Baptism of our Lord (I)

This is the first part of a two-part series.

The Baptism of Our Lord Part I

Luke 3:15-17, 21, 22

The baptism of Jesus is a curious thing. Even for John, the one who baptized Jesus. The obvious question is “Why?” It is the question John asked of Jesus, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”

Clearly John knew something was going on with this water and word. It wasn’t just a tradition. Jesus, of course, gives John and us a cryptic answer, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Well, what does that mean?

The Baptism of Jesus is his official entrance into the office of Christ. This office is a three-fold office of Prophet, Priest, and King. We’ll talk more about that in tomorrow’s devotional post. For now we want to answer the obvious question, “Why would the sinless Christ need to be baptized?”

It cannot mean that Jesus was sinful and needed to be saved, perhaps the reason for John’s hesitance. We can explain the reason in a few different ways, but they all come down to this: Jesus is the true Messiah who takes our place by fulfilling the law. He was putting himself in our place. We who have sin go into baptism and come out clean; Jesus puts himself under the law and becomes our sin at the cross. A great reversal of sorts. John’s baptism of Jesus announced the man from Nazareth as exactly that, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the World.

Now it is our turn. We are baptized. There is no need to question the purpose of these baptisms even if you were a cute little baby when you went into the saving waters of baptism. We were helpless sinners. And this baptism is a violent thing despite all the joy. It is a dying of the sinful nature. A crucifixion even. A violent way to die. “Don’t you know,” says St. Paul, “Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” We die and rise with Christ.

This is not easy, of course. How could a crucifixion and burial ever be easy? John declared that he baptized with water but Christ would come with fire and the Spirit. With that description who would ever want to be baptized? But it is exactly what we need. While John’s continued description of the wheat being separated from the chaff is an illusion to the believers and the unbelievers being separated on the Last Day, it is also descriptive of how we are treated. The chaff is burned. We die. We die in Christ. And we are made new. We are resurrected. We are resurrected in Christ.

Now having gone through a baptismal death and resurrection with our Lord, we have no reason to fear. What could be more terrible than a crucifixion? What could be better than a resurrection? We have already done both with our Lord. And our Lord is an all-encompassing Lord. The prophetic preacher of beautiful words to us by which we have faith. The High Priest whose sacrifices ends all doubt as to where we stand before God. The King who rules all and who rules all for our benefit. What possibly could get us down now?

Yet we struggle. Don’t we? The sinful nature which was drowned in the waters of baptism rears its ugly head. It hates God. It despises good. It fights against righteousness. And worst of all, it is not an “it”; it is me. But I tell you today, you who struggle, that your baptism is a fact of history that cannot be undone. Just like any other fact of history, Word War I, elections of presidents, last night’s basketball game, cannot be undone, so your baptism cannot be undone. Nor can the baptism of our Lord. He went into the Jordan and he did it for you. And you went with him to the cross in baptism where your sinful nature was killed. And you rose with Christ too.

So you can get up every morning knowing full well that you are a sinner but also that you have already died and rose with Christ. So get up tomorrow and say to the world “Whatever you have for me today, disease, heartache, failure, even death, you cannot undo my baptism into Christ. You can give me your worst, world, but you cannot undo what Christ has already done for me at the cross. My Christ, my Prophet, Priest, and King. He did it for me.

And even when death comes your way, you need not fear. In fact, it is old hat for you. You have already died. You have already been crucified. You have already been buried. You have already rose. You have already been through it all even if you do not remember it. You have already been through it all in the waters of baptism. Christ got you through that and he will get you through your earthly death as well with a resurrection on the other side. And this time the old sinful nature will stay dead, drowned and gone, no longer to haunt you.

So as we contemplate this curious event in the Jordan River, John baptizing his Lord, we see why very clearly: it is our Lord, our Christ, our Prophet, Priest, and King plunged into the water for our benefit, for our eternal benefit. This is how he fulfills all righteousness. He lives a righteous life and then gives it to us. All so that we can stand clean and pure before the Father.

Michael Berg

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