Sermon for Baptism of our Lord – January 8, 2023

Matthew 3:13-17

Dear friends, grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

Well, the baby we have been celebrating and worshipping over the past few weeks is all grown up. We don’t get much in the gospels about Jesus’ childhood. There is nothing at all in Mark or John. There is a little bit in Matthew, and a little more in Luke. We’ve explored many of those infancy texts over the past few weeks, but now today Jesus comes onto the scene as a grown up, and for his very first public appearance as an adult he goes out to the Jordan river to be baptized by John. It must have made quite a splash (pun intended) because all four gospel writers begin their story of the adult Jesus with this event.

It certainly stirred the waters with John the Baptist! St. Matthew tells us that John didn’t want to baptize Jesus. “He would have prevented him,” he tells us. John seems to have been a little surprised, a little taken aback, by Jesus’ coming to him for baptism.

From the time John was in the womb, he knew who Jesus was. When Mary came to see John’s mother Elizabeth, John leaped in his mother’s womb. Even in utero John knew he was in the presence of the Messiah, the savior.

John had been preparing the way for Jesus with his preaching, calling people to repent. That’s what John’s baptism was – a baptism of repentance. John called people to be washed clean from their sin in preparation for the coming of the Lord. Sinners of every stripe were coming to him for this baptism. The muddy waters of the Jordan were further clouded by the many sins being scrubbed away through John’s baptism. Think of what your dishwater looks like after you’ve washed all the dirty dishes from a big dinner. The Jordan river was the spiritual equivalent of that dishwater. It was clouded with the people’s sins.

And in his first public appearance as an adult, Jesus said, “I want to go into that water too.” Jesus went to John for this same baptism. John looked at Jesus like, “Are you kidding?” John would have prevented him! John said, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”

John knew who Jesus was. He knew he was the Messiah, the savior. What in the world was the Messiah doing asking to be baptized by John? Why in the heck did the sinless savior want to immerse himself in that filthy water? What was Jesus doing coming out to be baptized alongside common sinners? It didn’t make any sense! And so John hesitated. He would have prevented him.

But Jesus insisted. And he insisted for a very important reason that is important for all of us to understand. Jesus said to John, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Jesus wanted to be baptized by John because it was the first step in fulfilling all righteousness. Jesus had come to save sinners. He had come to make them right with God. He had come to bring them back into right relationship with God. This was his mission. He would make sinners righteous through his saving work. This is what it means for him to “fulfill all righteousness.”

The first step in doing this was for Jesus to identify himself with sinners. Jesus didn’t “need” to be baptized with John’s baptism of repentance, strictly speaking. He had no need to repent! There was no sin in him! There was nothing for John to wash away! In seeking to be baptized by John, Jesus was beginning his work of taking the sin of the world upon himself. John finally agreed to baptize Jesus, and as that sin-tainted water enveloped him, Jesus was beginning his work of fulfilling all righteousness. Jesus’ baptism wasn’t for his benefit. It was for the benefit of those he came to save.

To illustrate this, I’d like to share a picture from a story I came across. The little boy is named Joey Watts. At six years old, Joey had to have surgery to repair a heart defect. Joey was anxious about the three-and-a-half-inch scar on his chest, and so his dad, Martin, went out and got a tattoo to match his son’s scar.

Martin’s heart was fine. He didn’t need surgery. He didn’t need an incision. He didn’t have a scar. He didn’t need to get that tattoo. So why did he do it? He did it to identify himself with his son. He did it to let his son know that he was there for him. He did it out of love.

And just look at the smile on that kid! That scared little boy with a diseased heart is being held by one who loves him and who took his malady upon himself.

This is what Christ Jesus has done for us. You see, our hearts are diseased with sin. They pump with selfishness and self-centeredness. They beat to the sound of our own drums as we seek to go our own way and be our own gods. They are infected with all kinds of ungodly inclinations and desires and attitudes. Our hearts are wounded by the sins done to us. Our hearts are heavy with the sins we have inflicted upon others.

By entering into the muddy, sin clouded waters of the Jordan river, Jesus took our malady upon himself. Jesus didn’t “need” to be baptized by John. He had no sin to repent of. His heart was fine. Jesus was baptized to take our heart problem, our sin problem, upon himself. He did it to fulfill all righteousness, to make us right with God once again.

Jesus’ baptism was a powerful opening salvo for the ministry ahead of him. It was an enormous statement he was making, and it did indeed make a big splash. Jesus was baptized alongside sinners. He would go on to eat and drink with sinners. After that he would be crucified between two sinners. All of this was to “fulfill all righteousness,” to make us right with God.

When we are baptized, we are joined to Christ’s saving work. That’s what scripture teaches us about our baptism into Christ. Christian baptism is something more than the baptism John was offering. Christian baptism is that baptism John preached about when he said that one more powerful than him was coming, and he would bring a new kind of baptism.

Our baptism liturgy reminds us of what this baptism is and does. It says, “In baptism our gracious heavenly Father frees us from sin and death by joining us to the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are born children of a fallen humanity; by water and the Holy Spirit we are reborn children of God and made members of the church, the body of Christ. Living with Christ and in the communion of saints, we grow in faith, love, and obedience to the will of God.”

When we are baptized, Christ meets us in the water. He knows about the sin-sick heart we are all born with, and he meets us in the water to be near us. He comes to draw us to himself.

When we are baptized, Christ fulfills all righteousness for us individually as he takes our sin upon himself and gives us his righteousness in return, making us right with God. What he accomplished in his death and resurrection is applied to us personally as we are washed, freed, reborn, and joined to him forever

We still bear the scars of our sin, and sometimes those scars ache. But look again at the smile on that little boy. No doubt his scar aches too. And yet, he beams with joy! He smiles as he is held. He smiles beside the one who, in his great love, has taken his malady upon himself, who isn’t afraid to be marked with it.

In spite of the scars we bear, we too can smile today. For in Word and Sacrament our Lord Jesus continues to come close to us. As we hear the story of his baptism, we are reminded that there is no life that is so muddy or clouded with sin that he isn’t willing to enter it. There is no scar so ugly or painful that he isn’t willing to take it upon himself.

In his great love, this savior has come alongside you. He has come to hold you close to himself. He has fulfilled all righteousness for you already, and by his Spirit he is giving us all a new heart, one that beats with his love and grace. It’s a long process. This transplant is a work in progress. But as we live with him and in the communion of saints, we grow in faith, love, and obedience to the will of God.

It is a tradition to sprinkle the congregation with water on Baptism of our Lord Sunday. I am going to do just that during the Hymn of the Day. As you feel that water splashing into your life today, or whenever you encounter water, whether it is falling from the sky or the showerhead or a water fountain, remember both Christ’s baptism and your own.

Remember that Christ has met you in the water.

Remember that he has taken your sin upon himself and is near to you today.

Remember that he has fulfilled all righteousness for you.

Remember all of this and smile.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

Rev. Jeffrey R. Spencer

Oak Harbor Lutheran Church