The Baptism of Our Lord—10 January 2021
Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.
The Reading from Holy Scripture: Matthew 3:13-17 (ESV)
13 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.”
Today, with the help of modern technology, when a giant oil slick occurs, there is a way sucking up all the oil out of the water. Spiritually speaking, that is what happened at our Lord’s Baptism. He entered the water as the pure and holy Lamb of God. And that water was far more filthy than an oil slick, filthy with all the world’s sins. In being baptized, Jesus sucked up all the world’s sins and placed them onto Himself, just as later He would carry the world’s sins to the cross.
When Jesus comes to John the Baptist for baptism, John tries to stop Jesus, saying, I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me? John is puzzled because his baptism is for repentant sinners, and Jesus is no sinner. John’s washing is a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Mark 1:4), and Jesus has no sins to confess and no need for forgiveness. But Jesus insists: Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.
As Jesus died the death we deserved, so He was washed in the baptism intended for us. As Jesus was crucified for us, so He was baptized for us, bearing sins that were not His own. The sins Jesus sucked up out of the filthy water were your sins and mine. As He borrowed our death at the cross, so He borrowed our baptism at the Jordan. In that water Jesus took up the cross as surely as when Pilate’s soldiers laid a crossbeam on His shoulders some three years later.
At the Jordan, the sinless Son of God was already made to be sin for us; God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). There at the Jordan, Jesus was baptized not for His own sins but for the sins of all the world, just as He would later die, not for His sins, but for your sins and mine. And so when Jesus was baptized in the waters of the Jordan, He was taking yet another step in His Passion, in His journey towards His death on the cross. And by His death we live.
Jesus exchanging our sin and death for His righteousness and life is what the Baptism of Jesus is all about. And that is what the cross is all about. On the Good Friday cross, Jesus bore our sins and suffered our guilt, our punishment, our death. And because of His death and resurrection, we receive from Him His righteousness, His forgiveness, His glory, His life. Jesus takes on our sin and becomes the greatest sinner; we are made His saints. Jesus is baptized into our sin; we are baptized into His righteousness. He is baptized into our death and damnation; we are baptized into His life and salvation. He is baptized into the curse of the Law, the curse we deserve for our disobedience; we are baptized into God’s blessing and favour that comes with Christ’s perfect obedience. Jesus dies on the cross in our place so that we may live forever with Him in heaven.
We entered the world as God’s enemies because of sin. But through Holy Baptism, God has made us His children, with whom He is well pleased. How is this possible? Because Jesus, in His baptism and death, became sin for us so that we may become righteous in God’s sight. When we were baptized, we were baptized into Christ and His righteousness. As St. Paul writes in Galatians, for as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ (3:27). In Baptism you have put on Christ; you are so intimately linked with the Lord Jesus that your sins become His and His righteousness becomes yours. You came into the world naked in sin, but in Holy Baptism, you are clothed with the righteousness of Christ.
In being baptized into Christ, we not only receive His righteousness, but we also participate in His death and resurrection. As St. Paul says, 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 (Romans 6:3-4). In Baptism we die with Christ to sin and we are raised with Christ to righteousness. Baptism brings about a daily contrition and repentance, so that (Catechism) the Old Adam in us… [daily] drown[s] and die[s] with all sins and evil desires, and… a new man … daily emerge[s] and arise[s] to live before God in righteousness and purity forever. We do not do this in our own strength; rather, this dying to sin and rising to righteousness is God’s gift which we receive by faith. Through Baptism, the death and resurrection of Jesus are made our own, and because of that fact, throughout our entire life, we are able to say, “I am baptized!”
The devil and his evil forces have been conquered by Christ. And because we have been baptized into Christ, because we belong to Christ, His victory is ours! So when Satan accuses us of being despicable sinners who deserve only God’s condemnation, when Satan lays our many and grievous sins before us so that we begin to wonder whether our sins are greater than God’s love and forgiveness, then we can shout back to him: “Be gone, Satan, for I am baptized into Christ!”. We do not have to listen to the devil’s lies and deceptions anymore, because we have been baptized into Christ, and thus His victory is ours!
Because we have been baptized into Christ, even the death of our bodies cannot defeat us. For since in our Baptism we already participate in Christ’s death and resurrection, we can be confident of our final resurrection. Having been buried with Christ into His death, we do not have to be afraid of the tomb in which we will one day rest. Christ has already been there. In Holy Baptism we have passed through His grave into His resurrection.
No matter what trials and temptations may come your way, you can face every day with courageous faith, for you have been baptized into Christ, you belong to Christ, and His victory is yours. And so everyday you can say with conviction, “I am baptized into Christ!” Baptized into Christ, you are able—by God’s grace—to resist the devil, to take comfort in God’s Word in every time of trial, to daily cling to your Lord’s Absolution, and finally to die with confidence in God’s promise of the resurrection to life everlasting. And being baptized into Christ, you shall stand by faith before the judgment seat of God, clothed not in your sin but in the glorious robes of the very righteousness of your dear Lord Jesus Christ.
Even now, you live as those who stand in the presence of God, and so you do not boast of your righteousness; rather, you boast of our Lord’s righteousness, which He graciously gives you in Holy Baptism. St. Paul says, Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord, and so you boast only of your baptism into Christ (1 Corinthians 1:29, 31). “I am baptized into Christ.” This is our lifelong confidence, our bold testimony before the ungodly of the world and before the very hordes of hell itself. “I am baptized into Christ”—by the grace of God, this shall be our faithful cry throughout our life. And by God’s grace, when finally our last hour comes, our hearts will proclaim with confidence, “I am baptized into Christ!” Amen.