The Baptism of our Lord [c] January 9, 2022
15 As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ, 16 John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” 18 So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people. 19 But Herod the tetrarch, who had been reproved by him for Herodias, his brother’s wife, and for all the evil things that Herod had done, 20 added this to them all, that he locked up John in prison. 21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from Heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
In the Name of Jesus.
Who wants to go down to that water? Will you put your feet in, knowing what’s been in that water? Would you? Would I?
This strange prophet, John the Baptist, he’s been out at the Jordan river, pulling sinners into the water, baptizing them. How does he do this baptism? By having them stand ankle deep and pouring the Jordan water on their heads with his hand? Maybe. By having them get waist deep in the water, then plunging their heads under? Maybe.
It doesn’t matter. What matters is, he’s a prophet. And when the prophet speaks, the sinner should listen. So he’s baptizing. Water and the Word. Water applied by the prophet, how ever he chose to do that, and the Word of the Lord spoken by the prophet’s mouth. Water and Word. Appointed by the Lord. That’s all the sinner needs to know.
Who’s John baptizing? All Jerusalem. Matthew gives the account. Matt. 3:5:
Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to [John], and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing confessing their sins.
Who’s John baptizing? Everyone—all Jerusalem and Judea; the crowds, the families, the old men and the young, the women and the children, the infants—the prophet leaves no one robbed of this gift.
But look at who’s going in to this water. Would you want to go in? Would I?
The tax-collectors are there. They are the lowest. They are Jews working for the occupying Roman government. They confiscate taxes from their fellow Jews. They’re turncoats—not to be trusted. John has them in the water. Also the drunks, the abusers, the prostitutes, John pulls them all into the water. The lowest, the dirtiest, the most despised—you would never go over to their homes and expose yourself to all that stuff. Will you walk into the water they’ve been in? Their sins are in that water. They went into the water unclean; they walk out clean. The water’s dirty.
Would I walk into it? I would be standing fifty yards over under the trees, watching from safe distance. I would want to see this spectacle. Who wouldn’t? Beat-down sinners walking into the water, hearing the Word of the Lord from the lips of the prophet, and walking away from the water with head held high. Walking back to Jerusalem clean, happy, blessed.
I would want to see it. But go down into the water? That seems a step too far. I don’t belong in that water, not with the tax-collectors and drunks and abusers and prostitutes and sinners. I’ll stay back a safe distance and watch.
Then John looks at me. At me and the rest who are watching from safe distance. The distance doesn’t seem so safe anymore. “You brood of vipers,” says John as he looks at me and the rest. “Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come.” [Luke 3:7]
The prophet calls me a sinner too. I belong with the others. Before the face of God, I’m a viper. Not just a snake, but a snake with venom. The venom of self-righteousness. The venom of self-justification. The venom of excuses. The venom of arrogance before other sinners as if I could count them as less than me.
“Before the face of God, you’re a viper,” the prophet is saying. With that, the prophet draws me, too, into the water.
Who goes into that water? I do. You do. Our families. The crowds. Every sinner. The water is washing away the sin. Not just the water—it’s only simple water. But the water with the Word. The water taken up into the use of the Word. So that the sinner feels the wetness on the skin, and hears the word strike the ear; and the word says, You’re clean. Sins forgiven. No longer viper before God, but beloved child.
Where’s your sin? In the water. Every sinner has sin to lose to the water.
But what becomes of the sin? If sinners are washed clean, if sinners walk out of the water holy, clothed in righteous robes before the face of God, what becomes of the sin?
Jesus walks into the water. Why? He has no sin. Nothing to wash away into the water.
Jesus—holy Jesus—walks into the water, and the prophet pours on to him, speaking the Word of the Lord, and the heavens are opened and the Holy Spirit comes down to him in the form of a dove, and the Father in Heaven publicly said,
“[My Son,] you are by beloved Son, I am well pleased in you.”
Where’s the sin? It’s on Jesus. The holy One, he who is without sin, is now publicly clothed in the sin of every sinner. Walking out of that water, he’s now to be known as “the Lamb of God who is bearing the sin of the world,” which is exactly what the prophet John titles him. [John 1:29]
Baptism. The great exchange. The reverse image quid-pro-quo.
Quid pro quo—Latin for “something for something.” Baptism is that in reverse. Something for nothing and nothing for something. He who has nothing, now holds everything. He who has everything now stands empty. The sinner with nothing is given the full righteousness of God the Son. God the Son who has everything, is emptied out to the sinner’s nothingness. Reverse quid pro quo. The sinner clothed in holiness. The holy One, Christ Jesus, clothed in our sin. Baptism.
He, baptized into our sin and death; we, baptized into his righteousness and life. He, baptized into our tomb; we, baptized into his resurrection.
[Or] do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin.
So when Jesus was baptized by John, the heavens opened. The Holy Spirit came down. The Father said,
You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.
The Father pleased, for the Father loves the sinner, loves you and me and our families, and the Father now sees his Son bearing our sin.
Pleased because the Father will later hear his Son, in great anguish at the Mt. of Olives, plead to him,
“Father, if you are willing, remove this cup [of suffering] from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”
And then the Son does the Father’s will and goes to the cross and dies, bearing the sins of the world.
The Father is well pleased in this Son bearing the sins of the world as the Lamb of God, putting those sins to death on the cross, ransoming the sinner with his own blood, for the Father loves the sinner, and desires all people to be saved. [1 Timothy 2:4]
The Father is well pleased with the Son. And in his Son, the Father is well pleased with the sinner. For in Baptism, the sinner is now clothed in the righteousness of his Son.
Baptism: the great exchange. The sinner now holy; the holy One bearing all sin.
John’s baptism, of course, is not for us. It stood on its own. It belonged to John. It belonged to those he stood in front of. He was a prophet. He gave way to Jesus. John’s baptism is no more.
God spoke by the prophets. Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Samuel, Nathan, Isaiah, and all the other prophets. But God who at many times and in various ways spoke to our forefathers by the prophets has in the generation following the cross spoken to us by his Son.
So we no longer look for a prophet. To do so would be a denial of the voice given for us, the voice of Christ Jesus; to do so would be blasphemy.
We look for Jesus. We listen for his Word.
Make disciples, said Jesus to his Apostles. Make disciples of all nations, all languages. That is, leave no one out. Leave out no tax-collector, no liar, no drunk, no prostitute, no abuser; leave out no old man nor young man, no old woman nor young; leave out no child, no infant; leave out no sinner—this gift is to go to all the world, for all authority in Heaven and on Earth has been given to me, says Jesus. [Matthew 28]
Make disciples by putting the holy Name on them, by baptizing them into the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and by teaching them of all my gifts I have taught to you.
We hear Jesus. We rejoice in his water. He, once clothed in our sin, once given over to death on the cross, now stands before his Father resurrected, living.
We, now standing in our sinful flesh, yet now clothed in his righteousness in Baptism, now stand in our life of faith before his Father.
Before the Father, we confess our sin. We confess Christ Jesus our Lord. His Father is well pleased in him. We are clothed in him. His Father is well pleased in us.
In the Name of Jesus.