Matthew 3:13-17 (The Baptism of Our Lord—Series A)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
January 12, 2014
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Gospel Lesson from Matthew 3:
Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16 And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; 17 and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
When was the last time you really thought about your baptism? When was the last time you really sat down to consider what a blessing it is to be a baptized child of God in Christ? Maybe on your last baptismal birthday? What about a little while ago when you heard the words of the Invocation, “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”? Those words, along with the sign of the cross, are there to help us remember and think about our baptism and our baptismal identity as Christians. Today on this first Sunday after the Epiphany our Gospel reading helps us to remember Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River and what it means for us in our baptisms. Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan points us to the eternal saving events of His cross and empty tomb. From those events, our baptism flows, bestowing on us the salvation Jesus achieved.
In our text, Matthew records that Jesus came to the place where the people had been confessing their sins, the very sins from which Jesus had come to save them. Jesus comes to the same place and the same person as everyone else for the same purpose—in order to be baptized. But this makes no sense to John who has been proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Does Jesus need to repent? Does Jesus need forgiveness of sins? No! He’s the One that John proclaimed would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. He’s the One of whom John is not worthy even to carry His sandals. And here Jesus comes, not as the One baptizing with the Spirit and fire, but as the passive recipient of John’s baptism for repentance.
John, then, tries to prevent Jesus’ purpose. “I need to be baptized by you, and you come to me?” Notice that Jesus doesn’t deny the truth of John’s statement. John does need for the sinless Son of God to wash him clean from his sinfulness. While this is true, Jesus seeks a concession from John. “Allow it to be this way this time. You baptize me so that together you and I might fulfill all righteousness.” In other words, let the sinless Son of God receive the baptism meant for sinners because Jesus is the Sin-Bearer. He will save His people from their sins. In this way God’s righteousness will be fulfilled when John baptizes Jesus. Then all people may in faith seek God’s reign and His righteousness in Jesus because Jesus takes the place of sinners, performing the saving acts of God.
And those saving acts of God come in an unexpected way. Jesus’ baptism shows how Jesus will save His people from their sins. With John’s participation, Jesus will enact God’s saving deeds for people by literally standing with sinners and taking the place of sinners by receiving from John the baptism sinners receive. This points us ahead to the ultimate fulfillment of God’s righteousness in Scripture as Jesus is arrested, condemned, and crucified. It is fitting for Jesus to come and to stand in the Jordan and be baptized, to stand in the place of sinners, because that is why He came, to save people from their sins by bearing their sins and the punishment of sin on the cross and rising from the grave in triumph over sin and death.
On the cross, the sinless Son of God stood in the place of all sinners, offering up His life in place of ours as the ransom payment. (Matt. 20:28) Jesus paid the price for securing the freedom of all people in slavery to sin, Satan, and the power of death. In fact, on the cross, Jesus IS the price paid to secure our forgiveness and salvation. The eternally valuable blood of Christ, the priceless perfection of His obedience in life and in death, the precious treasury of His merit on the cross—this was the payment to purchase our complete forgiveness and everlasting life, our freedom from sin, death, and the devil.
Christ’s identification with sinful people, even unto death, was for you. Because Jesus Christ stood in the place of sinners in His baptism, in His life, death, and resurrection, you have forgiveness of sins and life everlasting. From the cross and empty tomb of Jesus flows our baptism, giving to us the salvation and the new life Jesus achieved for us with His perfect work in life and in His death and resurrection. When Jesus was baptized by John, our Lord stood in the place of sinners. In place of sinners, Jesus went to the cross to ransom us from sin and Satan’s domain. In place of sinners, Jesus endured the grave and then rose on the third day in triumph over death. To sinners, Jesus gives us the water and Word of Holy Baptism to deliver to us the forgiveness and salvation He purchased for us, the new life of faith and good works He creates within us by the power of the Holy Spirit.
It is Jesus’ death on the cross in our place makes the baptismal font a consecrated, holy place where Christ Himself gives us the gifts His blood merited for us. “From God the Father, virgin-born / To us the only Son came down; / By death the font to consecrate, / The faithful to regenerate.” (LSB 401:1) In that baptismal washing of water with the Word of God “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” we receive the very same forgiveness won for us by Jesus on the cross. We receive the very same resurrection life that Jesus secured for us with His resurrection from the tomb. We read from Luther’s Large Catechism, “The power, work, profit, fruit, and purpose of Baptism is . . . to save. . . . We know that to be saved is nothing other than to be delivered from sin, death, and the devil. It means to enter into Christ’s kingdom and to live with Him forever.”
That was Christ’s purpose in literally standing with sinners in the Jordan, so that He might stand in the place of sinners at the cross to save us. In Baptism, Christ saves us by delivering to us forgiveness and life, uniting us with Him in His death and resurrection. We read 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.” (Rom. 6:3-4) By baptism we have been made to share in Christ’s cross and empty tomb. As Jesus buried our sin, we too can and must daily overcome and bury it. As Jesus is risen from the dead and lives, so we too can and must daily live a new life in Him—a life of faith and works of mercy and love done to and for others.
In Christ, we are new creations. We are empowered by the Holy Spirit in the gift of baptism to overcome temptation and sin. We are able to love the Lord with our whole self and love our neighbors in concrete ways with specific words and actions done in mercy on their behalf. We can pray for others. We can visit them in their times of sickness, loneliness, and other needs. You and I can lend a helping hand or a kind word. We can tell others about Jesus who stood with sinners in the Jordan and on the cross as our Savior.
Today as we remember Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River we learn that His baptism means His standing in the place of sinners as our Savior. Jesus’ baptism points us forward to the cross and empty tomb where Jesus suffered, died, and rose again in the place of sinners, winning our forgiveness and life. From the events of Christ’s cross and empty tomb flows our baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection, bestowing on us the blessings of Jesus in the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation He purchased and won for us all. Now, as you and I remember our own baptism, we recall, claim, and confess before heaven, earth, and hell all that God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit has given to us in our Baptism. We have been redeemed by Christ the crucified, who stood in our place so that we might be saved. Amen.