January 10, 2020
The Baptism of Jesus
Lord Jesus, You stood next to sinners in the waters of the Jordan. Stand with us now, and take away our sins. Amen.
God’s grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God our Father, through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
In the name of Jesus, Amen.
Last Sunday we observed the Circumcision and Name of Jesus, which actually falls on January 1, the 8th day of Christmas. The 12 days of Christmas, like in the song, were completed on January 5, and the next great feast relating to our Lord’s birth was on January 6. Now begins a season in the Church Year when we focus on the revelation of Jesus Christ as our Savior through certain events of His life, beginning with His baptism.
13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented 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 thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16 And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; 17 and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
Baptism was not only the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, but it’s the anchor point for the Christian life in general. We are observing this day one week after observing Jesus’ circumcision and name. This is fitting. OT believers were joined to God’s covenant through observing, an outward sign of the inward change that God created in them: repentance and faith in His promises. Likewise, NT believers are joined to the fulfillment of God’s promises in Jesus through holy Baptism, and through it God claims us as His own children.
On the day of their circumcision, OT boys would also receive their name, a wrapper for their identity. Naming them on this day recognized that their identity as individuals is a gift from God, defined by Him, connected to His knowledge of us. In fact, God gave Abraham his new name when He established this covenant including circumcision. Among NT Christians, older practice would connect a baby’s given name on the day of Baptism for the same reason. That’s why the first name has also been called the “Christian name,” and why people still use the word “Christening” for the ceremony of naming ships and other things.
Though Jesus’ baptism took place when he was about 30 years old, He connects the OT and NT practices of circumcision and baptism as the divinely-given rites of initiation into a favorable relationship with God.
The Anointing with the Holy Spirit
Abraham received a new name when God established his covenant with him, and Jesus also received a name in connection with His baptism. The name in English is “Christ,” though this name is really more like a title. Abraham’s new name means “Father of nations,” and Christ means “The anointed one.”
Anointing is another OT ceremony that helps us to understand the meaning of baptism. Baptism is a ceremony that establishes a life-time relationship with God. Anointing in general is similar. It was more often done with oil than with water, and it established the recipient in a certain vocational office. It was performed by someone else serving God in a vocational office, so that an anointing was meant to be understood as God’s doing.
One example of anointing is mentioned in Psalm 133, where David sings about the blessed state of unity and brotherly peace that believers enjoy with one another through the atonement of our sins. David says this blessing of harmony and like-mindedness is “like the precious oil on the head, running down on the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes!”
Aaron the brother of Moses had been anointed as high priest, to serve between God and the Israelites in the Tabernacle and provide a link through which forgiveness and righteousness would flow from God’s presence in their midst. The anointing was the ceremony that sealed Aaron in this holy vocation. It left no doubt about who was the high priest, either in the mind of Aaron or in that of the Israelites.
In a sense, Aaron could be called a christ because of this anointing. The same goes for all of the high priests after him, and for kings as well, like David. The anointing served to express God’s intent for the person. He set the person in an office before Him, assigning its responsibilities and showing His support.
Where Aaron and David were each a kind of christ, they pointed ahead to a special anointing at Jesus’ baptism. In place of the oil were three things: the water of the Jordan River on the body of Mary’s Son, the Holy Spirit descending upon Him from heaven itself, and the spoken proclamation of the Father identifying Jesus and expressing perfect satisfaction.
This anointing was one of a new kind. It set Jesus into his office as the long-promised Christ, identifying Him as the one responsible to fulfill all of God’s salvation promises since the Fall into sin. It also showed that the Son would be working together with the Spirit and the Father to accomplish this. This is the meaning behind the other name we use for Jesus: the Christ.
The Effect of Jesus and John’s Baptism
There had been baptisms for some time before Jesus was born. They were not even limited to people, as we see in Mark 7:4, where many things are described as being ceremonially washed. There had been baptisms before, but with John’s baptism of Jesus, something special was taking place.
First, it was John’s type of baptism. This was a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. So when tax collectors, soldiers, and others came to John (Luke 3) to be baptized, they were repenting of their sins and in the baptism, their sins were remitted, forgiven, pardoned, and let go.
But the one being baptized here also made it special. Jesus came to baptism as a sinner, but of a different kind. He had no sins of his own. His guilt originally came from others. It was imputed or reckoned to him by God the Father. So when the Father from heaven spoke, He described Jesus’ perfection: “In whom I am well-pleased.” But He also described Jesus’ performance, and this has great comfort for sinners like us.
Because it was your sins that He was carrying. He was setting up the practice of baptism for all people: bring your sins, and be pronounced righteous in God’s sight. That’s what happens in every baptism, and it lasts for a lifetime. Jesus took on the name Christ by means of his baptism; we take on the name Christian, and in some older traditions, this is connected with the Christian name given at that time.
He carried your sins to baptism. Though baptism cleanses us, Jesus continued to bear those sins after He was baptized. That was His assignment, His calling or vocation as Christ. He came to bear sins, and in a way, Jesus’ baptism was the official act that gave Him this burden and task. Because He did even this task perfectly, the Father expressed His pleasure in Him: “In whom I am well-pleased.”
Baptism officially set Jesus on the road to the cross. Baptism officially sets you and me on the narrow road to eternal life.
The Holy Trinity
The nature of Holy Baptism is mysterious. So in Latin, it is a sacramentum, a mystery. God tells us enough to know about it and to trust that it connects us to Jesus. But this is also enough for us to know that we can’t completely understand it. It’s wonderful.
Through baptism, one of the most mysterious teachings in the Bible is on full display here. We may see it first in the way baptism is done, according to the words Jesus commanded at the end of St. Matthew. These words are the name into which we are baptized. They name the God who baptizes us: one God having a threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Many have run their faith aground trying to explain this threefold nature of God. A wide variety of theories try to make the mystery understandable. The controversies about these teachings gave us the Nicene Creed and other solid confessional writings in the early Church. Some of the theories are strange, some are brilliant. They brought much strife and woe upon believers, and led some astray into grievous error.
But the essentials of the truth are right here at Jesus’ baptism. You have three divine persons. Jesus in the water, who is both God and man. The Spirit descending from the highest heaven, who would work with Him through His ministry. The Father, speaking plainly to name Jesus as His beloved Son. This baptism shows all three acting together to accomplish one of the great deeds in our salvation. They worked visibly at Jesus’ baptism. They still work invisibly at every other true baptism, a great deed of salvation.
The Effect Upon Our Lives
Baptism into Christ unites us with Christ, so it becomes the foundation of a Christian’s faith. Where God speaks there is truth, and it does not change. Baptism is a spoken and enacted solemn promise upon the one He baptizes.
Faith in baptism is really faith in Christ who gave it to us. This changes our status before God, and also God’s status in relation to us.
Before faith and Christ, we are all lost sinners. That means we oppose God and try to take His place. You could say that our natural connection to Him is out of order. Baptism puts it back in order.
When our connection to God is out of order, it affects our connection to others, too. If you can’t love God, you also can’t love your neighbor. That means relations with other people are also out of order: marriage, parents and children, employment and enterprise, government and citizenship. Even internal relations about the way we see ourselves can be out of order. If you realize that a disordered connection to God must result in disorders in all of these other areas, it explains a lot.
It explains most of the crazy notions we see in the world around us today. Many of them deny that we are God’s creation in conformity with His will and not our own. But it also serves as a mirror to see how disordered our own lives can be. Love and honor for spouses? Modesty and chastity for all? Obedience and esteem for parents and superiors? Respect for the lives and concern for the well-being of every human? You are not the best model of these things, are you? No, you have failed. We are also out of order.
Baptism restores us to a proper relation toward God. With sins forgiven, we can hear Him with a joyful conscience. Perfect love casts out fear, and now our relation to God is one of love. This makes it possible to see the good in Creation, too, and to work with God in taking care of it. Baptism gives us a God-pleasing identity, lives of service, and path of adventure with a confident destination of eternal life.
And though our mortal eye is dim
And sees but simple water;
Faith sees Christ Jesus, and in Him
The Lamb ordained for slaughter.
We see the cleansing fountain, red
With the dear blood of Jesus,
Which, from all sins inherited
And our misdeeds, can free us;
Eternal life bestowing.
Soli Deo Gloria