Summary: God’s grace makes baptism valid.
“Eleven seconds, you got ten seconds, the countdown going on right now. Five seconds left in the game! Do you believe in miracles? Yes!” exclaimed ABC-TV sports commentator, Al Michaels. And then the patriotic celebration ensued as the 1980 U.S. hockey team staged the biggest upset in Olympic history beating the heavily favored Soviets. On February 22, 1980, over 1,100 athletes from 37 countries participated in the Winter Games, but the only ones most people will ever remember are a bunch of college kids (average age 22) who beat the unbeatable Russians.
The U.S. hockey team was the decided underdog. And yet, an unlikely miracle occurred, as the U.S. upset the Soviets in the final round, 4-3. That was one of the most unlikely events in sports history. This morning we are reminded how the unlikely still happens quite regularly. The improbable takes place every time we witness a baptism. Now a baptism may not pack the same human drama or emotion as a great sports upset, yet, it is none-the-less it is a mind-boggling event. This miracle of God shows us his love and mercy. So today as we celebrate the baptism of our Lord, we can quote a phrase from Al Michaels, “Do you believe in miracles? Yes!” We are able to rejoice in the unlikely truth that God reveals to us in baptism. And St. Paul encourages us to rejoice: Rejoice in the Unlikely Miracle of Baptism. By that miracle, 1) we are made alive by God’s Spirit and 2) we are gaining life by God’s Son.
1) We Are Made Alive By God’s Spirit
In his letter to Titus, Paul was instructing this young pastor about the work that needed to be done on the island of Crete. Paul reminded Titus that he needed to teach his congregation sound doctrine, and to encourage them to do what is good. To provide encouragement for God’s people Paul reminded the Christians of Titus’ congregation of how they once were. The Christians of Crete were once disobedient, foolish, and enslaved by their desire for pleasure. At one time it was unlikely, implausible, improbable that they’d ever be one with God. They were steeped in sin, without Christ and God’s love. In other words they needed saving. They needed to restore their relationship with God.
This is a need all people have. And yet it seemed so unlikely that this most important need would be met. After all, we humans ruined it for ourselves. You will recall that God created Adam and Eve in his image; an image of righteousness and holiness. But sin changed that image and our fellowship with God. Because of sin mankind was separated from our Father in heaven. This original sin was then passed down through each generation after Adam and Eve. Everyone born was born sinful and separated from God with no interest in serving him. The psalmist tells us, "Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me." We, too, were separated from God at birth. Born spiritually dead and heading straight for hell. This is a truth that affects us all.
One day, a little girl was sitting and watching her mother do the dishes at the kitchen sink. She suddenly notices that her mother has several strands of white hair sticking out in contrast on her brunette head. "Why are some of your hairs white, Mom?" she asks. Her mother replies, "Well, every time you do something wrong and make me cry or unhappy, one of my hairs turns white." The little girl thinks about this awhile, then asks, "So how come ALL of Grandma’s hair is white?"
The painful truth is we are not perfect. We are sinful. We sin against God and each other and it shows. We have not kept one commandment perfectly. Our love for God is not always as wholehearted as it should be, and it shows itself when our minds drift in prayer. We do not always gladly and willing come to church and when we do we doze off or daydream. We’re not willing to share our time, talents and treasures with God. Too often we gossip against each other. We complain about each other. Even the good things we do are not perfect. No matter how well we think we can curry favor with God, we always fail and fall short of his holy requirements.
It appeared so unlikely that we would ever know peace with God. It seems so unlikely to us, but he put his plan into action. Paul tells us: “when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.”
When the kindness and love of God appeared, he saved us through Holy Baptism. Paul tells us how God restores our relationship, he writes: “He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” Through the miracle of Holy Baptism, the Holy Spirit does the unthinkable. He enters dead hearts, these unclean temples, and he performs this most improbable miracle – he washes and renews. In our baptism the Holy Spirit comes to us and creates saving faith in our hearts. We are reborn into a new relationship with God.