Sermon – Matthew 3.13-17 (Baptism of our Lord – 2019)
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.
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 few years back, I listened to a presentation by one of the foreign mission board members about the work of our sister church body in India, the Lutheran Mission of Salvation-India. They not only talked about their ministry there, but also about the culture and the features of the life and religion of the people in India. Hinduism is the chief religion there, and of great importance for them is the Ganges River. It is almost like a god to them. They think that washing in the river washes them of their sins, but, of course, the water there is just plain water. Though if you can say anything about the river, you can say that it is filthy. It is heavily contaminated with sewage. The mission board member was talking about a crematory on the river. There they daily cast heaps of ashes of the deceased in the river. And then downstream you see the people wading in the river, washing clothes, washing themselves, brushing their teeth and collecting water for drinking.
As filthy as that river was, it doesn’t hold a candle to the filthiness of the Jordan River on one particular day.
Let’s talk about that day. It’s the day portrayed in our gospel reading. John had been performing his preparatory work, preaching repentance to the people, that they may be ready to receive Jesus as their Savior. He was baptizing people in the Jordan River. It was a “baptism of repentance for the remission of sins,” as Mark’s Gospel says. It was a baptism of grace that gave the forgiveness of sins.
Many came out from Jerusalem, from Judea and from all over the region to see John at the Jordan. They heard John’s preaching. They repented and they were baptized. And among the sinners that came to see John was Jesus. And Jesus’ request was just like everyone elses. He wished to be baptized.
But John knew Jesus, and knew He was different than the rest of the crowd. Jesus was the righteous Son of God. Jesus was the one whose sandals John was unworthy even to untie. John was the unworthy servant, Jesus, the holy and righteous Lord. He was without sin. He had no need to repent, nor did He need forgiveness. He was the one who would save the world from its sins. The next day, John identified Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. So it would be more fitting for holy Jesus to baptize John with the baptism that grants the remission of sin.
But Jesus insisted, “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”
And so John the servant of the Lord is obedient to His master. And Jesus, in His humility, is obedient to His Father, and in so doing, they fulfill all righteousness. Jesus is baptized. But what exactly is going on here? Jesus enters the Jordan River, and in those waters, He gets filthy. No the water isn’t dirty with fecal matter and the ashes of the dead and other pollutants. No, it is much worse. He enters into the water to get filthy with our sins. It is not ashes of the dead bodies, but the sins of our body of death. “He who knew no sin became sin for us.” He becomes the bearer of our sins. The vulgarities and lies that comes from our mouths, the perversity and selfishness of our minds, and the wretched deeds of our hands are all in that water, and Jesus doesn’t shy away from the filth, but in love for you, He is baptized, He takes those filthy sins unto Himself that they may become as His own.
He attaches Himself to our sins through His baptism, and there he takes in hand the cup of suffering that he will be drinking 3 years later. For He was baptized, covering Himselfl in our sins, accepting the punishment for them that He will pay on the cross. There the Holy One would hang on the cross covered in our filth, and the Father, looks with disgust and holy indignation at His own Son. He suffers hell and gives His life as the payment price for our sins. And Jesus resurrection is proof that the price is paid in full. Sin is removed, peace with God is made.
When Jesus was baptized, taking our sins and beginning His path to the cross, He obeys the Father and begins to fulfill all righteousness for us! And see how pleased the Father is in what His Son is doing! He even speaks from heaven in this beautiful manifestation of the Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Father loves His Son, and is pleased that He takes up the work of our salvation. And the Holy Spirit comes down in the form of a dove, anointing Jesus for His work of making peace between us and God. God is fully committed to our salvation!
And as He connected Himself to us taking our sins through His baptism, He connects us to Himself and cleanses us of our sins through the waters in which we were baptized. Though it is plain water that comes from the tap, connected with the Word, it is a sanctifying water, that cleanses us and gives us life and salvation, gifts that Christ has won for us. As Luther says in the Small Catechism, “It is not the water that does these things, but the Word of God which is in and with the water, and faith which trusts this Word of God in the water. For without the Word of God the water is simply water, and no baptism; but with the Word of God it is a baptism, that is, a gracious water of life and a washing of regeneration in the Holy Spirit.”
And as at Jesus’ baptism, so also at ours, the Triune God is present as we are baptized in His name, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He is pleased to call us to Himself, to wash us clean of our sins, and make us His own children through faith.
And in baptism, we are given new life! Christ has joined to His death and resurrection, and thus we the old is put away, it is drowned, and we now live in the forgiven and free life that He has newly created for us! This is why we do not say, “I was baptized,” but rather, “I am baptized.” Like a married person would not say, “I was married,” but “I am married.” I am baptized as the hymn says. We live each day as God’s adopted children, clothed in Christ, washed of our sins, having peace with God. For that is what baptism gives, as it says in Peter’s epistle. It’s a cleansing water, not the removal of filth of our flesh, but the removal of our sins, so that our conscience may be at peace with God. It doesn’t wash us only 99.99% clean, but it gives us the total 100% forgiveness of all our sins paid for by the all sufficient, once for all sacrifice of Jesus, our Savior.
And so we live out this new baptismal life by drowning that Old Adam in us in repentance, and believing that our sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake.
May God preserve us from forsaking this gift of baptism, by impenitence and unbelief. We’re set free from sin, so we do not go jump headlong back into our filth. But by God’s grace, we live in repentance, living in those cleansing waters of baptism as we hear the word of forgiveness in absolution, and receive the body and blood of Christ for the remission of our sins.
And in this new life, set free from sin, we then go about our lives as God’s baptized and forgiven people, a people He has claimed as His own in baptism and upon which He has put His name. We begin each day in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. And thus we get to conduct ourselves in our vocations in life with confidence and comfort! This we joyfully do to the glory of Christ, who by His baptism made Himself dirty, that we in our baptisms may be made clean. Amen.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.