Jesus was baptized. Had John been running the show it might never have happened. When Jesus came to John to be baptized, John tried to stop Him. “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” It seemed upside down to John. The lesser should be baptized by the greater. The servant should be baptized by the master. The sinner should be baptized by the Sinless One. John is correct, at least in that way of looking at things. But that’s a Law way of looking at it, not the Gospel way. In the Gospel, the Sinless One is baptized as a sinner. The Lord of all becomes the Servant of all. The greater is baptized by the lesser. The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world is prepared for His sacrifice, washed on the way to the altar.
We need to be clear. Jesus’ Baptism is not an example for us to follow. First of all, it is John’s baptism which Jesus receives, a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins in preparation for the coming of the Christ. Our Baptism is at Jesus’ command; it is Holy Baptism, holy because it is the Lord’s. Jesus’ Baptism makes our Baptism possible, but they are not one and the same thing. The heavens were not opened visibly at your Baptism. The Father’s voice was not audible. The Spirit did not descend on you bodily in the form of a dove. Those are all unique to Jesus’ Baptism. We are not baptized in imitation of Jesus but by His command and promise.
Jesus’ Baptism did not save Him; Holy Baptism saves us. Jesus’ Baptism did not wash away His sins (He had no sin); Holy Baptism washes away our sin. Jesus’ Baptism did not grant Him a second birth from above (He is the eternally begotten Son of the Father); our Baptism is our heavenly birth of the Spirit. Jesus’ Baptism joined Him to our death; it set Him on the road to Calvary and His cross. Holy Baptism joins us to Jesus’ death, as the apostle Paul says so clearly in Romans 6. “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were buried therefore with him by Baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”
You ought to have that Scripture handy at all times, especially when someone suggests that Baptism doesn’t “do anything” or that it is something that we do. We were buried with Christ by Baptism into death. It doesn’t get any clearer than that. Through Baptism, God buries us into the death of Jesus, declaring us dead to Sin but alive to Himself in His Son. Not even Jesus’ Baptism, which isn’t the same as ours, was something He did. Jesus didn’t “get himself baptized,” Jesus was baptized. He received it from the hand of John. It was done to Him. That’s what scandalized John. John didn’t feel qualified to baptize the One whose sandals he wasn’t worthy to untie.
The Father and the Spirit bore witness and testified at Jesus’ Baptism. The Spirit descended upon Jesus in bodily form, appearing as a dove, indicating that Jesus was the One anointed with the Spirit without measure. The Father bore witness to His Son using the words of Isaiah 42: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” And the heavens were opened up. So don’t say that Baptism doesn’t do anything or that it’s nothing more than a symbolic washing. Symbols don’t open heaven or bring down the Spirit or cause the Father to voice His approval. Symbols also don’t wash away sin or bring a heavenly birth or join you to the death and life of Jesus.
Jesus’ Baptism is many things, but an example for us to follow or a symbolic religious act is not among them. This is Jesus’ “ordination,” the beginning of His public ministry which begins with the Father identifying Him as the Servant-Son and the Spirit descending upon Him. His mission and ministry is to bring the kingdom of God, to usher in the new age of the messiah, to defeat Sin, Death, and devil, to bring eternal life and forgiveness of sins, to rescue fallen humanity from its captivity to Sin and Death, to be the second Adam, the new head of humanity, to fulfill the Law with His perfect obedience, and to bear the punishments of the Law in our place as the Lord’s Suffering Servant, to become Sin for us so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God, to bring in a new creation, making all things new in His death and resurrection.
Or as Jesus said to John, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”
Jesus’ Baptism was a necessary part of His being the Savior from Sin. As God’s Sacrifice, He needed washing, as all sacrifices were washed. The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world was being prepared for His offering in our place. He is the stand-in, the substitute, the One who offers His life in place of ours, blood for blood. But this washing was different. He was already pure. But He was washed in our sins so that we might be washed from our sins.
The baptism that Jesus stepped into was a baptism for sinners. Prostitutes and scoundrels and all manner of “sinners” were coming to John wanting to be cleansed from their past and their sins. Jesus had no sin of which to repent, no past that needed cleansing. He was sinless and holy. In being baptized, Jesus joined Himself in solidarity with those same sinners, with all of sinful humanity, with you. He became Sin for us. He became our Sin. In His Baptism, Jesus became the adulterer, the thief, the murderer, the gossip, the liar, the idolator. He was joined to you in your Sin and Death so that you might be joined to Him in His death and life. He became the Sin of the world in order to take away the Sin of the world by nailing it to His cross and burying it in His grave. In His Baptism, Jesus was immersed in our sin, so that we might be drowned in His righteousness.
Jesus’ Baptism is the inauguration of His mission. Before then, there is nothing much to report. We heard what there is in the Christmas season. The virgin birth, the night in the manger, the shepherds, the magi, the angels, the star, the flight to Egypt, the return to Nazareth, Jesus’ circumcision, presentation, His “bar mitzvah” in the temple when He was twelve – those all lead up to this moment in the water with John “to fulfill all righteousness.” And while Jesus was just as much the world’s Savior lying in the manger or confounding the teachers in the temple, you wouldn’t have known Him from any other kid on the block in Nazareth. Here you do. Here you see the heavens open to Him. You hear the voice of the Father. You see the Spirit descend. And you know there is something about Jesus that is unlike any other. Of no other human who ever lived did the Father ever say, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
God was well pleased with Adam, but not for long. God was not pleased with Adam’s Sin and the Death Adam brought into the world because of it. God is not pleased with you in your Sin. You sometimes hear the saying, “God hates Sin but loves the sinner.” That sounds all good and “gospelly” but it’s not true. God hates Sin. He hates what Sin has done to His foremost creature and His creation. He hates the Death that Sin has brought into the world. God doesn’t simply love the Sinner. His Law and His justice don’t permit that. He loves the Sinner in His Son. He loves you in His Son. He says to Jesus, “You are my beloved Son” and in saying it to Jesus, He is saying it to you in Jesus. To be in Christ is to be God’s beloved child, to have the heavens opened to you, to have the Spirit descend upon you. In Christ, God is well-pleased with you.
That’s what it means for us to be baptized. We are in Christ. We have put on Christ. Before God, we are Adam wearing a Christ suit. Before men, it’s the other way around. Christ is hidden under the flesh of Adam. But before God, Adam is hidden by Christ. God looks on you through your Baptism and says, “You are my beloved Son, with you I am well-pleased.” In Christ, you have fulfilled all righteousness because He has fulfilled all righteousness for you. His obedience is yours; His death is yours; His life is yours.
Jesus did not “become” the Son of God in His Baptism. He always was that from all eternity. You did become a child of God in your Baptism, a new creation, reborn from above by water and Spirit. You were washed, sanctified, and justified in Jesus Christ, joined to His death and resurrection. You were crucified with Christ and raised with Him. You died and were set free from slavery to Sin and bondage to death. In Baptism, God filled out the death certificate of the old man in Adam and the birth certificate of the new man in Christ. Your death and resurrection are a done deal as far as God is concerned. They are as done a deal as Jesus’ death and resurrection.
And yet, the deal is not quite done, is it? The sinner is alive and well. The saint in Christ is hidden. This life as baptized believers in Christ is a life of paradox and tension, of being sinner and saint at the same time, of now and not yet, of doing what we do not want, of having evil lie inseparably close with good, of saying with the apostle Paul, “O wretched man that I am, who will rescue me from this body of death?” of confessing with Paul, “Christ died for sinners of whom I am chief.”
The old man in Adam remains and must be drowned each day in the death of Christ. The new man in Christ abides too, and must rise each day to new life. Every day of this life we must wake up under the sign of the cross and the Name of God and remind ourselves of what God has said to us in our Baptism. “You are my beloved son, with you I am well pleased. I no longer see you as a child of your Father Adam, I see you as my child in my Son. I no longer see your Sin, I see His righteousness. I have declared you dead to Sin but alive to me in Christ. Now every day of life that I give you until the day you die and the Day you rise, you must consider yourself, dead to Sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.”
Every day you must say this to yourself, so that you never forget who you are in God’s eyes. Say it out loud with me. “I am dead to Sin. I am alive to God in Christ Jesus. I am baptized into Christ.”
In the name of Jesus,