Sunday, January 16, 2011

Baptism of our Lord, Transferred

As we observed Epiphany Last Sunday, we are observing the Baptism of our Lord this Sunday.

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the world +
One week after Epiphany, traditionally the church has observed the Baptism of our Lord with the texts we have heard this morning. This is quite fitting. In every single Gospel, Jesus begins His preaching, His teaching after His Baptism. And there is a point to this – because it is here, at His Baptism, where Christ Jesus in earnest begins the work that He was sent by His Father to do – the work of winning your salvation. This is the point where it all begins. So then, without further ado, let us examine our Gospel text.

“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?’” So here we see Jesus come to John to be Baptized, and John is out where he normally is, the Jordan river, off at the edge of the wilderness. Yet, when Jesus comes to John to be baptized, John is confused. I suppose it is an understandable confusion, as John was baptizing sinners – and Jesus is no sinner. Indeed, Jesus has no sin of His own, Jesus is the promised Messiah, True God and True Man, and John even admits that he himself is poor and lowly and needs to repent himself. So far, so pious. But John goes a bit beyond just confusion. John would have “prevented Him.” John would have stopped Jesus from doing what Jesus wanted to do. Now, think on that for a moment – Jesus, whom John acknowledges as the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, comes up to John and says, “I’m here to be baptized,” and John says, “Now, just wait here one minute. That’s not how you’re supposed to do it.” It is a bit arrogant, isn’t it – to tell Jesus that He must be mistaken, simply because John doesn’t understand.

Yet, how often do we read God’s Word, see what our Lord says or instructs us, and then are tempted to think, “Oh, surely Jesus didn’t mean that”? That’s the heart of every false doctrine you can think of – it comes where someone sees what our Lord declares in His Word about who He is and the forgiveness He brings and then says, “Oh, that can’t be it - surely there is something else going on here.” It makes sense, because the very essence of sin is to doubt God’s Word – in the Garden, the temptation is “Did God really say”. And when it boils to it, every sin, including yours and mine, is an attempt to prevent God from doing what He wills through you, is trying to get in His way. God tells me that I should love my neighbor; indeed I have been created to love my neighbor, placed into this world so to care for him – yet what happens? I get angry, upset, annoyed – and suddenly, no, I don’t want to show *him* love. Surely that whole “love your neighbor thing” doesn’t apply to someone like *him*. Our sinful flesh wants to ignore God, to contradict God, to correct God. Surely You didn’t mean what You said about sin, about love. Sadly, some say this about God’s forgiveness, or even as we see John in the text, surely, Jesus, You don’t mean to be baptized here this day.

Yet Jesus corrects John with words of wonder and beauty. “But Jesus answered Him, ‘Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.’” This is a big, big thing that Jesus says. Actually, if you wanted to you could probably call this the Gospel in the nutshell – because this is what we proclaim week in and week out – that Jesus Christ is our righteousness, and that He has fulfilled it all. Since the fall, righteousness has been a bit of a sticky wicket for us folk, because we do not have it. There is not one of us who is righteous – that is, who does what he or she ought to do. There isn’t a one of us who is perfect, who shows the love that we ought. Instead, we are sinners, and even us here, we Christians who know better, we still keep on sinning. Our old Adam, our sinful nature keeps on popping out, and we do not do what we ought. What does this mean? It means that we, of ourselves leave righteousness unfulfilled. We are not righteous, we don’t do what God in His law demands – in fact, we seem to have made a hobby of sinning and breaking God’s Law.

John knows this – that is why he had been preaching repentance and baptizing for repentance. To repent is to admit and confess that you are not righteous, that you in and of yourself aren’t all that great. Indeed, it is to say that you are a sinner. And not a little sinner, not a “but at least I’m not as bad as *he* is” sinner – but a poor, miserable sinner, who can do nothing to make yourself righteous. That is what those people being baptized by John were saying – that they were poor miserable sinners, that they were stuck in a pit and unable to get out of it, that their only hope was to receive salvation from the Lord.
And suddenly, in the midst of those sinners strides Christ Jesus our Lord, and He walks right on up with them, and He comes to John to be baptized. Why? Not because Jesus is a sinner, but because they are, because you and I are sinners. He comes to fulfill all righteousness. You and I – we’re not righteous. We aren’t filling anything. But then you have Jesus – and who is Jesus? He is true God and true Man. He is Man, perfect, without sin. He is Man who is righteous. But more that than – He is the righteous Man sent by God in order to fulfill all righteousness. All – Jesus comes to fulfill all righteousness – He comes to fulfill your righteousness. Where as you had a lack, Jesus comes to be with you, to not only take away your sin, but to give you His own righteousness. This is what Paul is referring to when he says in our Epistle that Jesus is our righteousness. When He is baptized, Jesus takes His place at your side and He says to you, “I will cover your sin, take it away, and in its place I will give you My righteousness, so that you are accounted righteous because of Me.”

Let me give an example. Let us say that you are on a basketball team, playing for the state championship. And let’s say you are utterly lousy – you turn the ball over 20 times, you miss every shot you take, you don’t get any rebounds or steals or blocks. Indeed, you are so bad that every moment you are on the floor it hurts your team. Yet, what if one of your teammates is brilliant, makes every shot he takes, rebounds, steals the ball from the other team, blocks their shots, dominates the game completely, and your team wins – what are you? What do they call you? They call you State Champion. You’re a State Champion, not because of how awesome you are, but because your teammate’s greatness is applied, is given, is shared with you.

When Christ Jesus is baptized, He says that He is One of us – that He will be on our side, and that even though we lack righteousness, even though we are horrible sinners, He will take up the burden of our sin, and He will give us His own righteousness and holiness. And everything you see Jesus doing in the Gospels after His baptism is simply Jesus fulfilling our righteousness. While we don’t show love – He shows love perfectly for us. While we don’t always like the Word of God – He does nothing but preach it, calling us to repentance and instructing us in truth. While we deserve to die for our sin, He goes to the cross in our place, dying so that we might have life everlasting in Him. Because Jesus takes up your sin and gives you His righteousness, you are called, you are declared righteous – you are Justified. That’s what that word Justification means – it means that on account of Christ Jesus, you are forgiven and declared righteous.

And this is why Baptism is so important. When Jesus was Baptized, He took His place with mankind, said that He would be with the sinners in order to fulfill righteousness for them, in order to justify them. When you were baptized, when God poured water and His Word, His Spirit upon you, you were joined to Christ, Jesus brought you to His side by your baptism, and through your Baptism He declared that all of His righteousness, everything that He does, is yours. Everything that Jesus does, He has done for you, and you know this, because you are baptized, because He has joined Himself to you. You are justified by Christ. And all this gets its start, all of this is shown and revealed to us when Jesus is baptized by John in the Jordan to fulfill all righteousness.

So, did it work? Did Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan do what He said it would, does your Baptism now save you, as Peter teaches in his Epistle? I ask only because there are those who deny that Baptism really does anything, who say that it’s just a symbol, that it doesn’t really accomplish anything. “And 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.’” Well, let’s see – does the Baptism of Jesus accomplish anything? Well, the heavens open, and the Holy Spirit comes, and the Father says that He is well pleased. Well, I’d certainly say that when Jesus is baptized a lot happens. It’s not just a symbol, symbols don’t cause the heavens to open or the Spirit to come or the Father to declare His pleasure. Jesus’ baptism accomplished what He said it would, it fulfilled all righteousness.

This is why you know that your baptism accomplished something in you. When you were baptized, heaven was opened unto you, for you were no longer just a sinner, but you were a forgiven, justified sinner. You were no longer a stranger to God, in rebellion against Him, but the Holy Spirit came to rest upon you in your Baptism, indeed, where you can now say that you body is a Temple of the Holy Spirit. And God the Father, now, when He sees you, He too sees you as His own Baptized Child, and because Christ Jesus has given you His righteousness – the Father is well pleased with you, you are the beloved child of the Father. It is all done by Christ Jesus for you, and it is given to you in His gift of Baptism.

Does this gift of Baptism mean we are perfect now? No – we are still sinners, we are still in these fallen bodies. This is why we look forward to the resurrection, to the life of the world to come when we will be perfect. But until then, even now, we have life and salvation, we have our righteousness fulfilled in Christ. This was given to us at our baptism, it is given again whenever the Word of God is proclaimed, whenever we receive the Supper. It is always about Christ Jesus, who shows Himself to be our Savior, our Redeemer – the One who fulfills all righteousness for us, all praise and glory be to Christ Jesus our Lord. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +

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