The Baptism of Our Lord
January 10, 2009
“Baptized for You”
Short of his death and resurrection, it has been suggested that Jesus' baptism is the most important event in his work for us. You could argue that, of course. For everything Jesus does for us is important.
But at least we can say this. His baptism was very significant. There's a reason that the entire Godhead is on display – The Father in the voice from heaven. The Spirit descending like a dove. And the Son, on center stage, the Beloved Son, with whom God is well pleased. There is deep significance to this public declaration, this inauguration of Jesus' preaching ministry. In word and deed, what Jesus does should be marked and studied and pondered.
Not only is this event important for theology and for our study and understanding of Christ. When Jesus is baptized, it makes a difference to you – it is for you. So let's pay attention here to what's going on in the Jordan river.
Every Sunday School child knows baptism washes away our sins. But we also know that Jesus didn't sin. So his baptism presents us with a puzzle. And in working out the answer, we see a great blessing in Christ's baptism for us.
We do know this. That we are sinners. And we need baptism. We know very well the filth and dirt that cling to us. When we hear the accusations of God's law, we admit we deserve his punishment. For we don't like the reproval any more than Herod, who locked up John the Baptist. We get more than uncomfortable when someone reminds us, shows us our sin. But we can either rebuff the accusation – silence it, ignore it, rationalize it.... or we can fall down in repentance and beg for God's forgiveness.
God calls us to repent. And God has good news for us when we do. He provides ways for us to receive his grace. And one of those is Holy Baptism.
At the font of baptism, we enter the church and become part of God's family. We receive the gift of faith, forgiveness of our sins, life and salvation in those baptismal waters. What a flood of blessings! But it's not just a one-time-thing, either.
We believe that baptism is a daily blessing to the Christian, as each day we drown our sinful self in repentance and faith, always turning to Christ for forgiveness. Arising to live with him and for him and in him each day.
And we know that Jesus death is why we are forgiven. Because at the cross he bore our sins, took our punishment, and made everything right between us and God again. He took our place on the cross. But he took our place long before that.
Here in his baptism Jesus first publicly shows his ID card. He is the Son of God, the savior. As John says, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. He takes them away, because he takes them on himself. And that's why he is baptized. It's not his own sins he took into the Jordan River, but ours. It's not for himself that he is baptized, but for us.
And even as he takes something away, he gives something in return. Our sins are gone. Our punishment is gone. And in return, he gives us his own righteousness. He gives us God's approval. So when God says of Jesus, “with him I am well pleased”, we should also hear, “with you, my child, I am well pleased”. Jesus takes our place as a sinner, and he gives us his place as a child of God forever.
The great exchange. This is what Jesus does for us. But there is more.
Remember back in the Garden of Eden, when our first parents sinned and were sent away? God barred the gate to Eden's paradise. He set an angel with a flaming sword to stand guard, so man could not return to his idyllic home. Paradise was closed. But in Jesus baptism, “the heavens are opened”. Paradise, access to God is available once again, through Christ. Just as Jesus could offer the promise of paradise restored to the thief on the cross, “today you will be with me in paradise”. So does Jesus procure the same for us his people. When you are baptized, paradise is yours. Heaven is opened to you. It's a present possession that one day you will enjoy in full.
It's even significant that he is baptized in the Jordan – the river that is the threshold, the border to the promised land. In Christ, we enter the promised land of God's kingdom, through our baptism.
But there's still more. As the Holy Spirit descends on Jesus, so does the Holy Spirit descend on us. We don't see the dove come down at Christian baptisms. But by faith, we do. We believe what Scripture teaches – that in Baptism the Spirit is ours, lives within us, guides and directs us and sanctifies us wholly. And the Spirit testifies to Christ, points us, leads us, again and again to Christ and to his cross for our comfort and peace.
And we don't hear the thunderous voice of the Father's approval at our baptism. But by faith, we do. We know the promises of Jesus, that no one can come to the Father but by him, Jesus. And that he and the Father are one. And that he prepares a place for us in the Father's house. And that “he who receives me, receives the Father who sent me.”
Yes, Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, God's own Son... becomes one of us. He takes our place, as he wades into the water, as he drowns our sins there. And as comes up, he brings us with him. He takes our place on the cross. And as he rises from death, he brings us with him. And as he ascends to heaven, he will come back to take us home with him.
Just as everything he does is for you, Jesus was baptized for you. You are baptized in him, and awash in blessings now and forevermore through him. And with you, God is well pleased!