the first sunday after the epiphany
Shepherd of the Hills Ev. Lutheran Church (WELS)
The Beauty of Your Baptism
1 Samuel 16:1-13
1 The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.” 2 But Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears about it, he will kill me.” The Lord said, “Take a heifer with you and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ 3 Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what to do. You are to anoint for me the one I indicate.”
4 Samuel did what the Lord said. When he arrived at Bethlehem, the elders of the town trembled when they met him. They asked, “Do you come in peace?” 5 Samuel replied, “Yes, in peace; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord. Consecrate yourselves and come to the sacrifice with me.” Then he consecrated Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice. 6 When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord.” 7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 8 Then Jesse called Abinadab and had him pass in front of Samuel. But Samuel said, “The Lord has not chosen this one either.” 9 Jesse then had Shammah pass by, but Samuel said, “Nor has the Lord chosen this one.” 10 Jesse had seven of his sons pass before Samuel, but Samuel said to him, “The Lord has not chosen these.”
11 So he asked Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have?” “There is still the youngest,” Jesse answered. “He is tending the sheep.”
Samuel said, “Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives.” 12 So he sent for him and had him brought in. He was glowing with health and had a fine appearance and handsome features. Then the Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; this is the one.” 13 So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David. Samuel then went to Ramah. (NIV)
It wasn’t as if Samuel had no attachment to Saul. Saul undoubtedly stood out when the two first met, after Saul’s search and rescue mission for his father’s lost donkeys. Visibly, Saul had the stature of a king, being a head taller than other men, there was no one else like him (1 Samuel 9). After the people clamored for a king, the Lord had revealed to Samuel that he had chosen Saul to ascend to the throne as Israel’s first king. The oil drizzled over Saul’s head at his anointing came from a horn held in the hand of Samuel himself.
But Samuel also knew Saul’s days as king were numbered. He had firsthand knowledge of Saul’s shortcomings, how he had a tendency to consider God’s instructions merely as suggestions instead of non-negotiable commands. The Lord could not tolerate such a casual approach to his will from one of his own representatives. “The LORD was grieved that he had made Saul king over Israel” (1 Samuel 15:35), so he had chosen another to replace him. “The Lord said to Samuel, ‘How long will you mourn for Soul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king’” (v.1).
Samuel was hesitant to run out and anoint another king. He shared with God his concern: “Saul will hear about it and kill me” (v.2). Saul had made it clear he was willing to kill his own son because of a foolish oath he himself had made, so Samuel very well may have had a right to be concerned about how Saul might treat him if he anointed another king to replace him. Samuel’s reluctance may also have been partially due to a lack of confidence in how another king would do, given that the first one hadn’t panned out as well.
Which is really to say that Samuel’s lack of confidence, or his doubt, was really in the Lord God. For it was God who had revealed to him that the choice for Israel’s next king had already been made. Whether Samuel’s slowness to respond was due solely to his fear of death by the hand of Saul, or other additional concerns, it was essentially a lack of trust in God. To fail to heed God’s instruction to anoint a new king was to imitate Saul’s disobedience. When God had revealed to Samuel where he was to go to anoint Israel’s next king, he should have flashed his “Bethlehem or Bust” sign and been on his way. Instead, he doubted.
Though we are no longer ruled by kings, to whom prophets were sent with instructions to anoint with oil, we nonetheless are sent with instructions to anoint with the water of baptism. Jesus commanded it when through the Great Commission he instructed believers to go and make disciples by baptizing and teaching (Mt. 28). But at times the doubt is there, as it was for Samuel. Sometimes the doubt arises over baptism in general, as if anything is actually accomplished through something so simple as water. Many doubt that water could have any such power. Others, even those with a biblical and proper understanding of baptism, knowing that it works not because of the water, but because of the Word, doubt that baptism is really the way to go to grow a church. “Sure, it works, but if we really want to grow our churches, baptism isn’t the best way to do it. We’ve got to start thinking outside of the box and getting with the times.”
God has a way of straightening out those who doubt him. After Samuel had expressed his reservations to the Lord about baptizing another king, look how God responded. He didn’t try to explain himself further. He didn’t take the time to patiently sell Samuel on the notion that following through with his command and anointing the next king might be a good idea. No, he simply reiterated his command with more details about how to carry it out.
Then Samuel had it all figured out. He arrived at the house of Jesse, took one look at his sons, and had a pretty good idea that he knew the one he’d be anointing to serve as the next king. “Samuel saw Eliab and thought, ‘Surely the LORD’s anointed stands here before the LORD’” (v.6). After all, Samuel had done this before, remember? He knew what a king should look like; how he should carry himself. So Samuel was pretty sure he was looking at Israel’s next king. “But the LORD said to Samuel, ‘Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart’” (v.7).
People do the same thing with baptism today when they assume they know exactly who fits the criteria to be baptized. “Must be a certain age. Must be repentant. Must be committed to Jesus… well that rules out infants, the mentally challenged, and the unsanctified sinners who can’t clean up their lives, to name a few.” Then God comes along and scolds us with the reminder that there are no limitations laid out in Scripture that would exclude anyone, barring those who reject what baptism offers. He reminds us that even in baptism the Lord doesn’t look at the things man looks at; outward appearance is inconsequential.
Remember that when our Savior came into the world, it rejected him as well, based on his outward appearance. He didn’t come from royalty – what king is relegated to being born in a shack and laid down to rest in a feedbox? He didn’t dress like royalty. His followers were rough around the edges. The last thing anyone would have considered him to be after he had been battered and beaten was a king. Finally, what king dies the death of a criminal on a cross?
Yet there was no denying that Jesus was the Messiah, the Anointed One. He was chosen by God and appointed to carry out all the work necessary for our salvation. God chose to make that clear at Jesus’ baptism. The account we heard from Luke’s Gospel this morning is brief, but telling. “When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased’” (3:21,22). God knows how to make an impression. When he wants something to stand out, he simply speaks and that about does the trick. At Jesus’ baptism and again at the Transfiguration, God did just that, and in so doing asserted that in spite of what outward appearances may or may not have indicated, Jesus, God’s Son, was the Savior.
God further demonstrated this by anointing Jesus with the Holy Spirit at his baptism. It was yet another visible indicator that Jesus was the chosen One. But it was more than that. The Holy Spirit also empowered Jesus to carry out his ministry, meeting every requirement. Not only was Jesus conceived by the Holy Spirit, but he lived and breathed with the power of the Holy Spirit on him as well. His miracles were proof, as was his perfect life. The Gospels record the presence of the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ ministry repeatedly.
Though he wasn’t Samuel’s first choice, David was God’s first choice, and when he set him apart as king, he was anointed with the Holy Spirit as well. “So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the LORD came upon David in power” (v.13). Those little words “in power” remind us that the Holy Spirit is not without effect in the lives of men. How else would we explain David’s success as Israel’s finest king, if not for the Holy Spirit? What else would explain why David had such a heart for the Lord, but that the Holy Spirit guided him? Could David have penned such beautiful psalms apart from the Holy Spirit? To be sure, the Holy Spirit made a difference in David’s life.
The Holy Spirit has, and continues to make a difference in your life as well. Isn’t that why we so treasure our baptism, because that is where the Holy Spirit was just getting started in our lives? Just as at Jesus’ baptism, the voice of God was present at yours as the words of Jesus were spoken in connection with the water being applied. And in such simple, yet miraculous fashion, the Holy Spirit came upon us. The reality of our sin, which had previously condemned us and alienated us from God, was suddenly overshadowed by the reality of grace, by which the Holy Spirit applied Christ’s forgiveness to us and implanted in our hearts the faith to believe it. What a difference the Holy Spirit makes!
We were truly dead in sin, but made alive by the Holy Spirit. We were lost and wandering aimlessly without plan or purpose, but the Holy Spirit rescued us and provided direction for our lives. We were poor and penniless, but the Holy Spirit has given us riches and wealth unmatched in the world. We had no family, but the Holy Spirit has brought us into the family of saints, to be sons and daughters of our all-gracious Father in heaven.
We were living for self, but now the Holy Spirit compels us to live for our Savior, and he not only compels us, but equips us. He keeps us close to God through Word and Sacrament, by which he amplifies our faith. He gives us the gifts and ability to carry out all that he calls us to do. Indeed, those who will be installed this morning to direct and lead this congregation as we continue to seek the lost and serve the found would be ill-equipped to do so apart from the Holy Spirit. Our new members, whom we’ll be welcoming after the service with a barbecue, would not be able to contribute anything meaningful to God or to this congregation, were it not for the Holy Spirit. Surely none of us would, were it not for the Holy Spirit.
David was anointed with the Holy Spirit, as was Jesus, and as were we at our baptism. With the Holy Spirit continuing to enlighten and sanctify us, the sky is the limit, so long as we keep in mind that it – heaven – is also the goal. The reason God has poured out the Holy Spirit on us is so that he might guide us to heaven and usher us into an eternal dwelling with him. Let us throw off anything that would hinder that, and cling to the Holy Spirit, who through the blood of Christ will take us there. Amen.
“For the freer confidence is from one’s own works, and the more exclusively it is directed toward Christ alone, so much better is the Christian it makes.” (Luther)