Immanuel Lutheran Church

Sermon

The Baptism of our Lord

"Christ's Baptism and Ours"

Matthew 3:13-17

January 15, 2017

Sometimes, the best gifts are the simple things. Today, we are reminded that we have a wonderful gift in our baptism. In the water, included in God's command and combined with His word, we have the extraordinary blessings of forgiveness, life and salvation. These are ours because Jesus gives them to us through His own baptism in the Jordan.

Matthew 3:13-17. Then Jesus arrived from Galilee at the Jordan coming to John, to be baptized by him. But John tried to prevent Him, saying, "I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?" But Jesus answering said to him, "Let it be for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness." Then he *permitted Him. After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him, and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, "This is My Beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased."

Jesus went to John to be baptized. Matthew tells us that John initially objected when He saw Jesus standing there in the water. "I should be baptized by you, and yet you come to me." John was right. John's objection is at the heart of all religion.

Religion teaches us that we are supposed to come to God, do as God commands because the lesser serves the greater. God needs to be appeased, buttered up, bribed, flattered, bargained with. You try to control the religious strings, call the shots, and make the decisions that affect your salvation. It tidy, rational, and terribly tempting. And deadly wrong.

Jesus comes to John to be baptized. The Greater comes to the lesser. Jesus would be treated as a sinner. He stands in solidarity with the prostitutes, the tax collectors, the sinners - those the "religious" looked down upon. The scribes and Pharisees refused John's baptism. For what did they need to repent? They were solid church people. Who needs repentance when you're well on your way to make it on your own? Yet here is Jesus in the water with sinners, one with them in the water, joining Himself to the sinner's baptism.

When John objects, Jesus tells him, "Let it be so now. For thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness." That's what Jesus came to do - fulfill all righteousness. Imagine John's confusion. What on earth was Jesus doing? What sort of "messiah" is this? He was supposed to be engaged in holy war against the Romans but He comes to John for baptism. For this reason, He was conceived and born of the Virgin. This is why He lived and suffered and died and why He rose from the dead and ascended. It was, as He told John, to fulfill all righteousness.

Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you can't enter the kingdom of heaven. Of course, when He made this statement, Jesus was being snarky. A sinner cannot fulfill all righteousness. You can't even make a decent start at it. You're dead, a stillbirth in sin. There's not a trace of righteousness in any of us, at least naturally. None of us are nearly as good in the eyes of God as we think we are.

If we cannot attain this required righteousness, how are we supposed to "get right with God"? It takes a substitute. Jesus the Righteous One puts Himself into our sinner's baptism. He is our Substitute, the Vicarious Victim. He's the ram that saved Isaac, the lamb of the Passover, the scapegoat of Yom Kippur, the sin offering, the whole burnt offering. It is His life for your life; His death for your death; His righteousness for your sin.

Jesus' baptism lays the foundation for your Baptism, though they're not quite the same thing. Jesus is sinless, we are sinful. Jesus is righteous, we are unrighteous. Jesus is holy, we are unholy. In His Baptism, Jesus becomes the sinner in us. In our Baptism, we become saints in Him.

In the Jordan the water and the Word come together. Here the waters of the Jordan meet its Maker, the Word incarnate, and becomes a cleansing water, a birthing water. The Baptism of Jesus hearkens back to all the great watery events of history. The creation of all things by water and the Word. The Flood. The parting of the Red Sea and the Jordan river. The healing of Naaman the Syrian. Water together with the Word. Jesus, the incarnate Word, stands in the Jordan. Great things happen when water and the Word get together.

Here the Creator embraces His fallen creature in His own humanity. Jesus bears our humanity - in circumcision under the Law, and here in John's baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. God become Man humbles Himself under His own Law; He is the perfect penitent, bearing not His own sin, but world's sin, your sin, in His baptism.

What happens next tells you what this Baptism of Jesus is all about. As Jesus steps out onto the shore, the heavens were "torn open," Mark tells us. There is violence in that word. The heavens were torn open like a piece of cloth being ripped apart. The next time Mark uses that word is at the crucifixion of Jesus when the curtain of the temple that marked the Most Holy place was torn open from top to bottom.

Heaven is ripped open. Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God. Heaven is sealed shut to sinful humanity. The gates are opened only with the violence of death - the death of sinless Sacrifice. That's why the heavens were torn open. It is a foretaste of Good Friday. Jesus is baptized into His death. In the OT, the sacrifice was always washed before its death. Jesus' baptism sets Him on the road to Calvary and the cross. He even calls His death "a baptism with which I must be baptized."

Jesus is unique in His Baptism. For no other man did the heavens open. On no other man did the Spirit descend bodily. To no other man did the Father makes this declaration, "You are my beloved Son." No other man than this Servant-Son named Jesus, the One from Nazareth, who was baptized by John, has received this acclamation from the Father.

What Jesus has uniquely, He uniquely gives to you. In your Baptism into Jesus, the heavens are torn open to you. In your Baptism into Jesus, the Spirit descends upon you and anoints you. In your Baptism into Jesus, the Father speaks words of His approval over you. "You are my beloved child." Go in peace. Amen.


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