Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, January 09, 2011

The Baptism of Our Lord

The Baptism of Our Lord (A)
January 9, 2011
Text: Matt. 3:13-17

St. John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ, was baptizing in the Jordan River for repentance and the forgiveness of sins (Mark 1:4). There is nothing more necessary for our sinful flesh than repentance and the forgiveness of sins, a sorrow over our sinful condition, a turning away from sin in faith toward the one true God, a forgiveness bestowed on us by God by grace alone, a free gift conveyed to us in the means of grace, the Word and the Sacraments, Baptism. There is not a person in this congregation who doesn’t need Baptism, who doesn’t need repentance and the forgiveness of sins. There is not a person on this earth who is not in need of this grace. There is not a sinless person in the history of the whole world, nor will there ever be such a person, who is not in need of John’s preaching, who does not need to repent, who does not need to be forgiven. Except for One. Jesus, God in the flesh, the sinless One, the Messiah, the one coming after John who is before him, the strap of whose sandal John is unworthy to loose, the One coming to baptize with fire and with the Holy Spirit. Jesus does not need Baptism, not for Himself. Jesus does not need to repent and be forgiven. He is sinless. He has nothing of which to repent, nothing of which to be forgiven. Still, He comes. He splashes toward John through the waters of the Jordan. He comes to be baptized. “John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matt. 3:14-15; ESV).

Why must Jesus be baptized? To fulfill all righteousness. This is a great mystery to us. It is difficult for us to understand, because our fleshly mind gets in the way. But Jesus is not baptized for Himself. He is baptized for us. Jesus must be baptized so that He can take our place, become our stand-in, fulfill the holy Law of God for us, suffer our punishment, die our death, atone for our sins, be the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Jesus comes to the place where sinners are wading in the Jordan to have their sins washed away by God’s Word of forgiveness. The people come repenting, confessing their sins, and they are baptized and forgiven. Their sins are cast into the water. Jesus comes into that same water, and like a sponge, He soaks up all the sins of all the people. He soaks up even your sin and mine. He takes it all into Himself. He is baptized into us. He becomes the sinner. And He leaves there, in the water, His righteousness, His perfection, His life, His salvation. Our Lord thus sanctifies and institutes all waters to be a blessed flood and a lavish washing away of sin. Now wherever water is joined to God’s Word, God’s Name, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, there is a Baptism, “that is, a life-giving water, rich in grace, and a washing of the new birth in the Holy Spirit.”[1] For God “saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior” (Titus 3:5-6). Jesus was baptized to fulfill all righteousness for you and for me. Jesus was baptized, so that Baptism may now save you.

This is why you are baptized, that Jesus may be your righteousness. Righteousness, justification, it’s the same word in Greek. You are justified, pronounced righteous, on account of Christ and His righteousness. And this justification, this righteousness, is given to you in Baptism. You see justification, righteousness, comes from outside of you. It must. God pronounces you righteous for Christ’s sake, with the righteousness of Christ. You have no righteousness of your own. Even your greatest good works are as filthy rags before God. Even the good works you do before men are sins before God. Because you are sinful sons and daughters of Adam and Eve. You are not sinful because you sin, rather, you sin because you are sinful. That is your condition, your disease. A bad tree bears bad fruit. What is needed here is a cure from outside of you. That cure is Christ. Jesus is baptized to fulfill all righteousness for you. You are baptized, that Jesus may be your righteousness, so that His perfect life, His holy, precious blood, His innocent suffering and death as a sacrifice for your sin, may count for you, be pleasing to God the Father, reconcile you with God. And this is precisely what happens. The proof is the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

In fact, in your Baptism into Christ, you become a partaker with Jesus Christ in His death and resurrection. In Baptism, you die with Christ. The sinful flesh is crucified. The Old Adam in you, the old sinful nature, is drowned in Baptism and dies with all sins and evil desires. And in Baptism, you are raised to new life with Christ. It is the sure and certain seal of your own resurrection from the dead on the Last Day. But it is also a new life that begins now as a new man, a new creation, emerges and arises in you to live before God in righteousness and purity forever. This is a daily occurrence, by the way. For repentance is nothing less than a daily return to Baptism. You repent daily of your sins. You daily drown the Old Adam in you. You daily put sin to death within you by resisting temptation and disciplining your body by meditation on the Scriptures and prayer and even fasting. And daily the new man rises in you, the new man given to you by the Spirit of God in Baptism, so that you desire to do the commandments of God, and love and serve your neighbor.

So you see, your whole Christian life flows from your Baptism into Christ. In Baptism, the Name of God is placed upon you, the Christian family Name, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. You are God’s own child. United to the Son of God, you are now a son of God. In Baptism, God gives you His Holy Spirit to call you to faith in Jesus Christ by the Gospel, to lead you into all truth by His Word, to enlighten you with His gifts in Word and Sacrament, to sanctify you, which is to say, make you holy, and to preserve you in the one true faith of Jesus Christ unto life everlasting. In Baptism, all your sins are washed away. You are forgiven, set free, given eternal life. For as St. Peter writes, “Baptism… now saves you” (1 Peter 3:21). Don’t ever let anybody tell you that Baptism is just a symbol, that it can’t save you. That is utter rubbish. It’s right here in the Holy Scriptures. Baptism saves you, not because it is some good work that you do in obedience to God that somehow gains His favor, but because in Baptism, God Himself acts upon you. It is all God’s action. He does the baptizing. Even the pastor is just His hands in the operation. It is all God’s work. You are purely passive. In Baptism, God makes you His own. It is all by grace.

This is why infant Baptism is not only good, right, and proper, but the best illustration of how God works in Baptism. The baby does nothing in Baptism. At best, the baby just lays there in the pastor’s arms, or sleeps through it. More often than not, the baby screams his or her head off. Just as birth is physically traumatic for the baby, the new birth of Baptism is spiritually traumatic. But it is all God’s work. By grace. That precious little baby is transferred in Baptism from the kingdom of the devil to the Kingdom of God. That precious little damned sinner is washed clean by the blood of Christ, and made God’s own child. There is no such thing as an innocent child, unless we’re talking about the Christ-child. But the Christ-child’s innocence is given to the baby, and even to the adult, in Baptism. And so also, in Baptism, the baby comes to faith in Jesus Christ. Reason may object that a baby is incapable of believing. But you know very well that right out of the womb, the baby already has faith in Mom, trusts Mom, knows Mom, relies on Mom for every good, for help in every need, even though Baby doesn’t even know her name. In Baptism, that baby comes to trust in Jesus Christ in the same way. Babies have no problem with faith. It is we adults who have all sorts of objections. And that is why Jesus even says, “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it” (Mark 10:15). It is not that infants must become adults before they can believe. It is the other way around. We adults must become infants before God if we are to believe in Him.

We must be infants, because faith simply receives from God. Faith passively receives the gifts of Baptism. Only then can it become active in love for the neighbor. And notice that in our Baptism, the same Trinitarian act takes place as that which happened in Jesus’ Baptism. When Jesus was baptized, the Holy Spirit descended upon Him as a dove, and the Father spoke from heaven: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17). So in our Baptism into Christ, we are anointed with the Holy Spirit, and the Father says of us: “You are my beloved son… With you I am well pleased.” Jesus was baptized to fulfill all righteousness. In Baptism, all of Jesus’ righteousness has been given to you. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Luther’s Small Catechism (St. Louis: Concordia, 1986).

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