The Baptism of Jesus

What happens when the Son of God takes on flesh and becomes one of us? He is baptized by His cousin John in the Jordan river. His baptism is revelation, consecration, and preparation.

It is revelation. The Father’s voice from heaven makes the hidden thing known: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased.” This man named Jesus, this carpenter’s son, Mary’s kid who grew up in Nazareth and took over his father’s building business. “This is my beloved Son.” The only-begotten Son of God. Who would have know it?

You wouldn’t have known it. Nor would I have known it. Not by looking at Jesus, or by having Him over for dinner, or hanging with Him in the shop. There was no glowing halo hovering over His head, no unearthly “glow” emanating from Him, nothing about Him that would catch our eye as being different or not of this world. You wouldn’t have recognized Him on a crowded street corner or in a bus. You would have passed Him by in the grocery line. Nothing about Him said “This is the Son of God.” That was hidden. Buried beneath His humble humanity.

For thirty years, Jesus lived in obscurity up in Nazareth, the Bakersfield of Galilee. Here’s something to think about. He was sinless in thought, in word, in deed. He perfectly loved His Father in heaven, honored God’s Name on His lips and in His life, kept the Sabbath, obeyed His parents, did not kill, commit adultery, steal, lie, or covet. And yet, it really didn’t draw any notice. You would have thought Him to be a decent guy, and wouldn’t have given it a second thought.

And then one day, when Jesus was about thirty years old, He came down from Galilee and went to the Jordan where John was baptizing. He stepped into the water with all those people, those “sinners” who had heard John’s preaching and were there to confess their sins and be baptized into a life of repentance. He walked across the muddy river bottom and stood before His cousin John in the Jordan. The Jordan – the gateway to the promised land, the river that parted before the Israelites as the Red Sea had done, the river where Elijah was taken up to heaven, the river where Naaman the Syrian had been healed of His leprosy.

He came to be baptized by John. The Master would be baptized by His servant. John was taken aback; he tried to stop Jesus. “I need to be baptized by you,” he said to Jesus. True enough. John was a sinner; Jesus was sinless. John was a son of Adam; Jesus was the Son of God. John came to baptize in preparation for Jesus; Jesus came to fulfill John’s baptism. John was correct. He needed to be baptized by Jesus. John had said that a greater One is coming, One whose sandals John was not worthy to untie, One who would bring a baptism of fire and the Holy Spirit, One who would lay the axe of judgment against the root of sin. But before that could happen, Jesus had to be baptized by John. “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” This was the way it was going to be.

An amazing thing happened. Three things, actually. The heavens were opened to Him; the Holy Spirit descended like a dove and came to rest on Him; and the voice of the Father spoke. “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

Jesus’ baptism is His revelation to John, to Israel, to the world. This is God’s beloved Son, His beloved Servant. “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen One in whom my soul delights.” Jesus is the promised chosen One, the One on whom the Spirit rests, the One who brings justice, righteousness, to the nations. His Baptism reveals this and makes it known publicly. The Father testifies and the Spirit provides the visible sign. This Jesus of Nazareth is the messiah, the Christ, the Son of God, the Servant who comes to suffer for the sins of His people.

Our Baptism is a revelatory word too. It reveals us to be children of God, born anew from above by water and Spirit. To be baptized is to be united with Jesus in His death and life. “Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?” Jesus was baptized into our sin and death, so that we might be baptized into His death and life and righteousness. We are dead to sin; crucified with Jesus. We are alive to God in Christ. Your Baptism reveals this to you. It is God’s Word to you as sure as a voice from heaven or a dove descending. You are dead to sin, dead to self, dead to all that comes from Adam; and you are alive to God in Jesus, alive in His life, filled with His Spirit, glorified with His glory. And the certainty of that is your Baptism.

Jesus’ baptism is His consecration, His being washed and set apart for the ministry He was sent to do. You might say it was His “ordination” in a sense. For years he had worked the trade of His surrogate father Joseph. Now He is set apart for the divine service He comes to render – preaching, teaching, healing, proclaiming the kingdom of God. Here He begins His public ministry, bringing the good news, the Gospel, that He Himself incarnates. From the water of His Baptism He goes immediately to the wilderness as faithful Israel to take on the devil. Then on to Galilee and across the Jordan and to Samaria and Judea – healing the sick, raising the dead, giving sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, speech to the mute. The reign of God has come with Jesus.

Your Baptism is your consecration, too. Joined to Jesus in His death and life, hidden in Him, you are holy, consecrated as priests to God. Your Baptism is what makes you a priest in Christ’s royal priesthood – washed and clothed for service, offering your bodies as living sacrifices, interceding for your neighbor and for the world, proclaiming the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.

We tend to think of priesthood only in terms of the holy ministry, and that’s too bad. Pastors and priests are not the same thing, never mind the old Roman usage that still carries on today. Pastors preach and lead the liturgy and dispense the gifts of Christ to Christ’s people. Priests offer sacrifices, praying and blessing others. A person is born a priest in Baptism. That is your dignity before God as one who wears the robe of Christ. A person is made a pastor through call and ordination. Pastor is a vocation in this life; priest is a dignity before God that goes on forever to eternal life.

In Baptism you were consecrated, set apart, made holy in the holiness of Jesus. When we, as the baptized priesthood of Christ sin, we are acting contrary to our priesthood and denying who we are. “For one who has died has been set free from sin.” You are priests to God for the life of this world. In a sense, what we are doing here this morning – hearing the Word, receiving the Body and Blood, praying and singing praises – is not only for ourselves but for the life of the world. You are royal priests to God, baptized and holy.

Jesus’ baptism is preparation for His sacrifice. You always washed the sacrifice before it was slaughtered. There was a large basin of water in the temple courtyard for that purpose. Jesus’ baptism is His washing in preparation for His death. It sets Him on a road to Calvary. He is the suffering Servant of whom Isaiah spoke, who was pierced for our transgression, wounded for our iniquities, who bore our sins and carried our sorrows, stricken, smitten, afflicted, by whose wounds we have our eternal healing. Jesus referred to His death as a baptism that He must undergo. Without His death, heaven could not be opened to us, the Spirit would not descend upon us, the Father would not speak lovingly to us.

Your Baptism too is a preparation for your death. Not as a sacrifice for sin. You can’t do that. A sinner cannot atone for his own sin. That must be done by another, a substitute sacrifice. One who stands in the water in your place, “in order to fulfill all righteousness.” Jesus did that for you. He was baptized for you and for your salvation, to fulfill all righteousness on your behalf, so that you, baptized into Him, might become the righteousness of God. The is the great exchange that so captivated Luther by way of St. Paul. Jesus becomes our sin in His baptism; we become His righteousness in our Baptism.

Baptized, you are prepared to die. You have, in a sense, already died. You have been crucified together with Christ. Your death, the just wages for your sin, has become, through Baptism, the fulfillment of God’s promise to you. “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.” Baptism makes your death precious in the Lord’s sight. Jesus was baptized to reveal, consecrate, prepare a water for you – your Baptism. In Baptism you are washed by water and Spirit to die and rise in Jesus. To you heaven is opened. Upon you the Spirit descends. To you are spoken the words of endearment by your Father in heaven: “This is my beloved Child.” All thanks to Jesus who was baptized in the Jordan to be your Savior.

In the name of Jesus,
Amen

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