Jesus Is Baptized into God’s Plan (Matthew 3:13-17)
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 today comes from our Gospel text, especially where Matthew records, “And 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; and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’” Here ends our text; my dear Christian friends …

Last week, we closed our short journey through the Old Testament looking at Daniel as he spent a night in the lions’ den, pointing ahead to Jesus’ rest in the tomb. Today, we begin the second half of our ten weeks and look at the New Testament, the high point of human history—when God’s promised Savior was finally born and came into His world to begin setting His creation right again.

But the world into which the eternal Word was born was vastly different from the one in which Daniel lived. Jerusalem was no longer a deserted wasteland; it had been rebuilt, including a second temple built under Ezra’s and Nehemiah’s leadership. Worship and sacrifice had been restored. That’s not to say, however, that everything was hunky-dory in the holy land. The intertestamental period was filled with political, cultural, and religious turmoil, and in 63 BC, the mighty Roman Empire claimed rule over the land of Israel, now called “Judea.” After about sixty years of this uncertainty and anticipation under Roman rule, God would fulfill His ancient promise to Adam and Eve.

The first step was to send an angel to a virgin named Mary. “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”

God’s Son was miraculously conceived in this young, betrothed, chaste woman. When you and I were conceived, our parents handed down their sinful nature to us, originally inherited from Adam and Eve. Since Mary was a virgin, however, Jesus did not inherit that original sin. He became a true, full human being—indeed, He was more human than any of us. 

After Jesus was born, He grew and matured like any other human being (except without sin). Eventually, He was taught the trade of a carpenter by His righteous earthly, adoptive father, Joseph. This was the work He did through His early adult years. He knew what it was to labor and work with His hands. When He was about thirty, however, it was time for Him to begin His public ministry. The first thing He did … was to go down to the Jordan River, where John the Baptist was carrying on his ministry. He went to be baptized, but John tried to prevent Him, knowing that Jesus had no sins to wash away. Jesus assured him this was God’s plan, so John consented and baptized Him.

The Baptism of our Lord was extremely important for God’s plan of salvation, but it was not an isolated event in Jesus’ life. It was connected to His coming sacrifice on the cross. Twice when speaking to His disciples, Jesus connected His Baptism with the cross. The first came when two of His twelve disciples, James and his brother John, asked to sit at Jesus’ right hand and His left hand in His kingdom. The Twelve and many of Jesus’ followers expected Him to establish a glorious earthly kingdom, a golden age like the reign of King David that would last forever. Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”

What cup was Jesus talking about? What future baptism since John had already baptized Him by this time? Just hours before His arrest, Jesus prayed to His Father in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for You. Remove this cup from Me. Yet not what I will, but what You will.” The cup and baptism Jesus mentioned to James and John were one and the same—His bitter sufferings and death on the cross.

That point was repeated the second time Jesus mentioned a future baptism, “I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is My distress until it is accomplished!” We cannot understand Jesus’ Baptism properly unless we see it connected to His suffering and death on the cross. John the Baptist helps us here. According to the gospel of John, after baptizing Jesus, John was standing with his disciples by the Jordan River, he saw Jesus passing by and pointed to Jesus, saying, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!”

In Jesus’ Baptism and ours, God made a great exchange. Jesus entered that water spotless, sinless, and pure. We entered it covered with sin. In that water, Christ took our sins and guilt upon Himself. We came out of the water spotless and pure. He came out carrying our sins, and He carried those sins to the cross where He completed His Baptism and ours by suffering the punishment we deserve in our place, satisfying God’s wrath and forever destroying our sins. Since Jesus purified the waters of Baptism forever, we come out of that water spotless and pure, wearing Jesus’ holiness like a spotless white robe.

Just as we can never separate Jesus’ Baptism from His cross, we cannot separate our own baptism from His cross. The apostle Paul makes that clear in his letter 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. For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His.” Yes, the cross and the empty tomb are ours in Jesus Christ.

At our baptism, the Holy Spirit descended upon us as He did upon Jesus in the Jordan. And as He unites us to Christ’s death and resurrection, He makes our bodies His own temple. He lives in us and with us, creating and sustaining faith through His Word and sacraments that we may be connected to Jesus Christ and live with Him forever. Each of us is an anointed one, a little Christ or Christian, and we hear God the Father declare over us, “This is My beloved son, My beloved daughter, with whom I am well pleased for Jesus’ sake.”

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