Pastor Sean Willman
Good Shepherd Pleasant Prairie
The Baptism of Our Lord
14 January 2018
You would like to be counted among the righteous. To receive honor for your good works and considered by friend and foe alike to be a good person. Why? Well for one, it feels good. To have other people look up to you is a boost to your fragile ego. But it’s more than that. You need other people to tell you that you’re righteous, because you doubt that it’s true when God tells you the same. The trouble is that you know the truth. You know the true motives of your own works. You know that deep down, or maybe even right on the surface for all to see, you’re not a good person. You’re selfish. You don’t actually love your neighbor as yourself. You’d much rather take care of yourself than your spouse. You’d much rather drink beer and watch football than teach your children the Catechism. And so you doubt. When God’s word speaks you righteous, proclaiming you his own child, baptized into his name, you struggle to believe it. The evidence points to the contrary. And naturally then, you despair. But quickly you hatch a plan to make yourself righteous. You notice that you haven’t read the Holy Scriptures much, but you’ll get back to it. You haven’t been to church often, but you’re going to go back. You haven’t talked to your parents much because they upset you last year, but you’ll reconcile. This, you think will make you righteous. This, all of these works, will take away your doubt about your righteousness, and place in God’s kingdom. But then, you begin to doubt that you’re a sinner at all. Perhaps you don’t need God’s word to speak you righteous, maybe you can take care of it yourself.
We began celebrating the Epiphany of Our Lord last week, with our remembrance of the Magi, those wise gentile kings who came to worship the Christ Child. We continue today remembering Jesus’ baptism. Epiphany, the word itself, means, essentially, showing. Manifestation, revelation, etc. But basically, showing. And this indeed is at the heart of why Jesus is baptized. John, of course, doesn’t understand at first. How could he? “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” This is the one whom John wasn’t even worthy to stoop down and untie his sandals. This is the one greater than John, who’s come to supersede him, why then would John, do something like baptize him? You were baptized because you’re a sinner who needs forgiveness. John baptized people in the Jordan for the same reason. They were sinners, who upon their repentance came to John and received the forgiveness of sins in Baptism. But Jesus was no sinner. John knew it. Jesus was the savior of the world. He had no business stepping into those muddy waters to stand alongside sinners and do something meant for them.
But there He stands, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” If you doubt that you are a sinner look no further. There is your Epiphany. The sinless Son of God, has placed himself under the law, in the river Jordan. He has taken your place, to place your sins upon himself. If we, and the rest of humanity weren’t sinners, Jesus wouldn’t need to be baptized. But we are and he did. That’s your proof. If we could atone for our own sins and drive out death and hell, He wouldn’t have been standing there, commanding John to baptize him.
But there He stands. Because, though He’s the righteous one, he’s become sin for us. He’s the one who believes God’s word without ever doubting. He believes that he’s the savior of the world sent to take on your sins to suffer and die. And so the waters of baptism are poured out upon him, so that he could fulfill the law for you. He didn’t need to be baptized for himself, he was righteous, but he needed to fulfill all righteousness. Because we sin He came to set all things right, by taking up our sins, faithfully keeping the law, and then going out to the cross to die.
All this was shown there in his baptism. Epiphany means showing. But as he comes up out of the waters we hear, “Behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” This Jesus is the Christ, who here in his baptism is beginning his public ministry, and it’s shown to all that he’s the faithful Son of the Father. Yes, God is pleased because Jesus has begun that which he became man to do. He’s set his sights on Jerusalem and will go to the cross.
This is why after his baptism Jesus is led out into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit to be tempted by Satan. Because he is the Lamb of God who’s come to take away the sins of the world. He’s the scape goat. And as it is described to us in Leviticus, on the day of atonement the priest is to lay his hands on a goat, thereby laying the sins of the people upon it, and send it out into the wilderness. He is to send this innocent animal, bearing the sins of the people outside of the people to suffer and die. And so Christ, now, after being baptized, bearing the sins of the people is led out into the wilderness to suffer. Only his death will come later. First, he must live a sinless life in our place. He must face temptation and yet not succumb to it. So that upon his suffering, death, and resurrection, we would be righteous.
If you doubt that you are righteous. Here is your proof. That Jesus was Baptized. Your sins were placed upon him, and he bore them to the cross and made atonement for you. But unlike that goat sent to die outside of the people, Jesus shed his blood, died for your sins, and lived. For in the shedding of his blood, full atonement was made for all. Every year the day of atonement was celebrated and that goat was sent off to die. But our Lord, the righteous one, dies just once, for in his death, he fulfilled all righteousness. And where there is the forgiveness of sins, there is life and salvation. Yes, your sins are forgiven. You are righteous. Jesus lives. You will live. Have no doubt. You are a sinner, Jesus came to take your sins upon himself. He was baptized. But those sins are forgiven. Your iniquity is remembered no more. Jesus took those sins to the cross.
And now, dear friends, believe. Do not doubt, but believe. When you are weak and are overtaken by your sins, by faith those sins are not counted against you. When you are weak and think that your works have gained you heaven, by faith you know the righteousness of Christ that is yours. You are baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ who was baptized for you. Your sins have been drowned, buried with Christ. And you are raised to new life with him. He has fulfilled all righteousness, and that righteousness is yours. Amen.