Download or listen to The Baptism of Our Lord, “Where Jesus Goes” (Matthew 3:13-17)
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Where does Jesus go? If you wanted to find Jesus, where would you look? People talk about “finding Jesus” or “finding God” or “finding religion.” I saw a cartoon a while back that had a woman standing at an open door, and two men standing on the porch, and one of them says to her, “Have you found Jesus?” And if you look to the right of the woman in the room, Jesus is hiding behind the curtains. Have you found Jesus? But, in fact, Jesus is not hiding like that. Where can you find Jesus? Our Gospel reading gives us a partial answer to that. Down in the Jordan River, where the people from Judea and the whole surrounding area are coming to be baptized by John, confessing their sins. Exactly where the angel said He’d be. Remember what the angel said to Joseph? “You shall call His Name Jesus because He will save His people from their sins.” Where else would He be than with the sinners He came to save? But when He goes down in the water, John tries to stop Him. “I need to be baptized by You, confessing my sins. Why do You come to me? You don’t have any sins to confess.” But Jesus must be where the sinners are.
If we think about where Jesus would be today, then maybe you’re thinking of a brothel or a bar, where the real, obvious, public sinners are. And probably He would be there also. He did forgive prostitutes. He did forgive tax collectors and sinners, and welcomed them, and ate with them. So maybe we’re not all that surrprised that He’d be where they are. What’s more surprising is that He’d be in a church on Sunday morning. Isn’t church where people have been saved, and now they’re trying to get on with their Christian lives? Isn’t this where people have it all together, where they have their sin under control, where they spend their time trying to help other people? But maybe you know better. Maybe you’ve seen below the surface. Maybe you know what’s in your own heart. Or maybe you’ve been burned by someone in this congregation or in another one. Maybe you know that even Christians hold grudges, gossip, live as if sin were their Lord, rather than Jesus. So, in the end, maybe it’s not all that surprising that Jesus would be here on a Sunday morning. He knows where the sinners are.
But Jesus isn’t just where the sinners are to sympathize with them, to hang out with them, to be friends with them. He is there to save them. He tells John, “Allow it for now.” This is a concession, that it will not always be this way. Jesus concedes His glory in humility, to be baptized with the baptism of sinners. But it will not always be this way; allow it for now. On the last day, Jesus will not hide in the humility of flesh and blood and bone; on that day, He will be revealed in the glory of resurrected and ascended flesh and blood and bone, judging the living and the dead. Then, every eye will see Him, every tongue confess, every knee bow. But for now, it is fitting for it to be this way for the fulfilling of all righteousness. John baptizing Jesus is the beginning of this public fulfillment. Jesus will fulfill all the righteousness of God, which is God’s saving action on behalf of His people, for their shalom, their wholeness, well-being, peace, eternal life. The fulfillment begins here and now, in the Jordan River, as Jesus submits to a sinner’s baptism. It ends outside Jerusalem as Jesus submits to a sinner’s cross, and the baptism of blood. At the Jordan, heaven is opened, the Father speaks to His beloved Son, and the Spirit descends. At the cross, heaven is shut, the Father is silent, and Jesus says, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” This is how the righteousness of God is fulfilled, by Jesus taking sin on Himself, by becoming sin for the sake of His people. But heaven is opened again when God raises Jesus from the dead, and now it’s open forever.
Jesus’ baptism flows to the cross, as He submits Himself to the path of sinners. But out of the cross flows our baptism. You are not baptized into Jesus’ baptism, but into His death. You have been buried with Jesus, by baptism, into death. Into His death. And raised by the glory of His father to new life. Jesus’ baptism joins Him to the life of sinners, but your baptism separates you from sin. You are a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come. You are dead to sin! Sin cannot be your master any more. Jesus buried it in the ground, in His grave, and then He left it there. He took the sin of the world, to give to the world His righteousness. That’s the reality, but that’s not what we see. We do not see the righteousness of God fulfilled in us, or in those around us. So, for now, it is fitting and proper that Jesus continue His work among us; that He still be present here, among us sinners. For now, there is the daily dying and rising; the daily killing of the old nature, with all its sins and evil desires, by contrition and sorrow over sin, which can only come as His word does its work. And the daily rising again. Daily. We cannot short-circuit the life lived by confession and forgiveness. It continues our whole life long, until the day when Jesus raises us once and for all to the only thing fitting for the blood-bought righteous of the Lord.
Adam once closed heaven by his sin, and we have done nothing to make it any better since. The angel with the flaming sword stood in front of the shut gates of Paradise. But now heaven has been opened and it is opened to you when you are baptized. Since you are baptized into the only Son of God, the Father says the same thing to you that He said to His Son: “You are My Son, My beloved one; with you I am well-pleased; on you My favor rests.” First heaven, and then earth, hell, the grave, and everything. And Jesus will finish on that day what He started at your baptism, and all righteousness will be fulfilled.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 1/12/14