The Baptism of our Lord – Matt 3:13-17 – January 11th, 2009
In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
If you want to understand what Christ Jesus our Lord does during His time on earth, you need simply look to His baptism. What we hear in Matthew’s Gospel, the focus of our entire worship today, the Baptism of our Lord, this sets the stage for everything that Jesus does. In every Gospel Jesus begins His public ministry, His teaching, His preaching, His miracles only after He is baptized – only after this encounter with John at the river Jordan. This lesson sets the stage for everything that Christ will do until He goes to the Cross. So let us look through the text and see what it is that we learn about who Jesus is and what He does.
Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. So, we have Jesus leaving His home of Nazareth and heading down to the Jordan in order to be Baptized. It is a simple thing, but let’s be clear – Jesus knows what He is doing. This is not like an impulse buy – Jesus wasn’t just wandering around Jerusalem and then He hears John – no, Jesus is specifically coming to John to be baptized. This marks a change. No longer is Jesus going to stay up in Nazareth, no longer will He remain a mere child, or an apprentice, or the carpenter’s son – Jesus is going to begin His work for your sake – and He does so by going to John.
John would have prevented Him, saying, “I need to be baptized by You, and do you come to me?” And this catches John off guard. John knows His Messiah when he sees Him, and John does the math in his head. Let’s see, I’m baptizing for repentance, so sinners can repent of their sins and be ready for the coming of the Messiah. Okay – and Jesus is not only without sin and therefore needs no repentance, but He’s also the Messiah we’ve been waiting for. And He’s here – why? John sees his baptism simply from the perspective of us sinful men – he sees it as something that only sinful men would find useful. But Christ will teach John otherwise.
But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. Jesus teaches, and then John understands. Jesus teaches by saying that His being baptized is “fitting to fulfill all righteousness.” And then John gets it. Baptism involves repentance, but it also goes beyond that, it centers around the idea of fulfilling all righteousness. You see, you and I as sinful human beings – we do not fulfill all righteousness. We of ourselves lack righteousness – we don’t get done everything that we ought to do – and in fact we end up doing that which we shouldn’t. We fall short. And John had seen his baptism primarily from our perspective – we confess our sinfulness and receive God’s forgiveness. Jesus now shows John what this Baptism is going to do from God’s perspective. When Jesus is baptized, this will fulfill, this will be completely and totally righteous.
You see, the Christian faith properly speaking isn’t about what we do. The focus, the thrust of Christianity can never fall upon our actions – it’s never a story where we are the hero. Rather, it’s about what God does. As proof of that, consider the Apostles’ Creed which we just confessed. That creed is all about what God does – yes, I believe, but look at what God does. He makes. He comes to earth. He is born, suffers and dies, He descends and conquers Satan, He rises again, He ascends, He shall judge. He rules His church, makes people His saints, forgives sins and resurrects bodies, He gives life everlasting. The Christian faith is a faith which looks to what God does and proclaims, “This is what God has done for me.” When Jesus goes to John to be baptized, Jesus teaches John this truth. This Baptism is really about what Jesus does – He is the One who fulfills all righteousness.
And so Jesus goes and is baptized. Know what your Lord is doing for you when He does this. That Baptism is a baptism for sinners – for people who by rights deserve punishment and separation from God. Yet Jesus steps in and does what is right. If you were to see a child playing in the street about ready to be hit by a car, the right thing to do is to push that child out of the way, even if it means you get hit. It doesn’t matter that the kid was silly and foolish for playing in the street, it doesn’t matter that his parents weren’t watching him like they should have, and it doesn’t matter that you knew much better than to be playing in the street – the right thing to do is to save the kid. This is what Christ Jesus is doing when He, the spotless Lamb of God, takes His place among the repentant sinners. When Jesus steps into the Waters, He takes steps towards the Cross – when He steps into the waters He stands before the Father and says, “Father, any punishment or wrath that these sinners have earned by their disobedience – I will take it, I will suffer it in their place – I will save them.” When Christ is baptized, He is promising to go to the Cross for you. He is taking up upon Himself the weight of your sin. When you were washed in Baptism, the guilt of your sins is washed away – but it doesn’t just vanish – it is washed onto Christ. In the river Jordan, Christ takes up your own sin and carries it with Him to the Cross.
This is why we hear, when Jesus was baptized, immediately He went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on Him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” What Jesus does is righteous – it is right and proper for God to save you – and so the Father is well pleased with what the Son does. God Almighty looks upon Jesus and says, “You have done well.” And Christ continues to do well. His earthly ministry is a tour de force of righteousness. He continually shows love to His neighbor, He cares and loves, He heals and teaches. Jesus shows love and the Father is well pleased.
But again, all of this is done for us. Let’s again ponder our own Baptism. When you were Baptized, you were washed clean, your sin was removed from you and placed upon Christ. We see this. However, Jesus doesn’t just take sin from you and then leave you standing by yourself – in exchange for your sin, Christ Jesus gives you in Baptism His own righteousness, His own Holiness, He makes you His dwelling place. When Scripture speaks of putting on Christ, putting on the Armor of God, wearing the robes of righteousness – this is all describing what God does for you at Baptism. Not only does God take away your sin, but He covers you with Christ’s righteousness – He fills you with Himself. Paul is describing what happens in Baptism when he says that God makes Christ “our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” When God looks at you now, when He beholds His Baptized child – God sees Christ Jesus – He sees a Christian, one who is in Christ. Every good, ever wonder that Christ has done – that is done for your benefit, and it is what God sees when He looks at you. Because Christ has put Himself upon you, God sees you and is well pleased with you. God doesn’t merely wash away your sins and then leave you to fend for your self – Baptism isn’t merely just making you a blank slate – rather Baptism is where God removes your sin and in place of that sin fills you with His love – it is where He molds you into whom He desires you to be. Just as a potter puts water on clay so he can mold and shape it upon his wheel – so God takes the Water of Baptism and shapes you into His righteous servant, makes you to look more and more like Christ.
Christ does everything for you so that you can be sure and confident. If He does it for you, it is done, it is finished. He takes up your sin and bears its punishment. In it’s place, He gives you His life and His salvation. All of this, all the benefits Christ wins for us, we receive these in Baptism – and all of this blessed exchange where Christ takes our sin and gives us his righteousness is established when our Lord is Baptized. When we have a Baptism here, we say a prayer which includes the line, “through the Baptism in the Jordan of Your beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, You sanctified and instituted all waters to be a blessed flood and lavish washing away of sin.” When Christ steps into the Jordan, He is ensuring that the water in this font is well prepared to be joined to His powerful Word to bring you forgiveness and life and salvation. God has joined Himself unto you through the gift of your baptism, and you receive the benefits of all that He has done, and He continues to work in you and through you because of your baptism. You are now His forgiven child, and wherever you go, you go there in the Name of the Lord, under His protection and bearing His Name. You are His new creation and all this is done for you by the very same Christ Jesus who strides into the Jordan to fulfill all righteousness, to be your very own righteous Savior. Behold Christ Jesus Your Lord in the waters of the Jordan, taking His place by Your side. Know all that He has done for you – the joy of life and salvation given at Your own Baptism. May God keep you in your baptismal grace unto life everlasting. Amen.