Matthew 3:13-17 (The Baptism of Our Lord—Series A)
“Fulfilled for You”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
January 12, 2020
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Our text is the Gospel Lesson, recorded in Matthew 3:
13Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John to be baptized by him. 14But John tried to prevent him, saying, “I myself have need to be baptized by you, yet you yourself come to me?” 15Jesus answered and said to him, “Allow it at this time, for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he did allow him. 16Now after he had been baptized, Jesus immediately went up from the water and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God coming down like a dove and coming upon him, 17and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.”
Put yourself in John’s shoes, or more properly, put yourself in John’s sandals. He is the end-times prophet of God, proclaiming in the wilderness a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. He is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s words, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight’” (Matt. 3:3 ESV). John has preached that the One mightier than he is coming, whose sandals he is not even worthy to carry. This “Mightier One” will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire, bringing the final salvation and judgment of God into the world.
Then, one day, the Mightier One appeared from Galilee at the Jordan River, the very spot where people have been confessing their sins and have been baptized by John in response to his proclamation, “Repent!” Jesus came to the same place, to the same person, and for the same purpose—“in order to be baptized” by John.
So put yourself in John’s sandals. Here comes Jesus for a baptism that He does not have a need for. Jesus has come, in mind-boggling fashion, not as the One who in this moment baptizes with the Spirit and fire, but as the passive receiver of John’s own baptism for repentance, for conversion from unbelief to faith and for entrance into the people of God! John proclaimed that Jesus comes in power, bringing end-time salvation and judgment—a Jesus so superior to and mightier than John that the Baptizer isn’t worthy to perform the most menial service for this Jesus. But it is precisely this Jesus who comes to John, not displaying His power or His higher status, but in lowliness, to be baptized by John.
How else is John supposed to react this? “I myself have need to be baptized by you, yet you yourself come to me?” John is completely taken back. He doesn’t know what to make of this. Jesus is true God come in human flesh as the One who saves all people from their sins. It is this Jesus who, after His baptism, John pointed to and exclaimed, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29 ESV). “How, then, can it be, that you, Jesus, come to me, John, for a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins?” I have the need to be baptized by you, the sinless One, the Holy One of God!”
John well knows that he has a need. You and I, also, have the same need. And it is Jesus who fulfills that need for us all with His perfect life, death, and resurrection.
The Need. We are unable always to keep God’s commandments because we are unable always to fear, love, and trust in God above all things. We are unable always to show love and mercy to our neighbors. “When we examine our hearts and consciences, we find nothing in us but sin and death, from which we are incapable of delivering ourselves” (LSB 290 “Confessional Address”). Consider:
In what or whom do you trust above all else? For financial security, physical safety, emotional support?
Are you diligent and sincere in your prayers, or have you been lazy, bored, or distracted?
Have you been angry, stubborn, or disrespectful toward those in authority over you?
Do you hold grudges or harbor anger and resentment?
Do you engage in any form of sexual immorality in thought, word, desire, or deed?
Are you faithful to the responsibilities of your vocation?
Do you speak the truth in love?
Have you done anything to break up a friendship?
The need is there, staring at us, painfully so. There is nothing in our natures but sin and death. We stand rightfully condemned by God’s perfect judgment. We have sinned against God in thought, word, and deed, by the things we have done and by the things we have left undone. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We truly deserve His punishment of death and hell. “I myself have a need to be baptized by you, and yet, you yourself come to me?”
Indeed. The eternal Son of God, without beginning and without end, became fully human, was incarnate as a man, in order to come among sinners. That’s the shocking, amazing, wondrous thing about our Triune God’s love and mercy toward us lost and condemned people. He loved us so much that His One-of-a-Kind Son was willing to take to Himself our human flesh and blood and so live among us as the One who will save all people from their sins, which is what the name “Jesus” means—Savior. So if the God-Man Jesus is to be the representative of all people, of all sinners, He must first be identified with them.
Jesus, to fulfill all righteousness, to show that He takes our place, stands where sinners stand, undergoes the baptism that sinners undergo. The sinless Son of God receives the baptism meant for sinners because He is their sin-bearer. He Himself stands there in the Jordan and received baptism from John as He stands there in our place, people for whom He would not only keep God’s commandments, but also offer up Himself to death and hell, taking our place under the wrath and judgment of God.
Jesus fulfilled our obligation to keep God’s commandments. Where we have failed to fear, love, and trust in God above all else, where you and I have not loved our neighbors, Jesus did so perfectly. As our substitute, Jesus’ perfect life was lived for us. In God’s eyes, we get the credit for Jesus’ perfect righteousness. He kept the Law for us so that God sees us, in Jesus, as having kept it completely and perfectly. We get the credit for what Christ has done as true God and true Man. Jesus stood where we stand, under God’s commandments, and accomplished for you and me what we never could. And joy of all joys, Christ’s righteousness is credited to us! God looks at you and me with delight and speaks of us as His sons and daughters in whom He is well pleased.
But our Lord Jesus did more than keep God’s commandments for us as our substitute. He also paid the price for our failures to do so. Jesus willingly suffered and died on a cross to pay for our sins of not loving the Lord and not loving our neighbors. Jesus paid the full price for our lazy prayer life, for the grudges and anger we harbor, for the lust we pursue, for our lies and deceptions that hurt others and ourselves. Jesus died for our failures to show mercy to anyone to whom we are able.
Jesus, the sinless Son of God, who received the baptism of John meant for sinners, bore our sins in His body on the cross. He who was perfect in our place, died and shed His blood to purchase our forgiveness. He stood in our place in the Jordan. He was nailed, suffered hell, bled, and died in our place on a cross. To fulfill all righteousness. For you.
Because Jesus Christ stood in our place 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 your baptism, which gives to you the salvation and the new life Jesus won for you. To you, Jesus gives the water and Word of Holy Baptism, delivering to you the forgiveness and salvation He purchased with His blood. He gifts to you the new life of faith and good works, which He creates within you by the power of the Holy Spirit.
In Christ, you are new creations because He fulfilled all righteousness for you. You are empowered by the Holy Spirit in the gift of baptism to overcome temptation and sin. You are able to love the Lord and love your neighbors in concrete ways, with specific words and actions done in mercy on their behalf. You can pray for others. You can visit them in their times of sickness, loneliness, and other needs. You can lend a helping hand or a kind word. You can tell others about Jesus the Savior.
Pastor Martin Luther, preaching in 1538 said, “For this reason, Baptism was given to the whole world, that whoever wishes to be saved might wash in the same bath in which Christ also stood. And there I get the innocence which He brought into His bath, and the world also obtains His innocence, life, and honor. . . . Is this not a great glory that he who is baptized receives these things?” All righteousness has been fulfilled for you by your Savior, Jesus Christ, through His perfect life, death, and resurrection. In your baptism into Christ, you are counted as righteous. You have forgiveness and everlasting life. Your need has been met by Christ, the Righteous One. Thanks be to God! Amen.
 Jeffrey A. Gibbs, Matthew 1:1-11:1, Concordia Commentary (St. Louis: Concordia, 2006), 178.
 Martin Luther, Martin Luther on Holy Baptism: Sermons to the People (1525-39), ed. Benjamin T.G. Mayes (St. Louis: Concordia, 2018), 91.