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The glory and splendor of baptism is hard to see sometimes. After all, baptism doesn’t keep us from suffering and struggle. We all know firsthand that it doesn’t. Instead, the magnificence of baptism is hidden behind weakness, suffering, and sacrifice. But that water and the Words of our Lord, they transform our suffering and struggle.
On the one hand, baptism is the greatest thing that could ever happen to us. In baptism, we’re joined to Jesus Christ. Our fates and our destinies are tied to him. All of us are born into sin, and the wages of sin are death. But Jesus took on our death as his own. “He who knew no sin became sin,” crying out on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” Jesus died our death. But God raised Jesus from the dead a new creation. He has sin and death behind him once and for all. And in baptism we’re joined to Jesus. And just as he was raised from the dead, so too will we follow him through death and into the resurrection.
As Paul says, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death 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. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” In baptism, Jesus gives us his victory over sin and death. He gives us a new future of life everlasting.
On the other hand, though, we don’t see that victory day in and day out. In fact, we often see the opposite. We’ve been baptized into Jesus Christ, but baptism doesn’t relieve us from suffering. Just like anyone else, we get sick and struggle to get better. Just like anyone else, we are afflicted with chronic pain that makes normal, everyday life a struggle. Just like anyone else, we miss the ones we love and are crushed by sadness and loneliness.
And baptism doesn’t relieve us from the sacrifices of the daily grind. We spend day in and day out giving everything we have to our families and our friends, and we get worn out, exhausted, and, just like anyone else, it tries our patience. We spend long hours at work, deal with people that give us a hard time, and don’t always get treated well, just like anyone else. We get older and have to care for our husband or wife who is struggling, or we have to see to the well-being of our aging parents. Our daily callings and responsibilities sometimes seem to wring the life out of us, and baptism doesn’t change that.
Baptism is the greatest thing that could ever happen to us. And yet the glory of baptism is hidden behind suffering, and struggle, and sacrifice.
But in that way, we’re not a whole lot different than Jesus. Jesus’ glory too is hidden behind weakness, suffering, and sacrifice.
On the one hand, Jesus is clearly the Son of the Almighty God who brings God’s rule and reign to earth. When Jesus took Peter, James, and John up the mountain to pray, they saw Jesus in all of his glory and majesty. His clothes became radiant—intensely white—like no one on earth could bleach them. Jesus suddenly began to shine with an other-worldly splendor of pure white.
Then Moses and Elijah appeared and were talking with Jesus. Moses is the one God used to deliver his people from slavery in Egypt. Through Moses God sent plague after plague on the Egyptians, divided the Red Sea so that Israel could walk through on dry ground, provided them water from a rock in the desert. And God promised that one day he would send a prophet like Moses, a new deliverer, who would bring the might of God to deliver his people. God also worked his power through Elijah, raising the dead, providing food in a famine, calling down fire from heaven. And God promised that before the great and glorious day of the Lord came, he would send Elijah to prepare the way. And these two, both Moses and Elijah, were known to hold council with God. They would go up the mountain to talk to God. And so here are Moses and Elijah on top of a mountain speaking to Jesus, who is shining with God’s own light.
And if that weren’t enough, a cloud suddenly overshadowed them and a voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my beloved Son, listen to him.” Clearly Jesus is the Son of the Almighty God who has come to bring God’s rule and reign to earth.
On the other hand, Jesus’ glory is hidden behind weakness, suffering, and sacrifice. All of this happens while Jesus is alone with just a few of his disciples. And as soon as it begins, its over. All that remains from this glorious moment is the man Jesus—the man Jesus who will go down the mountain and make his way to the royal city of Jerusalem, where he won’t be treated like a king. Instead, he will be arrested by the chief priests and the elders of the people. They will accuse him of blasphemy for claiming to be the Son of God, find him guilty, and hand him over to the Romans to be put to death. And the Romans will spit in his face, strike him on the head with a rod, and humiliate him, hanging him on a cross to suffocate to death under a sign that said, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.”
Yes, Jesus is the Son of the Almighty God who brings God’s rule and reign to earth. But, just like our baptisms, that glory is hard to see because its hidden behind weakness, suffering, and sacrifice. As Jesus himself says, “I came not to be served, but to serve and to give my life as a ransom for many.”
And that puts our baptisms in a different light. When we suffer—getting sick and struggling to get better, or dealing with chronic pain that won’t go away, or mourning the death of those we love—it can seem as if something is wrong. This isn’t the way life is supposed to go. If God loves me, why would he allow this to happen? Has God abandoned me? Or when we’re run down by the sacrifices of the daily grind—giving everything we have to our children or our job or the needs of our family—it can seem like we’re losing our lives, as if we’re giving it everything we have, and we can’t see how things are ever going to get better. It can seem that this isn’t living; it’s dying!
But Jesus has gone ahead of us into suffering and sacrifice and death, so that when we suffer and struggle and pour out our lives for the people around us, we’re not lost. We’re not being driven farther from God. We’re being conformed to the image of our Lord—shaped and formed to match him. What happens to us is something that’s already happened to him. We’re joining our Lord in suffering and sacrifice and even death. We’re not apart from him, we’re with him, following our Lord where he has already gone.
And that’s why baptism doesn’t keep us from suffering; instead, baptism transforms our sufferings. In baptism we are joined to the Lord Jesus Christ who has gone ahead of us into suffering and sacrifice and death on the cross. And that means our suffering and our sacrifice are not reasons to despair. Our sufferings and sacrifice are not meaningless destruction that is ruining our lives. It is our cross. It is the cross we bear as we are conformed to the image of our Lord. And we can be sure that just as Jesus’ crucifixion gave way to the resurrection, so too will we follow our Lord through suffering and sacrifice and death into the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.
Our baptisms don’t keep us from suffering and sacrifice. Our baptisms join us to Jesus, so that even in suffering and sacrifice, we can be sure that we have a Lord who will see us through it and into the glory of the resurrection.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.
2 And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3 and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. 4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus. 5 And Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” 6 For he did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7 And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” 8 And suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only.
9 And as they were coming down the mountain, he charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.