Saturday, January 10, 2009

Sunday, January 11, 2009 Baptism of our Lord, Matt. 3:13-17

Then Jesus comes along from the Galilee upon the Jordan to John to be baptized by him. But John was preventing Him, saying, "I myself have need to be baptized by You, and You Yourself come to me?" And answering, Jesus said to him, "Let it be, now, for so it is proper for us to fulfill all righteousness." Then he let it be for Him. And having been baptized, Jesus immediately went up from the water; and look, the heavens opened and He saw the Spirit of God coming down like a dove and coming upon Him; And look, a voice out of the heavens saying, "This is My Son, the Beloved, in Whom I have been pleased."

What is going on with this story about Jesus being baptized by John? Did the Christ need what John's baptism provided? Why didn't Jesus baptize John–the one who truly needed his sins washed away? And what does it mean that John just go ahead and baptize Jesus to *fulfill all righteousness*? And after all this, why does the Holy Ghost come down upon Him, and why does His Father declare His love for His Son in a voice booming down from heaven above?

Well, to answer these questions, first we need to begin by understanding John and his work. John was the fore-runner of Christ who preached and baptized almost exactly like Jesus Himself. He preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. John's baptism was remarkably like the one Jesus would institute later on–one which gave repentance and the forgiveness of sins. John's baptism pricked the consciences of sinners that they be sorry and believe in God for their forgiveness.

Jesus came, willingly for a baptism that worked repentance and bestowed forgiveness to sinners. One problem though, Jesus was not a sinner, so he had nothing to repent of, and nothing to be forgiven. John knew who Jesus was, and was flummoxed that the Christ would come for such a baptism. He offered to trade places with Jesus, but to no avail. His Lord convinced John to baptize Him in the muddy Jordan with the simple words, "Let it be." John gave in to God's inexplicable will.

Then, as if to make clear what was most definitely not going on with respect to Jesus, the heavens open, and the Holy Spirit comes down alighting on Jesus like a dove would, and the Father's voice proclaims clearly that Jesus is *the Beloved* One, in whom the Father has been pleased. No mere sinner was being baptized this day, but a sinless One, God's Own Holy Son, all of Whom's works have been sin-free and pleasing to God the Father in heaven. So why is this sinless One baptized?

Jesus gives us one big clue in His additional explanation to John. He says that it is to *fulfill all righteousness*. How interesting. Baptism is all about getting rid of the wrongness of sins, and now Jesus introduces something more. You see, it is not enough that your heart be cleansed and made sin free in baptism. Such a heart may be clean, to be sure, but if forgiveness is the only thing considered, then it is a heart which remains empty. Jesus wishes to fill it with His righteousness!

This, Luther called the *blessed exchange*. Jesus trades His holy righteousness to you for your unholy sinfulness, which He takes upon His Own person on the tree. The muddy Jordan river is a type of Calvary, Jesus numbered there with the transgressors being baptized, just as He was crucified between two criminals. Jesus was at least waste deep in the sins washed from sinners in the Jordan, and He was fully immersed in the cup of the Father's wrath poured out at the cross.

Jesus seems to be saying to you, "Don't fear that I will shun you because of your sins. For I'll come to you in the muck and mire of your sinfulness and bear the burden of all its guilt and punishment for you." What a comfort to you this day to know that Jesus has already done just that for you in your own baptism. The sins washed from you flow from the filthy floodwater of the font directly onto Jesus at the cross, and His holy righteousness is now credited to your account, by God's gift of faith!

And if that were not enough, Jesus invites you to His Supper Table, to eat of the greatest of feasts– His righteous body given to death on the tree, and His holy, precious blood shed for you there. You eat and drink the righteousness of Jesus in Communion, your hungering and thirsting for righteousness quenched and satisfied by His holy body and blood in the bread and in the cup. He Who did all things right for your salvation feeds you with Himself at the Lord's Supper. All that God the Father may look down from heaven upon you and say that, in blessed exchange with Jesus, "You are my son, my beloved, in whom I'm pleased." Amen.

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