Sermon – Matthew 3.13-17 (Baptism of Our Lord – 2020)

Let us pray: Lord God, heavenly Father, You manifested Yourself, with the Holy Spirit, in the fullness of grace at the baptism of Your dear Son, and with Your voice directed us to Him who has borne our sins, that we might receive grace and the remission of sins: Keep us, we beseech You, in the true faith; and inasmuch as we have been baptized in accordance with Your command, and the example of Your dear Son, we pray You to strengthen our faith by Your Holy Spirit, and lead us to everlasting life and salvation; through Your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one true God, now and forever. Amen.

Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him.

 14 And John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?”

 15 But Jesus answered and said to him, “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he allowed Him.

 16 When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him.

 17 And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

These are Your words, heavenly Father. Sanctify us by the truth. Your Word is truth. Amen.

Dear fellow redeemed,

A fool says in his heart there is no God.” These are the words of David in the Psalms. God exists. We can see from nature with all its ordered complexities that it cannot come about by random chance, but that it must have been created by an intelligent and omnipotent being. Furthermore, the natural law written on our hearts and our consciences bear witness to the fact that there is a Law-giving God who created us. There are many more arguments for the existence of God, but those are unnecessary. His existence is simply a matter of fact.

Though there are an increasing number of atheists in our country, the large majority of people believe in a personal divine being. And with the majority of people coming to this correct conclusion, we can arrive at another easy conclusion, I am not God, and you are not God.

But too few seriously consider the next logical questions. Who is God? And what does He think of me? How do I stand before Him? Those are vitally important questions, aren’t they?

We have, by God’s grace, come to know the answers to these questions. But we must always be reminded of these things, that we may more firmly be established in the truth, that we may be refreshed in God’s love and forgiveness, and strengthened to boldly live as God’s children in the world. The gospel reading today is a great meditation on these questions.

First, we’ll just briefly consider who God is, but then we’ll focus more on what are His thoughts toward us and how we stand before Him?

In our Gospel reading, we have a vivid picture of who God is. He reveals Himself as three distinct Persons. The Father speaks from heaven. The Son is coming up from the water after having been baptized. The Holy Spirit comes down in the form of a dove. The Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is not the Father. As the three Persons are present at Jesus’ baptism, they were also present in your baptism. For Jesus, before His ascension, commanded His Church to baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

But we do not worship three God’s, but one God as He says about Himself in Scripture, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord, our God, the Lord is One.” And as Jesus said about Himself and the Father, “I and the Father are One.” Certainly, the Holy Spirit is One with the Father and the Son as well. Nothing expresses this more clearly that the Athanasian Creed.

This is the mystery of the Trinity, our one true God. The very nature of God is beyond our comprehension. And this is fittingly so. He is Creator, we are His creation. He is infinite. We are finite. He is boundless in His might, in His wisdom, in His immensity, in His majesty, and in His glory. And we are severely limited…

…especially, since we have become alienated from God on account of our sin. The perfection we had is lost. The image of God, which we had, is gone. We have been corrupted. We have become mortal. We have fallen under God’s judgment. Consider our selfishness, our lust, our worldliness, our pride, our sinful anger, our impatience, our lack of love for our neighbor, and so on.

How would we stand before our righteous Creator? Well, the Psalmist says, “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquity, who could stand?” We all fall under the righteous judgment of God.  John recognizes his own sinfulness. He had been preaching repentance. And He had been baptizing with a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. He knew that he himself was a sinner as all the rest of the people whom he was baptizing. And so he thought that it was completely backwards that Jesus, the Son of God made flesh, who is perfect and righteous, would come to him to be baptized. This was a baptism for sinners.

But then we see what God’s attitude toward us is when we consider the purpose of Jesus’ baptism. Jesus insists on being baptized, because they must fulfill all righteousness. John must perform his part as being the one called by God to baptize. And Jesus fulfills His part by submitting Himself to the baptism. And by submitting Himself to be baptized, He takes up the work by which He becomes our righteousness so that we may stand before God.

In Jesus’ baptism, we see the will of the Triune God. It’s mindboggling that God would be mindful of us. He who is all glorious and mighty and just, could easily and rightfully judged us have wiped out us rebellious, mortal sinners in His just wrath. Such love and mercy from almighty God, the Creator, that could reach down to us sinners is beyond comprehension.

The Father doesn’t just kindly wish us well, but gives His own Son to be the world’s redeemer. It is the Father’s will that His Son not only assume a human nature, but that He, being perfect in Himself, also take upon Himself all the sins and guilt of the world, including all of your sins and mine. He takes them in order that He take accountability for them all, and that He would be the one to fall under the Father’s judgment for those sins, suffering and dying for them. And He also sent His Son to live under the Law, keeping it perfectly, so that His righteousness would justify the world in His sight.

The Father sent His Son to accomplish this. And the Son obeyed, subjecting Himself to baptism, taking on the work of fulfilling all righteousness. He steps onto the path to the cross to be our sacrificial Lamb and to fall under the punishment of the Father’s righteous judgment that you and I may be saved from our sins, from death, and from the devil. In love for you, He does this, and in obedience to His Father He does this. And because of His obedience, the Father expresses His pleasure towards His Son at the Jordan River.

And then the Holy Spirit descended upon Christ. The Holy Spirit anointed Christ into His saving office, that He may be our Great Prophet, Priest, and King. Thus what Isaiah spoke 700 years earlier is fulfilled, “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me, because the LORD has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound…” (Is 61:1). Jesus already had the fullness of the Holy Spirit according to His divine nature, being One with Him. But here the Holy Spirit comes to Christ, according to His human nature, to lead Him throughout His ministry, and endow Him with the strength needed for the work ahead of Him.

Look at what takes place at the Jordan River! And there see what the God of heaven and earth, the one true God’s will is towards you. At Jesus’ baptism, we see God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, fully invested in the work of your salvation.

But then look at your own baptism, and how personal that love of God is for you

At your baptism, that saving mercy and love of God came to bear upon you in your life. There the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit was present in your baptism. There the Father adopted you as His dear child, for He says in Scripture, “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal 3:26-27).

How could this be since we daily offend Him with our sins? Baptism connects you to the saving work of Christ. Christ, in His baptism, took your sins, and took upon Himself the Father’s wrath. Through your baptism, your sins are taken away, and you are able to stand before God, sinless in His sight, clothed in the righteousness of Christ. This forgiveness and righteousness of Christ given you in baptism remains yours through faith in Christ.

And through baptism, you are given the gift of the Holy Spirit. He creates and preserves in you faith. He dwells in you, and guides and leads you through life as a child of God, and endows you in your weakness with the strength to live as God’s people in this wilderness.

God exists! And how blessed it is to know Him, and to know His grace and mercy toward us! What a joy it is to say, “I am baptized into Christ.” God keep us in this baptismal grace always. Amen.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.

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