Our Privilege (Matthew 3:13-17)
Rev. David French
The Baptism of Jesus was a major milestone in the ministry of Jesus. When the apostles met to find a replacement for Judas, the Holy Spirit inspired Peter to set the requirements for his replacement. He said, “One of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection” (Acts 1:21–22).
That is, Jesus’ baptism is the beginning of His public ministry. The baptism of Jesus in the Jordan points us forward to all of the work Jesus did for us … His perfect life, His suffering, His death, His resurrection, His ascension, and the work He still does among us as our risen and ascended Lord. It points us to our own baptism as a means for the Holy Spirit to deliver Christ’s salvation to us.
As we work our way through the Gospel accounts, we learn that there were a select few people who had special knowledge of Jesus’ identity as both true man and true God. Angels told Mary and Joseph about Jesus before He was born. Angels also proclaimed His birth to shepherds. The Holy Spirit revealed the special nature of Jesus to Simeon and Anna who waited for the Promised One in the temple. God used a star to guide men from the East to worship the child. These are the exceptions. Everyone else who knew Jesus at that time knew Him as just someone who grew up in the town of Nazareth.
Last Sunday we heard about Jesus’ circumcision and naming. As people who have the revelation of God in ink on paper, we know that this is one event of many that demonstrates that Jesus kept the law perfectly … even as an infant.
Up until the events that we just heard in today’s gospel, some thirty years later Jesus was doing the work of saving us from sin in private … quietly … without publicity. That all changed when Jesus came to John for baptism. It was time for Jesus to take His work public.
As He prepared for His public ministry, Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John (Matthew 3:13). John had been sent by God to baptize so that the Messiah might be revealed. He didn’t know who He would find, but he did know what He was looking for, which is, no doubt, why when the spirit descended, John was sure that the situation needed to be reversed. He needed the Messiah to baptize Him.
There are a lot of people who struggle with that. The Scriptures tell us that John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Mark 1:4). The obvious question is, “If Jesus is holy, why did He need a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins?” That’s a fair question. But while it’s true, Jesus had no sins of His own to repent of, Jesus did have sins. He was born to carry the sin of the world. Paul writes to the Corinthians, “For our sake (God) made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). That is, Jesus took all sin onto Himself so that even though He never sinned, He became the greatest sinner of all. And by becoming the greatest sinner, He becomes the perfect savior for all. Because our sin was put on Jesus, we belong to Him, and He belongs to us. Nothing can separate us from Christ. We have been united with or grafted into Him through the waters of our baptism.
When we confessed our sins, we said, “I am heartily sorry for them and sincerely repent of them.” Sometimes, when I say those words, I think, “I am not nearly as sorry as I should be, and my repentance is not nearly as sincere as it should be either.” Even when I confess my sins, my old sinful nature is still beating away at me. What comfort I can have today as I think of Jesus, piled high with all my sins, there in the Jordan, and His repentance for my sins is perfect. Remember, we are credited with His righteousness, that includes His perfect repentance for my sin.
So, Jesus says to John, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15). This is how God has decided that His righteousness and so His judgment would come. Jesus stands with us in the water. In this way, His righteousness is fulfilled. It is as Martin Luther has us pray in the order of baptism: “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.”
You can know that Jesus was baptized for you because of the great epiphany that happened afterwards. “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’” (Matthew 3:16–17). Here we have not only an epiphany of Jesus who was baptized, but also an epiphany of the Holy Spirit descending like a dove and an epiphany of God the Father proclaiming His pleasure from heaven.
The delight and pleasure of God are in His beloved son. Since the Holy Spirit works through your baptism to join you, male or female, to this very same son, the delight and pleasure of God are spoken of you as well. What belongs to you is His. What belongs to Him is yours. Your sin belongs to Him. His righteousness belongs to you. When God the Father speaks and says, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” He is saying these words about you as well. You are His beloved. With you and me, by grace through faith, He is well pleased.
There is one big difference between the Baptism of Jesus and your baptism. When you remember your baptism, you remember that you are clean. Your sins are gone. You remember that … “God saved you according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on you richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace you are an heir according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:5–7). On the other hand, when Jesus came up from the water, He was dirty, covered with our sin. “For the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6).
God’s justice requires punishment for sin, not just the removal of sin. With our lives, we have earned a place in hell many times over. God’s love for us seeks to save us from that eternal punishment. The only solution was for God to take on human flesh so that He could take on our sin, and that is what Jesus did. When John baptized Jesus, he baptized the only one who could carry the sin of the world.
And Jesus carried those sins to the cross. There on the cross, Jesus satisfied both God’s justice and His love. God’s justice was satisfied by punishing our sin, taken up by Jesus. God’s love was satisfied by punishing Jesus instead of us. In this way, God both punished our sin and saved us.
Jesus suffers with us. He died for us. He is at work healing the corruption that limits us, opening our eyes to the lies that hide the truth from us. He shows us that He is the sinner’s friend and savior. In His Baptism, He publicly continues the work that makes us His own so that we may live with Him forever.
In His name, Amen.