In the past few months, we’ve been blessed with a few baptisms; there are more on the way. All of them, lately, little babies. I see you in those moments, as we pour water and speak God’s Word and sometimes they cry – you’re craning your necks, looking. We smile together then. Maybe you’re remembering your own son or daughter or godchild’s baptism – I often do that myself. Maybe you think of your own baptism at age 12 or 62. You know what I sometimes think of? Not always, but sometimes I think: Jesus himself did this thing! He himself was baptized. Sometimes I think what a wonder it is, not just that sins are washed away from this child or that adult, but that Jesus, who had no sins himself, did this thing too. He stepped into the water; John poured it over his head; the Spirit came down, God spoke. All for this: to actually do every good thing God wanted done for your salvation, Jesus was baptized. He identified in this way too with me and you. What a dear and perfect Savior we have! The Christ who did everything like this; indeed, who has done all things well and all things for us – even baptism.
Let that thought rule your hearts and minds as you hear Christ warn his disciples this morning. Because he says some serious things, some very difficult things. And chief among them is that, long after his baptism, he would be baptized again. This is Christ’s Other Baptism and it’s incredibly important. Because it shows us a Savior who is our power to navigate all the difficulties he promises on this earth.
There are two things to consider this morning as we meet Christ’s other baptism – essentially, what it means for Christ and for you. What did it mean for Jesus? Listen to what Jesus says, “I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is completed!” If it’s months and years after his baptism in the Jordan River, what is this other baptism Jesus speaks of? Mark’s gospel is helpful, I think. Do you remember when James and John asked Jesus if they might sit at his right hand and left when he would rule over all things? It was a bold question. And Jesus was likewise bold, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” (10:38) He was asking them if they truly understood what he’d told them just before. That for him to rise up as salvation king, the Messiah of the world, he would have to be rejected in Jerusalem, scorned and mocked, beaten and killed, crucified outside the city. This was his coming baptism.
Jesus was about to die as the punishment for the world’s sin. God’s floodwaters would wash over him, swallow him, drown him – divine justice against sin’s guilt. As one translation put Jesus’ question: “are you [my disciples] prepared to be drowned the way I’m going to be drowned?” And the answer is – from any one of us, his disciples – no we are not prepared for that. Because this baptism means (graciously!) that in Jesus alone sins are paid, that Jesus alone would bear the full flood of God’s wrath and drown and die so that you and I might never.
Of course, it’s much more nuanced than that God’s wrath washed over Jesus – Jesus had to get to this baptism, he’s talking about it. What did it mean for him day by day? “[H]ow distressed I am until it is completed!” he said. He means something like I feel when I preach – on a preaching weekend, the sermon’s in my head. Yesterday I mowed the lawn and it was: row to the east, circle back, row to the west – but all the while thinking, “What’s the transition from paragraph 8 to 9?” Or my wife was talking to me about dinner plans and I was thinking about reworking the conclusion… The sermon distresses me – it has me. Jesus was distressed – pressed, boxed in, concerned of this thing. Jesus spoke of it on the night before he died, “Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!” (John 12:27–33) What did this baptism mean for Jesus? Everything! Jesus did not shy away. He faced the distress of torment, crucifixion, judgment of hell, and finally death. He did not run and hide. He sought to do God’s good and gracious will – could allow himself to do nothing else – all the way to the end – until he cried at the cross, “It is finished!”
See here this morning the same kind of brilliant picture of the Savior as at his first baptism. Then he wanted to do everything that God desired to accomplish our salvation – to identify with sinners in every way – he was washed in God’s will, baptized. Now, he is distressed by the terror of the flood of God’s wrath, but he is going to see it through – to be awash in God’s judgment against our sins, baptized here too. See it. Hold this picture in your minds now: your dedicated, determined Savior…because he speaks things that mean difficulty for you. Jesus said, “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!…Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.”
What does he mean? In Scripture, fire is a picture of judgment. God will finally destroy and renew this world with fire. He speaks of hell as fiery torment. But we should be fair to God. He isn’t going to arbitrarily torch the earth and its people. He brings fire on the earth with respect to Christ’s work. In John’s gospel, Jesus said, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life. Whoever rejects the Son will not see life. Instead, the wrath of God remains on him.” (3:36) To speak in the language of Luke 12 – Christ’s other baptism – his suffering and death as payment for sins – it is the central thing: if I receive it, all my guilt is paid in Jesus’ fiery baptism; and if Jesus’ fiery baptism I reject, all my guilt is mine.
And Jesus doesn’t just put that out there. He puts it out there through you. Earlier in Luke’s gospel, John the Baptist said it, “[Jesus, the Messiah] will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” Jesus’ work is about the fire of the gospel – the good news of salvation and trust in it – kindled in the hearts of sinners all over this world. At Pentecost, Jesus took the fire of his gospel and lit up the faith of his disciples with his Spirit’s power and sent that gospel message burning like a wildfire all across the Mediterranean world – and it has burned to every corner of the earth, it seems. And this thing has happened – the Spirit lights the fire of faith in hearts so that they are at peace with God; and in other hearts they stamp the fiery flame out and call down God’s fiery judgment on themselves. And this twofold thing creates incredible divisions.
Christ’s other baptism means fire and division for us. I don’t know about you, but I hate division. I love peace. Peace is like a warm, fire in your backyard firepit – katydid & cricket-song, just cool enough for no mosquitos, and a nice beer. I want peace. And that’s why Jesus mentions the peace, you understand? Because I’m tempted by it. At expense of this fiery gospel, I’ll pursue peace – I’ll sometimes pour my beer all over its flames to put it out; I have. I don’t like situations where people have decided they don’t enjoy God’s will and how it restricts their sexuality or their financial desires or abuses their reason or that it talks about sin – and so they’ve chosen not to be Christ’s people. Because it makes stuff complicated if I like that Word they hate. And it destroys families – sets mothers against daughters, brothers against sisters, fathers against sons. And, if not for you, then forget family – it sets societal groups against others, friends against friends. You know… It causes strife in parenting your children, their sexuality and what this world tells them. Jesus make it tough with you and your neighbors who hate church because of how some person treated them long ago. His Word divides you from other Christians, some of whom believe God makes no truth claims at all. And these interactions and relationships and news stories – they put fear in your hearts and anger there. Aren’t you tempted to look at Jesus with some crazy-eyed glare when he says, “how I wish it were already kindled!” and say, “Are you crazy? C’mon, man!” Because we would like it, naturally, that everything that’s here and everything we or anybody else are by nature would be just fine with Jesus. That there’d be no fire, no burning, no dividing, no judging – just peace.
But that’s not the case…and that’s not peace. Peace isn’t a smoky fire in the dark of night. It’s the ability to stand like you belong in the blazing presence of the Triune God. Peace is atonement for human guilt before the white-hot, burning righteousness of God. That peace Jesus came to bring – that relationship, that payment – by way of fiery division. Do you ever think of that? When you know division because of sins and God’s truth – when you are crushed because a relationship seems dead because of what God says and how someone will not receive it – when you’re tempted to feel cheated by God somehow for that – do you consider that Jesus knew that too? In his life, surely – lost friends, mockery, betrayal – but those pale in compare. On the cross, when Jesus was in the darkness of suffering and torment, the Son of God looked for his Father (that’s when sons need their fathers) and he wasn’t there. Sin’s guilt separated them, God’s righteousness burned away at the horror of the Son stained with our sins, that kept them apart. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus cried.
Why this division? To posit something too simple: for you. For you Father forsook Son. For you God loved the world in this way – divided from his boy. And so that you, filled with faith, forsaking sins, repenting of the love you have for the warm fires of this world’s peace, and turning toward God’s cleansing, comforting Words… so that you would be at peace; even when he doesn’t bring peace. That’s what Christ’s other baptism means for me and you. Not just that we have fire and division – that this life be terrible – but that we are at peace in him not here. That we wish this fire would be kindled in heart after heart after heart – come what may. That we long for God’s will to be done; that we long to do it. That we love what his Word says. That we boldly say it too.
As you wrestle with so great a challenge, take comfort in the one who calls you. Jesus was baptized like this for you. He is faithful. And to him we can boldly pray: Lord Jesus, when the peace of this world threatens to make you and your kingdom anything less than my first priority, wash me in your forgiveness, set my heart aflame with love for you, and lead me on the way to life everlasting. Amen.