Sermons

To Fulfill All Righteousness

January 12, 2020
By Rev. Peter Heckert

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation for this, the celebration of our Lord’s Baptism comes, from our Gospel text, where Matthew records, Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. 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.”  Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

Do you know the types of people who were coming out to be baptized by John in the wilderness? Sinners. More than that, sinners who needed to have their sins forgiven. Most of them were people who were repentant, who came down to the waters of the Jordan, weighed and worn down by the evil they had done and the good they had not done. They came for a washing away of that sin with the promise that it would be forgiven.

It’s fair to say that many who came were like that, but hypocrites also approached the water’s edge. The Pharisees and Sadducees, who looked at John more like a sideshow attraction than a prophet sent by the Holy One of Israel, would occasionally walk down to the Jordan’s banks. But John knew their hearts, and he didn’t mince words: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” Abrasive words, yes, but not unwarranted for those who claimed to keep the law, who chastised others for not doing so, but were nevertheless blind to their own sin.

These were the people John was used to coming out to him: sinners wanting to be baptized, and hypocrites who couldn’t care less. They were all sinners. That was the norm … and no doubt, that’s part of the reason why John was so surprised by the arrival of Jesus, his cousin, at the water’s edge and His request to be baptized.

See, John knew who his cousin was; less than half a month ago, we heard how John was the first to recognize Jesus as the Lord by leaping in his mother’s womb at the sound of Mary’s greeting. The apostle John’s gospel account records how the baptizer declared to his own disciples, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” as Jesus was passing by. John knew that this man was more than just a man, that He had come with a purpose, and that He most certainly did not need to be baptized like others did who came to the river. Thus, we see his rational statement, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”

Why did Jesus need to be baptized? That was the question that was on John’s mind, and I’m sure you’ve asked it yourself before. “Jesus is the blameless Son of God! He’s the One who took away the sin of the world; why would He, of all people, need to be baptized?” Why did it need to happen? Well, thankfully, neither we nor John are kept in the dark. Jesus answers this question: “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Only after saying this, we are told, did John consent to baptizing the sinless Lamb of God. Only then was Jesus baptized in that historic river. Only then did we see the Spirit descend upon Him like a dove, and only then did we hear the Father’s voice saying, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

To fulfill all righteousness. What did Jesus mean when He said that? Did He mean to fulfill the Law, or something else? Paul’s words to the Galatians may shed a little light on this: … it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

No, Jesus didn’t need to be baptized for sin; He didn’t have any sin to repent for! No, like all of the work that He did during His earthly ministry, Jesus was baptized … for us. There’s a phrase in the baptismal rite that you can find in your hymnals (page 269, if you wish to check) that makes clear the purpose of Jesus’s baptism, in a prayer to our gracious heavenly Father: “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.” By His baptism in the Jordan, Jesus made your baptism a participation with His. By your baptism in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, you became partakers with Jesus in His work – all His work. Paul wrote to the Romans, Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

Jesus was baptized in the Jordan for you. Just like He was marched up Golgotha’s hill for you. Just like He was nailed to the cursed tree and died for you. Just like He rose from the dead three days later … for you. Because you needed it. As He is being baptized in the Jordan, Jesus is fulfilling your righteousness. There is one difference between you and the other sinners who went down to be baptized by John: they would have to keep coming back. You do not. Paul wrote to the Galatians, There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. We confess one baptism for the full remission of all our sins, and that is a promise that we can hold to!

Jesus’s baptism in the Jordan is ultimately about your baptism. There, in that blessed flood, the Holy One of Israel plucked you out of the darkness of your sin, pulled you into the marvelous light of His grace and forgiveness, placed His name and seal both upon your forehead and upon your heart to mark you as redeemed by Christ the crucified and resurrected Lord! Your confidence, the assurance of your salvation is there, precisely because you didn’t do it; God did it for you. Because Jesus was washed in the Jordan by John, because the Holy Spirit descended on Him like a dove, because the Father proclaimed Jesus to be His beloved Son, you are able to boldly and confidently declare the words of that favorite hymn, “God’s own child; I gladly say it! I am baptized into Christ!” and nothing can snatch you away from Him!

+ In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.

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