As with everything Jesus does, His Baptism is not for Him but for us. Obviously Jesus doesn’t need Baptism. That’s why John says, I need to be baptized by you and do you come to me? Baptism is for the forgiveness of sins – John preached that, Jesus preached that, the apostles preached that: repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins, this is basic to what baptism is: I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins – and Jesus doesn’t have any sins. John knows that, and so he tries to prevent Jesus from being baptized.
It’s a beautiful confession on John’s part. John is so beautifully consistent, he has the virtue of constancy, he is, as Jesus says, no reed shaken in the wind, he sticks to his guns. Jesus must increase, John must decrease. John is not worthy to untie the strap of Jesus’ sandals. He who comes after him is before him. That’s what John has insisted and he’s not going to change his confession, he’s constant – he insists on it again here: I need to be baptized by you, I’m the sinner, not you, I’m the servant, you are the Master, I the lesser, you the greater. And this virtue of constancy is what we need too, especially in our day. Don’t change your opinion on what matters. You can change your opinion about whether to use margarine or butter (especially if you currently use margarine), you can change your opinion on whether you like Fords or Chevys, but don’t change your Christian convictions. That God is Creator, that He makes us male and female, that He made marriage and the family for our good, that Christ is Lord and everything He says is pure and good and beautiful and His Word is the standard of your life, nothing else. You never give up on that. John didn’t. So when Jesus says, “Permit it to be so now,” “do it, John, baptize Me,” John remains completely consistent, totally constant, and does it. Because Jesus is Lord and what He says goes, period. No professor, no scientist, no pastor, no parent, no friend, no politician or powerful influencer gets to contradict Jesus. He is Lord.
But He also shows John what kind of Lord He is. Such a beautiful Lord we have. He comes as a servant, comes for us, comes to join us in our miseries, to so fully identify with us that He submits to a Baptism that is for sinners – why? Because He is the sin-bearer, the one who became sin for us, as St. Paul says, the Lamb who bears the sin of the world, as St. John confessed.
His Baptism is for us. First, there’s no despising Baptism once you see that Jesus receives it. There’s no saying – it’s no big deal, no need to talk about it so much, it’s just water. Really? Then why did heaven open when Jesus was baptized? Why did the Father thunder from heaven? Why did the Holy Spirit descend and rest on Jesus? Why did the Holy Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit make their clearest epiphany, the most obvious revelation of who God is, right here in Jesus’ Baptism? Search the Scriptures, all the Bible, and try to find another place where God is clearly revealed as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and you will not find it, except one other place, and that is when Jesus commands his apostles to baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. This is no accident. You want to know who God is, you will find it in Baptism. There’s no saying it’s just water, because plain water doesn’t open heaven and give the Holy Spirit and embrace the words of the Father – you are my Son in whom I am well pleased.
Jesus’ Baptism shows you how amazing Baptism is. You don’t get to see it with your eyes when you see someone baptized here in this church. You see with your eyes water poured on a head and you hear with your ears simple words spoken by a sinful man. But at Jesus’ Baptism you get to see it, see what’s really happening. Look at it. Heaven was closed before Jesus’ baptism, now it’s ripped wide open. God’s voice was silent, now it thunders loud and speaks words of ownership – You are my son, and words of approval – I am well pleased with you. There is no condemnation here. And here all of God is present. The Father’s voice, the Son in human flesh, the Spirit in the form of a dove. This is God’s invitation to you to see what really happened at your Baptism.
Let your mind, your imagination, be taken captive by Christ, by His Baptism. Then you’ll see reality as God made it, as God determines it, and not as our weak and sinful eyes and reason imagine it to be. Jesus was baptized precisely for this reason, so you can see there what really happens at your Baptism, at the Baptism of your children, so you can witness with John the power and beauty of Christian baptism. See heaven opened, see the Holy Spirit descend, hear the Father say, “You are my beloved child, in whom I am well pleased,” see God Himself there in all His fullness, see the gates of hell closed, the doors of paradise wide open, myriads of angels singing with joy, all the saints rejoicing. This is the reality. Don’t be deceived by appearances, remember that the Lord Jesus is Creator of all things and yet appeared weak and lowly; remember that God’s greatest power and glory are found in His suffering and death and shame on the cross; remember what the Holy Spirit says, “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are.” When you were baptized, heaven did open, millions of angels did sing for joy, the Holy Spirit did become your possession, the Father did call you His child, you were joined to the Son: so remember your Baptism that way, as if you saw all this happen with your own eyes, because God the Creator of reality did see all this.
Why is Baptism so powerful? How can it do such great things? Because Jesus joins us in Baptism. That’s what you see above all else in His Baptism. He connects Himself to it inseparably. Where there is Christian Baptism, there is Christ, and where Christ is there is salvation and joy and sonship and the Father and the Holy Spirit. As many of you as were baptized into Christ Jesus have put on Christ. Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? This is how God speaks about your Baptism. You are joined to Christ, so that literally what happened to Jesus the day He was baptized happens to you, the Father claims you as His beloved Son and tells you He is pleased with you.
Baptism doesn’t earn this for you. Jesus does. He will go straight from His Baptism to the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He will resist the devil’s temptations with a constancy that John the Baptist could never attain. He will fast and suffer the devil’s attacks and depend entirely on God and send the accuser away defeated, and He will earn a real righteousness for you, live perfectly in your place, to the very end, taking finally your punishment on Himself and paying with the blood of God for the sins of men. He earned it. And He gives it to you in Baptism, where He joins you to Himself.
And this you receive by faith. Faith is God allowing you to see and love the truth of your Baptism. It is God opening your eyes to see heaven opened. It is God opening your ears to hear the Father tell you He loves you as His own child, because He cannot separate His love for His Son from His love for you.
It doesn’t matter the time, the age when you were baptized. Jesus was baptized at the age of thirty, not because he didn’t believe in infant baptism but because baptism didn’t exist when he was an infant. John the Baptist is only six months older than Jesus (according to the flesh). People will actually argue that we should be baptized as adults because Jesus was. This is the sort of arguing that God warns us against – don’t argue about ridiculously silly things that can’t possibly matter. Jesus says babies can have faith, he welcomes them into his presence, blesses them, says of such is the kingdom of heaven, He could not possibly deny them Baptism. And it doesn’t matter the place, where you were baptized. Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River not because the water in Wyoming is no good, but because that’s where He could get it. So you get it where you can get it, where God’s man is in God’s church. And It doesn’t matter the mode, the manner you were baptized. Jesus was dunked under the water because there was a river there, not because he was instructing us on how exactly to apply the water.
Where there is water and the word that Jesus commanded – baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, there is Christian baptism, there the miracle happens, there Jesus is, and with Jesus all of God’s favor and love.
This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased. Know these words like you know your own name. They are a summary of everything God wants to teach you in your life. The Father says these words to His own natural Son, eternal with Him, of the same substance with Him, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, and yet He says these words also to a man, to our Brother, to the One born in time to the virgin Mary. And He says them at Jesus’ Baptism because Jesus is now going to do His Father’s beautiful will, to please His Father by living for us and suffering for us and dying for us and winning us the inheritance of everlasting life. This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased. And if He is pleased with His Son He is pleased with you. You don’t have to ascend to heaven in your thoughts to figure out the great mysteries of God, you don’t have to worry and fret whether you are one of the chosen, one of His elect, you don’t have to wonder what is prepared for you after death or fear what God’s judgment will be of you when you see Him face to face. Only look at Jesus at His Baptism and look at Jesus in your Baptism, and here these beautiful words, “You are my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased” applied to you: there is you election, there is God’s judgment, there is what God prepared for you in the world to come. The Father finds you in Christ and embraces you with eternal and boundless love.
Use this. Imagine it. Think on it. I had a horrible day off on Friday. Our van broke down, we had to get it towed, the dealership tried to rip me off, my driveway was completely drifted in and I spent hours shoveling it out, and this was all before noon. I had two goals for that day – to ski and to read my novel – and as I quickly realized I wasn’t going to get either and I was cold and feeling very anxious and worried about money and everything I had to get done, I remembered these words, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” I remembered my Baptism. That the Father of my Lord Jesus Christ loves me more than I can imagine, loves me as His own child. That heaven is open and the Spirit abides with me. That all my sins are forgiven, I’m washed clean by my Savior’s blood, and life is beautiful because of this, no matter what else happens. And then I enjoyed shoveling with my boy, and God put Christians in my life who saved me from throwing away my money on thieving salesmen, and then I got to go to church and hear the Father’s Word to me and eat my Savior’s body and blood, and sing in the Spirit and with the angels the most beautiful praises to the Savior. And it was a wonderful day. I never got to ski or read my novel, but God gave me better things with a little suffering and with Christian fellowship and with His Word.
Use your Baptism, use God’s Word. Don’t ignore its power. Don’t neglect the gift that is in you, the Spirit who inspires you. No matter what you are going through, whether joy or pain, in all your life, every day, see the reality of Jesus’ Baptism and yours, see heaven opened and your Father smiling on you, and so live as His child, constant and firm, standing on His Word, knowing that the Holy Spirit who is God Himself abides with you and is your help in this. Obey His commandments, love and forgive one another, resist temptation, seek God’s instruction, and above everything revel in His love for you in Christ Jesus. And He will give you the joy and peace that this world cannot give, make you see that every day is the day the Lord has made, that since you are baptized every day has reason for rejoicing, and the Father will keep you faithful to His Son as His Son has been faithful to you. In the name of Jesus!