Baptism of Jesus – January 13th, 2008 – Matt 3:13-18
In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
There in the river Jordan stands John the Baptist, a preacher of repentance, a preacher who is bold and brash, and let’s face it, if we heard him preach, even we would be taken aback by the bluntness of his preaching. “You brood of vipers,” he preaches just a few verses before our text, “Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come.” These are his words to the self-righteous, holier-than-thou folks of his day – one can only wonder how he would preach stern law to us today. But this is what you see, John in the water, preaching to the people on the banks, with all his force and vigor. Then – Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented Him, saying, “I need to be baptized by You, and do you come to me?” John, the bold preacher, is taken aback, you can almost hear him stammering these words in wonder and confusion. I need to be baptized by You, and yet here you are coming to me?
John’s confusion can mirror our own. Why would Jesus need to be Baptized? We can understand our need to be Baptized, our need to have our sin washed away – but Jesus has no sin. But if you wish to understand the Baptism of Jesus, you need only listen to what our Lord says. But Jesus answered him, “Let us do so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” This is about righteousness. You and I, we have no righteousness. There is not one of us who is righteous, no, not one. Since the fall of Adam all of his descendents have been tainted and bound and wrapped up in sin – sinful the lot. We are all in need of forgiveness, of the purging of our sin. And then to the Jordan river walks Christ Jesus our Lord. He is no mere man, but He is True God and True Man. He did not get Adam’s heritage of sin, for He was conceived of the Holy Ghost. He is righteous, He is Holy, He is perfect. And yet, what does He do? He strides down to that water in which sinners were washed, and He says, “I will take my place here.” Do you see, do you understand what Christ is doing when He goes to be Baptized? He takes up your struggle. He takes up your sin. Whereas you are not righteous – God takes on Human Flesh and says, “I will be righteous for you.” Jesus seeks to be righteous – He steps into harm’s way as it were, so that He can be our savior from sin. Luther, in his baptismal prayer says that “Through the Baptism in the Jordan of Your beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, You [that is, God] sanctified and instituted all waters to be a blessed flood and a lavish washing away of sin.” That is what Jesus is doing. I want my people to be righteous and holy – so I will be among them, I will take up their sin and give them instead my righteousness. And He is baptized by John.
And we know what happens next. The Holy Spirit in form of a dove descends, the voice from heaven says, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” This morning, for a few minutes now, let us ponder these words of God from heaven. It is quite rare where God speaks forth from heaven, where the skies echo with the sound of His voice, so we ought to take note of it. First, hear what He says – This is My beloved Son. The reason we celebrate the Baptism of our Lord in the Epiphany season is that Epiphany is the season where we look at the ways in which Christ reveals that He is true God. It doesn’t quite get more blunt than this, now does it. When God speaks and says, “Look, this is My Son” – that’s a pretty sure and solid revelation. And note when God does say this. He doesn’t boom forth like a proud papa the day of Christ’s birth – He lets the angels sing that one, He lets the star point out that one. When Jesus as a Child confounds the scholars in the temple, God doesn’t let forth from heaven a thunderous “Attaboy, Son.” No – it is when Christ steps into the Waters of the Jordan, when Jesus begins His public Ministry, when He starts His work of redemption in earnest, that is when the Father says, behold My Son. We know who Jesus is by what He does. If you want to see and understand God – you look to Christ. Jesus is the revelation of the God – when Jesus comes and preaches and heals, we can understand God and His love for us by looking at Him. Indeed, that is part of the reason why we hear the Gospels, why we have sermons, so we can understand God’s love for us through what Christ does. God spells that out for us here.
There is a second part to what the Father says here – with Whom I am well pleased. Jesus does what is right. It had been a while since God had been well pleased when He saw things on the earth. During creation – He looked and it was good. Fantastic. Then, the fall – then Adam, what in the world are you doing? And after that, all throughout the Old Testament – even the heroes of the faith doing the stupid and sinful, boneheaded folly. Everyone sins. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, the prophets, they all drop the ball. And then comes Christ Jesus – with Him the Father is well pleased. Christ is perfect – He is the perfect Lamb of God without spot or blemish – and suddenly, Man, the Man Jesus, does all that God desires. There is a perfect Man, a Man who is righteous – and God is pleased with Man again. God says, “It is good”; God says, “Well Done.”
Now dear friends – let us ponder how this applies to you, how this event ties into your life – for this is not just some dull story of ages past, but what Christ did in the Jordan impacts your life and describes who you are right now. Consider your own Baptism for a moment. Water and God’s Word applied to you – washed in the Name of the Triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. That’s your identity. That’s how you approach God – not just as some person, but as one who is Baptized. How do we start our service – In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +. We approach God here in His house as the Baptized. That’s why the hymnal has that little red cross there – go ahead and make the sign of the cross if you wish – for it was the sign given to you at your Baptism and is nothing to be ashamed of – receive the sign of the holy cross upon your forehead and upon your heart to mark you as one redeemed by Christ the crucified. This is how we approach God – not just as the sinners we are by nature – but as those Redeemed by Him.
In fact, dear friends, ponder this. Do you wish to know the effect of your Baptism? What it gives to you? When Christ is Baptized – the Father says This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased. This applies to you. This is my beloved Son – hear Paul from Galatians – For in Christ you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. You are now a child of God. Whereas in the garden Adam and Eve ran away from God – said, “We’d rather be part of Satan’s family” – in Baptism you were restored to God. You are right to call God your Father for He has adopted you in the waters of Baptism, you are His child now. That is the effect of your Baptism. When the Father looks at you – He now says, “I am well pleased” – on the last day He shall say unto you, “Well done, good and faithful servant” – not because you are perfect now – you know better than that, you don’t have to think hard to find places where you have sinned recently – but because in Baptism you are united to Christ – you have put on Christ. When God looks at you – He no longer sees your sin, He sees Christ Jesus and His righteousness, for you have put on Christ in Baptism.
Think of it this way. I do not have a washboard stomach. Kind of flabby. Not the ideal or perfect stomach. Yet when you look at me, you aren’t seeing my gut – for I am wearing clothing. In fact, we can even say to each other – “You look nice today”. What we referring to – our clothing. We are covered, our imperfections hidden, and we look nice. The worst body in the world can look nice when properly attired. The worst sinner in the World is holy and righteous in God’s sight, is pleasing in God’s sight, when he is clothed with Christ’s righteousness, when he wears the robes of salvation that have been washed in the blood of the Lamb. This is why Paul once again in today’s Epistle lesson reiterates Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord. Your salvation, not about what you do. Heaven, not about all the good that you’ve done –cause you can’t earn it. Consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. And yet, what does God give to you in your Baptism, where He indeed called you by the Gospel? You may not have been wise, but now you are washed in the Wisdom of God and know Him. You may not have been powerful, indeed, you may quite frail, but now you have the Power of God dwelling within you. You may not have belonged to any noble human family – but now you are a child of God – and there is nothing more noble than that.
This is the gift of your baptism – this is what you receive from it – this is who you are. And when we behold Christ Jesus step into the waters of the river Jordan, when we see Him enter those waters to fulfill all righteousness – know dear friends that it is for you that He does this. You see and understand that Jesus is indeed True God, because you see Him working for you and for your benefit – you see Him doing what is needed to win you forgiveness and give you His righteousness – to see that you are made His brother, His fellow heir of all that is God’s. Christ steps into the waters of Baptism to take His place at your side, so that He may take you with Him through the days of your life and on into eternity, having life in His Name – the very Name He gives you as your own in Baptism. Amen.