Baptism of our Lord| Matthew 3:13-17| Pastor James Preus| Trinity Lutheran Church| January 9, 2022
In the Grimm’s fairytale Snow White, the wicked witch tricks Snow White into biting into a poisonous apple. She does this by poisoning only one half of the apple. The witch takes a bite out of the nonpoisonous half of the apple to convince Snow White that the apple is safe so that she unwittingly takes a bite out of the poisonous half. This concept is understandable to a child or anyone who has cut out the brown part of an apple or banana to eat the good fruit left over. But this concept doesn’t work with water. If you put poison into a cup of water, you can’t drink from the nonpoisonous side of the cup. Whatever mixes with water mixes with all the water. Children with lots of siblings understand this when it comes to bath time. If a child has several siblings take a bath before him, he might not want to get in the tub until the water is changed, because that water that had been used for cleaning has been made dirty by mixing with the filth that washed off the other children.
And this might explain John the Baptist’s hesitancy when Jesus came to be baptized by him. John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Sinners came to John to be baptized. But Jesus had no sin. John knew this. Jesus is the sinless Son of God. He has no need to be baptized. He has no need to repent of his sins or have them washed away. Should Jesus enter the sinner’s water and be defiled by their sin? But Jesus does not come to be baptized for his own sake. He came to be baptized for the sake of sinners. Jesus joins himself to the baptismal waters to remove sin from us and to give us his righteousness.
The Baptism into which you are baptized is the same Baptism of Jesus. When Jesus was baptized, he joined himself to the sinner’s Baptism. He joined himself to those waters. All our sin goes into those waters, and Jesus takes them from us. And all of Jesus’ righteousness goes into those waters and is given to us. What is joined to the water becomes everyone’s who enters those waters.
A crass analogy is a washing machine with detergent. When laundry is put into the wash and the water pours in, the dirt and filth is mixed with the water. You’d think it would pollute all the clothes and leave them filthy. Yet, because enough water is added to dilute the filth and detergent is mixed with the water, the clothes come out not smelling offensive, but fresh like the clean detergent. Jesus is the detergent. Yet, he is much more than that. Our sin is our filth. But the sins of the whole world cannot compete with the righteousness of Christ. When our sin meets Jesus’ righteousness, Jesus’ righteousness wins. Our sins are washed away and gone forever. This is why Baptism is a washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, a washing which forgives sins and saves. Jesus is joined to the waters of Baptism. When we see our Baptism, we see our Lord Jesus who joined himself to it. In Baptism we see our confidence in the face of sin, death, and hell.
Yet, many despise Baptism and find no value in it. “How can water do such great things?”, they ask. “Water is an outward thing, so it cannot do anything to save. Outward things cannot save, only inward things can save. Baptism is a work; works cannot save.” Yet, God has chosen to use Baptism to save us. And we should not despise the water of Baptism, because God has chosen to use water to save us. He used water to save Noah and his family when he passed judgement on the world with a global flood. He used water to save the children of Israel when he brought them out of Egypt through the Red Sea. He used water to testify of our salvation when water and blood poured from our Savior’s side when a soldier pierced his dead body upon the cross. God chooses to use water to save, so we should rejoice in that water.
When Jesus came out of the water, God the Father from heaven declared him to be his beloved Son in whom he is well pleased. The Children of Israel were once baptized through the Red Sea when they exited Egypt. God told Moses, “You shall say to Pharoah, ‘Thus says the LORD, Israel is my firstborn son, and I say to you, “let my son go that he may serve me.”’” Israel was indeed the LORD’s firstborn, who passed through the baptismal waters of the Red Sea. Yet, he became disobedient in the wilderness forty years and most of them perished before they saw the Promised Land. Jesus is the second Israel. He is God’s true firstborn from eternity, now taking the place of Israel in human flesh. After he passes through the baptismal waters of the Jordan, he will sojourn in the wilderness for forty days battling Satan. And he will come out victorious. Jesus’ Baptism marks the beginning of his ministry, a ministry he accomplishes perfectly. Jesus strives with Satan and wins. Jesus obeys his Father completely. He proclaims the gospel in perfect love, heals and provides for the sick and poor. Jesus is the perfect son Israel failed to be; he accomplishes what we have failed to accomplish. And blamelessly he goes to slaughter to bear the sins of the world.
This is why Jesus’ Baptism is so important. You cannot separate Jesus’ Baptism from his work of salvation: his perfect obedience, suffering, death, and resurrection. This means that you cannot separate your Baptism from Christ Jesus, his righteousness and atonement for your sins. This is why you should look at your Baptism as your greatest treasure and source of confidence.
Do you have sin for which you are ashamed? Have you failed to hold God above all things, to be diligent in reading and hearing his word and praying to him? Have you loved your neighbor and forgiven your enemies? Have you always been honest? Are you ever lazy? Do you ever lose your temper? Do you speak well of others? Do you ever lie? Are you in control of your fleshly desires? If you know God’s Law and believe it is good, then these questions will bring you to shame. How can you stand before God when such sins stand against your conscience? Are you baptized? Then your sins have been put on Christ and Christ’s obedience has been put on you. Look at Jesus, the Good Son. He clothes you with himself in your Baptism.
So, since your Baptism joins you to Christ and his work of salvation, your Baptism gives you confidence to confess God as your own Father. You are his beloved child with whom he is well pleased. All your sins have gone into the waters of Baptism and have been washed away in Jesus’ blood. And All Christ’s righteousness and obedience have been washed onto you, so that you come out smelling of the sweet aroma of Christ Jesus. “I am Baptized”, means, “I am a child of God with whom he is well pleased.”
Since Baptism joins you to Christ, it gives you courage to face Satan and resist him. Many slander the Christian religion by saying that if Christ has paid for our sins and we receive credit for his obedience by faith, then why don’t we go on sinning. But that would totally contradict Baptism. In Baptism your sins are washed away and you are clothed in Christ. This means that you desire to live as Christ. As Christ passed through the Baptismal waters and went into the wilderness to strive with Satan and resist temptation, so we must go from our Baptism to fight with Satan. And by the power of Baptism, we can overcome Satan. We can resist the temptation of the flesh, the allurements of the world, and the lies of Satan by looking at the true promises given to us in our Baptism. Who are you? The world does not determine this. Your birth according to the flesh does not determine this. Your Baptism does. And your Baptism calls you God’s Child, a bearer of Christ’s righteousness and name. Furthermore, your Baptism promises a continued flow of forgiveness for every time you stumble in battle against the devil. Although the waters of your Baptism have long since dried up, the forgiveness that Christ gives you in your Baptism never stops flowing as long as you receive it in faith.
And so, finding your identity in Baptism, you are given an eagerness to love your neighbor and do good to those who hate you. You are Christ’s! You have all that he has. Christ being Lord of all came to earth to serve all, and so you, having been set free from all bondage and becoming a lord in Christ now serve your God and your neighbor in perfect freedom. Live today as you believe you will live with him in heaven, in righteousness and purity forever.
In Jesus’ Baptism, we see a manifestation of the Holy Trinity. That is why we celebrate Jesus’ Baptism at Epiphany. We hear the Father’s voice from heaven declare Jesus his beloved Son. We see the Son standing in the water being anointed with the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove. Scripture tells us that everything must be established by two or three witnesses (Deuteronomy 19:15, John 8:17). What better witnesses can we have than the three Persons of the Holy Trinity. In Jesus’ Baptism they bear witness that they come in peace, as is illustrated by the dove. They bear witness that Jesus is our Savior, who washes our sins away, so that whoever is joined to him is pleasing to our Father in heaven. They bear witness that they are one indivisible God.
In your Baptism, although you do not see them, you have the same three Persons of the Holy Trinity bearing witness. The one and only God testifies that you are joined to Christ’s death and resurrection, that all your sins are washed away. The one Triune God confesses you to be his child and anoints you with the Holy Spirit, so that you too are a little christ, that is, a little anointed one, a Christian. The Holy Trinity bears witness in your Baptism that he has saved you by the merits of Christ and has clothed you in Christ Jesus, so that you must not fear the devil, his works, or his ways.
In Jesus’ Baptism we see a manifestation of God coming to us in grace. Yet, just as with his birth in a stable in Bethlehem, or his dying on a cross outside Jerusalem, his burial in a tomb or his ascent into heaven, we can only hear and read of these manifestations of God. We cannot go to the Jordan and see the dove descend on Jesus’ shoulder, or look at Jesus’ sleeping in the manger, or his empty grave cloths in his tomb. But you can remember your own Baptism when water touched your skin as God made you his child. And you can witness the Baptism of your brothers and sisters in Christ here at church and remember what God has done to you in your lifetime. When you hear the words of Christ and see the water, you can remember the testimony the Holy Trinity made to you. And by the power of the Holy Spirit, you can believe the promise of forgiveness, life, and salvation, which God has given you in Baptism and be saved. God grant such faith to us all. Amen.