The Baptism of our Lord | January 10, 2021 | Rev. James Preus | Matthew 3:13-17
Blessed Epiphany! Epiphany comes from the Greek word for manifestation or appearing. It refers to God revealing himself to us in his Son, Jesus Christ. So, it makes sense in this Epiphany season that we remember the Baptism of our Lord Jesus in the Jordan River, because in few places does God manifest himself and his desire to save us so clearly and succinctly as in Jesus’ Baptism.
There is a saying, “The Old is in the New revealed; the New is in the Old concealed.” This saying refers to the Old and the New Testament. Both the Old and the New Testament are God’s holy Word. And the Old Testament is truly valuable and profitable to read and meditate on for faith and salvation. Yet, without the revelation of the New Testament, there is much in the Old Testament that remains hidden from our understanding. St. Peter explains it this way,
“Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.” (1 Peter 1:10-12)
What does this mean? It means that you are the most blessed people, privileged even above the prophets and seers of the Old Testament! Because to you has been revealed the Gospel in its fullness and clarity. Think of this, the Prophet Isaiah prophesied that the Virgin would conceive and bear a son and would call his name Immanuel (Isaiah 7:14). He wrote of the suffering of the Christ, who would go as a lamb to the slaughter bearing the iniquities of us all (Isaiah 53). Yet, search as he might in his own prophecies, he could not answer when these things would be or exactly how they would be carried out. Yet to you, o blessed of all people, is revealed the meaning of Isaiah’s prophecies, even more clearly than Isaiah could make them out! The prophets searched their own writings! Yet, to us is revealed just how wonderful their message is.
This great mystery is summed up in the first verse of the book of Hebrews, which says, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.” The prophets of the Old Testament write much about God and his plan to send his Son to save us. Yet, you must read many passages to find arguments for the Holy Trinity. Although much is written about Christ, there are still many unanswered questions. Yet, in the New Testament, what is hidden in the Old Testament is revealed. This is because the New Testament reveals God’s Son Jesus to us. And in the five verses that make up St. Matthew’s account of Jesus’ Baptism, more is revealed to us about who our God is and what he does for us than in many chapters of the Old Testament.
You can find much about the Holy Trinity in the Old Testament. In the first three verses of Genesis, we can see the three Persons in the Holy Trinity: The Father, the Son, that is, the Word, and the Holy Spirit. The Father speaks, which shows that he begets the Word through whom he creates all things and the Spirit of God hovers over the water. Yet, that passage alone does not suffice to prove the Holy Trinity: Three distinct Person, yet one God. There is also the passage of the burning bush, where the Angel of the LORD is in the burning bush, but then Scripture says that God spoke to Moses from the bush, so he is both the Angel of the LORD, yet he is God. He is multiple distinct persons, yet one God. Yet, this passage alone is also not sufficient. Again, in Genesis chapter one, God says, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” And then it says, “So God created man in his own image.” Again, an example that God has multiple persons, yet there is one God. In the Aaronic Benediction in Numbers 6, we hear, “The LORD bless you and keep you, the LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you, the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.” So, the name of the LORD is put on the people of Israel with the name of the LORD repeated three times. In Isaiah 6, the angels sing to the Lord, “Holy, holy, holy,” thrice holy for the three persons in the holy Trinity.
And there are many other passages that point to and hint at the holy Trinity in the Old Testament, yet, many of them are not sufficient on their own and you must read many passages and search for it to find the teaching of the Holy Trinity. Yet, in Jesus’ Baptism, in just a few short verses, we hear the Father from heaven speak, declaring Jesus to be his beloved Son, and we see the Holy Spirit descend like a dove upon Jesus, anointing him for his mission to save our souls. In a single sentence we see the glorious doctrine of the Holy Trinity with more clarity than in all the Old Testament together. And we also see God’s Son Jesus reveals himself to us in his Baptism! And this same Jesus then commands that all nations be baptized into the name of this one God: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19-20).
In the Old Testament we learn a lot about Christ Jesus our Savior. In Genesis 3:15, we learn that he will come from the seed of the woman and will crush the head of Satan, while he himself will be bruised on the heal. To Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, God promised that all nations of the earth would be blessed through this descendent of theirs. God revealed to King David that this Christ would descend from his family tree and would rule forever (2 Samuel 7), a fact confirmed even by the Prophet Jeremiah in the midst of the destruction of Jerusalem, when he assured us that God would raise up for David a righteous branch, who would reign as king, save Judah and Israel, and would be called, “The Lord is our Righteousness.” (Jeremiah 23:5-6) Isaiah too confirmed that the Christ would come from David’s father Jesse’s stump. And David himself told us that the Christ was both his Son and his Lord, when he said, “The Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your foot stool” (Psalm 110)
The Old Testament is filled with information about the Christ. Micah told us he would be born in Bethlehem. David told us that they would pierce his hands and feet, divide his garments and cast lots for his tunic (Psalm 22). The prophet Zechariah said they would look on him whom they have pierced (Zech. 12:10). Yet, here in the Jordan we see him appear to us, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. We see him, the Son of Mary, born in Bethlehem, who is called a Nazarene for living in Nazareth, this descendent of David standing in the Jordan, anointed by the Holy Spirit, declared to be God’s Son!
And we even learn that Jesus does not do this for himself! Obviously, he doesn’t! He has no sin! John knows full well he has no need of his own accord to be baptized. Sinners are baptized. John the sinner needs to be baptized by Jesus, not Jesus be baptized him. Then why is Jesus baptized? Jesus says, “to fulfill all righteousness.” That is to say, in order for poor sinners to become righteous and be saved.
By willingly being baptized in the Jordan River, Jesus willingly joined himself to sinners. He took upon himself his mission to be the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. You cannot separate Jesus’ Baptism from his crucifixion and resurrection. When he entered the Jordan, he entered his course to the cross. From there, he would take our sins, possess them, own them, and pay for them with his own blood. He, who shares our flesh and blood is God’s beloved Son, and as God’s beloved Son, he rescues those whom God loves.
So, we see in Jesus’ Baptism a great Epiphany. A revelation of who God is: The Holy Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. We see the revelation of his Son, the Christ: Son of David and Son of God. And we see God’s desire to save us and fulfill righteousness for our sake.
As certainly as we cannot separate Christ’s Baptism in the Jordan from his death by crucifixion and resurrection from the dead, so certainly can we not separate our own Baptism from Christ’s Baptism and his work of salvation for us. In his Baptism, Christ was anointed to save sinners. And in so doing, he joined himself to the Baptismal waters. He sucked all the sin out of them and poured into it his righteousness and Holy Spirit, so that those waters become a washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:6-7), so that Christ might present us holy and blameless without spot or wrinkle (Ephesians 5:26-27).
This means that in your own Baptism, which you should remember every day, you should see the great Epiphany of God’s love for you! At Jesus’ Baptism, God sent down his Holy Spirit to anoint Jesus. So, in your Baptism, God sends his Holy Spirit to anoint you and make you a little Christ, that is, a little anointed one, who bear’s Jesus’ name. At Jesus’ Baptism, God declared Jesus to be his beloved Son in whom he is well pleased. So, he does the same to you in your Baptism. This is what has been revealed to us by Christ’s holy Apostle Paul, who says, “For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” (Galatians 3:26-27) If this is the case, then you have no fear of sin, death, hell and damnation, since God has declared you his beloved in whom he is well pleased. Since you are joined to Christ through those Baptismal waters, you have a great Epiphany that God is pleased with you!
Baptism joins us to Christ’s death and resurrection, as again, Jesus’ holy Apostle Paul wrote, “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.” (Romans 6:3-5) What this means is that we are a new creation in Christ. We turn from sin each day, because we have died to sin with Christ. And the Holy Spirit, whom we have received in our Baptism, draws us to repent and raises our new man to new life every day. This also means that we have no fear of death. We’ve already died with Christ. Rather, we have a sure hope of the resurrection from the dead as we follow Christ.
Jesus’ Baptism is a great Epiphany of our salvation. And the entire New Testament is filled with such epiphanies. In fact, the New Testament shines a light on the Old Testament, so that it is clearer and more comforting. The entire Bible is now for us a book of epiphanies, which show us our Savior Jesus, God’s own Son.
You are blessed of all people, not simply because you have heard this Epiphany of Christ, but because you believe it. And faith begets faith. A living faith desires to grow and be strong, which can only happen by continued meditating on the Epiphany of Christ. We should not despise the revelation of Christ, but recognize how fortunate we are to have it in such clarity! In faith, we should always follow that light of Scripture and cling to Christ’s Sacraments, so that Christ may enlighten our darkened minds and keep us from being pulled away from him by this sinful world. Let us pray.
O Lord, our hearts awaken To know and love You more,
In faith to stand unshaken, In spirit to adore,
That we through this world moving, Each glimpse of heaven proving,
May reap its fulness there. Amen.