The Baptism of Our Lord

Readings: Joshua 3:1–3, 7–8, 13–17 | 1 Corinthians 1:26–31 | Matthew 3:13–17

Text: Matthew 3:13-17

You’ll meet people who are skeptical about God and consider confident Christians arrogant for saying they know so much about knowing what God’s will is or what’s right and wrong.

This plays out in two main ways.  The first is the approach of the atheist, who says there is no god because there’s no empirical evidence to support the claim.  They argue that it’s not reasonable—even foolish—to put your trust in and be convinced of something that can’t be reached by the scientific method.  That isn’t proof for the non-existence of God; but an arrogance that existence hinges on human perception. 

The second is the approach of the mystic, who believes that God exists, but is unknowable and cannot be constrained by human thoughts or even the words of the Bible.  They, even if they claim Christianity, remain unsure about what God says is right and wrong, whether the history of the Bible is factual, and may even consider it going too far for a Christian to be sure they are forgiven and will enter paradise when they die.

In both cases, a personal God is placed out of reach.  The result is that people are left unsure and alienated.  But God would not have us unsure about His existence, so He is the One who makes Himself known.  And He does this in the way that we are able to perceive Him: through words and through the tangible element of water in Holy Baptism.

But to us, doubters and skeptics, to mystics who get lost in the darkness of our own reason, a light has shone.  The Holy God revealed Himself in the flesh, here on earth at the water of the Jordan in the Baptism of John.  Here, He revealed Himself in a Name, in the flesh of His Son, and in the Spirit’s appearance as a dove.  To those who are seeking some firm experience and sighting of God, a voice came from heaven saying, “This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased.”  This man, Jesus, standing there in the water, humbled in the form of a servant like us, is where God appears to us.  And what could this appearing to man mean, but peace, as the Spirit of God descends and remains on Jesus.  Where is peace following judgment, but in Jesus who was born for us, whose heart pumps holy, sinless blood, and who will deliver His peace to the dead in trespasses and sins, those who like the rest of mankind are children of wrath [Eph. 2:1-3].

The Small Catechism says that “Baptism works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this as the words and promises of God declare.” (Small Catechism, Part IV, “What Benefits Does Baptism Give?”)

Where is this great promise written? Mark 16:16 says: “Whoever believes and is baptized shall be saved” (Mk 16:16).  Peter echoes, “There is also an antitype [to the Flood] which now saves us—baptism” (1 Pet 3:21 NKJV). Furthermore, St. Paul says, “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), and “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). We believe what God’s Word says about Baptism. We trust His promises—the Word that has been spoken to us and confirmed by the Holy Spirit’s testimony. We live by faith in that. Baptism works the forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to us by naming us as Christ’s own and delivering the power and benefit of His death and resurrection to us.

Baptism does what God says it does. Its glory is hidden from the eyes of the world for it is glory like that of our King and His Kingdom. It is rejected by the proud, the wise, the knowledgeable, the mighty [1 Cor. 1:26-31].  But it is honored by those who know they need saving and know Christ.

The Baptism of Jesus institutes and empowers our Baptism. His Baptism is the beginning of the great exchange. It is a kind of reversal of our Baptism, which works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation. In His Baptism, Jesus is anointed as our King.  He doesn’t have any sins to be forgiven, but Baptism doesn’t heal Him. Instead, it infects Him. Baptism gives Him our sins. It marks Him as guilty. We step into the clean waters of Holy Baptism filthy in our sins, and this heavenly washing washes our sins off of us for it is a washing of rebirth and renewal. Jesus steps in clean and pure, without sin, into the dirty water we left behind, full of scum. When He steps out, He is dirty. He is anointed for His Office with our disease and death.  The Christ is the priest who acts on behalf of sinners.

He is most certainly not rescued from death and the devil. Immediately after His Baptism, the Holy Spirit will drive Him out of the promised land and into the wilderness in order to hand Him over to the devil [Matt. 4:1]. Baptism sets Him as the scapegoat who takes our sins away and as the Passover Lamb who shields us from the angel of death by His death. The Lord doesn’t remove our sins by simply dismissing them. He ingests them. He becomes them [2 Cor. 5:21]. Thus, the Father and the Spirit won’t help Him. He is a worm and not a man [Psalm 22:6]. He suffers in the desert without manna. Rather than receiving eternal salvation in Baptism, He is marked for the cross and condemnation. There, He will suffer hell in our place. As our substitute, He will be betrayed by His friends, stripped naked, humiliated, and tortured. He will know and endure all of our sorrows and then some, and He will be forsaken by His Father [Ps. 22:1].

This is what empowers Baptism for us, and makes it for us a saving water. Christ inaugurated and instituted Baptism that saves by being Baptized, by making the exchange. He takes what is ours and in exchange gives us what is His. Our Baptisms joins us to Him and His Baptism. Baptism makes us the beloved sons of the Father in whom the Father is well-pleased. Christ takes our sins and gives us, in exchange, His holiness. He suffers His Father’s wrath so that we would enjoy His Father’s blessings. He accepts the devil’s accusations so that we might have the angels’ praise. What the Father says of Jesus, He says of us. We are the beloved and in Christ He is well-pleased with, even proud of, us.

How much God has revealed Himself to us!  No wonder St. John marvels, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are!”  And why can’t our fellow men, who carry the same infection, are under the same sentence of death, receive this? John says, “The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.”  Without receiving the testimony, the Gospel of Christ, people remain in darkness.

Thanks be to God that He has called us out of this darkness!  But our heart aches for our unbelieving neighbors.  We want them to be saved and not sent to perdition and eternal fire!  We know that no matter how pleasant and nice they may be, it is only by having Christ as their substitute that they can be saved.  But what can we do?

We share Christ: how He has created us, how our lives belong to Him not to ourselves, how we are weak and have failed God and one another but God being rich in mercy has taken our punishment away, and how we look forward to a world that truly is perfect and bodies that are free of the bondage to decay.  It is Christ who is able to save them, and His Holy Spirit who reaches them through this.  No amount of our cajoling or persuading has the power to bring them to the light; only God can do this and He truly does as we pray, “Thy Kingdom come.”

Dear saints, keep on believing in your God, and keep on praying that He would keep you through the trials of this world and by His Spirit-breathed Word bring us to where faith gives way to sight, and time gives way to eternity, and thorns and thistles give way to Sabbath rest.  Amen.

The Baptism of Our Lord (1 Corinthians 1:26-31)

Bethlehem Lutheran & Bethel Lutheran Church, Lebanon & Sweet Home, OR

The Baptism of Our Lord + January 13, 2019

Text: 1 Corinthians 1:26-31

One of the devil’s tactics against Christians is to tell them that they are unworthy.  Here’s how it goes: Not necessarily about being unworthy to stand in God’s presence, but he will tell you that you are unworthy of the name Christian. Don’t you know that good Christians don’t cuss?  Don’t you know that a good Christian shouldn’t drink too much and always live a chaste and decent life?  You aren’t good enough to be called a Christian because you’re not sanctified enough and you’re too weak to overcome your sins.  Your life is full of pockmarks that say, this person’s screwed it up too big for even God to want to fix.

Then the devil points you to other people—who you’re to imagine are doing much better than you.  They must be doing something right, because they seem to have it together.  Their devotional life is so godly, their spirit is so gentle, and they bear their cross so gracefully.   Here, Facebook is a wonderful tool because it can play up notions of inadequacy as you scroll through the parts of other people’s lives they want you to see. They must be doing it right—just to make you feel more like you don’t measure up or could possibly never live up to that standard.

The final leg of Satan’s tactic is to make you feel alone.  You must be the only Christian who has ever struggled with sin this hard, and hasn’t been able to overcome a weakness.  God is far away and has far more important matters to attend to than your small requests and griefs.  I should just buckle down and try harder; I shouldn’t be so sad, and shouldn’t struggle in my faith.

The devil will take you everywhere except to the Jordan River where Jesus is.  There the Lord of Glory stands in the midst of sinners.  He does not quench a faintly burning wick, but upholds the weak in faith, the attacked, those who have been humbled by the weakness of their flesh, those whose cheeks are stained with tears from their own sins and the sin and death that has happened to them.

But who do we find in the Jordan?  John the Baptist recognizes Him: “I need to be baptized by You and do You come to me?”  I am not worthy to untie the strap of your sandal. I’m no better than any of these others who stand confessing their sins!

Jesus came to these waters willingly.  “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”  He’s come exactly for this purpose and there is no place He would rather be, than in the midst of these sinners to fulfill righteousness for them.  He is truly the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, and when He is lifted up on the cross to draw all men to Himself (John 1:29, 12:32).

Where does that leave you and me today?  St. Paul writes to the 1st century Corinthian Christians and us:

26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.

“Consider your calling, brothers,” he says.  Think about where you were when God worked faith in your heart to believe that Jesus shed His blood in love for you.  So, think about it!  Whether it was a special moment in your life or you’ve just always known it, I want you to think about what brought you to the foot of Jesus’ cross.  Was it like a job interview where you put forth your best foot, showing your qualifications, and waited to be called back?  Was it like buying a house where you put in an offer and hope that you’ve made an appealing enough offer?  Nothing of the sort!

In fact, God’s amazing grace and power is displayed in calling the under-qualfied, the undeserving, the screw-ups and backsliders.  God chooses to do it this way, so that every one of us would know that it is not because of any personal advantage that we have been chosen by God—no merits, no seniority ladder, no coming from the right kind of family.  And that brings us into the dirty waters of the Jordan River with Jesus.  We stand together, a great mob of people who have this in common: none of us have something to boast about before God.  We are all equal recipients of God’s undeserved favor.

St. Paul is a great example of this himself.  He was an enemy of God when he was called, a real soldier of the devil’s cause against Christ and His Church.  He was in the middle of that mission when Christ knocked Him down on the road to Damascus and humbled him.  But it wasn’t a once-and-done conversion.  Even Paul, Apostle to the Gentiles, wrestled with doubts about his past sins: “To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given” (Eph. 3:8) and “formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent.” (1 Tim. 1:13)  On top of that, he bore sins that he was not able to master or leave behind: “A thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’” (2 Cor. 12:7-9)

But you know, even at this point, we’re not safe from temptation to pride.  500 years ago, this Gospel was so rare that people flocked to hear it.  Today, Christians often go to the point of taking the Gospel for granted.  This is what we tell ourselves: I know I shouldn’t do this, but that’s okay, God will forgive me anyway.  I’m a child of God through faith, so it doesn’t matter what I do because God will always catch me.  That’s another deadly form of pride, because it’s a symptom of a hard heart that refuses to acknowledge what it cost to have Jesus stand in the Jordan and ultimately bear the world’s sins in His body on the cross.  It’s actually the same heart that says, it doesn’t matter what you believe, you’ll go to heaven as long as you’re a good person.

God chose what is weak, low, and despised to shame the strong and proud.  He calls people to Himself who confess that they have no power to save on their own.  What does God do for these weak and needy children?  St. Paul continues: 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’”  You have been given not only forgiveness of sins, but a strong protection against sin, the devil, and death.  Because God the Father called you, you are in Christ Jesus, meaning that you have the sure and certain love and protection that God bestows on His beloved Son.  The Voice that sounded from heaven, and the Spirit that descended on Jesus, spreads to include you.

“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”  You have a new existence in Jesus your Savior.  In Him, you have consolation in the weakness of your sins.  He gives you a mighty defense against Satan’s accusations, just as He faced the devil in the wilderness.  He daily and richly forgives all your sins, as your risen and glorified High Priest.  He has made you part of a communion of saints which spans time and place, earth and heaven. You are not alone to face sin, death, or devil alone because the Lord is with you to uphold you.

This is what it means to be given the name of “Christian.”  You are a sinner, standing in the Jordan, expectant and hoping in your Messiah and Savior, confessing your sins and believing in that full pardon that Jesus has gained for you.  Yes, you will be attacked, you will have doubts, and you will have weaknesses which the Lord in His wisdom doesn’t remove.  But “resist the devil, firm in your faith” because those evils are all meant by God to continually bring you to Christ crucified.  He is your strength and salvation.

St. Patrick preached this good news to the Irish, and the poem St. Patrick’s Breastplate reflects this confidence that we have from God:

I bind unto myself today
    The strong name of the Trinity
By invocation of the same,
    The Three in One and One in Three.

I bind this day to me forever,
    By pow’r of faith, Christ’s incarnation,
His Baptism in the Jordan River,
    His cross of death for my salvation,
His bursting from the spicèd tomb,
    His riding up the heav’nly way,
His coming at the day of doom,
    I bind unto myself today.


The Baptism of Our Lord (Matthew 3:13-18)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church & Bethel Lutheran Church, Lebanon & Sweet Home, OR
The Baptism of Our Lord + January 7, 2018
Text: Matthew 3:13-18

The Baptism of Jesus is one of the pivotal moments in His ministry.  You could say it was the very start of it.  But that it was started with baptism is significant.  Listen again to the exchange that John and Jesus have:
13Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. 14John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; 17and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”” (Matthew 3:13–17)
Jesus underwent John’s baptism for sinners.  Yet, He did so for a very special purpose.  Jesus was baptized with sinners, for sinners.  Yes,. His Baptism was the beginning of His ministry, but what a unique ministry that was.
When we call the Son of God Jesus Christ, it’s important to know what Christ means.  As I told our junior confirmands recently, Christ is not just Jesus’ last name.  Christ is a title, meaning One who is Anointed.  It’s the same as the Hebrew “Messiah”[1]  Perhaps we should also pause to consider what anointing is too, because that’s not a common term.  Anointing was the rite of pouring oil over the head of a candidate for a holy office.  There were three offices that oil was used: prophets, priests, and kings.  Elisha was anointed prophet, Aaron and his sons were anointed for their service as priests, and kings were anointed to rule over God’s people.[2]
Yet when Jesus is baptized, He is anointed not just with oil, but with the Holy Spirit:
16And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; 17and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”” (Matthew 3:16–17)
In days of old, different men had served various offices, but now in Christ’s Baptism, He was anointed as the end-times fulfillment of all three:
Jesus is the prophet foretold by Moses, 15“The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen.” (Deuteronomy 18:15)   Jesus is the eternal priest, not after the order of Aaron: 4The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, “You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.”” (Psalm 110:4)   Jesus is the King and Son of David, 12When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.” (2 Samuel 7:12–13)
Jesus was the one uniquely qualified for that three-fold office of prophet, priest, and king.  Only Jesus spoke the Word of God exactly as He heard it from His Father.  Not only did He speak it, but He fulfilled what had been spoken so that after His resurrection, He truly could say that everything in the law, the prophets, and the Psalms was fulfilled by Him.[3] He alone is the one who offers a sacrifice without having to atone for His own sin first.  More than that, He offers up Himself as the spotless Lamb for the sins of—not just the worshippers present, but—for the whole world.  Jesus alone, unlike all those who came before Him was King without corruption, scandal, or selfish interest.  He rules His people as a perfect servant and a perfect Lord.  That’s why He is the one with whom the Father is well-pleased.
At the Jordan River, Jesus was baptized and anointed into these offices on your behalf and for your salvation.  Now you are baptized into Him—the Sinless One for the sinner, “the Righteous for the unrighteous to bring you to God.”[4]  And we know from Romans 6 that everyone of us who is baptized into Him is baptized into His death for the forgiveness of sins, and raised for newness of life.
What you may not know is that you are also baptized and anointed for an office through the Christ your Lord.  4As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, 5you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 2:4–5)  Every one of us who is baptized into Christ has been made a priest to God.  Do you know what this means?  It means that everything which you carry out in faith is a sacrifice offered to God.  For the baptized, it’s no longer a matter of living for yourself—your personal preferences and looking out for number one; it’s about being called to serve the Lord as a priest and that all your life would be a sacrifice offered in praise to Him who did not spare Himself.
God anointed you for loving service to your neighbor. In the family: 25Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…22Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:25, 22)   1Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.  4Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:1, 4)
On the job: 22Bondservants [employees], obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord.” (Colossians 3:22) 1Masters [bosses], treat your bondservants justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.” (Colossians 4:1)
In Church: 17Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” (Hebrews 13:17)  2[Pastors,] shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; 3not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.” (1 Peter 5:2–3)
In society, 13Citizens, Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme,” (1 Peter 2:13)
This is the description of the office each of us has been baptized into.  Whatever position God places us in, our lives are lived to His glory and honor.
Consider this calling with respect to the relationships God has given you, and in our congregation. If you still haven’t completed your Time and Talents survey, notice the language there “Would like to Serve” “Am Now Serving”, etc.  It’s more than just doing a job.  It’s about reflecting on the gifts God has given you and applying those gifts for service to your neighbor.  It isn’t about trying to serve the Lord so He notices you (He’s already found you when you were lost in your sin), but it’s about living in your baptismal anointing.
“We live on earth only so that we should be a help to other people. Otherwise, it would be best if God would strangle us and let us die as soon as we were baptized and had begun to believe. For this reason, however, He lets us live that we may bring other people also to faith as He has done for us … Everything then should be directed in such a way that you recognize what God has done for you and that you, thereafter, make it your highest priority to proclaim this publically and call everyone to the light to which you are called.” (The Church Comes from All Nations, (CPH, 2003), p. 20)
Christ our Lord was anointed at His Baptism to be Prophet, Priest, and King, and in His perfect work you and I by grace have a place in His Kingdom.  Pray that His Holy Spirit would guide and enable you to perform your own calling as a Kingdom of Priests to our God, “that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matt. 5:16).  Amen.
[1] Psalm 2:2, Isaiah 61:1
[2] 1 Kings 19:16, Exodus 28:41, 2 Samuel 2:4
[3] Luke 24:44
[4] 1 Peter 3:18