that our old self was crucified with Him in order that they body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.” When Paul says the old self, the old Adam, the fallen sinful flesh opposed to the Holy Spirit, was “crucified with” Christ, he uses an ‘intensified’ verb, the “with” being a prefix, making it say that our old Adam was “concrucified with” Christ. During last year’s midweek Lenten Vespers, we sang a hymn which I had mostly written, with some “help” from Isaac Watts, “O Man, Behold, God’s Blood Is Shed.” Stanza 2 says, “Washed in His wounds, concrucified, Joined to His bloody sweat and strife, Buried with Him, to sin I’ve died, To rise and walk in His new life.” I know that some folks wondered about that word, because they’d never seen it before. I said that I had made it up; but, I didn’t really make it up. I only translated the Apostle Paul’s own word in our text. In Baptism you are on the cross alongside Jesus, the penitent thief to whom He says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” In Holy Baptism we are washed in the wounds of our God and Savior. From the marks of the whip, the nails, and the thorns flowed His holy, innocent, precious blood, the blood of the Lamb. From His spear-pierced side flowed the blood and the water. In the water and the Word, we are washed in His blood, and we are clothed with the robe of His righteousness that covers all our sin. In Holy Baptism, we are joined to Jesus in His agony in the Garden of Gethsemane; we are joined to His bloody sweat as He prayed, “Father, if it be Thy will, let this cup [of suffering] pass from Me. Yet not My will, but Thine be done.” In Holy Baptism God joins us to the suffering, crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection of His beloved, well-pleasing, holy Son, Jesus Christ. As He in His body suffered, was crucified, dead, buried, and raised, so by the Spirit our old self is crucified, dead, and buried, and a new creation in Christ, a new you, is raised. That is why Paul later says in Romans, “Therefore … present your bodies as a sacrifice, living, holy, well-pleasing to God, which is your logical worship” (Rom 12:1). It is the logical outcome of Your baptism, Your redemption. For you are redeemed, purchased, from your slavery to sin, set free, purchased not with silver or gold or any such thing, but with the precious blood of Christ. In His death on the cross, Jesus submitted to death’s authority over us. The Greek for “have dominion” is the verb form of kyrios, lord. Death no longer lords over Jesus, and because you are baptized into Him, death no longer lords over you. Death is the enemy, but it is a conquered enemy, overcome by Christ, and it must do as He commands and give you up.
As long as we’re in this life, in this body, this flesh, we know that we continue to sin. Does that fact that you still sin bother you? Good! Mine bothers me, too. If it doesn’t, then know that you’re in peril, because your heart is not pure, but rather is hardening. Hear the Law of the Lord and be convicted of your sin, and repent of it, confess it, and ask your pastor to speak God’s Holy Absolution to you. Sin still mars us, and death still grieves us. The sin and death and suffering that still trouble us can lead us to doubt that we are truly new creatures in Christ, adopted children of the heavenly Father, and that His Holy Spirit dwells in us. You might doubt God’s love for you. Turn again to your Baptism, and what He has done for you and given you in His work there! It’s not your good work, or the pastor’s work; it is God’s good work for you, to bring to you all that Christ has done and won for you on the cross. Someone may tell you, “Baptism doesn’t save you.” I heard that once on the radio, years ago in Michigan. I said right away, “Well, I think the Apostle Peter would beg to differ!” For he says, “Baptism, which is the antitype to [the Great Flood], now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as a covenant of a good conscience in relation to God, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Pe 3:21). Baptism is the Greater Flood, which both kills and makes alive! In Baptism you pass through the Red Sea of Jesus’ blood, not to be residents in an earthly land, but to be citizens of the heavenly city. This day we have had a baptism here. To the eye it looks like not much. It is “more than meets the eye,” because it is the grace of God, plain water in and with the almighty Word of God, making it a lavish washing of grace and renewal, life and forgiveness, “a divine, heavenly, holy, and blessed water,” as Luther says. The Triune God puts His name in Baptism. In Baptism, the Triune God puts His name and His claim on you. In Christ, you are “more than meets the eye”; you are being transformed into His likeness by the Holy Spirit. In coming years, Philip Richard Gibson will be able to say, “I was baptized on January 13, 2019.” That’s a fact, but here’s the Truth: He is baptized. You are baptized. This is the ongoing, living, ever-present, eternal reality for you. It is not that you were forgiven for all your sins, but that you are forgiven for all your sins in the name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit.
And the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in ✠ Christ Jesus. Amen.