Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Baptism of Our Lord: A Devotional Commentary

Matthew 3:13-17 Then Jesus comes from Galilee to the Jordan, to John, in order to be baptized by him. And John was trying to prevent Him, saying, "I myself have need to be baptized by You, and You Yourself are coming to me?" But Jesus answering, said to him, "Allow it at this time, for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness." Then he allows Him; and after being baptized, Jesus went up immediately from the water; and look, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming upon Him; and look, a voice from the heavens, saying, "This One is My beloved Son, in whom I am have set my good pleasure."

Then Jesus comes. Emmanuel, God who is with us, who has come to save His people from their sins comes. John the Baptizer had been calling people to repentance. John baptized them as they confessed their sins. But now Jesus comes and arrives at this very place where people come and confess that from which He has come to save them: "their sins." Just think of the shock and confusion that John must have experienced. John proclaimed that Jesus would baptize Israel with the Holy Spirit and fire on the Last Day. But Jesus comes and Jesus does not come with power and judgment and glory. Jesus comes to be a passive recipient of John's baptism. John was in the wilderness crying, "Repent!" Does Jesus need to repent? Does Jesus need to be converted? Is Jesus a lost sheep? So of course John tries to stop Him. No Jesus, you don't need to be baptized, you need to baptize me. I am a sinner. You are not.

Jesus replies in a way that acknowledges that the prophecies of John the Baptizer were true and that this baptism is a very strange thing in light of the preaching of John. What John was preaching about Jesus was absolutely true in regards to what Jesus would do on the Last Day. Jesus says, "Allow it as this time." What is "this time?" "This time" is not the Last Day. This is the time of Jesus' humiliation. The sinless Son of God receives the baptism intended for sinners like you because He bears your sins. All the sinners who entered the water to receive the baptism of John washed their sins away into the water. Jesus stands in the water and takes all those sins upon Himself. He bears the sin and washes the water clean. Ignatius of Antioch said, "He was born, and was baptized, that by Himself submitting He might purify the water." As Luther puts it, in baptism Jesus "drowned sin in the water."

But why is this baptism fitting John and Jesus to fulfill all righteousness? In the Old Testament, God's "righteousness" refers to His saving deeds on behalf of His people. Jesus has come to be baptized by John in order to save you. As He stands in the Jordan to be baptized He stands in your place. Jesus will surely come to baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire but not "at this time." Jesus' baptism points forward to the time when He would experience the baptism in which He would be enthroned as King of the Jews on cross for you. We all like to talk about Jesus coming in judgment to destroy our enemies. But our present reality is with Christ crucified.

And as if all this were not enough, "the Heavens were opened to Him"--Mark says that they were torn open. At the time of the flood the heavens were opened to destroy sinful man but now they are opened to speak of the One who bears your sins. Heaven is no longer closed to you because Jesus took your sins upon Himself. At the time of the creation, the Holy Spirit hovered over the face of the waters. Now, the Holy descends and comes upon Jesus--showing that the new creation has begun. The descent of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus shows that Jesus is the fulfillment of all the Old Testament prophecies. Jesus would preach Good News to the poor and comfort those who are mourning. He is the One in whose name the Gentiles will hope.

And if that weren't enough, God the Father says, "This One is my beloved Son, in whom I have set my good pleasure." God the Father is calling Jesus the new Israel. In the Old Testament, God spoke of Israel as His son. Jesus stands in the place of Israel. Jesus comes as God's sinless Son to save God's "son" who is lost in sin. Jesus perfectly carries out His Father's will as only a perfect Son can do. The Father is well-pleased with Him. Now call may become "sons" through baptism and faith in God's perfect Son. Later, God will be well-pleased with the baptism that His Son experiences in His crucifixion and will show His pleasure by raising His Son from the dead.

Because Jesus was baptized for you, your sins have been washed away in your own baptism. He stood in your place as the sinner and was baptized for you.

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