The Baptism and Epiphany of our Lord
1st Sunday After Epiphany-A
Grace, mercy, and peace be yours from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Isaiah 42:1, 6 “Behold, My Servant, whom I uphold; My chosen one in whom My soul delights. I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the nations . . . 6 I am the Lord, I have called You in righteousness, I will also hold You by the hand and watch over You, And I will appoint You as a covenant to the people, As a light to the nations.”
13 “Then Jesus arrived from Galilee at the Jordan coming to John, to be baptized by him. 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.’ Then he permitted Him. 16 After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him, 17 and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.’” Matt. 3:13-17
In by gone days every military division had a flag bearer. Armies and divisions and the like still have standard bearers. That hasn’t changed. What has changed is how standard bears are employed.
The standard bearer of old would line up in the front of the advancing unit with the flag. He did not carry a weapon. His sole responsibility was to carry the flag. At the command to advance the standard bearer would lead the soldiers across the battlefield in lock step with the division. When the charge was sounded, the standard bearer charged into the enemy gun and canon fire with all of other men only without a weapon. While everyone else charged, returned fire, and sought cover when possible, the standard bearer held high the flag.
The flag was visible to friend and foe alike, until the attack either failed or it was hoisted over the conquered objective. The mortality rate of the flag bearer was high. It was common practice to chose a second who would take up the flag should the first fall in battle.
It was and continues to be an honor to be chosen and placed into the position of standard bearer. To be chosen as the standard bearer was a sign that the man chosen for the office was worthy of the task and worthy to die for the cause.
Enter the prophet Isaiah and the Evangelist Matthew: Isaiah 42:1-7 “Behold, My Servant, whom I uphold; My chosen one in whom My soul delights. I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the nations . . . 6 I am the Lord, I have called You in righteousness, I will also hold You by the hand and watch over You, And I will appoint You as a covenant to the people, As a light to the nations.”
Matthew 3:13, 16-17 “Then Jesus arrived from Galilee at the Jordan coming to John, to be baptized by him. [Jesus] He came out of the water, and immediately the heavens were opened, and He saw the Spirit of God coming down on Him as a dove. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is My Son, who I love and in whom I well pleased.’”
It’s the first Sunday in Epiphany. Epiphany day was Monday. Isaiah’s prophecy and the promise that the Messiah would come to reveal God’s righteousness and the baptism of Jesus are placed within the Season of Epiphany because Epiphany is about the manifestation of God’s glory to Jew and Gentile alike.
The baptism of Jesus revealed that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, three persons in one Godhead was and is at work saving mankind in the person and work of Jesus the Nazarene.
“Behold, My Servant, whom I uphold; My chosen one in whom My soul delights.” “And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is My Son, who I love and in whom I delight.’” These are public statements. Made by God the Father with the intention that the entire world for all generations would hear them and listen. With these words Jesus was declared the Standard Bearer of humanities salvation.
During the seven weeks of Epiphany we are taken from the baptism of Jesus through certain events, sayings, and teachings of Jesus to the Mount of Transfiguration. The selected events, sayings, and teachings along with the transfiguration of Christ show Jew and Gentile alike Who Jesus is, namely, the glory, truth, and grace of God Himself.
The Babe of Bethlehem has now grown up. The 12 year old theological protégée has learned His lessons. He stepped forward into the River Jordan knowing why He was been born into the world. He knew what it was He was to do and what was going to be done to Him. He stepped forward knowing what it meant to be the Chosen One of Israel, the worthy One in Whom God was well pleased. He was and is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world and the flag Bearer of Salvation.
In our gospel text this morning we find John the Baptist preaching and baptizing in the River Jordan. Jesus stood among the great multitude of sinners who had come to hear John’s call to repentance and be baptized for the remission of sins.
Suddenly, without saying a word, Jesus stepped forward into the waters of Jordan to be baptized. “John tried to prevent Him [Jesus]. [John] He said, ‘I need to be baptized by You, and yet You come to me?’”
When translating and interpreting one language into another, the translator is taught to pay particular attention to verbs. The attention to verbs is especially crucial when translating Bible verses. Verbs tell us what action is taking place and help us understand who is taking the action. Who is doing what to who.
In the Gospel lesson this morning the verbs “prevented and consented/permitted”(vs. 14 & 15) are two verbs that stand out. John tried to prevent Jesus from being baptized. Though John did not understand it as such, when he objected, he was actually standing in the way. John thought he was doing a good thing for a good reason. That’s a common problem with sinful human beings. We often think we are doing good things for good reasons. We just don’t consider what the Word of God teaches.
Though wrong, John was a humble and faithful man with the best intentions. “You’re the Almighty whose sandal I’m not worthy to even untie! I should be baptized by You!” Those were the thoughts running through John’s mind in the moment. John knows he is unworthy. All John wants is to be cleansed by Jesus.
“‘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.’
That word “aphes” means to “release” or “let go.” In this context it is most often translated “consent” or “permit.” Jesus tells John to let it go. John is to let go of his ideas about the opening act of Jesus’s earthly ministry should be and look like. John didn’t think that a sinless man should undergo a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.
Jesus tells him otherwise. “Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” All righteousness means “all righteousness.” All righteousness includes the righteousness that is embodied in the Law and Ten Commandments. It includes God’s righteous judgment against all sin and sinners. It includes the will of God the Father in all godly vocations. It includes the righteousness of the person and work of Jesus Christ that is given away to sinners in the Word and sacrament ministry. By being baptized into our sin, Jesus was baptizing us in His righteousness. We just finished Christmas and the ritual of exchanging gifts. You know how that works. People give each other gifts. Some people keep an extra gift or two on hand just in case someone un-expectantly gives them a gift. Then are able to produce a gift in return. We also know that not all gifts are equal in value to us. Sometimes we receive a gift that is less than thrilling. Well, in His baptism Jesus took the only thing we had to give–SIN. He gave us the only thing He had to give– Righteousness/Holiness/Forgiveness.
Jesus’s baptism into His saving work was another manifestation of His state of humiliation. When He stepped into His baptismal waters He looked like all the rest of us.
But something different happened at Jesus’s baptism. With the exception of the brood of vipers John calls out, most everyone who went to the River Jordan, went to hear the Word of God, to repent, and to be baptized for the remission of sins. They also shared a common hope. They came up out of the water, they came up looking forward to the coming of the Lord. That’s after all what John was preaching. “Prepare the way for the Lord.”
When Jesus emerged from the water, God the Father revealed that the Son of God, the Christ had fully come. When Jesus was baptized among sinners, Jesus became a sinner on your behalf. He took upon Himself all of the sins that were washed away in your baptism and bore them himself, taking them to the cross and enduring the punishment due.
Jesus’s baptism fulfilled all righteousness because He is the source of all righteousness. His entire work was His baptism. Always remember that while baptism is an act that is done in one place at one time, baptism manifests itself in a life of daily repentance.
Small Catechism: What does such baptizing with water signify?–Answer. It signifies that the old Adam in us should, by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die with all sins and evil lusts, and, again, a new man daily come forth and arise; who shall live before God in righteousness and purity forever.
Jesus’s baptism began in the Jordan and manifested itself in a life of holiness and fidelity to the work of salvation. Jesus spoke of His life and death as a baptism and as the cup of the Lord’s Supper. Mark 10:38-39, “‘Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?’ . . . Jesus said to them, ‘The cup that I drink you shall drink; and you shall be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized.’”
In Holy Baptism and in the gift of faith, Jesus imputed/placed on you His righteousness to you. As to the righteousness of the Law, He died your death. As to the righteousness of the Gospel He gave you His life, a new life.
That’s the assigned Epistle reading for this morning. “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. . . . 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him . . . 10 For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God.”
Each time the Christian church baptizes, it has the same authority that the Father gave to Jesus in His baptism. In each baptism, God the Father and God the Son send the God Holy Spirit again. In holy baptism you become a chosen one of God in whom He is well pleased.
In holy baptism, we have adoption as children of God, we become members of the communion of saints, and we have a new life. Having been buried with Christ you have crossed through the Jordan and have been brought into the promised land of the new life in Christ. For just as Christ was raised by the glory of the Father, so also might you walk in newness of life.
God confounds the wise of this world with His seemingly useless acts. He washes a baby, and the world says, “big deal.” It is truly a sad state of affairs tha so many parents who themselves were baptized and raised in the church, do not have their children baptized and are not raising them in the church. Many of these people and many Christians see baptism as nothing more than a sill ritual. Many others see baptism as a mere symbol.
So it was with our Lord. He stepped into the Jordan and even John the Baptist was confused. But in order to save sinners, the sinless One was baptized as a sinner. To those who looked on what was happening between Jesus and John, they saw just another man stepping into the river. But then, the Triune God pulled back the curtain and revealed Who it was that had gone into and come out of the water. “This is My Beloved Son in whom I am well pleased!” and they the Spirit of God descended as a dove and lighted on Him.”
You think this baptism is nothing? Wrong. In it God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are redeeming one sinner at a time. And you, who seem to be nothing more than just another sinner, have in fact become a chosen one of God. The same Father that said of Jesus, This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased is now well pleased with you. 6 I am the Lord, I have called You in righteousness, I will also hold You by the hand and watch over You.”
May the peace that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.