The Baptism of our Lord
13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. 14 But John prohibited Him, saying, “I need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?” 15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he permitted Him. 16 And when Jesus was baptized, He came up immediately out of the water. And suddenly the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending on Him like a dove. 17 And a voice came from heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
What if Jesus were to walk into our church today and ask to be baptized? What would we say?
After all, Baptism is a means of grace whereby God offers and gives forgiveness of sins to sinners for the sake of the new covenant established by Jesus’ blood, shed upon the cross for the sins of the world! Cf. Heb. 9:11-15; 8:7ff.
John baptized those who came to him confessing their sins and seeking God’s pardon and forgiveness for the sake of the atoning sacrifice of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (cf. Matt. 3:1ff.; Mark 1:4-5; Luke 3:1ff.; John 1:29). And, on the Day of Pentecost, Peter urged his hearers to “repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).
And Jesus? He was and is sinless! He “was in every sense tempted like we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). “He is holy, innocent, undefiled, separate from sinners, and is higher than the heavens” (Heb. 7:26). “He committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth” (1 Pet. 2:22; cf. Isa. 53:9).
With John the Baptist, I would have to say, “I need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?” (Matt. 3:14). And, yet Jesus did come to John and was baptized of him in the Jordan River. He told John, “Let it be so now, for it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matt. 3:15). Then John permitted Jesus to be baptized.
Why did Jesus come to be baptized by John? He didn’t need to repent of sin! He didn’t need God’s forgiveness! But God did command and establish Baptism as the sign and sacrament by which one becomes a party and partaker of the new covenant He was putting in place by means of the atoning sacrifice of His Son (cf. 1 John 2:1-2; Heb. 10:19ff.; Gal. 3:26ff.; Matt. 28:18-20).
And it was fitting — to fulfill all righteousness — that our Substitute, our Savior, be baptized that He might associate Himself with us, taking our place under the Law to fulfill it for us and then bearing upon the cross the full and just punishment for our sins and the sins of the entire world of sinners. It was necessary to establish the new covenant and to offer to all who partake of it through Holy Baptism the forgiveness of sins and life eternal which Christ purchased and won for all when he suffered and died upon the cross.
Luther writes of Jesus’ Baptism: “Why does He come and seek Baptism, as there is no sin and uncleanness in Him which Baptism would remove? That will be a blessed Baptism. John here is getting a sinner who in His own person has no sin, and yet is the greatest sinner, that has and bears the sin of the whole world. For this reason, He permits Himself to be baptized and confesses with this action that He is a sinner. However, not for Himself, but for us. For He here takes my place and thy place and stands in our stead who are sinners, and since all, especially the arrogant saints, do not want to be sinners, He must become a sinner for all; He assumes the form of our sinful flesh and complains, as many psalms testify, on the cross and in His passion, of the weight of the sins which He bears” (Luther, 7, 691; 11, 2130).
In another reference, Luther writes: “Jesus says: …If that shall be performed that the poor sinners may come to righteousness and be saved, you must baptize Me. Because for the sake of sinners I have become a sinner, must therefore do what God has charged the sinners to do, in order that they may become just through Me” (Luther, 13, 1575; 11, 2139).
And so, our Savior took on human flesh and blood and joined Himself to us that He might be our Substitute and redeem us. Because Jesus was baptized and then went to the cross to pay the price for our sins, all who believe and are baptized receive God’s pardon and forgiveness, a place in God’s eternal kingdom, by means of Holy Baptism.
In Baptism, we who trust in Christ have our sins washed away in Jesus’ shed blood and, as Christ was raised up from death, we are given God’s Spirit and new life in Christ Jesus!
And what happened when Jesus was baptized? We read in Matthew 3:16-17: “And when Jesus was baptized, He came up immediately out of the water. And suddenly the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending on Him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, saying, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.’”
When Jesus came up out of the waters of the Jordan, the heavens opened and the Spirit of God descended upon Him like a dove. And a voice came from God the Father in heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
Thus, we have the entire Trinity — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — present and participating in Jesus’ Baptism. So also, in our Baptisms, we are baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19). Though the minister applies water, He does so not in his own name or even in the name of the church he serves. The waters of Holy Baptism are applied in the name of the Triune God, for God Himself accomplished our salvation.
The Father sent His only-begotten Son into the world to redeem us and be a perfect sacrifice to atone for our sins. The Father and the Son give to us the Holy Spirit, who regenerates us, bringing us to faith in Christ Jesus, and washes away our sins in Jesus’ blood, making us children of God and heirs of eternal life through faith in our Savior (cf. John 3:3-6; Gal. 3:26ff.; Tit. 3:3-7).
And John the Baptist, seeing the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus (cf. Heb. 1:9; Psalm 45:7; Ezek. 16:9), was assured that Jesus was and is indeed the Son of God and the Lord’s Christ.
We read in John 1:32-34: “Then John bore witness, saying, ‘I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on Him. I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, “The One on whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” I have seen and have borne witness that He is the Son of God.’”
So, what does all of this mean for you and for me? It, of course, means that Jesus is the eternal Son of God in human flesh, but it also means He associated Himself with you and me, He fulfilled all righteousness in our stead, and He bore on the cross the full punishment for our sins.
In His Baptism, Jesus joined Himself to us that he might be our Substitute and atone for our sins. And in our Baptisms, we are joined to Christ that His death might be our death and our sins be covered by His blood shed upon the cross for the sins of the world. And, in our Baptisms, we are joined to Christ that we might be credited with His perfect righteousness and be accepted as children of God through faith in Christ, our Savior!
God grant to you through faith in Your Savior the blessings of Holy Baptism — forgiveness for all your sins, a new birth and life worked in you by the Holy Spirit, and eternal life in Christ’s everlasting kingdom.
O gracious God — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — we thank You for the blessings made our own in Baptism. Keep us in the true and saving faith, joined to Christ our Savior through Baptism, unto life everlasting. Amen.
[Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, Modern English Version. Copyright © 2014 by Military Bible Association. Published and distributed by Charisma House.]