Epiphany 1a - The Baptism of our Lord

Preached: January 13, 2008

Baptism Brings You Jesus
Matthew 3:13-17

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who pours out the Holy Spirit on us through his Word and Sacraments. That word for us to take to heart and put into practice is Matthew 3.

Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan River to be baptized by him. But John tried to stop him saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and yet you come to me?”
Jesus replied and said to him, “Let it be so now, for it is fitting in this way for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he let him.
When he had been baptized, Jesus right away went up from the water. Behold the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and coming upon him. Behold, there was a voice from the heavens saying, “This is my beloved Son, in him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:13-17 NIV).

This is the Word of the Lord

Dear friends in Christ, fellow baptized saints of God:

A few weeks ago I had a phone call from some non-denominational group organizing a youth gathering. I could agree that much of what they were doing was helping some of the youths in our country; but since different churches had different beliefs, we have our own youth activities and so wouldn't be participating. He couldn't understand that. He asked what differences. I talked a little about Baptism and the Lord's Supper. Then he explained that they don't talk about those things, so why couldn't we participate. But in a way that's a key part of the problem. They don't talk about them, and leaving out Baptism and the Lord's Supper distorts the whole picture of the Christian faith.

Today let's talk about Baptism. So many church groups don't consider Baptism all that important because they don't have a Biblical understanding of Baptism. Hand in hand with their misunderstanding of Baptism often goes a denial of inherited sinfulness, a human-centered idea of conversion, and a law-driven force to spur on sanctified living. Do you see how the whole picture becomes twisted when Baptism is down-played? They might say we just don't agree about Baptism, but Baptism is only the top of the iceberg of differing doctrines.

Maybe a way to sum up the differences about Baptism is this. We and the Scriptures teach that in Baptism God makes his promise to us. Baptism is something God does for us. So many others speak about Baptism as the promises we make to God, as if Baptism were something we did for him.

This twisted notion has bounced around our Lutheran churches as well. Maybe you have heard of confirmation referred to as “a renewal of your baptismal vows.” Think of how confusing that statement is. It seems to say that in Baptism we made vows to God. But isn't Baptism first and foremost God's promises, his vows, to us? Can a newborn infant even make vows? Now confirmation is a public confession of the faith that Baptism worked in your heart. And at your confirmation you vowed to continue in that faith until death. But to call this a renewal of baptismal vows just confuses everything. It leads us to view Baptism as if it were focused on us making promises to God, instead of God making his promise to us.

So today let's clear our thinking and rejoice in what great things God has done for us in Baptism as we ponder Jesus' Baptism. For at your Baptism God brought you Jesus. That's the theme today: Baptism brings you Jesus. And just as his Baptism proclaimed him to be God, the righteousness One, so also your Baptism promises you that Jesus is your God and your Righteousness. What Jesus' Baptism proclaims him to be, your Baptism promises that he is such for you. That's how Baptism brings you Jesus.

A. He is your God

1) How did Jesus' Baptism proclaim him to be God?

How amazing that must have been at Jesus' Baptism! Look! The heavens opened and the Holy Spirit like a dove was descending onto Jesus. Listen! God the Father himself speaks, “This is my Son, whom I love.” How awesome!

2) Why do we need Jesus to be our God?

Jesus' Baptism proclaims him God the Son. What great good news for us! For you see, we need no one less than God himself to rescue us. That's how desperate our condition is. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. We are no match for Satan and his evil angels. We can't even stand up against our old self. We might resolve to do good, especially as a new year starts, but how weak our resolution is! We stumble. We fall. Like sheep without a shepherd, we're easy prey for Satan. Like a defenseless civilian gunned down by well-armed terrorists, we're easy pickings for the devil's power. “With might of ours can naught be done; Soon were our loss effected.

But for us fights the valiant one Whom God himself elected” (Christian Worship “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” 200:2). Listen to the Father's voice. Witness the Holy Spirit descending. And believe Jesus is the One. He is the valiant One whom God elected, whom God chose to send as our Champion and Hero. What a hero he is! For he is God himself. Satan struck his heal as he hung on the cross; but Jesus crushed Satan's head. Jesus broke death's chains. Yes, even in hell itself, Jesus is the Victor. For his descent into hell was his victory march down Satan's capital street. Your Baptism brings you Jesus. It promises that Jesus his your God, your Hero and Champion. He crushed Satan's head for you. He triumphed over death for you. He marched through hell victoriously for you. Your Baptism promises that Jesus did all this for you.

3) How does pride rob Jesus of the glory?

Don't let pride take you captive again. Pride in us wants to claim some of the credit, boasting “I invited Jesus into my heart. I made my decision for Christ. I said the believer's pray.” “With might of ours can naught be done” We could do nothing. Any credit we claim robs Jesus of glory. And don't imagine that although Jesus is the valiant One, the Hero, we nevertheless helped out in our own small way. Don't think that he is like Batman and we're like Robin helping out, that he gets the major credit, but we needed to do our part as well.

Satan loves that kind of thinking. For a heart that does not give up on itself and completely rely on Jesus, that's the kind of heart that Satan can make his own. He rules there even as the person imagines himself or herself to be a good Christian. For as soon as we rely on anything in ourselves, Satan has found the weak link. And he only needs one weak link to break your connection to Jesus.

4) How does your Baptism lead you to give all glory to Jesus, your God?

Rather remember your Baptism. How could you have played any role in defeating Satan? You were a helpless, newborn baby. How could you have battled Satan? You began life as Satan's ally, an enemy of God. How could you resist the devil? You were dead in sin, powerless, helpless, a cold stiff. But through the water and word of Baptism, your God, Jesus Christ, the valiant One came to your rescue. Baptism brought you Jesus. He gave you rebirth. He put enmity, hatred, between you and Satan. You were no longer the devil's friend and ally. Now you were God's blood-bought child. He made you alive before God. For he himself died and came to life again, the conquering Hero. So when your Baptism brought you Jesus, it bought you his life, eternal life. It brought you his victory. No credit goes to you and me. We could do nothing. All glory to Jesus Christ, our God.

B. He is your Righteousness

1) Why did John say that he needed to be baptized by Jesus?

But now stand before God with boldness and confidence because of your Baptism. For Baptism brings you Jesus, and Jesus is your righteousness.

We need his righteousness. Notice what John says to Jesus: “I need to be baptized by you” (Matthew 3:14 NIV). John knew his sin. The words of the psalms rang in his head, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5 NIV). “There is no one who does good, not even one” (Psalm 14:3 NIV). Even though he had devoted his life to the work of preparing the way for the Lord, even though he shunned earthly luxuries and was satisfied with coarse clothes of camel's hair and a simple leather belt and ate the plain food of locust and wild honey, even though he fearlessly preached God's Word and would loose his life for doing so, nevertheless John, like you and me and all people, was a sinner. He could not stand before the God clothed with his own righteousness. That wasn't good enough. He needed the righteousness that comes from the only one who has done everything that is pleasing to God. He needed Jesus' righteousness, just as you and I need it.

2) How does Jesus' Baptism proclaim him the righteous One?

Jesus righteousness does measure up. Listen to what the Father says, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17 NIV). Jesus' righteousness does measure up to God's holy, perfect standard. Anything less than perfection falls short of God's approval. For he hates all that is sinful, all that misses the mark. But of Jesus he says, “With him I am well pleased.” For Jesus is sinless. His righteousness is perfect, holy, complete. Jesus' Baptism proclaims him the righteous One.

3) Why do even our best works leave us exposed?

And your Baptism promises that his righteousness is yours. What great good news this is! For like John the Baptist, we too are sinners. Isaiah reminds us that even the best we do, even the most righteous looking works our own power produces, all is like filthy rags. Would you want to stand before the mighty Monarch, the holy God, dressed in rags?

But worse than that, our natural self tries to use these rags of our false righteous to hide our nakedness. Our conscience knows that our sin leaves us naked and exposed. So our old Adam imagines that our self-produced good works can dress us up before God and hide our nakedness. But even the best of our works that we flash before him are but dirty rags. None the less our natural self persists in parading around in them! That's why God's law pulls down our pants and exposes our sinfulness. That humiliates us. For God needs to teach you and me how dirty and naked we are. He needs to rid us of any thought of parading our own works of righteousness before him.

4) What does Baptism clothe you with?

But as you lie there exposed, dirty, humiliated, he clothes you with the best suit and the loveliest dress of all. He clothes you with Jesus' righteousness. Your Baptism promises you that you are clothed with Jesus and his righteousness. Paul writes in Galatians 3, “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Galatians 3:26, 27 NIV). Jesus' Baptism proclaimed him the righteous one. Your Baptism promises you that Jesus' righteousness clothes you.

So stand before God in the confidence of faith. You stand there not as the naked sinner you were born as, but you stand there clothed with Jesus' righteousness. What glorious clothes Baptism dresses you in! Jesus calls you his bride, for he has dressed you in the best wedding gown of all. He has dressed you in his righteousness. That's Baptism's promise to you.

5) How does Baptism help us when we face difficult times and when we face temptations?

So when you face difficult times in life, times of decision, times of sorrow, times of conflict, remember your Baptism. Jesus is your righteousness. Take your difficulty to God in prayer, for you stand before him clothed with Jesus. Talk to God as your heavenly Father, for through Baptism you are his own dear child, righteous through faith in Jesus. And what is more, as his baptized child, you are his heir. No matter how cruel this life becomes, you have an eternal inheritance. For Baptism clothes you with Jesus' righteousness.

And when you face sin and temptations, when you feel that lust or greed or anger working its foul spell in your heart, remember your Baptism. Jesus is your God. As your valiant Hero he has rescued you. Don't return to slavery by giving in to sin. Rather through Baptism you have the power of God working in you to say “No!” to sin and to eagerly do what is good. Remember your Baptism and the promises God made to you there. That gives your faith the power to turn away from sin and temptation.

Remember your Baptism. It brings you Jesus. He is your God and your righteousness. For you see, your Baptism was not a promise you made to God. But your Baptism was the promise God made to you. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313