Matthew 03:13-17 / Epiphany 1A / 09 January 2011 / Holy Trinity – Hacienda Heights, CA
Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. Matthew 3:13
For the past two Sundays following Christmas, we have been rejoicing in Jesus’ obscurity, how the Word made Flesh dwells among us in a hidden way, unnoticed by the world. The infant in the manger. The toddler with His mother. The twelve year old boy in the temple. The carpenter of Nazareth. He is God in the Flesh and yet that fact is apparent to no one. You would not have known it had you seen Him as a baby. You would not have known it had you walked into His wood shop.
The first unique thing about Jesus happens at His baptism in the Jordan. Before He does a miracle, before He preaches His first sermon, before He does anything to remotely suggest who He is, He is baptized. And in His baptism, the Father and the Spirit bear witness and testify that this Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.
Jesus came to be baptized by John. This should cause us to stop and think for a moment. What was John’s baptism all about? It was a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. It was a washing to prepare for the coming of the Christ. John was calling all Israel to repentance, to turn from sin and prepare for the coming of the Lord in judgment. For whom was John’s baptism intended? Sinners. And that’s who came. Sinners of all sorts. They came to be baptized by John. It was a new start, a new life, a fresh beginning. In baptism their past was washed away, their sin was forgiven, their lives were cleansed. They were ready to meet the Lord.
Here comes Jesus, not with axe and winnowing fork in hand, as John had warned, but with a cross. Jesus comes to be baptized! He is the Lord, God in the Flesh, and He comes to be baptized. He comes to have the cross laid on Him,”to fulfill all righteousness.” The Sinless One is baptized like a sinner. The One who needs no repentance comes as the penitent. The Son of God in the Flesh, Immanuel, God with us, submits to a baptism of repentance.
How do you react when you hear the word “Repent”? What goes through your mind? What if I were to stand here and say to you, “Repent, you sinners and flee from God’s wrath!” Our first reaction is typically, “Repent of what? What did I do?” Or we begin to flash our religious cards. “Hey, I’m a Christian. I’m a believer. I go to church every Sunday. I pray.” Or we deflect the attention to others. “It’s those sinners out there in the world. They need to repent. Don’t talk to me about repentance.”
Jesus had no sin. He was without original sin. He did not have Adam’s sin. He had nothing from which to repent. And yet He willingly and intentionally steps into a sinner’s baptism. He stands in solidarity with sinners in the water of the Jordan.
It’s one of the most dramatic moments in the Gospel. It’s really the beginning of the Gospel. The birth and childhood stuff leads up to this. Imagine it. Picture it in your mind. Jesus standing before his cousin John who has been preaching repentance and baptizing all sorts of disgusting sinners and telling off the religious types, calling them a bunch of snakes. He’s been warning of the wrath that was coming. And then comes the moment when Jesus stands in front of Him and indicates that He wishes to be baptized. I would have loved to have seen the look on John’s face. We have his words: “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”
John is right. The sinner needs to be baptized by the Sinless One. The lesser needs to be baptized by the Greater. That’s who it should be, and that’s how it is in our Baptism. But not here. Jesus explains, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” This is the plan John. Let go of any notions you have. This is how it’s going to go down. Jesus gets baptized like a sinner. And John must simply trust, take Jesus at His word, that this is the way it goes. Jesus offers John no explanations. This baptism, as all baptism, demands faith, trust in the Word of Jesus.
You might think of Jesus’ baptism as Baptism thrown into reverse or perhaps a negative image of our Baptism. It’s exactly the opposite of your Baptism. Jesus becomes Sin for us, who knew no sin. A swap occurs. Your sin for His righteousness. He takes up your sin in His Baptism so that you might receive HIs righteousness in your Baptism. He becomes the Sinner so that you might become the saint. He dies your death so that you might live in His life.
Jesus’ entire mission as Christ and Savior is all summed up in His baptism. This is to fulfill all righteousness. This is why He came in the Flesh: To stand side by side in solidarity with sinful humanity and to put sin to death in His flesh. Not your flesh. His flesh. Not your doing. His doing. He is the Substitute Sacrifice, the Vicarious Victim, You and He interchange places. He the sinner, you the saint. That’s the deal. The only deal.
Every truth must be established by two witnesses. That’s the rule in the OT, and God is playing by OT rules here. You need two witnesses. So who are you going to call to the stand to testify on behalf of Jesus? There is no one on earth who can swear on a stack of Bibles that Jesus is the Son of God, because, as I said, no one could have known that unless it was revealed. As soon as Jesus was baptized and He was stepping out of the Jordan, the heavens opened (Mark says they were literally torn open violently just as the curtain in the temple was torn when Jesus died).
The Father bears witness by speaking, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” There’s an echo of Isaiah here: “Behold my servant, whom I uphold; my chosen in whom my soul delights.”
The Spirit bears witness by descending visibly like a dove and resting on Him. The Father and the Spirit are the two witnesses establishing that truth that this Jesus, still dripping wet from baptism, is the eternal Son of the Father and the Christ, the Anointed One, on whom the Spirit of God rests in full measure.
In Jesus’ baptism, we get a snapshot of our own Baptism as well, albeit the reverse image. In Baptism, all righteousness is fulfilled in you, not because of what you do, but because of what Jesus has done for you. You are reborn a sinless saint in Him. You are clothed with Him. You are covered with His righteousness. Your sins in thought, in word, in deed which all deserve God’s condemnation have been washed away. The Law that condemns you has been fulfilled. Remember what James says, that if you break on point of the Law you are guilty and liable for all of the Law. Jesus kept all of the Law entirely and that perfection is HIs gift to you. That’s why Luther in the Large Catechism instructs us that when sins and conscience oppress us, when we feel burdened by our sins, we are to say, “Nevertheless I am baptized.”
In Baptism, heaven is opened to us as it was opened to Jesus. We can’t see this, and so we’re inclined to think it doesn’t happen or it’s not real or that Baptism is merely a symbolic ritual to show we’re Christians or some such thing. But Baptism is the power of God to salvation. “Baptism now saves you” Peter says. Baptism has the power to open heaven – “He who believes and is baptized will be saved,” a promise from the Lord Jesus’ own lips.
In Baptism, the Father claims you as His son. “This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased.” You are an adopted member of God’s family. And I say “son” intentionally, not to exclude the women, but to include them as heirs. In Galatians, Paul says that in Christ there is neither male nor female but you are all sons of God, heirs of eternal life. In God’s household, the daughters get treated as sons, which is a high honor. In the OT, only the boys bore the mark of the covenant in circumcision. The girls kind of tagged along. But in the new covenant, the boys and girls are baptized the same way, everyone is marked the same way as one redeemed by Christ the crucified, for in Christ “there is neither male and female.”
Baptism is your adoption papers, your permission to claim to be a child of God, born, as John says, not of blood or the will of the flesh or the will of man, but born of God. You are permitted to come as dear children come to their dear Father in heaven and say, “Our Father.”
In Baptism, the Spirit descends on you. Not visibly in the form of a dove, but audibly in the Word. You are baptized in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is there in that water testifying, naming and claiming you as one anointed by God. He is the down payment on your salvation, the deposit God made ensuring your resurrection to life on the last day.
In Baptism, Jesus stands in solidarity with you in the same way He stood in the water of the Jordan with all those sinners who came to John to be baptized. The water and the Word is what makes a Baptism. Jesus in the water, there with you as your Brother, bringing you to His Father and your Father. Making His death yours, His life yours, His holiness yours. You are baptized into Christ. You’re a child of Paradise. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit declare it to be so. It is most certainly true.
In the name of Jesus,