Lord Jesus, you stood next to sinners in the waters of the Jordan. Stand with us now and wash away our sins. Amen.
In the name of Jesus, the saving substitute for sinners, dear baptized children of God:
Some 700 years before Jesus stood in the Jordan River and was baptized by John, Isaiah wrote about this momentous event. God led Isaiah to write, “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations.” The justice that the Anointed One of God would bring was the judicial pronouncement of “not guilty” for sinners. What God said he would do, he did. So Peter proclaims, “how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power …” The prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled in today’s Gospel. All of this points out to us – Jesus came to fulfill all righteousness.
What a shocking thing for John the Baptist! Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” John rightly considers himself inadequate for the task. We see John the Baptist, that great preacher of repentance, apply the law of God to himself. He didn’t consider himself fit to baptize the perfect Christ. We see the clay vessel of the prophet at work. John realizes that his role as forerunner of the Savior is purely a gift of grace – nothing he has deserved. In addition, John knows that Christ has no need for baptism. But this is where John was not seeing the full picture. Jesus needed baptism because of the job he came to do, because of the role he came to fulfill. Jesus came to take on our sin. God put on him the sins of the world. God gave him our sin, so that he would be sin for us. Jesus came as the substitute for sinners. As such, he not only needed to keep the law perfectly for us, as he had already been doing from the moment he took on human flesh – he also needed to fight our battles and die our death. For these tasks that lie ahead of him yet, he needed strength. So here in the Jordan he would be anointed by the Holy Spirit with power – the strength he needed to complete the critical task he had come to carry out.
Jesus answers John’s question directly and patiently, Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness. So John did what he was told. For Jesus made it quite clear that this was all a part of God’s rescue plan for sinners. This was in preparation for what would now be a continuation of his work in a much more visible way. For now Jesus would begin to reveal himself as the promised Savior through his miraculous works and his eternity changing teaching. Jesus would step out of the water in the Jordan and go into the wilderness to do battle with our old evil foe for us. Jesus would set himself resolutely to Jerusalem to go to suffer and die for our salvation. So the work had begun but the biggest struggle lie in the future. Baptism marks the beginning of the public battle for Jesus.
As Jesus stands with John in the flowing waters of the Jordan River we see him as the substitute for sinners. He has come to take our place not only under the law and under temptation, but also to take our place on the death bed and in the tomb. His salvation is complete. He has come to conquer sin, death, and the devil as our saving substitute. Praise be to God! We also praise God today for Jesus is the one who was committed to finish the task.
As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” Jesus was identified as God’s anointed one, the one who came from the Father’s love to rescue his fallen creatures from the consequence of their sin. Here he was strengthened for the difficult road ahead. He was now ready to do battle with the devil. He was ready to step onto the battle field for the battle with eternal consequences. He was strengthened to fight for us and our salvation. For this was the plan underwritten by the Triune God – it couldn’t fail! We see clearly in this account that this special strengthening – this special gift of the Holy Spirit was given through Baptism.
Listen to the Father’s voice – This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Jesus has the Father’s full support. The Father puts his stamp of approval on the Son’s work and witnesses to him and the world that he is the promised deliverer. The Father would give this strengthening encouragement once again on the mountain of transfiguration, as Jesus would travel willingly to his death as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!
Listen to the Father’s voice for another reason. What he says to Jesus he says to you – a brother or sister of Christ through faith in him. Jesus walks into the water of Baptism first and he invites us to follow. He has made baptism the great and powerful blessing it is. We do well to pay close attention to these words. They remind us that because the Father is pleased with his Son, he is pleased with me. Jesus is my substitute. Baptism connects us to Christ. Paul writes in Galatians 3, “for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” In Romans 6 Paul discusses how in Baptism we are connected to Christ in his death and in his resurrection. “Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” Baptism is of great importance not only in bringing us to faith through the miraculous working of the Holy Spirit through Baptism – but also in the daily exercise of our Christianity. For as we daily remember our baptisms, we daily confess our sins to God and daily receive his forgiveness.
Doubts plague us all. We are constantly flirting with despair. The difficulties of life, the hounding of a guilty conscience, the constant message of the law pointing out our sin – these things all bring us to a place of despair. It is a very dark place. It is a feeling of helplessness and hopelessness. It sucks the spiritual life right out of us. The devil is right in the middle of all this despair. He is constantly trying to overwhelm us with excessive sorrow over our sins. When the dark clouds of doubt and despair move into our spiritual lives, we need to return to this scene in the Jordan River. We need to see that Jesus is the one whom God sent to destroy the devil for us. We need to be reminded that as God was pleased with Jesus – he is now pleased with us. We also need to return to the font. For through Holy Baptism God put his name on us. God has declared through this saving sacrament, “This is my son, this is my daughter – with him, with her – I am well pleased.” In Baptism we are clothed with Christ’s perfection. We stand before God declared not guilty of sin through faith in Christ. We are God’s children for now and for eternity! What comfort we receive from Christ’s baptism! What comfort we have because we are baptized into Christ!
Here he is, God’s Servant, God’s Son, our Savior! He has come to set us free from slavery to sin and the burden of guilt! We are forgiven children of the heavenly Father because the Anointed One has won the victory for us! His baptism prepared him for his work of saving us. Our baptism connects us to him and his saving work on our behalf! How blessed we are! Our sins are forgiven! Our guilt is removed! Eternal life is ours! Stand comforted by your Anointed Savior! Amen.