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Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Jesus came to His cousin John to be baptized. John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, so it made sense that sinners came to John: tax collectors, prostitutes, soldiers—all sorts of “unreligious,” unwashed sinners. Into that bathwater, teeming with the collective sin of the world, steps Jesus, the sinless Son of God. Imagine that someone else has fallen into a pig wallow and has taken a bath, and now you’re stepping into that tub with its smelly, disgusting water. Imagine everyone who ever lived has fallen into that pig wallow and then has taken a bath in one tub, and yet everyone has come out clean and all the muck has stayed in the water, waiting for one person to collect all the filth. This is what Jesus did for us that day.
John is troubled and confounded, as well he should be. Here is the Lamb of God, the One whose coming John was sent to proclaim. John knows the truth. “I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?” It seems backwards. The sinless One should be baptizing the sinner. And yet Jesus says this is the right thing to do. “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Jesus is baptized as a sinner in need of repentance. The spotless Lamb of God stands in solidarity with sinners. He is our Substitute, the Sacrifice whose blood pays the price for our sin, the vicarious Victim who takes away the sin of the world. Here in the filthy waters of the Jordan River, Jesus shows what His work is: He has come to be made our sin, to become the Sinner in our place, to immerse Himself in our filthy bathwater, to turn that swampy mess into a cleansing baptismal flood of forgiveness.
This is how “all righteousness” is fulfilled. Jesus has come to fulfill the Law for us. It started when He was circumcised on the eighth day, shedding blood for the first time for the purpose of fulfilling the Law. Now He steps into the filth of our sins, taking them upon Himself, making Baptism into a washing of repentance. The Righteous One becomes the Unrighteous One. “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” Jesus gets our sin; we receive His righteousness. The One who gave the Law to us has now come to put Himself under the Law; He has come to fulfill that Law perfectly.
The opening of heaven, the voice of the Father, and the descent of the Spirit—these divine signs show and tell us that this is the way of righteousness. The Son of God, the Anointed One, the Messiah—the Christ of Israel must be treated as a sinner for our sake. Already in His Baptism, we see His Cross. Our Lord’s baptism sets Him on the road to Calvary, where He takes the sin of the world upon Himself and dies the death to which our sins sentenced us. In Christ—in His Baptism, in His innocent suffering and death—all Righteousness is fulfilled. Salvation has been won. And He places those blood-bought gifts of forgiveness and life upon you in those bloody baptismal waters.
Now, through the redemption our Lord died to give you, through the Baptism in which the Holy Spirit places that redemption upon you, the Father looks upon you and says, “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.” In your Baptism, you, a sinner, covered with the filth of Adam’s disobedience and the muck of your own rebellion, were washed clean in the water in the Name of the triune God. In Christ, all righteousness is fulfilled for you and in you. 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.