Sermo Dei: Baptism of Our Lord

Text: Matthew 3:13-17

I’m sure I’ve said this before here at Good Shepherd, either here in the pulpit or in our Scripture Study, but I’ll say it again (for the first time?): when you’re listening to the Scriptures, listen for the thing that seems out-of-place. Often in those little phrases do we find the significant teachings of our Lord.

There are many extraordinary things in what we hear from our Lord’s word today. A river seasonally overrunning its banks doesn’t heap up in one place just because some holy men carrying a holy box stepped into it. By Jesus’ time, prophets of the Lord are seldom seen and heard from – even less so today. The sky tends not to be rent open wide when someone wades in the water. Certainly disembodied voices don’t sound forth from heaven, nor do dove-like Spirits descend in plain sight.

Yes, these are all extraordinary in a miraculous sort of way. But they are commonplace occurrences when the Lord is involved. At His direction all sorts of astounding events take place: plagues ravage Egypt, the Red Sea is divided, water pours from a rock, manna appears daily for decades. The Word of the Lord causes city walls to crumble at the mere cry of His people. In fact, with His own speaking the entirety of creation comes into being.

The Lord regularly converses with His people: from a bush that burns and is not consumed, from the thin air many a time, in the appearance of travelers visiting Abraham.

An abundance of prophets appear in the midst of the Lord’s people, preaching repentance and a return to the Lord. The list is long, long, long, and ends with John baptizing in the wilderness.

Spectacular atmospheric phenomena are even a bit old-hat with YHWH. Pillars of fire and cloud, a whirlwind whisking away Elijah, the heavenly host appearing and shouting forth their Gloria, the Glory Cloud hovering over the Tabernacle, the fierce and frightening tempest atop Mt. Sinai, the sun standing still.

From a certain perspective these are tremendously out-of-place events. But not from our perspective. We consider these things knowing that there is a God who is Almighty, and who operates with great power and glory. These things come with the Lord by default.

However, considering things from this perspective helps us begin to see what is truly unusual here. Because God is God, it’s usual to consider Him as apart, separate, present but not with us.

It’s a perfectly natural way to look at things. After all, the Lord self-describes Himself in this way. I read from Isaiah last week where the Lord says His ways are not our ways, nor His thoughts our thoughts. Again, He is the one who makes rivers turn to blood, plagues of locusts descend in judgment, fiery serpents to slither amok amongst the people of Israel, the ground to swallow up those who sin against Him. He is righteous, He is a consuming fire, Holy is He. When Isaiah beheld the presence of the Lord he cried out, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

Because of who the Lord Himself is, we have to see Him as separate. Even when the Son of God is incarnate, we cannot help but think of Him as not one of us. He may be a man, but He is still sinless. He can do no wrong; we can do no right. As John preached, “His winnowing fork is in his hand…”

John was preaching this message of repentance. He was doing his God-given task, preparing the sinful people for the coming of the kingdom of God and the arrival of God’s Righteous One. John was baptizing the people into repentance that they might believe in the salvation coming from the Lord.

When this Righteous One – Jesus – walks up to the Jordan and up to John and says, “baptize Me, too,” John does a double-take and can’t get past what he thinks his message has meant. If we are sinners and the Messiah is righteous then we cannot be in this together. “For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?” This cannot be, John thinks. No, John says! “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”

This is the same thing we say to Jesus when we dare to lay before Him our sins and think that they cannot be forgiven. This is the same thing we say to Jesus when we only want to talk about Him as powerful or Almighty or some other attribute that keeps Him at arm’s length from us. Whether because we’re terrified or because we don’t want Him quite that involved in our lives, we are keeping Jesus separate from us. Repent.

For here, in Jesus’ answer to John, is the extraordinary thing. “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”

Jesus does not need this baptism. He has no need for forgiveness.  He has nothing to repent of. Jesus comes to the baptismal waters of the Jordan fully righteous, perfect, without blemish or spot or stain.

Yet Jesus comes to these waters loaded down with sin – “…the sin of the world…” as John put it. That’s why Jesus is here, to fully be a sinner with us. There is no distance between us and Christ, no separation. In His baptism, Christ makes Himself completely one with us. What John saw as necessary separation – sinner’s baptism only for sinners – Jesus gently puts aside and says “it is fitting for us…”

Jesus’ Baptism is our Baptism. It is not the water that does it – it’s no mere water – but it’s the Word in and with the water that makes this Baptism. That is, it’s Jesus there in the water – being sinner for you – that makes it.

There is water in our Font today that you might go to it and touch it – even make the sign of the cross with it – and remember that it was sanctified water poured over you too; sanctified by Christ. For in your baptism you were buried with Christ and raised with Christ. This water saves by His death and resurrection. You were baptized into Him. His Name was given to you – Father, Son, Holy Spirit – that same Name that was there at the Jordan! You are His. His Baptism, His anointing, all yours. You have received the Holy Spirit.

All this, of course, is because Jesus the sinless one now sinner was one with you, appeasing the wrath of God against all sin, even yours. Jesus made the payment, so now in your Baptism you are free.

And as Luther was wont to point out, you are not those who were baptized, but those who ARE. Even now you are dripping wet with the saving waters. Sometimes it can be hard to see, but nothing now separates you from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Nothing. Tribulation and suffering come, but for you these are marks of being Christ’s. “Blessed are you” He says.

And these things will not last. There is an end to them. And though your skin may be thus destroyed, and tyrants and governments and even family and friends may rage against you, yet in your flesh you shall see God; your eyes shall behold Him, and not another.

In this is the extraordinary thing. Though He did not need to do so, the Lord saw fit to humble Himself, become a man, become you, become Sin itself, and put Himself to death (and Sin with Him.) For you. In this way, Jesus fulfills all righteousness and then gives all that righteousness to you. All this so that the Father can beam “Be-lov-ed, Heir of gifts a king would covet!” (LSB 593) Beloved by the Father you are. Remember your baptism, dear sons and daughters of the King. You ARE baptized and are fully righteous in Christ.