Sermon for the Baptism of Our Lord, AD 2021

Matthew 3:13-17; Isaiah 42:1-7

The baptism of Jesus is recounted in three of the gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and in John it is mentioned after already having happened. You can be sure that when an event in Jesus’ life is in all four gospels, it is important. Obviously it’s an important enough event that we have a whole Sunday dedicated to it. The Baptism of Our Lord is a key day that has many aspects that connect the other parts of the church year as well. We are brought back to the work of John the Baptist that we heard about in Advent, bookending the Christmas season. We also hear of a glorious revelation of Jesus in the Holy Trinity, which we will hear again on Transfiguration in a couple weeks when the Father yet again says, “This is my beloved Son.” Most importantly, in His baptism Jesus takes the place of sinners, pointing to Good Friday and Easter: His death and resurrection for you.
           
It is only in St. Matthew’s gospel that we get the part about John the Baptist refusing to baptize Jesus. This isn’t the first time John refused someone. John’s baptism was not for everybody. He preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As the gospel of forgiveness is only for sinners who are brought to recognize their sin, John would not baptize the unrepentant. So when the Pharisees and Sadducees came to his baptism, he violently refused them. “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:7-8). The Pharisees and Sadducees, the leaders of the Jewish people, only came as onlookers, out of curiosity, to see what John was doing. If they were interested in being baptized at all, it was for the wrong reasons. They did not see themselves as sinners in need of baptism, but were willing to be baptized to be safe. As John says to them, “Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children from Abraham” (Matthew 3:9). John shows where their fear and trust ultimately is – in their Jewish descent, in being born as descendants of Abraham, and therefore God’s chosen people. John say to this, “no, this baptism is for sinners only, and sinners who see their sin and wish to repent. If you think you are ok with God on your own this is not for you.”
           
Let us not think that the Pharisees and Sadducees were the only ones who disdained baptism. Of course, those who do not believe Christ do not think anything of baptism, it is nothing more than a pointless ritual to them. There are also the Christian denominations which see baptism as an important law to follow, but without any benefit. Churches, like the Baptists and others, have true baptism in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but do not realize the benefits of baptism – forgiveness, deliverance from death and the devil, and eternal salvation received in faith – and therefore believe baptism is merely a statement of their own faith. In such a way, baptism becomes the opposite of what it should be: not sinners, but only those who have already cleaned up their act, so to speak, can receive it. If this were the case, then the Pharisees and Sadducees would have been John’s best candidates!
           
Let us also not resist baptism in our own hearts. Those who have received baptism can also despise it. For one, we should not think that growing up in a church or being related to pastors or those in the church is a basis for our assurance. Neither just being children of Abraham nor children of Luther nor children of St. Paul’s in Lockport merits anything in the kingdom of heaven if we wish to remain in our sins and do not repent. This is to fall into the crass attitude of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Examine – where is your trust in this? Is it in who you are, where you are from? Repent.
           
Baptism is also despised when by our lives we treat it as if it were nothing. For baptism indicates that we should continually confess and flee from sin and seek forgiveness. How do we think we will fare with God if we treat baptism lightly? At the baptism of Jesus, we see the entire Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit manifested in great glory. The Father speaks from heaven and the Holy Spirit descends on Christ as a dove. In our own baptism, we are brought along with Christ into this very thing. The words “This is my beloved Son” which are earned by Christ are also applied to you. Then to go and disregard this, to willingly continue in sin, we sell our birthright for pottage. In baptism we have been adopted as children of the King. We have receive a great inheritance. Let us then not return to former things, to sinful ways. Let us not passively let our own baptized children who have fallen into sin continue in comfort as if nothing were wrong. All must hear the call of John the Baptist: REPENT!
             
All except for Jesus Christ. For when Jesus comes to the Jordan to be baptized by John, he is also refused, temporarily. Yet Jesus is not refused for the same reason as the Pharisees. The Pharisees saw themselves as those who need no repentance. Jesus actually needed no repentance. Being the sinless God-man, he had nothing to repent of. Knowing this, John refused at first to baptize Jesus. John knew his own sin. Even John the Baptist was not sinless, no mere prophet was fully without sin, not like Jesus. John knew that Jesus was on a level all his own. John says, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?
           
Jesus answers, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented. For John knew as Jesus came that Jesus was the sinless one. It was not until Jesus’ reply that John understood - Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Jesus come not to be baptized to wash away his sin, but to stand in the place of sinners. He literally stood there in the water, in the place of sinners, and received the baptism sinners receive. This was very good, for the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and rest upon him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.
           
There Jesus is anointed by the Holy Spirit, set apart for His office as the God-man who will save sinners. As we heard from Isaiah, “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice” (Isaiah 42:1-3). Jesus is this servant, and we hear of the Spirit coming upon Him. Thus He is anointed for this mission – to go to the cross and die for sinners, and to rise for the dead.
           
The heavens open for Jesus, but Matthew does not lead us to look up to the heavens. The focus is on Jesus. The Holy Spirit descends as a dove, not bearing an olive branch as with Noah, but pointing us to our Deliverer from all evils. As when the Spirit of God hovered over the waters of creation in Genesis, the Spirit hovers over the water of the Jordan as Jesus begins his work of new creation. Jesus fulfilling scripture, standing in the place of sinners, means that all things will be made new. The old sins will be forgiven and forgotten. All good things will come true and all evil will come untrue.
           
Jesus is anointed as king to conquer his foes. All evil, sickness, death, sorrow, and terror will be destroyed under his feet. He kills it all on the cross and only He rises again from the dead. He is our hope for establishing justice in the earth. Do not look to yourselves. Do not look to the heavens. Jesus Christ, the God who saves, is among us in Word and Body and Blood. Everything he has earned is given to you in your baptism. Your sins are forgiven. Come to him in repentance, for He is gentle and lowly of heart. For even the tiniest faith He will cause to grow. “A bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench.”
           
You see, because of his baptism, because of his anointing to His office which lead to His death and resurrection, you now receive everything that is His in your baptism. You are new creation. All the promises of the Old Testament to those who follow God are given to you. For in Christ all the promises of God are YES and AMEN! Praise be to God for His great mercy in Christ Jesus, Our Lord. Amen.

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