Baptism of our Lord
January 7, 2018
Sermon by Pastor Jon D. Buchholz
With you I am well pleased
Just two weeks ago we knelt at the manger of the baby Jesus and welcomed our Savior into the world at Christmas. Last week we joined Mary and Joseph in the temple in Jerusalem, where the baby Jesus was presented in the temple, and Simeon and Anna met the child and were able to depart in peace. Last week Pastor Pautz reminded us that we enter the new year dressed in our beautiful new Christmas clothes: robes of righteousness and garments of salvation. Today we’ve plunged headlong into a new year, 2018, we’ve entered the church season of Epiphany, and we have fast-forwarded 30 years in the life of Jesus.
We know very little about the 30 years that have gone by in Jesus’ life. When Jesus was 12 years old he had his bar mitzvah as a Jewish boy, he became a “son of the law,” and he began to participate more actively in Jewish worship life. So we have a glimpse of Jesus as a twelve-year-old boy at the temple in Jerusalem at the Passover, sharing wisdom from the Scriptures with the learned men of the religious community. The Gospel refers to Jesus as “the carpenter,” so we assume that Jesus grew up in Joseph’s household and learned the trade of working with wood. But now Jesus bursts onto the public scene at the beginning of his ministry as he makes his appearance at the Jordan River to be baptized by John.
So why is Jesus’ baptism such a special occasion for us to take note of and celebrate? It might seem odd that Jesus should come to John, who was preaching a baptism of repentance, to be baptized. Even John thought it was a little strange. Matthew tells us that John said to Jesus, “You come to me to be baptized? I should be baptized by you,” to which Jesus replied, “It is proper to fulfill all righteousness.” But what does that mean “fulfill all righteousness”? It’s very simple: Jesus did everything right. Everything Jesus did he did in a proper, orderly ,God-pleasing, right way. He was born under the law to obey the law, and he did it right.
When it comes to his baptism that means a couple of very important things. First, you notice that Jesus was baptized at the beginning of his ministry. He didn’t go out and start his ministry before he was baptized and before God the Father spoke from heaven. There’s a reason for that. It’s a very important principle that we often don’t give a lot of attention to, but it has to do with how anyone gets to serve publicly in the ministry. In the book of Hebrews, referring to the public priesthood, it says, “No one takes this honor upon himself. He must be called by God, just as Aaron was” (Hebrews 5:4). Then it goes on to say that even Jesus, the Son of God himself, did not just take upon himself the honor of being a public preacher. He didn’t wake up one morning and say, “I think I’ll make myself a rabbi today.” Even Jesus received a public call that authorized and legitimized his ministry. It happened at his baptism. The heavens were opened, the Holy Spirit descended visibly upon Jesus in the form of a dove, and God himself spoke from heaven, “You are my Son whom I love. With you I am well pleased.” Everyone present could see it happen, and they could testify to it. Nobody could say that the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth was illegitimate. Jesus did not take that honor upon himself. God himself openly and publicly placed his stamp of approval upon Jesus. Then, after he had received this very public stamp of approval from God in heaven, then Jesus began his ministry of teaching and proclaiming the kingdom of God.
But there’s another important reason that Jesus was baptized to fulfill all righteousness, another reason Jesus did it right. He was baptized for us, to give power and legitimacy to our baptism. Okay, let’s stop and analyze this for a second. What did I just say? Jesus’ baptism gives power and legitimacy to our baptism. Walk through this with me . . . John preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. People confessed their sins and were baptized by John in the Jordan River. Jesus didn’t have any sins to confess, he didn’t need to repent, and he didn’t need the forgiveness of sins, so why be baptized by John. (Remember, even John was confused.) This all starts to make sense when we remember that everything Jesus did he did for us. Jesus is our stand-in. He is our substitute. He is our proxy. He steps into your shoes and walks in them. He doesn’t just do everything on your behalf and for your benefit; he does it in your place.
Let me use a picture to illustrate this. Let’s say that you’re visiting Disneyland or Magic Mountain or some other theme park. It’s a wicked hot day. You’re standing in line with your family, the sun is beating down on you, you’re sweating like crazy, and the line seems interminable. You are looking ahead to being absolutely miserable waiting in line for the next hour and a half, just so that you can go on a three-minute ride. Then a gentleman comes up and taps you on the shoulder and says, “Excuse me, I see that you have your family here, and this is really hard on you and the kids being out here in the sun. Would you like me to stand in line for you? You can go sit in the shade, or go get ice-cream for the kids or do whatever you want. I’ll stand in line for you, and when it’s time, I’ll step back out, and you can get back in. How does that sound?” Well, the fact is, it sounds unbelievably good, too good to be true, in fact. But you take the gentleman up on his offer, and that’s exactly what he does. He goes through the line in the sun, and when he gets to the front of the line he steps out, you and your family step in, and you get onto your ride. The gentleman does it all for your benefit, but he accomplishes it by standing in your place.
Jesus is our stand-in, our substitute, our proxy. Everything he does, his whole life, his whole purpose, is for you—to fulfill all righteousness. Jesus bears the heat of the day. He bears the press of the crowds. He bears the scorn and the ridicule and the pain and the suffering and everything that accompanies our human existence. He is in every way our brother who does everything right. He even experiences death. All of it is on your behalf and for your benefit, but especially it is in your place. His baptism to fulfill all righteousness is in your place. Later, before he ascended into heaven Jesus commanded baptism for all people when he said, “Go and make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” That baptism that Jesus instituted is powerful and efficacious because Jesus himself was baptized to fulfill all righteousness.
When Jesus came out of the Jordan River what was the verdict? Heaven was opened, the Holy Spirit descended in the form of a dove, and God himself made his pronouncement from heaven, “You are my Son, whom I love. With you I am well pleased.” God the Father declared that he was pleased with his Son. Now let’s remember, Jesus is our stand-in, our substitute. His baptism empowers your baptism. There was a day when you were brought to the baptismal font, and you were washed with water in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. What happened when you were baptized? The Triune God was present at your baptism, all three persons of the Holy Trinity were there, just as they were at Jesus’ baptism. God placed his own name upon you in your baptism, gave you his Spirit of truth, caused you to be reborn of water and the Spirit, adopted you into his family, and forgave you all of your sins. And remember . . . Jesus is your substitute, your stand-in. That means that the verdict that God declared upon him at the River Jordan is the same verdict that he has declared upon you: “You are my child whom I love. With you I am well pleased.”
That one statement from God really summarizes the whole reason Jesus came to earth to be our Savior. All of his work—all his perfect life, his innocent death on the cross, his rising from the grave on Easter morning, everything!—was so that God could say to you and me, “You are my child whom I love. With you I am well pleased.” Christ is your substitute, and through faith in him, trusting in him, you are in Christ. You were baptized into Christ, and Scripture says, “All of you who have been baptized into Christ have been clothed with Christ” (Galatians 3:27). You are dressed in Christ. You are wrapped up in Christ’s love, so that in Christ you stand as God’s beloved child, and with you God is well pleased.
Sometimes for us that verdict is a tough one to swallow. We don’t accept ourselves; how could God accept us? ‘Tis the season for New Year’s resolutions. It’s the time of year when we resolve to try harder, do better, make some improvements in our lives. Get off caffeine. Quit smoking. Lose weight. Clean out the storage. Get rid of accumulated junk. Be a better manager of time and money. Shake off pet sins. That’s the stuff that New Year’s resolutions are made of, and they can be a good thing. It is always good for us to be resolving to make changes for the better, striving for excellence, wanting to grow, to learn, to improve. Of course we know we’re going to slip up and not achieve everything we’ve resolved, but we’re going to try. But when it comes to our standing with God, is there really no more “try”? Can it really be so simple? Did Jesus really do it all for us? Don’t I have to try harder and actually keep my New Year’s resolutions for God to really be pleased with me? Don’t I need to get my act together, so that God will be happy with me?
The simple answer is: God is pleased with you for Jesus’ sake. God has already washed you in Jesus’ blood, remade you as his born-again child in your baptism, reconciled you to himself so that he’s no longer angry with you for your sins, and he has set his seal of approval upon you. There is nothing more for you to do to earn God’s favor, to make God love you, or to make God happy with you. God has also given you a new heart, a penitent heart that grieves over your sins and trusts Jesus for forgiveness. He’s given you a new outlook on life, and a new purpose. You want to serve God because he loves you, and you love him, and with a thankful heart that overflows with joy and thanksgiving, you claim your place in God’s family now and forever. Now your whole life, your whole existence, your whole purpose, and your whole eternity is defined by the verdict God decreed at your baptism: “You are my child, whom I love. With you I am well pleased.” Amen.