January 13, 2019
Why does Jesus want to be baptized by John? John’s baptism is a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Those baptized by John confess their sins. Jesus has no sins to confess. He is not a sinner. Rather, he has come, as the angel told Joseph, to save his people from their sins. So, it makes sense that John would initially refuse to baptize this sinless man.
Jesus answers John, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” But what does it mean to fulfill all righteousness? The Old Testament often pairs the word “righteousness” with God’s act of salvation. In Psalm 71 it says, “In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me; incline your ear to me, and save me!” and “My mouth will tell of your righteous acts, of your deeds of salvation all the day.” And in Zechariah chapter 9 the prophet says, “Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he.” So, when Jesus says that thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness, he is saying that by his baptism he will embark on his work of saving sinners as the angel said.
Our Old Testament lesson prophecies that God would appoint his Servant by putting his Spirit upon him. Here at Jesus’ baptism God fulfills this prophecy, as we see that the Holy Spirit descended upon him like a dove. In Jesus’ baptism, God is sending Christ Jesus on his earthly ministry to be a light for the nations, to open the eyes of the blind, and to bring out prisoners from their dungeons of darkness.
The Heavenly Father says of Jesus, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” These are indeed lovely words. Yet, they are easily misunderstood. When we talk about how we love our children, we often think about how we want them to be happy and safe from harm. Yet, the Father means something a little different with his words here. The Father, who has loved his Son from eternity has also in love sent him to save us sinners from our sins. When God the Father says that he is well pleased with Jesus, he doesn’t mean this in a generic way that he’s a good boy. No, he has in mind a very specific work that Jesus has set out to do. The Father is well pleased with Christ, because he will commence to win for mankind salvation through his perfect obedience, his suffering and death, and finally his resurrection from the tomb.
And here, you should see that this baptism is not for Christ’s benefit. He does not need this Baptism at all. He has no need for his sins to be washed away. He doesn’t need to be forgiven. No, Jesus is baptized for your sake. Instead of having sins washed away, Jesus enters the baptismal waters to take on the sins of the whole world. Jesus is baptized for the exact opposite reason that you are. You go to have your sins washed away. He goes to take your sins upon himself. You are baptized to be rescued from Satan and hell. Jesus is baptized so that he can face the devil and hell-fire head on. Here Jesus makes a great exchange with you: his righteousness for your sins, his life for your death, his salvation for your condemnation.
St. Paul says in Galatians chapter 3, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” Baptism joins you to Jesus’ baptism. Yet, Baptism doesn’t just join you to the water of Jesus’ Baptism, it joins you to the entire ministry into which Jesus was baptized, this includes his holy death, burial, and resurrection. As Romans 6 states, “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. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”
And so, as God the Father declared his good pleasure toward his Son, who would obediently die on the cross for the sins of the world, so in your Baptism does God declare his good pleasure toward you, whose sins have been taken away by this marvelous work of Christ.
You cannot separate Jesus’ Baptism from his death on the cross. Jesus’ Baptism was an anointing and commissioning from God the Father where God sent his Son to the cross. This means that your Baptism cannot be separated from Christ’s death and resurrection. To be baptized into Christ’s Baptism is to be baptized into his death and resurrection.
This is why we should not say, “I was baptized,” but “I am baptized.” You were not at one time joined to Jesus’ death and resurrection. You are permanently joined to Christ’s death and resurrection. You did not at one time repent of your sins and ask Christ for forgiveness. Rather, every day as a baptized child of God, you repent of all your sins and cling to Christ for forgiveness. This is a daily washing that returns to you like waves upon the seashore, daily dying to sin, drowning the old man, and rising to new life in Christ. You did not at one time have faith in Christ, but you do have faith in Christ. You are baptized. You have faith in Christ. You are forgiven. You are a child of God. You are clothed in Christ. This is your current condition, not just some event that happened to you at one time.
Baptism is powerful to save. Jesus says in Mark chapter 16, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved. Whoever does not believe will be condemned.” And St. Peter writes in his 1st Epistle, “Baptism, …, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” (3:21)
We know that Baptism saves, because that is what God’s word says. Our Small Catechism says, “Baptism is not just plain water, but it is the water included in God’s command and combined with God’s Word.” And it answers the question, “How can water do such great things?”, “Certainly not just water, but the word of God in and with the water does these things, along with the faith, which trusts this word of God in the water. For without God’s word the water is plain water and no baptism. But with the word of God it is a Baptism, that is a life-giving water, rich in grace, and the washing of the new birth in the Holy Spirit.”
Many people don’t think that Baptism saves. Well, if Baptism were just water it certainly could not save. But Baptism is not just plain water. Baptism is joined to God’s Word and promise. If you were to add concentrated fruit juice to water, you wouldn’t call it water anymore. You would call it juice. And it would have all the nutrients and extra calories of juice. Water is an inactive ingredient in many pharmaceuticals. Yet, you would be foolish to doubt the potency of a medicine simply because its main ingredient is water. How much more should we consider the power of Baptism, which is water joined to the powerful word of God, which created the universe out of nothing and raised Christ Jesus from the dead?
At Jesus’ Baptism all three Persons in the Holy Trinity were made known. The Father made himself knows through the voice from heaven. Jesus Christ, the Son of God was made known by the affirmation of the voice from heaven and by the Holy Spirit, who descended upon him as a dove. Now, all three Persons of the Holy Trinity are present at all times in all places. Yet, their appearance at Jesus’ Baptism tells us that the one and only Triune God works in Baptism. Jesus affirms this when he commands us to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:19)
At your Baptism, the Holy Trinity is present and working. Baptism is not your work. Although a pastor is pouring water and speaking words, it is not his work either. Baptism is God’s work. In it, God gives you his Holy Spirit; he forgives you your sins; he joins you to Christ’s death and resurrection; he makes you a Christian.
Baptism is not something you do in addition to having faith. Baptism and faith go together just as Jesus and faith go together. To trust in your Baptism is to trust in Jesus. Jesus was baptized for you. And he gave you baptism in order to join you permanently to his work of salvation for you. When you trust in your Baptism you trust that Christ truly did take on all your sins and die for them and clothe you in his own righteousness. To confess, “I am baptized.” is to confess, “I am joined to Christ. I am his and he is mine.” And if you are in Christ Jesus and share in his Baptism, then the voice from heaven declares to you as well, “You are my beloved child; with you I am well pleased.” Amen.