Baptism of our Lord Sermon
The Fulfillment of All Righteousness
February 18, 2007
St. Matthew 3:13-17
Johnís baptism was for the
forgiveness of sins. This
is why he tried to prevent Jesus from being baptized.
He knew that Jesus was sinless.
After all, he had already identified Jesus as the Lamb of God who
takes away the sin of the world. He
could not take away sin if He were a sinner.
It was John who needed to be baptized by Jesus, not Jesus who
needed to be baptized by John.
But Jesus explained to John why
He wanted John to baptize Him. He
said, ďPermit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to
fulfill all righteousness.Ē Jesus
was not baptized because He needed baptism.
He was baptized in order to fulfill all righteousness.
But He was already righteous.
He was born without sin. He
lived a sinless life. He
never did anything wrong. He
never left any duty undone. He
certainly didnít need to be baptized in order to become a righteous
man. He was already a
righteous man. What then
did He mean when He said: ďfor thus it is fitting for us to fulfill
In order to answer this question
we need to consider what baptism is.
Literally, it means a washing.
To baptize is to wash. It
is to apply water. The
water may be sprinkled or poured over the head.
The person being baptized may be submerged completely under the
water. In either case
washing takes place. Thatís
what baptism is. It is a
But it is more.
It is a washing of the Holy Spirit.
It is a washing in the blood of the Lamb.
It is a washing of rebirth to eternal life.
It is a washing that gives us a clear conscience.
It is a washing away of sin.
It is a washing that drowns the old Adam so that the new man can
rise up to inherit everlasting life.
It is a washing that covers us with the spotless robe of
Christís righteousness. It
is a washing that fills us with the Holy Spirit and joins us in
fellowship with one another. The
washing of Holy Baptism is a heavenly washing with the almighty power of
God joined to it. And all
of these benefits of baptism derive from this: that Christ fulfilled all
He submitted to Holy Baptism,
not to take away His own sin for He has no sin to take away.
He submitted to Holy Baptism in order to take upon Himself our
sin. In this way when we
receive Holy Baptism we leave in the water all of our sin and we take
from the water the very righteousness that our Lord Jesus fulfilled.
The baptism of Jesus is a mirror
image of our own. He places
into baptism His righteousness so that when we are baptized this
righteousness may be given to us. And
just as His baptism obliged Him to do battle against the devil Ė in
the wilderness and on the cross Ė just so our baptism is for us
victory over the devil. Jesus
bears the sin of the world. He
dies. Water and blood flow
from His pierced side. Now
the water of Holy Baptism is our washing in the blood of the Lamb.
When Jesus was baptized the Holy
Trinity was clearly revealed. We
are baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy
Spirit. At Jesusí baptism the Father spoke in a voice that came
from heaven. The Son was
standing in the Jordan River. The
Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus like a dove.
Christís baptism is thus joined to ours.
He placed into Holy Baptism the treasures that we receive from
Baptism is Godís gift.
It is not our work. True,
you see a man pouring water over the head.
But God Himself is doing the baptizing.
Luther puts in this way in the Large Catechism:
baptized in Godís name is to be baptized not by men but by God
himself. Although it is performed by menís hands, it is nevertheless
truly Godís own act. From this fact everyone can easily conclude that
it is of much greater value than the work of any man or saint. For what
work can man do that is greater than Godís work?
This is how we should regard our
baptism. When we do
everything that we can to live the life of a Christian we must in all
humility and honesty admit that we have not done enough.
Our baptism remains for us a washing that continues to cleanse us
of all our sins. For it is
not a mere symbol of an act of human obedience.
Far from it! God has
joined His own divine majesty and honor to Holy Baptism.
Listen once more to Lutherís words from the Large Catechism:
same manner, and even much more, you should honor and exalt Baptism on
account of the Word, since God himself has honored it by words and deeds
and has confirmed it by wonders from heaven. Do you think it was a jest
that the heavens opened when Christ allowed himself to be baptized, that
the Holy Spirit descended visibly, and that
the divine glory and majesty were manifested everywhere?
In a few short days the season
of Lent begins. Lent
corresponds to the forty days that Jesus spent in the wilderness,
fasting, and being tempted by the devil.
The forty days of Lent end on Easter Sunday when the church
celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
Just as Jesusí baptism sent Him into the wilderness to do
battle for us, our baptism sets us at war against the one who tempted
our Lord. ďIf you are the
Son of God,Ē is how the devil tempted Jesus.
ďIf you are a Christian,Ē is how the devil tempts us.
He calls our status into question.
He tries to convince us to doubt that God is on our side and in
this way to rob us of our Christian faith.
In the liturgy for Holy Baptism,
the first question asked of the candidate for baptism is this: ďDo you
renounce the devil and all his works and all his ways?Ē
The Christian life is a life at war.
We have tremendous weapons at our disposal.
The devil is no joke. Heís
not merely a religious myth or a symbol of naughtiness.
Heís real. Heís
out to destroy us. He kills
souls. He does so by lying. The
big lie of the devil is to question the Christianís relationship with
God. The greatest weapon we
have that we can use against the father of lies and murderer of souls is
Nowhere is the Triune God so
clearly revealed than at the baptism of our Lord Jesus.
And no where is His power in our life so clearly displayed than
in our baptism. Consider
the power of Godís name and word.
His name includes His very essence.
He swears by Himself and cannot break His promises.
His word is almighty. In
our baptism Godís name is joined to our name.
In our baptism, Godís word is joined to the water in such a way
as to make it a heavenly washing to which we can go and be cleansed of
our sins every single day of our lives.
St. Paul teaches that in baptism we put on Christ.
He says that in baptism we are joined to Christís death and
resurrection. St. Peter
teaches us in todayís Epistle Lesson that baptism saves us by giving
us a good conscience before God by Christís resurrection.
Did Jesus not die?
Did He not rise from the dead?
Yes, He did. This
must mean that our sins are forgiven.
For if He died for our sins and failed to take those sins away He
never would have risen from the dead.
But He did rise from the dead.
This means that He most certainly did succeed in bearing away our
load of sin and guilt. And
this is not just an historical occurrence separated from us by a couple
of thousand years. We were
baptized into union with Christís death and resurrection, as St. Paul
teaches us in Romans 6 and as we all memorize in the Catechism.
So when we find refuge in our
baptism we are finding refuge in Christ.
St. Peter writes (1 Peter 3:21) ďBaptism doth also now save
us.Ē The Bible says it
and that settles it. Baptism
saves because God joins salvation to it.
It saves because God has chosen to bind Himself with His honor
and might and grace to this holy sacrament.
He has purchased the saving power of baptism with His precious
blood. How can we despise
We are baptized!
Tell that to the devil when he would call into question Godís
faithfulness to us. We are
baptized. This means we
have put on Christ and can face any demonic accusation, any temptation
of the flesh, any false promises of this world.
Consider the Fatherís verdict proclaimed for the whole world to
hear: ďThis is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.Ē
This is His verdict as well on those who have been clothed in
Christ in Holy Baptism.
If you want to learn how to live
like a Christian you need to know for a fact that you are a Christian.
Your baptism is Godís guarantee to you that you stand before
God with His full approval and blessing.
Only when you know where you stand with God can you live before
God with confidence. This
is what Jesus had in mind when He told St. John the Baptist that He
needed to fulfill all righteousness.
He had you in mind. He
had your daily life in mind. He
knew that you would struggle to live a holy life and that you would fall
into sins of pride, lust, malice, and greed.
He knew you would face the temptation to give up on living the
Christian life you were called to live.
He wanted you to know today and every day that you are a
righteous saint, clothed with nothing less than His own righteousness.
You baptism seals this to you.
So claim what God has given to you.
You are Godís own child.
Rev. Rolf D. Preus