The seasons are changing. I don’t mean the weather seasons. Unfortunately, we’re still in the season of winter and knowing Wyoming, probably will be until May. When I say that the seasons are changing, I’m talking about the seasons of the Church Year. We have left the season of Christmas and have entered the season of Epiphany. Epiphany, as we all know, means “revealing.”
In the Old Testament, God chose one people, the children of Israel, to receive His covenant. The Gentiles, the non-Israelites, could not enter the inner courts of the temple to worship God because they were outsiders. Yet from the very beginning, God had said Abraham would be a blessing to all nations, not just to Israel: “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” This is the message of Epiphany. When the Magi, who were Gentiles, came to worship Jesus, they showed that now all people have access to God because Jesus is the new temple: He is God in the flesh.
Today, on the first Sunday after the Epiphany, the Church celebrates the Baptism of Our Lord. Approximately thirty years have passed since Jesus last appeared in Matthew’s gospel. He was but a toddler then. With little fanfare Jesus suddenly bursts upon the scene in this text. He is grown to manhood and seeks a baptism from John in order to “fulfill all righteousness.” This is a great epiphany.
In reading the account of the baptism of Jesus, one must ask the question, Why? Why would Jesus be baptized if He is the Son of God who is sinless? Is there a reason why Jesus needs to be baptized?
Jesus arrives at the very place where the people have been confessing that from which He has come to save them: “their sins.” As they confessed their sins, the people were being baptized by John in response to John’s message: “Repent!” Now Jesus has come to the same place, to John, “to be baptized by him.” Does Jesus need to repent? Does Jesus need to be converted from unbelief to faith? John knows that the answer to these questions must be “No!”
How is it that the perfect God-man begins His public ministry by standing in line with sinners in order to be baptized? This is the predicament that presents itself to John as this perfect, holy creator of all things now stands as a man in the Jordan. How can John baptize this perfect Son of God into repentance for the forgiveness of sins? John hesitated because he didn’t understand why the holy, sinless Son of God needed baptism. Furthermore, even if this holy, sinless one needed baptism, he himself was certainly not worthy to do it. He said, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” With these words John confesses that he, John, is the sinner. He is the one who needs forgiveness. He is the one who needs the baptism into repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Now, if John calls himself a sinner, then what chance do we have?
But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” If Jesus were to explain himself, He might say it this way, “In order that poor sinners might come to righteousness and receive salvation, you must now baptize me. I have become a sinner for the sake of sinners and must fulfill the things that God requires of sinners. In this way, sinners may become righteous through me.”
Here Jesus begins the work of salvation by taking the place of sinners. Here Jesus takes John’s place – your place – my place. Here Jesus takes up the sin of the world and offers us the gift of His holiness. He becomes the greatest sinner of all; not with His own sin, but with our sin. Here He takes up our burden for us. As John performed the simple act of pouring water on Jesus, God poured on Him the iniquity of us all.
St. Paul expanded on this in today’s Epistle: “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.” Here Paul tells us that our baptism joins us to Christ and His baptism. Our sin becomes His and His perfection becomes ours. His innocent suffering and death are credited to our account. The eternal life and salvation that He earned are already ours. We will rise from death to live in eternal joy just as He rose from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity. Through His Son, Jesus, God has done everything needed to secure our salvation for us.
Jesus does just what His name means, “the Lord saves.” When talking about the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, Luther asks this question: What benefits does Baptism give? The answer: “It works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.” This is the work done for us through Jesus Christ, the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world.
Immediately following Jesus’ baptism, we see the Trinity present. What is the purpose of the Holy Spirit descending upon Jesus? The Holy Spirit manifests Himself as a dove descending upon the Son. As the symbol of peace, it is a reminder to us that, being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. When the voice of God from heaven speaks, He says something very simple, yet very profound: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” The Son has been obedient to the Father’s will. Here the Father acknowledges that the Son is indeed living a life of perfection and fulfilling the promises given through the prophets. The Father tells us that Jesus is the cause and target of His good pleasure. He tells us that Jesus is His beloved Son. Since Jesus stands in our place, the Father’s pleasure with His Son is also His pleasure with you and me. Because the Father is pleased with His Son, Jesus, He is pleased with us. We are now the Lord’s beloved child because of the work of Christ. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.