SERMON FOR THE BAPTISM OF OUR LORD, 1-13-2019
LUTHER MEMORIAL CHAPEL, SHOREWOOD, WI
Rev. Michael Larson
Introit: Psalm 89
Old Testament Reading: Joshua 3:1-3, 7-8, 13-17
Gradual: Psalm 72:18-19
Epistle Reading: 1 Corinthians 1:26-31
Holy Gospel: Matthew 3:13-17
This morning our dear Lord comes to the Jordan to be baptized by John. And it’s not an easy thing for John the Baptist to accept: “Wait a minute, I need to be baptized by you, and you come to me?”
John just a few breaths before had said of Jesus: “There is one who is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry.” But now, John is asked to baptize Jesus. Baptize the very Son of God, the Redeemer of the world, the one to whom he pointed and declared, “behold, the Lamb of God!” How strange incomprehensible that moment must have been for John.
John the Baptist preached repentance for the forgiveness of sins and directed the faith of the sinner to Christ as the source of forgiveness and salvation. Repentance is the acknowledgement and sorrow for sins worked by God through the preaching of the Law. It’s a preaching that goes like this: you are not who you ought to be! Your thoughts and actions have been soiled by sin. You are a commandment breaker. You have despised the Word of the Lord. You are hostile to God and your heart is far from him. You’re lives should look altogether different.
The people who stood at the banks of the Jordan River heard this sort of preaching from John. They therefore confessed their sins and were baptized for the forgiveness of sins in the Jordan River. So of course John is shocked when Jesus comes to him to be baptized.
And it’s perfectly understandable. What need after all, would Jesus have to be baptized and washed? What sins did he need to confess and have forgiven?
None, of course! He is the sinless, holy, pure and innocent Son of God? Jesus, in and of himself, has no personal need to be baptized. But the question is, dear Christian, how is he going to bring that sinless, holy, pure and innocent life to you? And this is what I want you to consider today, on this feast and festival of the baptism of our Lord.
How can a sinless, holy, pure and innocent life be yours? And how can everything ugly in you, sin and shame, anger and lust, disease and death itself, all be taken away from you? Look no further than your baptism into Christ! You see, even though Jesus had no need to be baptized, he was baptized for your sake. Why? You see, in Jesus baptism, he walked into those waters not to be washed or cleansed, but to be muddied and immersed in the sins of the whole world. He was baptized into your sins that you would be baptized into his righteousness. The apostle Paul, put it this way: “For our sake God made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
Jesus becomes the sinner for us! He becomes what we are that we might become what he is. Meaning, he takes what is ugly in us all away – our disobedience, our shame, and our corruption. In His baptism, Jesus unites himself with sinful man. He takes full responsibility for the sin of the world, your sins and mine, to make atonement for sin. That’s just a fancy word that means payment - payment according to the Law, in His death upon the cross.
That’s why John the Baptist – declares from the banks of the Jordan River: “Behold, fix yours eyes on Him, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” Jesus becomes the Sinner – and offers up His life in death on our behalf.
When our Lord arose out of those baptismal waters the heavens were opened. The Spirit of God descended like a dove and came to rest upon him, announcing the peace we have with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ.
So, what does Jesus baptism have to do with your baptism? Jesus baptism has everything to do with your baptism! For when that watery word splashed you, the heavens also were opened. The spirit of God also came to rest upon you, announcing that you…have peace with God.
And at the watery Jordan the voice of God the Father spoke from heaven, saying: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Those are words for you to treasure and take to heart. God is pleased with you. You have his divine approval. And not because you earned it! Only Christ could do that. Our glory therefore, is in “Christ Jesus, who became to us…righteousness and sanctification and redemption,” as our epistle had it this morning.
Hear and believe this Gospel: Jesus trades places with us. Our sin becomes His sin. His righteousness becomes our righteousness. He takes away our hell and gives us his heaven. In baptism we are 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.
Luther writes in the Large Catechism that in baptism we have enough to study and think about our whole life – and we really do! Because in Baptism we are united with Christ in His death and resurrection. And we live in that future life even now, through the ongoing call of repentance and faith in the Gospel, turning away from sin, being washed and cleansed, and rising again, by the power of His Resurrection, to serve God and love our neighbor.
So be of good cheer and relax! It’s Sunday. It’s a day of rest. Rest from a guilty conscience. Rest from the accusations of the law. Rest from expectations you can’t fulfil. Your Lord has done it all! You are washed, cleansed, and loved by God. Through that water and word splashed upon you in your baptism, you are still wet with God’s divine approval. And He speaks the same words to you, that he speaks to His Son: You are my beloved, with you I am well pleased.
Therefore, live and abide in this joyous baptismal life, with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. For our Lord Himself promises you “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved,” and the Scriptures say: “Baptism now saves you.” So let us give thanks to God who sent His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord – our greater Joshua, who leads us across the Jordan into the promised Land of eternal life. In the name of Jesus. Amen.