Epiphany 1a

Preached: January 9, 2011

Christ's Baptism Is Yours
Matthew 3:13-17

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The Word from God through which the Holy Spirit connects us to Jesus is Matthew 3.

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John to be baptized by him. But John tried to stop him by saying, “I'm the one that needs to be baptized by you, and yet you come to me?”

In reply Jesus said to him, “Let it be so now, for in this way it's fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he let him.

After being baptized, Jesus right away went up from the water. And behold, the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and coming upon him. And behold, a voice from the heavens saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved, in whom I have been well-pleased.” (Matthew 3:13-17)

This is the word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

A. He carries your guilt

1. Why was Jesus baptized?

It may have been another sunny day along the banks of the Jordan. Another day of the crowds coming to hear the voice calling in the wilderness, dressed in coarse camel's hair with only a leather belt. Another day of John baptizing with water in river as the people confessed their sins, a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Just another day, until Jesus came.

Why would Jesus come to be baptized? That puzzled John. In fact, he tried to talk Jesus out of it. “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” (Matthew 3:14 NIV-1984). John knew his own sin. He needed the Messiah to bring him forgiveness. Why, then, did Jesus come to be baptized? What sins did he have that needed to be washed away?

No doubt you remember from Sunday school that Jesus was sinless and holy. Just this past Wednesday the Catechism class looked up 1 Peter 1, which describes Jesus as a lamb without blemish or defect. All his thoughts, words, and actions were pure all the time, perfectly in line with God's law, perfectly righteous. Even unbelievers will often talk about how good Jesus was.

But now dear friends, you're ready for the secret truth. Even as the world praises the goodness of Jesus, they're blind to this truth -- it's so secret. I don't mean to gossip here, but let me tell you what Jesus was really guilty of.

He was guilty of disobeying his parents and talking back. He was guilty of losing his temper and lashing out with his words. He was guilty of loving money, envying what others had, trusting health and wealth for happiness. He was guilty of indecent thoughts, mean-spirited words, loveless actions. He was guilty of neglecting God's word and of misusing God's name. He was guilty of laziness in prayer and slowness to speak God's truth. He was guilty of dishonoring God, not holding him in the highest reverence and regard.

Does that list sound familiar? It should, because it's your sins and mine that I've listed here. That's what Jesus was guilty of: The sins that you and I have committed. I don't mean that he did the same sins we do. He didn't. He himself never sinned. But all our own sins were charged against him - and not only ours. Jesus was guilty of eating the forbidden fruit, of naked drunkenness, of adultery with Uriah's wife, of betraying the Son of God. Yes, the sins of Adam, Noah, David, and Judas. He was guilty of genocide and mass murder, the sins of Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot and the worst criminals and tyrants. Every sin was charged against Jesus. That's why Jesus came to be baptized, to wash away all the sins of the world, yours and mine included.

Yes, what you learned in Sunday school is correct. Jesus is holy. He did not sin, not even once. He was not a sinner. But he was guilty of all the sins of the world, for they were all charged against him. That's what the prophets declared: “The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6 NIV-1984). That's what the apostles preached: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us” (2 Corinthians 5:21 NIV-1984). That, dear friends, is what we believe, because God has revealed this secret through his Word and the Holy Spirit has convinced your heart of its truth: All your sins were charged against Jesus. He carried your guilt to wash it all away.

2. Why does baptism benefit you?

What a tragedy that so many don't believe. Many who have been baptized in this very building have turned away from Jesus. They still know about him and often claim to have faith. But what they retain is simply empty facts. For faith trusts Jesus. Faith is a living, moving power that changes our heart, will, and mind -- moving us to live for Jesus and serve him, gladly hearing and learning his Word. Without faith, sin damns to hell whether you've been baptized or not. How dreadful such a death!

But look, dear friend, see Jesus at the Jordan. See him baptized with water. His Baptism is yours. For he has stepped to your side; he has come to take your place. For he is the Christ, the anointed One, come to carry the sins of the word, including all of yours. Believe, dear friend, believe that your sins were charged against him. He carried your guilt. So his Baptism is yours. In his Baptism you have been washed clean.

His Baptism is yours, for you, too, have been baptized. Just as water was put on Jesus, so also you have been baptized with water. As you contemplate your Baptism, your faith see that water stained red with Jesus' blood. Only his blood poured out for you from his wounds on the cross, only his blood gives Baptism it's cleansing power. “The blood of Jesus, [God's] Son, purifies us from all sin” (1 John 1:7 NIV-1984), the Scriptures declare.

Only the life-blood of God the Son can wash us clean. Jesus' Baptism publicly shows God's Son taking our place all the way to the cross, suffering our god-forsaken hell as he hung there, dying our death. So see the water of Baptism dyed red with his blood, the cleansing flood that washes you clean and rescues you from death. For Christ's Baptism is yours. He carried your guilt.

B. You share his status

1. What happened at Jesus' Baptism that also happened at yours?

Christ's Baptism is yours. And now, what did you see and hear happening at Jesus' Baptism? Heaven is opened. The Holy Spirit comes down, making himself visible in the form of a dove. And the Father speaks for you to hear: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17 NIV-1984).

Christ's Baptism is yours. Since those things happened at his Baptism, they happened at yours, but not in that outward, physical, visible, audible way. But that does not make it any less real or true. At Jesus' Baptism, God sent these signs for physical eyes and ears to see and hear, so that at your Baptism the eyes and ears of faith would know they're happening just as surely.

Yes, dear Christian, since Jesus' Baptism is yours, when you were baptized, the Holy Spirit came down into your heart. No one could have videotaped it, for God works this marvelous miracle not as a spectacle for people to gape at but as a promise for faith to grasp. The Holy Spirit came down into your heart through the water and word of Baptism and gave you rebirth. Yes, you who were born dead in sin from the sinful flesh of your parents handed down from Adam, you were born again of water and the Spirit, for you were baptized in his name, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Don't listen to those who say you need a different baptism to really get the Holy Spirit. They have twisted the truth. Simply see what happened when Jesus was baptized with water. It's even depicted in the wall mural here. There the Holy Spirit came down. So also he came down upon you when you were baptized with water, just as Jesus was. For Christ's Baptism is yours.

And just as the Father spoke from heaven at Jesus' Baptism, so also your faith heard him say at your Baptism, “You are my son, whom I love. With you I am well-pleased.” For in Baptism you, whether male or female, you were reborn as a son of God with all the rights and privileges of sonship. You became an heir of heaven with heaven opened for you. The Father's love pours over you as he cares for you day after day. He even declares, “With you I am well-pleased.”

2. Why is the Father well-pleased with you and how does that change the way you live?

But how can that be? Didn't we begin life, corrupted by the sin we inherited from Adam, empty of all good? Aren't you and I still sinners even after our Baptism. Don't we daily sin much and deserve nothing but punishment? Or are we lying each time we come here Sunday mornings to confess our sins? No, we not lying. We are sinners who have earned death and hell.

But dear Christian, just as Jesus carried your guilt, so also through Baptism you share his status. For Christ's Baptism is yours. At your Baptism the Father declared: “You are my son, whom I love. With you I am well-pleased.” Of course, Jesus is uniquely the Son of God, of one essence with the Father. He is the Only-begotten. He is the Son from all eternity. We don't become divine through Baptism, but he does share his status with us, his status of righteousness that stands before God. That's why he, the eternal Son, also became flesh and as the God-man was baptized in the Jordan. So his Baptism is yours. You share his status.

So when the Father looks at you who continue in your baptismal faith, he sees the righteousness of Jesus. That's why your faith still hears him saying, “I am well-pleased with you.” That doesn't mean that he in any way likes our sin. But you've been washed clean in the blood of Jesus. You share his righteous status in God's sight.

Now, when our heart of faith hears those words from the Father, it's only the old self lingering in us that wants to use it as an excuse to indulge our sinful desires or put off growing in faith. But your new heart, generated by the Holy Spirit, rejoices in that Good News, daily cherishing this precious message God's Word and Sacraments bring.

What a reason for us to say no to sin and to live for God! He calls you his own dear son. He makes you an heir of everlasting life. Death has been drowned in the waters of Baptism. Heaven, opened. The Holy Spirit, poured out on you. So what if following Jesus brings earthly pain or lose? You are God's son and heir. What earthly treasure wouldn't we be ready to sacrifice, since our Father's love will not fail to take care of us, his dearly loved sons? And what hope we have even in the darkest, loneliest times! For the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are with you. You've been baptized into his name. For Christ's baptism is yours. Amen.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

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

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