Christ Is in the Water
Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
John the Baptist had been sent from God to prepare the way of Christ. To do this, he was preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. John said to those who were coming out to him, "Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance." Certainly not a very popular message, but it was one that needed to be spoken. Only through true repentance would the people be made ready to receive the Messiah. They were full of self-righteousness and worldliness and corruption. They needed to be brought to their knees through the preaching of wrath so that they might be lifted up through the preaching of the Gospel and baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
John's message is also for you still today. The spiritual condition of mankind hasn't changed. At heart you are no different than those Israelites of old. You are by nature children of the evil one, filled with His poison. Now, your old Adam doesn't like to hear that sort of preaching. When your pastor speaks that way, your sinful nature says, "Come on, I'm not that bad. Sure, I'm not perfect, but who is? Compared to other people, I think I'm doing OK." Fallen man is so shrouded in deceit that God has to reveal the way things really are. And so John's message of repentance still rings out. "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!"
And, indeed, it is at hand, for the King of the kingdom of heaven reveals Himself at the Jordan River. The Messiah shows Himself publicly. But then He asks John to baptize Him! Now why would He do that? After all, John's baptism was for sinners, and Jesus is sinless. What’s going on here? The answer to that question comes from the exchange that is recorded between John and Jesus. John tried to stop Jesus by saying, "I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to Me?" But Jesus persuaded him: "Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness." In other words, Jesus was saying, "This is what must be done to fulfill the righteous plan of My Father who sent Me. I must be counted among the sinners and become one with them to make them holy."
At His baptism, then, Jesus was showing forth His unity with fallen man. Not only did our Lord humble Himself to take on your flesh and be born of a Virgin, but now He takes the next step. In the water He stands with you and absorbs into Himself the curse of your sin. He goes so far as to take your place and put Himself into your bondage so that He might burst the bars of your captivity and conquer your satanic captor. As Isaiah prophesied, God's Servant Jesus will "bring out prisoners from the prison, those who sit in darkness from the prison house." Thus, our Lord's Baptism and His holy cross are connected. He is there as your substitute. Your sin becomes His sin; His righteousness becomes your righteousness. He trades places with you to set you free from the power of death and to give you His everlasting life.
This is why we hold baptism in such high regard. This is why it is such a powerful act of God: our Lord Jesus has put Himself into it! He who paid the penalty for our sins on the cross has sanctified the water with His real presence. Christ is in the water to make baptism a fountain of grace and forgiveness and life. There are those who hold baptism in low esteem and consider it to be a mere ceremony or human act of dedication. And so the Small Catechism poses the question, "How can water do such great things?" The answer: "Certainly not just water, but the word of God in and with the water does these things, along with the faith which trusts this word of God in the water." The presence of Jesus in the water makes baptism a life-giving, faith creating event. He who needed no baptism put Himself into the River in order that your baptism would be a holy cleansing.
Since Jesus stood with you in the Jordan, and since you are joined to Him by water and the Word, what took place here in the Gospel is true also for you. It is recorded that when Jesus had been baptized, He came up immediately from the water and the heavens were opened to Him. So also heaven has been opened to you who entered baptismal waters with Him. The pathway that once was closed has now been cleared for you through Christ the Mediator. For He said, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me." Just as Israel crossed the Jordan to enter into the Promised Land, so now you cross the Jordan with the Lord Jesus to enter the promised land of life with God in heaven.
When the Father saw His Son humbly and willingly taking on the task of becoming the Redeemer of the world, His voice came from heaven declaring, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." Meanwhile, the Spirit descended like a dove. All three persons of the Trinity were revealed at this momentous event. So also this same threefold God was present to put His name on you as you were baptized; and as you came out of the water, the Father's voice declared, "You are my beloved child, in whom I am well pleased." At the holy font you truly were incorporated into Christ's body, made to be the temple of His Spirit. Having been washed, you have become part of the divine family, children of the heavenly Father, with whom He is truly well-pleased. Paul wrote, "You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ." No longer are you the offspring of the devil. You are sons of God in Christ, forgiven and redeemed and holy children.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, the Jordan River is found for you in the holy font of baptism; and our Lord continues to dwell in those waters. Return daily to your baptism through repentance and faith in Christ. Do not stray far from these holy waters, for Jesus Christ is present there. And in these waters is the forgiveness of your sins and eternal life. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.