Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Sermon: Baptism of our Lord – 2012

11 January 2012 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 3:13-17 (Isa 42:1-7, 1 Cor 1:26-31)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

The baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ is a great mystery. For baptism is a washing away of sins. But Jesus had no sins. John’s baptism was a sign of repentance. But our Lord had nothing of which to repent.

This mystery is reflected in St. John’s reaction, whose gut reaction was to refuse Jesus baptism with words reflecting his shock: “I need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?”

What’s the point of washing someone who is not only clean, but pristine, perfect, immaculate, and without so much as a single cell reflecting a flaw of our fallen world? As Jesus Himself said: the people who are well don’t need a physician. And God certainly doesn’t need forgiveness.

Jesus needs no baptism.

And yet He submits to it, just like a poor, miserable sinner; just like a sinful son of Adam; in the very manner of the same vast crowds of the tax collectors and sinners who lined up to take the plunge in the Jordan at the hands of this eccentric preacher of righteousness. Righteousness.

The Lord’s explanation of the mystery uses this very word “righteousness.” For Jesus answered John’s protests: “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” And only then does his blessed cousin consent to cleanse God.

Our Lord Jesus did not come into our world merely to teach us right from wrong, to give us ethical principles, to leave behind things we have to memorize in the catechism. All of these things are related, but only secondary to the one great important truth about Jesus: He has come to save us from our sins. He is our Champion, our Redeemer-Kinsman, the One who rescues us from death itself. And He does this by imparting righteousness to us.

As our Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ was baptized and cleansed from our sins – and His baptism of water was completed by His baptism of blood. For at the cross, He was to become sin for us – sin that He promises is washed away through baptism, by means of the faith that makes us well, by the pledge of a pure conscience – indeed, in the very repentance His holy cousin John came preaching in the wilderness!

Jesus had no sins of His own to wash away. But He took ours. Jesus had no consequences and punishment to bear for His own transgressions. For He took ours. Jesus had no need of sacrificial blood to reconcile Himself with His Father – rather He gives us His own blood: at the cross and in the cup.

For something else happened at our Lord’s baptism, dear brothers and sisters, dear fellow baptized and redeemed sinners. And it happened “immediately.” As the Lord emerged from the water, as He drew His first breaths of our foul air following this public action of taking our sins upon Himself: “the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on Him.” And then came the spoken revelation from the Father Himself, the voice that was to be repeated at the Lord’s Transfiguration: “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” We are baptized into the most holy Name of the Most Holy Trinity!

This is not just God the Father accepting His Son Jesus and praising His righteousness. For the baptism of our Lord pleases the Father, the obedience of the Son pleases the Father, the humility of the Son pleases the Father. The act of accepting the burden and punishment of sins He did not commit pleases the Father – because, dear friends, think of just how profound this is: the Father is pleased in our redemption, in the Son’s cosmic rescue mission to drag us literally out of the fires of hell and to restore us to what we were created to be – all by the draw and the call of the Holy Spirit.

This is what it means “to fulfill all righteousness.”

Jesus did not come just to teach us about baptism, nor to set an example of baptism, but to become baptism, to be the washing away of our sins that saves us.

He, Jesus, is the “servant” whom God “upholds,” who is “chosen,” who bears the Spirit, and indeed, He has come to bring justice. And even when He was being rained upon with the unjust blows of fist and scourge, of nails and spear, He did not “cry aloud or lift up His voice.” He manfully, what’s more, divinely, endured our punishment and bore God’s wrath – and in bearing that wrath of God He pleases God. For it pleases God to save us!

Such is the love the Lord has for us, dear brothers and sisters. That love, that incarnate love, that redemptive love – is the heart of the mystery of the baptism of our Lord.

And so we who have been baptized into the Lord’s name, the Triune Name of the Triune God, numbered among His redeemed, we who are grafted into His Church and wedded to the perfect Bridegroom, have been elevated to righteousness with Jesus who emerged triumphant from the water and from the grave. Not many of us are deemed “wise according to worldly standards.” Not many of us are of our own nature “powerful” or of “noble birth.”

Yet here again is the mystery, dear friends, the love of God and the mystery of the righteousness He gives to us, His beloved: “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong,” the low and those who don’t even count in the world’s eyes “so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.”

Here is what ties it all together, what it means to be a Christian, the glories of the mystery of the love of Christ, the revelation of the Holy Trinity and of Holy Baptism. Here, dear friends, is the significance of the baptism of our Lord: “Because of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption.”

Indeed, we confess with John: “I need to be baptized by You,” Lord Jesus. And so, by God’s grace and according to the wonder of His love and mercy, in the mystery of the Holy Trinity, and by the righteous obedience of the Lord Jesus Christ – we have been. And in Christ, we too are the Father’s beloved sons and daughters, vessels of the Holy Spirit, whose boast, whose only boast, is “in the Lord.”

“I need to be baptized by You,” and indeed, Lord Jesus, “You come to me.” Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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