Christmas is over. With it, we saw the coming of our Lord. He came to us in the form of a babe, lying in a manger. The Christ Child was brought to the temple to be presented. There, Simeon spoke the words of the Nunc Dimittis to Mary and Joseph. Simeon had seen the salvation of the Lord, which has prepared in the sight of all people. We have heard what John has said: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
All of that brings us to today. Today we meet John again. Here we find him in the desert preaching about a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. While he was doing this, he had a message: “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
So what does all of that mean? Why should I care? Well, you have John. He came as the fulfillment of the Old Testament passages concerning the second Elijah, the immediate forerunner of the Christ. John preaches a simple message: Jesus as the promised Messiah. He focuses on the necessity of repentance for receiving Christ aright, on the person of Christ as both God and Savior, and on Baptism for those who sincerely repented and believed in the Messiah. John also alludes to the Baptism with the Spirit and with fire that Christ will give to His people to carry out His saving mission in the world. John’s Baptism, too, worked forgiveness of sins, delivered from death and the devil, and gave eternal salvation to all who believed.
So we come to the focus of John’s Baptism: repentance. Are you truly repentant for your sins? Are you sad that your sins caused a Baby to be born, so that 30-some years later, He would die on the cross for you? It’s a hard question to ask. True repentance means not only sorrow over sin and dread of God’s punishment, but a turning of mind and heart away from sin that expresses itself in outward ways wherever possible. True repentance will not allow the penitent soul to continue to live in sin.
You see, John came and he went. He went to the desert region and baptized people. Why did he do that? No one told him to do it. He did it because he knew that the people were repentant of their sins and that by being baptized, the Old Adam would die and when you emerged from the waters, you were a new person.
The early Church had an interesting way of baptizing. They had a huge baptismal font. You would descend the stairs to the font. That symbolized your dying to sin. Once at the bottom, your clothes were removed and you were baptized. You then ascended the stairs as a new person. Who you were before died in the waters of Holy Baptism. That is the same thing that John did in the desert. John knew that there was One coming more powerful than he was. He knew that he was only a preview of the joy that would come.
John eventually moved to the River Jordan. There, he met Jesus and an interesting turn of events took place: Jesus comes to be baptized by John. Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God; He had no sins to confess! Why did Jesus need to be baptized for the remission of His sins that didn’t exist? Matthew records for us Jesus’ simple reply to John when John questions the Baptism: “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”Then John baptized Jesus.
Can you imagine Jesus coming up to you and saying, “Bob, it’s time for you to baptize me now?” How would you react? What would you say or do? We see in our text just how easy it was for John to question and do what he did. And when Jesus came out of the water, heaven was torn open and the Holy Spirit came to Him and dwelt with Him. Did Jesus have to be baptized? Was it mandatory for that to happen? No. In allowing Himself to be baptized, Jesus was showing His solidarity with sinners. Though Himself sinless, He was identifying Himself with sinners by giving Himself to the work of bearing their sins then and our sins now.
We need to make sure we fully understand what took place in the Baptism of Jesus by John. The view that by being baptized by John, Jesus only showed His willing obedience and that Jesus, though not needing baptism and yet submitted to it, makes the baptism nothing but a formality and misconstrues what John’s Baptism really was. It was not law, but gospel, not a demand to obey but a gift of grace to accept and to retain as such. Jesus was baptized by John because He regarded this as the right way in which to enter upon His great office. He, the Sinless One, the very Son of God, chose to put Himself by the side of all the sinful ones, for whom this sacrament of John’s was ordained. He signifies that He is now ready to take upon Himself the load of all these sinners, that is, to assume His redemptive office. As Luther points out, Jesus was here rightly beginning to be Christ, the Anointed One, and “was thus inaugurated into His entire Messianic office as our Prophet, High Priest, and King.”
Every time we celebrate a Baptism, the one being Baptized is made a child of God by the waters of Holy Baptism, and every sin that they will ever commit will be washed away by those waters, just as it was earlier with Averyanna. That person receives sonship in the kingdom of God. Their sins are forgiven. How is this done? It is done by a man named Jesus, sent from God to be our sacrificial Lamb, baptized in the waters of the Jordan River, forever joining Himself to sinful man in order to redeem us. It is accomplished for us by His death on the cross for us sinners. It is accomplished for us only by Jesus who has atoned for all our sins. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.