As we look at the major events of the Church Year, we immediately think of the big two: Christmas and Easter. Christmas, as we just celebrated, is when God takes on human flesh in the form of Jesus Christ. Easter, which we will celebrate in just a few months, marks the resurrection from the dead of Jesus Christ and His defeat of sin, death, and the devil. We would most certainly say that those two events rate very high in the life of the Church. But as we look at our Gospel for today, another event is highlighted, one that is indeed very important to the life of the Church: the Baptism of Jesus.
In our text, we see two sets of Baptism taking place. First, John the Baptist “appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” Repentance was the purpose or result of John’s baptism. One way to view this is that one could not be said to have repented unless and until one had been baptized. This was so because baptism was not one way to achieve repentance for John – it was the way to attain it, indeed, the only way. John’s baptism enacted the plea and vision of the Old Testament concerning preparation for the coming personal presence of God in the promised Messiah. Through the baptism of John, God made for himself a cleansed and repentant people, prepared for His visitation.
The people acknowledged who John was, the last of the Old Testament prophets, and went to him in order to be baptized and to confess their sins. Everything that John did was not for his benefit or for his own desires, but rather it was for the benefit of those who came to him. The baptism that John offered, a baptism of repentance, said something of the individual coming to be baptized. They desired to repent, to turn from their sinful ways.
To keep from drawing attention to himself, John never took credit for anything. He always sought to get the focus off of himself and onto the One to whom the focus was deserved: the coming Messiah. John says, “After me comes he who is mightier than I….” That brings us to the second Baptism that takes place in our text. “In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.”
In an interesting turn of events, Jesus comes to be baptized by John. Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God; He had no sins to confess! Why did Jesus need to be baptized for the remission of His sins that didn’t exist? St. Matthew records for us Jesus’ simple reply to John when John questions the Baptism: “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John baptized Jesus with no further discussion.
We need to make sure we fully understand what took place in the Baptism of Jesus by John. The view that by being baptized by John, Jesus only showed His willing obedience and though He didn’t need to be baptized and yet submitted to it, makes the baptism nothing but a formality and misconstrues what John’s Baptism really was. It wasn’t law, but gospel. It wasn’t a demand to obey but a gift of grace to accept and retain. Jesus was baptized by John because He regarded this as the right way in which to enter upon His great office. Jesus, the sinless one, the very Son of God, chose to put Himself by the side of all the sinful ones, for whom this sacrament was ordained. He signifies that He is now ready to take upon Himself the load of these sinners, that is, to assume His redemptive office. As Luther points out, Jesus was here rightly beginning to be the Christ, the Anointed One, and “was thus inaugurated into His entire Messianic office as our Prophet, High Priest, and King.”
Here, in the Jordan River, Jesus became one of us. He took on all that has gone wrong with us, every sin. By taking our sin onto Himself, He becomes the greatest sinner. He becomes the greatest sinner so that He could become our only Savior. He takes His place under our sin, so that He could lift it from us and carry it away. He carried our sin away from us so that the punishment for that sin will not fall on us, but on Him. That is how God has decided that His judgment and His righteousness should go. Jesus should take our sin to Himself with all its condemnation, guilt, and punishment. God turns His friendly face to us because Jesus became one of us and took our sin on Himself.
So it is that Jesus submits to the Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. He repents of your sin. He undergoes the sinner’s baptism for sinners. Jesus stands with us in the waters of a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
The Baptism of Jesus reveals the plan of God to restore this love – to heal our relationship with Him – to open heaven to us once again. Here we see the Son of God in the flesh in order to take our place under the law. Here stands the sinless Son of God who carries in Him the sin of the entire world. Here is Jesus standing with us in the waters of baptism in order that we might be joined to Him in eternity.
From the moment that Jesus came to be in the womb of the Virgin, the Son of God has carried the sins of the world. Up until this moment of baptism, He carried our sins in silent anonymity. Now, at His baptism, His role as sin bearer becomes public. The heavens were torn open. The Spirit descended on him like a dove. A voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” The time has come for Jesus to publicize His journey, a journey that will pass through the cross where He will take away the sin of the world, a journey that will also pass through the empty tomb of Christ’s resurrection that demonstrates His power over death.
God the Father is pleased with His Son as He continues this journey of salvation. This is God the Father expressing delight in God the Son. This is God the Father expressing delight in us as well. For Jesus’ journey through the cross and the open tomb earned salvation for us. Through baptism, the Holy Spirit joined us to Christ Jesus. All that is ours belongs to Him, and all that is His belongs to us. So God delights in us just as He delights in Jesus. In a world that has long ago surrendered to sin, death, and the devil, there is one place where we receive the delight of God. That is where we are in solidarity with Jesus who heard the Father say, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.