This sermon was preached at St Paul's Lutheran Church, Darnum (9am), Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Traralgon (lay-reading, 10am), Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Yarram (2pm) and St John's Lutheran Church, Sale (4pm).
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ.
Text (Matthew 3:13-17):
John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”
Prayer: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
After Christmas, so far the readings have all had to do with events that have to do with the baby Jesus. All of the readings have had to do with Jesus as a baby! And today, is the first time since Christmas that we meet Jesus as an adult – at his baptism.
And in the bible the same thing happens. In Matthew and Luke we read about the birth of Jesus and the childhood of Jesus. Then we skip almost 20 years or so and we don’t hear anything else about Jesus life until he was baptised, probably at the time when he was about 30 years old.
We don’t know much about Jesus when he was a small child growing up, except for when he went to the temple when he was 12, we don’t know much about his teenage years or his early adult years. Nothing! We go straight from the birth and the childhood of Jesus right to his baptism.
In fact, in Mark’s gospel and in John, we don’t even read about the birth of Jesus. It starts straight away with the baptism of Jesus. Mark and John don’t bother telling us about Mary and Joseph and the angels and the shepherds and Herod and the wise men, and all that sort of thing. They say, you want to know who Jesus is, have a look at his baptism!
Let me read to you a little passage from the Old Testament. This passage is about the anointing of King David. This is about when the prophet Samuel took the oil and poured it over David’s head and he became king:
Samuel had checked over all of Jesse’s sons to see if God had chosen them to be king.
Samuel said to Jesse [David’s father], “Are all you sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but behold, he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and get him, for we will not sit down till he comes here.” And he sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy and had beautiful eyes and was handsome. And the Lord said, “Arise, anoint him, for this is he.” Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers. And the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon David from that day forward.
When David is made king, he is anointed with oil. Oil is poured over him.
But when Jesus is baptised, he is anointed with the Holy Spirit.
We say that Jesus is the Messiah or the Christ. Messiah and Christ are the same word. Messiah is Hebrew, and Christ is Greek. Both of these words means, “anointed”. So when we say that the Jews were waiting for the Messiah, or when we as Christians say that Jesus is the Messiah (or the Christ), we are saying he is the anointed one.
And in Greek, the word for oil and the word for anointed are very similar. The word for oil is chrisma (χρισμα) and the word for anointed is Christos (χριστος). So we could say that Jesus is the one who is oiled up, he is greased up for his work.
But John the Baptist doesn’t anoint Jesus with oil, but instead he baptises him with water, and we read that the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest upon him.
Jesus is anointed with the Holy Spirit. Jesus is oiled up with the Holy Spirit, so that now he is prepared for his work, his work of healing, his work of preaching, and most importantly, his work of dying and his work of rising from the dead.
It works really well that the baptism of Jesus comes in the church year right after Christmas time, where we read about the birth of Jesus. Because also for us, we learn about the birth of Jesus and we also are reborn, born again, born from above, through Holy Baptism.
And it’s funny – Jesus is the one without sin. Why does he need to be baptised?
We read that Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to baptised by him. John would have prevented him saying, “I need to be baptised by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfil all righteousness.”
Jesus fulfils all righteousness. When it says this, it means that he is fulfilling the law for us.
In the Small Catechism we read:
What benefits does baptism give?
It words forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.
So why on earth do you think Jesus needs the forgiveness of sins? Why do think Jesus needs to be rescued from death and the devil? Why does Jesus need eternal salvation? Doesn’t he have those things anyway? Isn’t he the Son of God?
Well, you’d be right!
There’s a sense in which baptism also doesn’t give these things by itself. But we receive forgiveness of sins and all these gifts through baptism, because Jesus Christ is there too.
Jesus wants us to be baptised, because he wants us to be with him in baptism. When we are baptised, we know that we are in the same place as Jesus. And when we are with him, we know we’ve got nothing to worry about.
St Paul says, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”
I don’t know if you’ve ever been asked if you’re a “born again” Christian? “Are you born again?” What people often mean by this has got nothing to do with baptism. When Lutherans are asked “are you born again” they often reply, “Yes. I was born again when I was baptised.” But when people talk about being born again, it often has nothing to with baptism, but people mean to say, “Have you decided to follow Jesus? Have you turned your life around? Have you accepted Jesus into your heart?”
All of those things have to do with what we do. But baptism, which is really what it means to be born again, being born of the water and the Spirit, is not something you do, but it is something that you receive. Baptism is something that happens to you. You receive it. God does it. It’s his work!
You don’t do it! You are baptised by him! You don’t baptise yourself. And when you are baptised, God gives you his gifts. And when you trust that you have received these things in baptism, because God says that received them, then those things are yours.
Now when Jesus is baptised, he receives the opposite of what we receive.
We receive forgiveness of sins, because we are sinners, and we need forgiveness.
When Jesus is baptised, he received your sin, even though he is sinless.
In baptism, we are rescued from death, even though we deserve to die. But Jesus is the living God, and instead of being saved from death, he receives death. He dies in our place, even though he should never die.
In baptism, we are rescued from the devil, even though we are always collaborating with him. But Jesus who has nothing to do with the devil, receives the attacks of the devil. In the bible, the next thing we read about after Jesus was baptised was that he went out into the wilderness to be tested by the devil.
In baptism we receive eternal salvation, but Jesus is condemned as a criminal to die on the cross, and to experience the anger of God against him.
When Jesus is baptised, he receives sin, so that he can die for it, and forgive us in baptism.
When Jesus is baptised, he receives death, so that he can defeat death for us. He receives the devil so that he chain the devil up for us. In baptism, Jesus receives condemnation, so that we can receive eternal salvation.
So in baptism, we do a swap. Jesus takes what is ours – he becomes a sinner, even though he’s not one. And we take what is his – you become a saint, not because you’re perfect, but because you’re forgiven. And when you are forgiven, God only sees a person who is perfect.
I’d like to read a little something from a letter from Martin Luther, called “Christ dwells only with sinners”. And I’d like to read it to you as my letter to you about what baptism means:
My dear brother(s and sisters), learn Christ and him crucified. Learn to pray to him and, despairing of yourself, say, “You, Lord Jesus are my righteousness, but I am your sin. You have take upon yourself what is mine and have given to me what is yours. You have taken upon yourself what you were not and have given to me what I was not.” Beware of aspiring to such purity that you will not wish to be looked upon as a sinner, or to be one. For Christ dwells only in sinners. On this account he descended from heaven, where he dwell among the righteous, to dwell among sinners. Meditate on this love of his and you will see his sweet consolation. For why was it necessary for him to die if we can obtain a good conscience by our works and afflictions? So you will find peace only in him and only when you despair of yourself and your own works. Besides, you will learn from him that just as he has received you, so he has made your sins his own and has made his righteousness yours.
If you firmly believe this as you ought (and he is damned who does not believe it), receive your untaught and erring brothers, patiently help them, make their sins yours, and if you have any goodness, let it be theirs. Thus the apostle teaches: “Receive one another, as Christ also received us, to the glory of God.” And again, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God.” Even so, if you seem to yourself to be better than they are, do not count it as something to be proud of, as if it were yours alone, but humble yourself, forget what you are, and be as one of them in order that you may help them.
Cursed is the righteousness of the man who is unwilling to assist others on the ground that they are worse than he is and who things of fleeing from and forsaking those whom he ought now to helping with patience, prayer and example. This would be burying his Lord’s talent and not paying his due. If you are lily and a rose of Christ, therefore, know that you will also live among thorns. Only see to it that you will not become a thorn as a result of impatience, rash judgment, or secret pride. The rule of Christ is in the midst of his enemies, as the psalm puts it. Why then do you imagine that you are among friends? Pray therefore for whatever you lack, kneeling before the face of Jesus Christ. He will teach you all things. Only keep your eyes fixed on that which he has done for you and for all people in order that you may learn what you should do for others. If he had desired to live only among good people and to die only for his friends, he would never have died or lived for anyone! Live like this, my dear brother(s and sisters), and pray for me. The Lord be with you.(*)
Lord Jesus Christ, we thank you that you were baptised for us. You have taken everything that we are, and you have given us everything that you are, and everything that it yours: the Holy Spirit, the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. Thank you, Lord Jesus, for your unfailing love to us, and for the life you lived of such great sacrifice. Help us to love one another as you love us. Amen.
* Doberstein, Minister’s Prayer Book, Fortress, Philadelphia, 1986, pp230-231.