The Baptism of our Lord (C)
January 7, 2007
Text: Luke 3:15-22
At the Baptism of our Lord, heaven itself is opened wide for us. It is an epiphany, a revelation of the Holy Trinity as the Father speaks, declaring Jesus to be the Son of God, and the Holy Spirit descends on Jesus in the form of a dove. So also it is a revelation that heaven is forever “opened to all humanity through the flesh of Christ by the Spirit of Christ.”
Here the Father and the Holy Spirit are at one with the Son as He begins His earthly ministry. The Trinity is revealed as God for us
in the person of Jesus Christ. And Jesus, who is true man, is revealed as God the Son, and anointed as our Messiah, our Prophet, Priest, and King, by the Holy Spirit.
From this Baptism of our Lord our own Baptism into the Lord derives its whole significance. Thus our whole identity as Christians flows out of this Baptism of Jesus by John in the Jordan River.
Our sinless Lord humbles Himself to be baptized with the Baptism of repentance and the forgiveness of sins. He is baptized for us, in our place. Our sins are placed upon the head of this sacrificial Lamb of God. He takes the sins of the whole world into Himself in this inaugural event of His ministry. He is baptized into the wrath that we deserve. But in so being baptized, He sanctifies the waters of the Jordan and all waters so that you and I can be baptized into His perfect righteousness, and into His death and resurrection. It is the great exchange that determines our standing before God. Jesus takes all of our sin and shame upon Himself in His baptism, so that in our baptisms we receive His perfect righteousness. The exchange will be made complete in Jesus’ bloody Baptism on the cross. When God looks at Jesus on the cross, He sees the sin of the world, and punishes Jesus as the object of His holy wrath. So now when God looks at us, He sees the sinless perfection of Jesus, and rewards us with eternal life as the objects of His holy love.
The ministry of John the Baptist was marked by anticipation. All “the people were in expectation” (v. 15; ESV). They were waiting for the promised Messiah. John came preaching repentance. Messianic hopes were high. The people wondered whether John might be the Christ. “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (v. 16). The Messiah is at hand, but it is not John. “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). He is here in your midst. “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). Prepare. Repent and be baptized. So Jesus also submits to John’s Baptism. It is necessary, to fulfill all righteousness (Matt. 3:15). Which is to say that it is necessary for you
for Jesus to be baptized into your repentance and for your forgiveness. It is necessary for Him to be baptized to give your repentance significance and to cleanse the baptismal waters, that they might cleanse you.
As the Lord was baptized into you, you were baptized into Him. You were baptized into those waters that were cleansed for you, the waters that are included in His command and combined with His Word. You were baptized into Jesus and into the Name which He bears, the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. That Divine Name, the Christian family Name, was placed upon you. And your names were engraved on the palms of His hands with crucifixion nails. God adopted you as His own children. You received the Gift of His Spirit. There is power in the water and the Word. It is God’s power. “It works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this.”
“Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mark 16:16). So as you step into those baptismal waters, or have them sprinkled or poured over your head, the Spirit also descends on you and God declares, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22).
He is pleased with you because you are clothed with His Son. “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal. 2:27). You are clothed with His righteousness. You are clothed with His death and with His resurrection. You are reborn into Jesus Christ and His Spirit. It is totally God’s action. It is totally by grace. “He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying” (Titus 3:5-8; NIV, quoted in the Small Catechism
). So also His death and resurrection have become your own. “St. Paul writes in Romans chapter six: ‘We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.’ (Rom. 6:4)” (Small Catechism
Luther writes in his Large Catechism
: “To be baptized in God’s name is to be baptized not by men but by God himself. Although it is performed by men’s hands, it is nevertheless truly God’s own act.”
It is God’s action for us and upon us in Christ. Christ baptizes us through the hands of men. “That is the promise. Christ is the baptizer whether He is seen or not. The Father blesses with His good Word. The Spirit makes the heart His temple. And that is why (in 1st Corinthians) St. Paul can’t even remember who he baptized, because in truth, he never baptized anyone. Christ did it all.”
It is a Trinitarian action, the Father declaring us His own forgiven children through the Baptism of Christ in the Spirit whom He gives us.
It is an action of crucifixion and resurrection. Being baptized into the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, our sinful flesh is put to death and the new man is raised to new life. Repentance is a daily dying and rising with Christ. It means taking up our crosses and following the Crucified One. It is the daily drowning and dying of the Old Adam in us, along with all sins and evil desires, and the daily rising of the new man to live before God in righteousness and purity forever. This, of course, happens in Baptism. Baptism is for our daily use as Christians. Our whole life is the baptismal life. It is a life of repentance and faith. It is a life lived by the promises of Christ given us in Baptism itself, the promise of forgiveness of sins, a rescuing from death, and the defeat of the devil along with all sin and evil. And it is the pledge and seal of the Holy Spirit who has made His dwelling in our hearts.
So also Baptism is the pledge and seal of the literal resurrection of our bodies from the dead on the Day when our Lord returns. Our physical bodies have been redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ along with our souls. The promise of salvation is for our bodies also, which will be made new in the resurrection. This is the culmination of our Baptism into Christ. Jesus’ Baptism in the Jordan pointed forward to His bloody Baptism on the cross for our forgiveness. Our Baptism into Jesus brings all the benefits of His bloody Baptism on the cross to us. The Father did not leave Jesus in the bonds of death. He raised Him from the dead. Now we who are in Christ, who have been clothed with Him in Baptism and are members of His Body, can be assured that He will raise us from the dead also. It is the Father’s final declaration of our innocence in Christ. It is the final declaration that all the debt of sin has been paid in full by Christ. It is the gracious granting of the Life of Christ to us who are in Christ. In the resurrection of Christ from the dead, the Father declared the sacrifice of the cross acceptable. He declared the whole world justified, righteous on account of Christ. And if He has declared us so, then we are so. The death sentence is no longer upon us. We are free. Heaven is wide open. Jesus has prepared a place for us there. And we who have followed Him in the way of death and the cross will also follow Him to the way of life in heaven, even as we have been marked by His Name: In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. 
Arthur A. Just, Jr., Luke 1:1-9:50
, Concordia Commentary (St. Louis: Concordia, 1996.
 David H. Petersen, sermon on the Baptism of our Lord, Matt. 3:13-17, Jan. 11, 2004 (http://redeemer-fortwayne.org/displaySermon.php?sermon=195
). Luther’s Small Catechism
(St. Louis: Concordia, 1986).
 LC IV:10 (Tappert).