Baptism of Our Lord
January 10, 2016
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO
In the name of + Jesus.
It wasn’t necessary for Jesus to repent; He had no sin of His own to turn from. It wasn’t necessary for Him to get down in the Jordan waters with all the other sinners. It wasn’t necessary for Him to be baptized by John—at least not for His own benefit. Yet there we find Jesus in the beginning of the Gospel, the start of the Good News. It’s an event so important that every single evangelist records it.
Among the flood of people coming to John in the wilderness to be Baptized is the Son of God. But He comes for a very different reason. Until Jesus dips His toes into the water, baptism can only be a sign, something that merely signifies something greater. But when Jesus steps into the water, He blesses all baptismal water. As the ancient Flood Prayer says, Through the Baptism in the Jordan of Your beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, You sanctified and instituted all waters to be a blessed flood, and a lavish washing away of sin. It was not necessary for Jesus to be baptized—not for Himself—but it was necessary for you. Jesus’ baptism is the other side of your baptism, the thing that makes it worthwhile.
The Baptism of Christ Provides the Gifts of Your Baptism
In the eyes of the world, Baptism is a silly thing—even foolish. That little bit of water can hardly wash the mud from your hands after a few hours in the garden, yet you Christians claim it can wash away sins? How can water accomplish something so spiritual? But Christ’s Baptism shows us that there’s something more behind the water. There’s a hidden majesty in Baptism that’s the cause for God’s good pleasure. Christ highly honors Baptism by His won in the Jordan.
The Large Catechism teaches, So, and even much more, you must honor Baptism and consider it glorious because of the Word. For God Himself has honored it both by words and deeds. Furthermore, He confirmed it with miracles from heaven. Do you think it was a joke that, when Christ was baptized, the heavens were opened and the Holy Spirit descended visibly, and everything was divine glory and majesty (LC IV.21).
The miraculous voice from heaven and the Spirit descending like a dove at the Baptism of Christ reveal to us, first off, that the entire Holy Trinity is at work in those blessed waters. It’s the only time in the entire history of salvation when all three Persons of the Trinity are manifest at the same time. It truly is a watershed moment, the Baptism of Jesus. Christ’s birth and resurrection were attested by angels, but at His Baptism, the Spirit Himself comes down from heaven. The One who hovered over the waters at creation now descends to the water that washes over Jesus.
What’s more, the Father blesses this Baptism with a Word from heaven—because water without a Word is plain water, but with God’s Word it is a Baptism. This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased (v 17). Jesus’ Baptism in the Jordan brings the Father such pleasure that He shouts from heaven for all to hear—this man is My Son.
Likewise, your Baptism was a day of divine glory and majesty, though to most it appeared to be a silly rite of initiation. But hidden in the water is the Word of God, His exclamation—You are My beloved son, you are my beloved daughter. Welcome to the family. Receive the name that is above every name. You are now a Christian, and the good pleasure I have in My Son, I also have in you. You have been washed not only by water, but by water and the Spirit. You have received a new birth, a birth from above; the Kingdom of Heaven is opened wide for you.
When Jesus starts into the Jordan, John, who does the baptizing, initially tries to prevent Him. That’s the place for sinners; John knows this more than anyone. If anything, John should be baptized by Jesus. But that’s not the purpose of Jesus. He doesn’t come to remain detached from sinners. He gets right down in that dirty water with them. With us. At His Baptism, Christ takes upon Himself the sins of the world.
Like John, we’d rather keep our sins and our God far apart. Neither the two shall meet. The reason why is that the natural religion of man is to atone for our own sins. It’s our default position. We’d rather shoulder the load and carry our own burdens, mostly because we consider our faults to be quite minor. We mouth the words, “poor, miserable sinner,” but we don’t really believe it. Which is why, like John, we really, really, want to protect Jesus from our sin.
But Jesus insists. The water is where He must go. Relent now, says Jesus, for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness (v 15). Jesus gets down into the water because His place is with the sinners. Not that He shares sin in common with them, but that He has come to claim sin as His own. John recognizes this when he sees Him again, and says, Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world (Jn 1:29).
There is a blessed exchange that happens in those waters. Christ gets wet with sinners so that He could take their sin upon His shoulders. Not just minor, middling sins, but the big ones, too. Murder, rape, homosexuality, drunkenness, debauchery, thievery, emotional and physical abuse. He gets up close and personal with the worst that mankind has to offer. These are the sins He bears. Willingly. Lovingly. Without asking for anything in return.
But where He takes the sins of sinners from the water, He also puts His own righteousness. When you were washed, you were covered with Christ’s righteousness. Like a new robe, made white in the blood of the Lamb. It was absolutely necessary for Him to be baptized because it was necessary for Him to declare righteous all who have been baptized. That is the blessing of the Word that is added to the water. You are washed and no longer the person you once were. As St. Paul writes to the Corinthians, Or don’t you know wicked people will have no share in God’s kingdom? Don’t be mistaken about this: No one who lives in sexual sin or worships idols, no adulterers or men who sin sexually with other men, who steal, are greedy, are drunkards, slander, or rob will have a share in God’s kingdom. Some of you used to do these things. But you have been washed, you have been made holy, you have been declared righteous by the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God (1 Cor 6:9-11 AAT).
Christ’s Baptism isn’t the only time His Father speaks from heaven. When He is transfigured before His disciples and reveals His glory on the mountain, the Father again says, This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, only now He adds, Listen to Him (Mt 17:5). These words are confirmation that the words that Jesus speaks are truly words of God, that He and the Father are united in will and purpose. It is after this that Jesus sets His sights on Jerusalem (Lk 9:53), to the cross. The good pleasure of the Father is that Jesus accepts the cross at His Baptism.
This is the necessary consequence of Jesus taking His place with sinners. It’s not that God shrugs off sin and rebellion, saying, “Oh, don’t worry, it’s not that bad.” Our sins—even those we would consider minor—demand justice. When Christ Jesus accepts the sins of the world as His own burden, He also accepts the punishment for those sins. It would be about three years before He would walk way of sorrow carrying a cross He did not deserve. Upon that cross He bled for the world. That blood is what gives the power to the water of Baptism, for the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanses us from all sin (1 Jn 1:7).
Because of Christ’s Baptism, we know that He highly honors Baptism. He adorns it with divine glory and majesty. At His Baptism, He claimed the sins of the world, and accepted His mission to go to cross. His Baptism provides the gifts of your Baptism: your adoption as sons and daughters of God, a birth from above by water and the Spirit, heaven is opened to you, your sins become Jesus’ and His righteousness becomes yours, and His blood washes you clean.
In the name of + Jesus.
Jacob W Ehrhard