Sermon for Baptism of Our Lord
Isaiah 42:1-7 + 1 Corinthians 1:26-31 + Matthew 3:13-17
What do you have in common with Jesus? I should put it this way: What do all people by nature have in common with Jesus? The answer is, hardly anything. Jesus is the very image of God, pure, spotless, clean. We are, by nature, sinful and unclean, having inherited the sinful image of our first father, Adam. Jesus is righteous; but God says that no one else is righteous. Jesus is good; we are, by nature, bad. Jesus is light; we are darkness. Jesus, with His righteous life, earned His Father’s favor and eternal life; we, with our unrighteous lives, have earned our God’s displeasure and eternal death. Jesus is the very Son of God; we, by nature, are children of wrath. When it comes right down to it, the only thing all people have in common with Jesus is human flesh and blood.
Ah, but consider that. The eternal Son of God didn’t even have human flesh and blood until He was conceived and born of the Virgin Mary. Why did He come into the flesh in the first place? He came into the flesh to become like sinners, to have something in common with us in order that we might have much more in common with Him.
That brings us to today’s Gospel. In the Gospel we hear of this other thing that not everyone has in common with Jesus, and yet all men are invited to have it in common with Jesus, even as most or all of you here have it common with Jesus. In the Gospel, we hear that Jesus was baptized.
Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. Luke tells us that Jesus was about thirty years old at this time when He stepped forward to be baptized. What had He been doing for thirty long years? Growing, in wisdom and in stature. Trusting His Father in heaven. Hearing and learning the Word of God. Praying. Gladly making the regular trip to the Temple in Jerusalem, as he was supposed to. Remembering the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy. Being obedient to His father and mother. Learning a trade and working—as a carpenter with His earthly father. Living as a Jewish citizen out in the Jewish country, living as a neighbor to his neighbors in the small town of Nazareth.
Nothing uncommon, really, and yet everything uncommon to us, because it was all done without sin. It was all done without complaining or whining at His parents. It was all done without the typical self-centeredness of childhood, without the narcissistic focus on self and self-image that typically describes the teenage years, without the rebellion of youth and the pleasure-seeking of the flesh and the worrying about the future that occupies the rest of our race. It was all done perfectly, humbly, compassionately, with love for His Father in heaven and love for His neighbor—always!
Nothing uncommon, and yet everything uncommon, because Jesus was born under the law in your place, to fulfill the Law that you have broken, to keep the commandments that you have not kept. And all this, not to rub your face in how bad you are or to make you jealous of how good He is, but to fill in for you so that His righteousness might cover your sins.
Jesus came to John to be baptized by him and John tried to prevent Him. Of course he did. Thirty years earlier this same John leapt for joy in his mother’s womb as Jesus approached in His mother’s womb. You remember that encounter between Elizabeth and Mary? The Holy Spirit had taught John who Jesus was since before either of them was born.
We don’t know how much, if any interaction John had with Jesus up until this time. But we do know that John was preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. John was a sinner baptizing sinners. They had everything in common. But as Jesus approached, John knew that Jesus was different; that Jesus had no need to repent of anything, nor did He have any sins that needed forgiving. “I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?”
It’s a complete reversal, the opposite of the way things are supposed to be. The sinless One approaches the sinner for help. The sinless One goes to the place where sins are washed away and insists on being washed in that very same water. It had to be this way, Jesus says. “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”
Where is the righteousness in the baptism of the Righteous One? That’s just it. Jesus Christ, the Righteous One, brings His righteousness to those waters so that all who are baptized in those baptismal waters might have a righteousness to take away from Baptism—not their own righteousness that comes from doing good works, but the righteousness of faith, the righteousness of someone else that is credited to the account of all who believe and are baptized. You see? Sinners bring their sins to baptism. But Jesus brought His righteousness to baptism so that, when sinners are baptized, they don’t walk away from those waters with their sins still being charged against them. Instead, Jesus’ righteousness is washed onto them; they walk away covered in Jesus’ righteousness.
Jesus was baptized, and then a miraculous event took place. Behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” And suddenly, several things become clear. Several things are made manifest.
That God is the Father, who has one—and only one—beloved Son, and that the Spirit of God proceeds from the Father to the Son (and then, of course, from the Son to the world). You heard in the Old Testament Reading today from Isaiah about these three Persons in one God. Did you catch it? “Behold! (says God the Father) My Servant whom I uphold, My Elect One in whom My soul delights! (that’s the Son) I have put My Spirit upon Him; (there’s the Spirit) And now, here are the three distinct Persons of the Holy Trinity, in perfect harmony and unity at the Baptism of Jesus. One God in Three Persons—who among us could ever have anything in common with this God?
Something else is made manifest here, and the words of Isaiah help us to understand what Jesus’ baptism was for. This was Jesus’ official ordination, His inauguration ceremony into the Office of Christ, the Anointed One—anointed with water and the Word, anointed with the Holy Spirit. Everything that Isaiah said about the Servant of the Lord, the Elect One—the Chosen one of God—was said about Jesus. That He would be the source of righteousness for the nations—there it is again, the righteousness of faith.
The other thing that is made manifest here at the Baptism of Jesus is God the Father’s immense love for His Son and His pleasure with His Son. What child wouldn’t want to have his or her father say about them what God the Father said here about His Son, Jesus? Which of us wouldn’t want to hear these words spoken of us by God, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” The Father spoke those words, not just about Jesus as the eternal Son of God, but also about Jesus as the perfectly righteous Son of Man.
But those words can never be spoken about any other man, because every other man is a sinner. And God is not well pleased with sinners. He is righteous; we are not. We have nothing in common with Him.
But here, in the Person of Jesus Christ, God has approached sinners by taking on our human flesh. And here at the Baptism of Our Lord, God has given us a way to have everything in common with Him.
What do you have in common with Jesus? Jesus was baptized; you have been baptized. This is the point of departure. This is the thing that Christians have in common with Christ that the rest of the world cannot claim. And if you are baptized into Christ, then everything that is His is yours. Is Christ the beloved Son of God? Then so are you. Is Christ declared righteous and well-pleasing to God His Father? Then so are you. Did Christ die to sin once for all? Then hear what God proclaims, that you, too, have been buried with Christ through baptism into death. Was Christ raised from the dead by the glory of the Father? Then you, too, have also been made alive together with Christ, so that you may go and sin no longer. And you, too, will live, even though you die.
Oh, you get the rest, too, as baptized believers in Christ; you have more in common with Him. Was Christ hated by the world? You, too, will be hated by the world. Was the glory of Christ hidden behind shame and the cross? So your glory, too, will remain hidden behind shame and the cross. And just as Christ lived to please His Father in heaven and to serve His neighbor in love, so also we who share a common Baptism with Him must live to please our Father in heaven and to serve our neighbor in love—not to earn God’s favor with works of the law, but because we are sons of God in common with Christ, through faith in Christ, for all of you who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ, as the Apostle Paul says. You are sons of God, and that’s what sons do.
Now, consider your calling, brethren, as Paul said to the Corinthians in the Epistle. God has chosen people who are foolish, weak, base, and despised to be brought into Christ, and through Christ, into the eternal kingdom of God. You are the ones God wanted to have everything in common with. Isn’t that amazing? Isn’t that grace? And it all starts and it all flows from this divine promise that we have in Holy Baptism—this Baptism that we have in common with Christ, so that we may have all things in common with Christ, who has become for us wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption. Amen.