First Sunday after Epiphany: Baptism of Our Lord January 7, 2018
Text: Matthew 3:13-17 ILCW Series A 18:2044
Theme: How Important Is Baptism? For Jesus? For Me?
How important is baptism to you? How often do you even think about your baptism and what it means to you? Do you think about it daily, weekly, yearly, or not at all?
In explaining the importance of Baptism for our day-to-day living, the catechism says, “Baptism means that the old Adam in us should be drowned by daily contrition and repentance, and that all its evil deeds and desires be put to death. It also means that a new person should daily arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.”
The key word here is daily. Every day the Spirit wants to work in us the desire to throw off sin and take on the new life of godliness given in baptism. Do you daily make such use of your baptism and its power for godly living? If baptism and Christ Jesus are important to you, you will not neglect it!
Jesus did not neglect baptism. It was important to Him as God’s Son. And it is from Him that our baptisms receive their power and importance.
I. In baptism Jesus willingly took up His redeeming work.
Thirty years had passed since Jesus’ birth. The Christ-child had grown to manhood. We hear very little about His youthful years. Then suddenly at the age of thirty, Jesus appears on the pages of Scriptures, coming for baptism. This is the start of His march to the cross; the fullness of God’s time had come.
Matthew simply writes, “Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John.” It was a deliberate journey that Jesus made, for Galilee is in the north in Israel and the place where John baptized was in the south. This wasn’t a chance occurrence. Jesus didn’t just happen upon John one day while He was walking down a road. No, Jesus came a distance to see John and to be baptized by him. Why?
It wasn’t because John himself was so important, but God’s work through John was important. John was the Forerunner; he was sent by God to run ahead of the Savior, just like a messenger runs ahead of a king to ready the people for his coming. John did the same; he got the people ready for Jesus by calling them to repentance and by administering a baptism “for (eis) the forgiveness of sin” (Lk.3:3). A baptism leading to forgiveness, that was John’s task, and that’s the reason Jesus came to him.
What? Jesus came to a baptism for repentance and the forgiveness of sins? That doesn’t seem to make sense. Why would the holy Son of God need to receive such a baptism since He hadn’t done anything wrong? He never sinned. So what need for repentance and forgiveness did He have?
Many hearts have been troubled by this. Even John’s heart was troubled, for we hear that “John tried to put Him off by saying: ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’”
Even though he was the Forerunner sent on a mission for God, John knew that he himself was in trouble. He was a sinner. Even John needed a baptism of repentance that saves the sinner through God’s forgiveness. And it is the same for everyone. But Jesus? He is not just a man; He is God! He is the holy Son of God, righteous in His being. Surely, as the holy Son of God, He doesn’t need baptism! So why was He here?
John could not have imagined a more shocking answer to his question than to hear Jesus say, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” To fulfill righteousness?
Oh, how hard it is for us to comprehend the ways of God! How hard it is to understand “the mystery of godliness” (1Tm.3:16) that was in the Lord Jesus! That mystery of God made flesh confronted us again at Christmas. Here it meant that His baptism was proper, yes, even necessary to fulfill God’s righteous requirements.
We could understand that for ourselves. We need repentance and the forgiveness of sins that go with baptism, for we daily sin much and indeed deserve nothing but punishment. From coveting other people’s things, to lying, stealing, to unrighteous anger, to selfishness and self-centeredness, to immorality, to hurting or harming our neighbor with actions or words, to dishonoring parents and others in authority, yes, to dishonoring God Himself – we go from sin, to sin, to sin, placing ourselves before Him. We need repentance and forgiveness, daily – but Christ?
During these last 30 years of silence since Jesus’ birth, He had gone out to live the perfect life that God demands. He did that for us who have failed to do it. But His perfection wasn’t enough. There was more that He had to do for our salvation. He needed to atone for our sins on the cross. He had to pay for our mistakes. And now the time had come for Him to begin that step to the cross where righteousness would be complete. That began here, on the bank of the Jordan River, in His baptism. Here the holy Son of God willingly took up that redeeming work which lay ahead of Him.
When He got into that water, he made it known that He, the sinless one, would stand with us, beside us, and for us. He is our brother (Hb.2:10f) the Scriptures testify. So then, at His baptism the world is getting One who has no sin and yet was designated to carry all sin, for the “Lord laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Is.53). Such a thing was proper. Standing in our place, the sinless Sin-bearer willingly took up the work and was baptized fulfilling all righteousness.
Is Baptism Important? Is Jesus’ Baptism Important? You bet it is for in it He took up the work and sanctified the water that cleansed and saved you when you were baptized (1Pt.3:21). It restores you to God through the forgiveness it gives and empowers you daily to fight sin and to live a new life in Him. “We were therefore buried with Jesus through baptism into death, that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life…. Count yourself dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Ro.6:11f). If you do not see baptism in this way daily, then it is not important to you as it was to Jesus who fulfilled all righteousness as He took up the work that lay ahead.
II. At Jesus Baptism the Father and the Spirit accepted the worker and His work.
But is the fact that Jesus took up the work that lay ahead of Him good enough? Isn’t a greater validation needed outside of Himself to indicate that His work was acceptable?
For example, think of yourself as receiving an assignment that is vital and will add to the security of our country. Can you just show up at the assignment and say, “Here I am; I’ve accepted the work”? No, in these troubled times you need more than a statement from you to validate your claim. You need approval from a higher authority that verifies your person. Without such verification, one could not be sure that what you say and do by yourself is beneficial.
That was also true regarding the matter of salvation. Verification of the worker and His work was necessary. God said, “In the mouths of 2 or 3 witnesses everything is to be established.”
Without verification we could not be sure of anything Jesus said or did. Maybe He just acted on His own. This is another reason His Baptism became so important as the Father and the Spirit accepted the worker and His work. (Jn.1:32f)
“As Jesus went up out of the water, the heavens were opened, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on Him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased.’”
A visible anointing by the Spirit; a vocal authorization by the Father! How much more certain can this be? They combine to tell us that the worker and His work are acceptable in heaven. And heaven stood open, verifying this act. This was more than just a parting of the clouds so that the sun could shine through. Heaven stood open with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit validating and approving all that took place.
In a similar way, heaven stood open at your baptism, as God stood at your side, validating the work that took place then. At that time, you were baptized into the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, even as God commanded. Therefore, we should highly honor baptism and say: Baptism was not devised by any human being, but God instituted it and approves what takes place there. He makes its water a washing of the soul and a regeneration of life in Him.
To be sure, only the eyes of faith see and appreciate it. But God has verified it in His Word. Heaven stands open and the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit daily stand about and at our sides in baptism.
Never underestimate its importance and power. In baptism see a gracious God working to fulfill all righteousness within you. God grant us daily the strength and comfort that baptism gives for because of Christ, “baptism now saves you, not the removal of dirt from the body, but the guarantee of a good conscience before God; it saves you through…Jesus Christ” (1 Pt.3:21). God grant it to us in faith for Jesus’ sake. Amen.