+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti Amen. +
Text: Matthew 3:13-17
Theme: A Substitutionary Baptism
Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,
Today is the first Sunday in the season of Epiphany. Epiphany means literally “revelation,” or “showing forth.” The season of Epiphany highlights those events in the life of Christ that reveal Him to be God in the flesh. The Epiphany season is framed and highlighted by two events; Christ’s baptism at the Jordan River and His transfiguration on the mountain. The Child of Bethlehem has been proclaimed by angels, looked upon by shepherds and visited by wisemen. Jesus, now approximately thirty years of age, begins His public ministry. Jesus’ public mission begins with the event of His baptism.
Preliminary to the baptism of Jesus and Christian baptism was the work of John the Baptist. His work was preparatory. The people who came to John heard a message of repentance. The coming of the Messiah was imminent. His coming would involve judgment against all unrighteousness. “He will burn the chaff with unquenchable fire.”1 The hearts and lives of all are laid bare before the all-knowing Lord. Nothing we have or are or do is hidden from Him. We dare not allow our consciences to become desensitized to the power of sin in our lives and God’s promise to judge it. The Law of God leaves room for no exceptions, all are unworthy of God’s grace. The truly convicted heart takes seriously God’s wrath and longs for mercy. True repentance involves not only shame and embarrassment for being caught, but a genuine desire for compassion and desire to please God. The Bible says, “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.”2 The Holy Spirit grants the repentant person faith to trust in Christ. Baptism is a means by which this happens. Trust in Christ is never misplaced. Our gospel elucidates why.
John announces the approach of Jesus to the banks of the Jordan with the words which found their way into the church’s worship in song, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”3 In the act of His baptism, Jesus unites in solidarity with sinful humanity. He submits Himself to this sacrament of repentance and forgiveness for which He has no need. He is not a sinner. He has committed no transgression. He was born with no original guilt. Precisely for this reason He humbles Himself as He does. The entire earthly life of Jesus Christ was a substitutionary endeavor. He took our place under the Law. He bore the punishment of the Father’s wrath. He endured the torment of judgment. He did this on our behalf. He was our scapegoat. He was our sacrificial Lamb. “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”4 Christ lived, died, rose and ascended so that we might live in holiness with the triune God.
Overt expressions of the Trinity are perceptible at Jesus’ baptism. The Holy Spirit is visible in the form of a dove. He descends and Matthew tells us lights upon Jesus. At the creation the Holy Spirit hovered over the waters and during the flood Noah send out a dove to mark beginning of new life. The voice of the Father is audible at Jesus’ baptism. It was reminiscent of many manifestations in the Old Testament. Yet these distinctions of persons are not to be overshadowed by unity of purpose. Here we see Father, Son and Holy Spirit united in the plan of redemption to be completed by the Son in the flesh. This is the key to true and meaningful knowledge about God.
The revelation of the Trinity is tied directly with the revelation of the Son. We know the disposition of the triune God towards us, we know God in a saving way only as He is revealed through Jesus. We do not learn what we know about Christ from general knowledge of God. We learn what we know about God from specific knowledge of Christ.
Our relationship with Christ must define and characterize our entire lives. He initiates and sustains this relationship through His appointed means. Baptism is not an auxiliary teaching of Scripture. Baptism is foundational for understanding the manner in which God relates to humanity. Baptism is a specific administration of the gospel. It is a tangible, visible way in which God comes into contact with people in a saving manner. The Word and promise of God are clear and firm. “How can water do such great things?” Certainly not just water, but the word of God in and with the water does these things, along with faith which trusts this word of God in the water. For without God’s word the water is plain water and no Baptism. But with the word of God it is a Baptism, that is, a life-giving water, rich in grace, and a washing of new birth in the Holy Spirit.”5 What happens in baptism is not magic, but it is miraculous. Faith is always the greatest miracle for an infant or an adult. It means that God is willing and able to overcome the bondage of sins by which we are held.
Spiritual freedom, true freedom, radically changes our perspective on life and our relationship with God and one another. Our membership in the kingdom of God transcends all earthly associations. God desires this for all people. Recall the words of our Scripture from Acts, “Then Peter began to speak: ‘I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear Him and do what is right. You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.’”6
Dear Friends, we should not overlook the significance of Saint Peter’s words regarding the fact that in His love, God shows no favoritism, but accepts all who repent and believe. How difficult this was for the Jewish Christians who looked down upon Gentile believers! How difficult to believe that God receives manifest sinners as readily as those who strive to be righteous. Jesus Himself said to the chief priests, “I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.”7 Yet that is the reality of God’s undeserved love in Christ. It is undeserved for great and small alike.
In Christ we all reach parity in regards to redemption. This equality is achieved in baptism and it is the basis of our fellowship and unity. Though we are all different, none of us is of greater or lesser importance to the body of Christ. At Jesus’ baptism the fellowship of the Trinity is manifested. In the body of Christ, our fellowship with one another must be manifested. We are called upon to put others ahead of ourselves, their interests ahead of ours. The Scripture gives these directives, “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God’s people who are in heed. Practice hospitality.”8 And trust firmly in the promise that your labour in the Lord is never in vain9. It depends never on you but always on Christ and He will not fail us. Amen.
+ In nomine Jesu +
The Baptism of Our Lord
12 January 2014
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 Luke 3:17
2 2 Corinthians 7:10 3 John 1:29
4 2 Corinthians 5:21 5 Luther’s Small Catechism
6 Acts 10:34-36 7 Matthew 21:31
8 Romans 12:9-13 9 See 1 Corinthians 15:58