January 12, 2019
Jesus had no need to be baptized by John. John knew this. John baptized sinners for the remission of sins. John knew that Jesus was not a sinner. Jesus didn’t need to be baptized for himself. Jesus also didn’t need to be conceived by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, taking on human flesh. He didn’t need to be born in a stable or be circumcised on the eighth day. Jesus didn’t need to be tempted by Satan in the wilderness while foregoing food and water. He didn’t need to submit to earthly governments. He certainly didn’t need for his own sake to die a miserable death on the cross, laden with the sins of the world. None of these things did Jesus need to do for himself. He is and always has been with God and has been God from eternity. He is the eternal Son of God. He did not need to come to earth to earn his heavenly kingdom. He didn’t need to submit himself to the Law in order to be righteous. Christ Jesus already had a kingdom and has been righteous before all worlds. So, John was right, Jesus did not have any need to be baptized. But John did need to baptize Jesus for his own sake and for our sake.
It was fitting for Jesus to be baptized so that we could be righteous. In Jesus’ baptism he joins himself to sinners and gives to them his righteousness. When Jesus was baptized, he was anointed by the Father with the Holy Spirit, who descended upon him like a dove. This fulfilled what God spoke through the prophet Isaiah, “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.” Jesus began his earthly ministry by being anointed by the Holy Spirit in his Baptism.
The words Messiah and Christ are the Hebrew and Greek words for Anointed One. God promised that he would send the Messiah, anointed by the Holy Spirit himself, to save his people. Jesus is the Christ, the Lord’s anointed.
To be anointed means to be chosen and set aside for service to God. In the Old Testament God chose the people of Israel and separated them from all other nations to be his own chosen people. He gave them the Book of the Law. God told Moses to say to Pharaoh, “Thus says the LORD, Israel is my firstborn son, and I say to you, ‘Let my son go that he may serve me.’ If you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son.’” (Exodus 4:23) And, this is exactly what God did. He killed all the firstborn of Egypt and he called his son out of Egypt, baptizing Israel in the waters of the Red Sea. But God’s firstborn Israel did not remain faithful. The people worshipped other gods, rebelled and complained, so that most of them died in the wilderness.
Here at Jesus’ Baptism, God the Father calls Jesus his Son. Now, Jesus has been God’s Son from all eternity, long before his Baptism. Yet, here, The Son of God bears our human flesh and is washed in the water of our Baptism and God calls him his Son. Jesus is Israel, the Israel the people of Israel failed to be. Jesus is the true, faultless Son of God in human flesh.
God the Father calls Jesus his beloved Son. The name David is the Hebrew word for beloved. It is well known that David was a man after God’s own heart. God chose David and had the Prophet Samuel anoint him with oil as King of Israel. And God promised David that he would raise one of his sons to sit on his throne and rule Israel forever. Frequently in Scripture God tells his people that he will rescue them for the sake of his servant David (2 Kings 20:6; Isaiah 37:35). And in Ezekiel chapter 34, God even says that he will set up his servant David to be the One Shepherd to shepherd his people Israel.
Yet, King David, who died 400 years before Ezekiel made that prophecy will not rise to shepherd the people. And King David was not always a perfect king. Rather, he behaved selfishly. He committed adultery and murder. But David was only a type, a shadow of the true David to come, Jesus Christ. Jesus is the true Beloved of the Lord, the true David, who has come to shepherd his people. There is no fault in him. Not even death can stop him from being our Shepherd.
This is what it means that Jesus is baptized with poor sinners. He is the true Christ, the true Israel, the true David, the one anointed by God to rescue us from our sins, from Satan, and from hell.
In Baptism we have our sins washed away. Jesus had no sins to be washed. Rather, Jesus is baptized for the opposite reason. He is baptized in order to take on our sins and become the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. This is to fulfill the prophecy concerning him from Isaiah 53, “And the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” In Jesus’ Baptism he takes on an obedience that was not required of him, but that he fulfills for us. Israel failed. King David failed. You and I have failed. We all fall short of the glory of God. No one living is righteous before God. Except for Jesus. Jesus is righteous. And he fulfills all righteousness for us, by living in our place, obeying the Law in our place, and dying in our place.
Jesus is obedient for us, who have been disobedient. In Baptism we receive a great exchange. Our sins are put on Jesus and his obedience is given to us. This is why Jesus answers John, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Now, some pause at the word us. Does John fulfill all righteousness with Jesus? It is not by John’s work or any of our works that fulfill righteousness. Titus 3 states, “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not by works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:4-7)
So, we see from Scripture that is it Jesus alone, whose work of righteousness saves us. Yet, Jesus says to John, “It is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness,” because Jesus is going to use John as his instrument. When John baptizes Jesus, it is certainly not John’s righteousness or John’s power that does anything, but rather Jesus’ righteousness and obedience. Yet, the words and action of Baptism still work! God successfully used John to fulfill all righteousness, not by John’s merits, but through Christ Jesus alone!
And here we must discuss the great power that Baptism has for us today. It doesn’t look very impressive. A sinful man, who is no better than anyone else, pours water on the head of another sinner and says some words. How on earth can this do anything? Well, if you consider the man who pours the water and the water alone, then you would have to conclude, not much except some wet hair. Yet, if you consider what God has done in Baptism and who has joined himself to Baptism, namely Jesus Christ, then you must see Baptism as a most marvelous treasure with tremendous power.
Last week we celebrated Epiphany, when Jesus appeared to the Gentiles as the Wise Men gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Yet here in Jesus Baptism, we see a much more marvelous Epiphany as the Three Kings of Heaven reveal themselves to us. The Son of God himself stands in the sinner’s water; the Holy Spirit in the form of a gentle dove descends upon him to anoint him the Christ and Savior of sinners, and God the Father, whose voice once shook Mount Sinai and terrified the hearts of the people of Israel, now speaks with joyous tone, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Here in Jesus’ Baptism, we see the Holy Trinity in the clearest vision that has ever been seen, and the message our God gives us is one of salvation through this man Jesus Christ, who has come to save sinners!
And this is why we should value our own Baptism. Jesus commanded that all nations be baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. The same Holy Trinity who was present in Jesus’ Baptism is present in yours! St. Peter tells us that whoever is Baptized will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit! The same Holy Spirit, who descended on Jesus!
Holy Scriptures tells us that in Christ Jesus we are all sons of God, through faith, for as many of us as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. (Galatians 3:26-27). In Jesus’ Baptism, Jesus’ joined himself to us spiritually. He took on our burden under the Law and the burden of our sin. He joined himself to the waters of Baptism, so that we who are baptized might wash our sins and every burden in those waters and put on Christ’s righteousness.
This is what Scripture means when it says, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive the adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Galatians 4:4-6) In Baptism God makes us his children by faith. He gives us the right to call him Abba! Father! That is what our Lord Jesus calls him! Just as God the father called Jesus his beloved Son in whom he is well pleased, so God calls you who are baptized into his name his beloved children in whom he is well pleased. Your sins have been taken from you by Christ. He was obedient in your stead. He has paid for your sins by his death on the cross.
In your Baptism, God anointed you with the Holy Spirit to be a little christ, a Christian. To be set apart from the evil world to serve him by believing his word and trusting in him and by loving your neighbor.
Yet, there are many who doubt the power of Baptism. Some question the man who performs the Baptism. Don’t let that bother you. All Baptisms done according to God’s Word are done by God. It is his word, not the pastor, who makes it a baptism. Some doubt the power of Baptism, because it looks like plain water. Don’t doubt the water. God’s word is powerful enough to do mighty works through plain water. Rather, when we look at Baptism, we should see our Savior Jesus, who has joined himself to Baptism. When you are baptized, you are baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection. In Baptism your sins are taken away and you receive Christ’s righteousness. For this reason, every Christian should cherish his Baptism as a precious gift and pledge from God that he considers you his own dear child, that he does not look upon your sins, but that when he looks at you, he sees his own beloved Son, Jesus Christ. That is what it means to put on Christ in Baptism.
This is also why we baptize babies. Babies are sinners. Babies die. Babies need a Savior. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and by no means hinder them, for to such belong the kingdom of God.” And Jesus also said, “Unless one enter the kingdom of heaven as a child, he will by no means enter it.” An adult is not more equipped to be baptized than a baby, because Baptism is God’s grace. It is a free gift by which sinners are forgiven of their sins and joined to Christ Jesus in faith.
Now, it is possible to throw away your Baptism by continuing in unrepentant sin and by denying the faith. That is why we Christians return to our Baptism every day by repenting of what we have done wrong, and turning to Jesus, who died for us. Our Baptism reminds us that God has indeed washed away our sins in Jesus’ blood, that he has anointed us with his Holy Spirit, and that he has clothed us in Christ Jesus his own Son. Our Baptism tells us that we are God’s children and heirs of heaven. Amen.