The Baptism of our Lord
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✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠
We know that Jesus grew up like any other faithful Jewish boy, going to the synagogue weekly, and to the temple for the various feasts. And so praying and singing the psalms would have been a regular part of His life, all the way to the end even as He prayed from the Psalms on the cross. But that raises an interesting question: Would Jesus also have also prayed the penitential psalms, those Psalms that ask for God’s mercy and forgiveness? For instance, could the sinless Son of God pray Psalm 51, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to Your unfailing love; according to the multitude of Your tender mercies, blot out My transgressions”? It’s pretty easy for us to picture Jesus praying parts of Psalm 69 to His Father like this, “Those who hate me without a cause are more than the hairs of my head. . . Because for Your sake I have borne reproach . . . Zeal for Your house has consumed me.” The New Testament even says that those words apply to Jesus. But what about verse five of that same Psalm, “O God, You know my foolishness; and my sins are not hidden from You”?
It would be easy to think that Jesus could not possibly have prayed those words. But I would suggest to you today that one of the things the baptism of our Lord teaches us is that Jesus must have prayed those psalms in their entirety–not because He had any sins of His own to confess, but because He bears our sins in His flesh and makes them His responsibility and confesses them as if He were guilty of every single one of them.
It was a strange sight for John the Baptizer, to see the Messiah, the One he had been preparing the way for, stepping down into the water to be baptized. The people were coming out to John in response to his preaching of repentance confessing their sins. John’s baptism was a baptism for the forgiveness of sins. And yet here is Jesus with His feet in the murky Jordan waters asking John to baptize Him. You can understand why at first John tried to prevent Him and didn’t want to do it.
We probably would have done just as John did. For the truth is, we don’t necessarily want Jesus getting down into the mess and the muck of our everyday life in this world. Better to keep Him at a distance all shiny and clean; better to keep Him here at church unstained by our lives out in the “real” world. We, too, try to prevent Him, keep Him away from the coarseness of our workplace or the imperfections of our home life. It bothers us and unsettles us a bit when Jesus gets down into the nitty gritty of our existence. For then there’s no more hiding the way things are with us. Jesus’ entry into the water means things are going to be stirred up and changed, everything out in the open. And that means repentance for us; that’s never easy.
But it is good. For Jesus enters the water to take our place. Jesus said to John, “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” In doing this Jesus was fulfilling the Father’s righteous plan to save sinners by trading places with us–the holy for the unholy. Jesus receives this baptism for sinners in order that He might become the Sinner, the only sinner. Like a great sponge He absorbs the whole’s world’s sin into Himself, and counts Himself guilty of it all, so that we would be counted righteous in God’s sight. It is written in 2 Corinthians, “God made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” Jesus takes our curse of death so that through Him we might have the blessing of His divine life. Here in the water is where it all starts. Jesus begins His ministry here by accepting and taking this burden on Himself, as John would later say, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away, who carries away the sin of the world.”
You might say that Jesus stole your sins from you; He took them away. The only way they can damn you now is if you steal them back and insist on continuing in them and keeping them away from Jesus. Either your sins are on Him or they’re on you. And Jesus says today, “They’re all on me. I took them. Believe that; deal with it. You don’t get to hold on to them any more; you don’t get to keep beating yourself up over them. I became your pride, your greed, your lust, your immorality, your jealousy, your impatience, your laziness and weakness. And in turn you have become My righteousness, My holiness, My glory. Today I begin My sacred journey toward Calvary, bearing and carrying the sin of the world, so that I may destroy it there by My death and the shedding of My blood.”
It’s interesting to note that after Jesus persuaded John to baptize Him, it says that John “allowed” Him or permitted Him. It’s the same word that Jesus Himself later uses when He says, “Let the little children, permit, allow the little children to come to Me.” That word in Greek is closely related to the word meaning to be forgiven, released, let go of our sins. The point for us is this: Because Jesus was permitted to be baptized, there is now forgiveness and release for us in the water of baptism. By the power of His Word and Spirit, all our sins washed away. They have been taken up by Christ and carried to the cross where they were paid for and destroyed forever. You are forgiven, pure and holy in Jesus’ name.
Proof of what Jesus’ began to accomplish in His baptism is shown by the signs that appeared that day. As soon as Jesus was baptized, the Gospel says behold–pay attention to this–the heavens were opened to Him. That’s what Jesus accomplishes: He opens the heavens by His taking on and taking away the sin of the world. Heaven was closed to us fallen creatures. There was no entrance permitted for us by our own efforts or striving. But now the heavens are opened to Him, the righteous One, and to all who are baptized into Him and who share in His righteousness by faith.
Then it is written that “the Spirit of God descended like a dove and alighted upon Him.” That imagery of the dove is important, particularly as it connects this event to Old Testament events involving water and new life. In the very beginning we hear that the Holy Spirit was hovering, like a bird gliding over the face of the waters. The Holy Spirit was there with His creative power to bring life to the world that was being made. And then we hear of Noah sending out a dove from the ark, hovering over the waters, and then bringing back a freshly plucked olive branch, as a sign of the new creation that Noah and his family would enter after the flood. The Holy Spirit coming in the form of a dove points to Christ as the bringer of the new creation. It’s all there in Him. Through our baptism into Christ we receive the same Holy Spirit which He was anointed with. The Holy Spirit alights upon us to bring us new life, to make us new creatures, and to give us entrance into the new creation to come.
Finally, it is written that a voice came from heaven, the Father’s voice declaring, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” God the Father was most pleased to see His Son obediently humbling Himself in love like this to save us, beginning His journey to the cross. Because of what Jesus has done, all the baptized now hear this very same voice of our heavenly Father saying, “You are My beloved Child; in you I am well pleased. I see no fault, no blemish in you–only my perfect and holy son or daughter. You may feel like a bruised reed or a smoldering wick, worn down and at the breaking point. But I will never cast you aside or forsake you; find your rest in My Son. I have called you by name; you are Mine. You belong with Me. Nothing in all creation can separate you from My love.”
All three persons of the Trinity are present here at Jesus’ baptism. That’s why you are baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, so that you may receive all the mercy that is wrapped up in the Holy Trinity’s saving name. Jesus has put Himself in the water for you. And so your baptism is a cleansing, life-giving flood. Jesus has put Himself in the water for you. And so all your sins are taken away. Jesus has put Himself in the water for you. And so you have a place in the Father’s house forever.
✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠