The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God, and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
Luke 3:15 Now while the people were in a state of expectation and all were wondering in their hearts about John, as to whether he might be the Christ, 16 John answered and said to them all, ‘As for me, I baptize you with water; but One is coming who is mightier than I, and I am not fit to untie the thong of His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 And His winnowing fork is in His hand to thoroughly clear His threshing floor, and to gather the wheat into His barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.’ 21 Now it came about when all the people were baptized, that Jesus also was baptized, and while He was praying, heaven was opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in bodily form like a dove, and a voice came out of heaven, “Thou art My beloved Son, in Thee I am well-pleased.’”
It seems that as Bible oriented liturgical Christians we can never be rid of John the Baptist. He shows up in Advent. He shows up at the start of Lent. He also shows up at the start of Epiphany.
In Advent the words “prepare the way for the Lord” take center stage. In Lent “repent for the kingdom of God is at hand.” Here in Epiphany, we focus on the verses that tells us “when all the people were baptized, that Jesus also was baptized, and while He was praying, heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in bodily form like a dove, and a voice came out of heaven, ‘Thou art My beloved Son, in Thee I am well-pleased.’”
While we emphasize different parts of what John the Baptist said and did, it is all in vein if not connected to the person and work of Jesus Christ. Namely to His baptism, life, death, and resurrection.
Today we remember and celebrate the baptism of Jesus. All four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John record the ministry of John and the baptism of Jesus. Each tells the story of Jesus’s baptism from slightly different theological perspective and include slightly different details, but the fact that they all tell us of His baptism is significant.
As a point of interest, only two of the Gospels record the Nativity of our Lord–Matthew and Luke. But God thought it so essential to our understanding of Who Jesus is, what Jesus did, and (now listen carefully here) who we are as Christians that He had all four Gospel writers make a record of the event.
That fact that Baptism or references to it are found in almost every Epistles should also tell Christians something about the power and purpose of Jesus’s baptism and our own. By my count, there are nearly 100 mentions or references to Baptism, its purpose, and its power in The New Testament.
Jesus was born in Bethlehem, taken to Egypt, and returned home to Nazareth when safe. The next we hear of Jesus is when He was around 12 in the temple in Jerusalem. Then nothing for several more years. The boy has grown to a man and He just showed up “when all the people were baptized.” Thus began the public ministry of Jesus. With His baptism He entered into His threefold office of Prophet, Priest, and King.
John came preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. In the Gospel lesson this morning we are told that some of the people thought John was the promised Messiah. He denied it and gave them a lesson in contrasts, namely he contrasted the baptism he was given to baptize with, with the one that the Messiah would institute. “As for me, I baptize you with water; but One is coming who is mightier than I, and I am not fit to untie the thong of His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” Yet these are not two distinct and separated baptism, the former, the baptism for the remission of sins, is taken up into the Baptism of Christ.
Many take John’s words here to mean that his baptism was merely a symbol, that it had no power. They take these words in isolation of what he has already said about the baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
But here, Jesus the God/Man who had no sin, showed up to be baptized. John initially objected. Matthew 3:14 “But John tried to prevent Him, saying, ‘I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?’ 15 But Jesus answering said to him, ‘Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.’”
Right there is the difference. Sinners get baptized because they are sinners. It is part and partial of the act of repentance. Daily repentance, sorrow over our sin and trust in Christ for absolution are tied to our own baptism. To repent is to make use of our baptism.
Jesus was baptized to “fulfill all righteousness.” Our baptism washes us clean. His baptism provided us with all the righteousness we needed. The sacrament of Holy Baptism is the Gospel in liquid form.
His journey to the cross began in the waters of the River Jordan. Martin Luther wrote the following prayer for the rite of baptism. “Through the Baptism in the Jordan of Your beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, You sanctified and instituted all waters to be a blessed flood and a lavish washing away of sin.”
Jesus submitted to being baptism to stand in our stead, to stand as one of us in order to save us from our sin.
When Jesus was baptized by John, the baptism of repentance for the remission of sin was immersed into the person and work of Jesus Christ. In His Baptism Jesus took our place on the cross to fulfill all righteousness.
In Mark 10:34-40 Jesus speaks of His whole saving ministry as His baptism. “Can you drink the cup which I must drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am being baptized?” In Luke 12:50 Jesus tells His disciples “I must be baptized with a baptism and how troubled I am until it is completed.” Then there’s the conversation with Nicodemus. (John 3:5-6) “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”
Immediately after His baptism Jesus is led into the wilderness to overcome the temptations we fail to overcome each and every day of our lives. He does for us what we cannot do for ourselves. One theologian wrote, “Jesus begins His ministry with Baptism in the River Jordan and ends it with a blood bath on the cross.”
When it came to replacing Judas as one of the disciples/apostles, Peter said that Judas’s replacement had to be “one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.” (Acts 1:21–22, ESV)
Many of the men Jesus chose to be His disciples were originally disciples of John the Baptist. The baptism of Jesus is foundational to the witness of the apostles. So far all I have covered is a few Bible passages in the Gospels and one in the Book of Acts. But what I have employed shows that Baptism is more than a simple act of obedience, a symbol of Jesus’s obedience to God the Father. These passages show that the rite of baptism flows from the person and work of Jesus Christ and delivers to the baptized the person and work of Jesus Christ, which is called the gospel.
Add to this the assigned Epistle lesson for this morning. Romans 6:3-5 “Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? 4 Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection.”
But we cannot ignore the rest of what John the Baptist preached. He reminds us that God still judges sin. “His winnowing fork is in His hand to thoroughly clear His threshing floor, and to gather the wheat into His barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
It is only when we come to understand how angry God is over sin, that we begin to understand and appreciate the Gospel of Jesus Christ, His Word, and the Sacraments of His Holy House. It is the Gospel that appeased, satisfied the wrath of a righteous and angry God and God instituted the ministry of Word and Sacrament ministry as the way by which He delivers His grace and forgiveness to those whom He elects and whom receive His gifts.
Your sin became Jesus’s baptism and His baptism wherein He fulfilled all righteousness, becomes your baptism of His righteousness. 1 Corinthians 6:11 “You were washed…you were sanctified…you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God.” Ephesians 5:25-26 “as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word.”
Titus 3:5-6, a verse that should be known to every Lutheran who has ever been confirmed. “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior.”
Colossians 2:12 “having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.”
In His circumcision as a baby boy eight days old, Jesus shed His blood for the first time in obedience to the Law. Now we bring out infant children to Christ’s Church to receive from Christ His righteousness in the water and the Word, which is called baptism.
There is something that many Christians and many Christian denominations miss. When Christ touches something, when He vests it with His word of promise, when He conscripts something into His service, like water, bread, wine, the voice of a preacher, it becomes and delivers holiness. Luther:
“For if Christ by the touch of His most innocent flesh has hallowed all waters, yes, even all creation, through baptism, how much more has He by the same touch of His most innocent flesh and blood sanctified every form of death, all suffering and loss, every curse and shame for the baptism of the Spirit, or the baptism of blood! “For first he must sanctify baptism through his own body and thereby take away the sin, in order that afterwards those who believe in him may have the forgiveness of sins. Therefore baptism is not a useless, empty thing, but in it all righteousness is fulfilled.
In His Baptism, Jesus sanctified, made holy all other baptisms washing clean those who live and die in their baptismal faith. Jesus’s baptism became your baptism. The Gospel in liquid form.
May the Peace that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.