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Video of the Divine Service here.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
There is only one Son of God. And He appears here at the Jordan River, where He is publicly revealed to be the one whom the Father has sent. He had been revealed to the shepherds by the angels; He had been revealed to the magi by the Scriptures that they heard in Jerusalem; He had been revealed to Mary and Joseph by angels. But here He is revealed publicly for the first time as the beloved Son of God, in whom the Father is well-pleased.
There is nothing accidental about His appearance at the Jordan. All of the motion words in the first verse that we heard today show that this is intentional, with purpose. Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan River to John for this purpose: to be baptized by John. And He comes to be baptized for this reason: in order for them to fulfill all righteousness. John is as surprised as we would be. Wait—I should be baptized by You, and You’re coming to be baptized by me? Jesus shouldn’t be there, down in the Jordan with John, where people are coming to be baptized, confessing their sins. But Jesus says, let it be so for now. It is necessary for us to fulfill all righteousness.
And what is that righteousness? According to the Scriptures, when God’s righteousness is praised or remembered or proclaimed or exalted, it is God’s saving action, from enemies, from Egypt, from exile. And Jesus appears at the Jordan River in order to bring that story of salvation to its full, final, and complete end in Himself. This is all part of how God is fulfilling His righteousness, as the angel said to Joseph: you shall call His Name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.
So that’s where Jesus goes: where the sinners are, in order to save them. We sometimes misunderstand Jesus’ baptism because we start at the other end, with our baptism, with the baptism that Jesus commands in Matthew 28 and that Paul talks about in Romans 6. But Jesus starts at the other end, with the salvation that flows to us in our baptism. He is accomplishing the salvation that He’s going to give. And that means going where the sinners are. Let it be for now, He says to John. It is necessary. It will not always be this way, but it is necessary for now for Jesus to be completely with and for sinners. And so John lets it be.
And when the baptism is over, and Jesus stands up in the water, the heavens are opened, and the Spirit descends upon Him, to anoint Him as the Christ. And God speaks, declaring that He is the beloved Son, in whom the Father is well-pleased. Of course, He was always the Christ and the Father is always pleased with Him, but this is the public revelation, the public beginning of how the righteousness of God is being fulfilled. It begins here, but it doesn’t end here. Because Jesus goes immediately out of the baptism into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil, and He clings to His Father and the Father’s Word alone. And then, after doing the things that the Son of God does: declaring the words of the Father and healing the sick, raising the dead, and demonstrating that He is the one in whom the Kingdom of God comes on the earth, He goes to the cross, taking the sins of all sinners with Him. He goes where sinners are, and sin ends in death. So that’s where He goes.
But when He is raised from the dead, as the Son of God must be, then He gives all that righteousness to those same sinners, and the one and only Son makes children of God for the Father. He commands the baptism that flows from His cross and resurrection, in the Name of the Father who spoke, the Son who was baptized, and the Spirit who descended. The salvation that He accomplishes is delivered to you in the baptism He commands. And the same thing that happened to Him happens to you, because as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ, have been clothed in Christ. When you were baptized—though you may not remember it, and you didn’t see it—the same thing happened to you as happened to Jesus: the heavens were opened for you, God gave you His Holy Spirit, and He said to you: you are My beloved Son! With you I am well-pleased! You are in Christ, the only Son, and therefore you are pleasing and beloved.
And all of this is with purpose and intention. There is no uncertainty, hesitation, or doubt about what Jesus is doing. He comes to you, to baptize you, to gather and save you. When we look at ourselves, and question whether we are pleasing to God, whether He loves us, how we stand with Him, there will always be doubt as long as we are looking into our own hearts. There is the moment, in the midst of the dark night, when we are full of uncertainty, when things do not look as we would expect them to if we were really beloved of Jesus. But Jesus does not want you asking that question of yourself. He wants you to ask it always and forever of Him. It is not us who are fulfilling the righeous, saving action of God in ourselves. It is He who is carrying out everything that God has willed for His creation. And there is no doubt about what Jesus has done. It is finished, completed. And He who has been raised from the dead cannot die anymore.
All of that He did with a purpose then. It was all necessary within the will of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. But it will not always be this way. The Church of Jesus will not always appear in weakness. The Day is coming when what was fitting for Jesus to do then will give way for us as it did for Him, from cross to resurrection. Your now of questions, doubts, uncertainties, and shadows will give way in Christ to the full light of the conclusion of all of God’s righteousness fulfilled in newness and resurrection. Your baptism wasn’t the end; it was only the beginning. And so the Jesus who commands that baptism is also the Jesus who says that He is with His baptized disciples all the days until the completion of this age, which will also be the completion of your baptism. He is with us, continuing to deliver His saving righteousness in holy absolution and holy supper, keeping and feeding us. There is no doubt: the only Son of the Father from heaven has made you His brothers and sisters, for now, and forever.
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, 1/10/20