[Matthew 3:13-17] Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16 And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; 17 and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
The Baptism of Our Lord
We see Jesus, the Holy Son of God, unashamed to share the grubby waters of the Jordan with unholy sinners. We see Jesus’ great love for us in that He is willing to step into the same waters as all those unclean people.
You’re happy to stick your grubby, greasy kids into the bath water to get them clean – but you’d cringe at the thought of sharing that greasy water for yourself! Jesus does not cringe to enter the sinners’ baptism. He remains unashamed of the unclean sinners so He can become their Savior.
Jesus entering the waters of this baptism for sinners begins His journey of bearing the sin of the world. On the cross – which Jesus calls a baptism [Mark 10:38-39] – Jesus will remain unashamed of the guilty. He Himself is numbered with the transgressors [Isaiah 53:12] and bears our shame and guilt in His flesh.
The Son of God was baptized in a baptism for sinners to take the sinners’ place. Thereby, He has become our Savior.
So, what about baptism? Sometimes I think some of you don’t realize this, but not all the churches teach the same thing about baptism. And not all Lutherans have listened and learned the biblical understanding.
Some churches diminish the importance of baptism. Some say that baptism does nothing. Some speak of your baptism as just a religious ceremony. Some reduce baptism to being your work – they say baptism is your proclamation that you believe.
Others misunderstand what we believe about baptism. They think that we think it’s a good work performed by us. Baptism is all around misunderstood and neglected.
That Jesus Christ, the Son of God, our Savior was baptized reveals the great importance of Baptism. It’s not a little thing. Our Lord did not neglect to be baptized. And in being baptized in the water, our Lord filled up Baptism with all that Baptism is for you now. Jesus, the holy Son of God, in entering Baptism, became the substance and strength of Baptism.
Because baptism is such an important topic – and because it’s uncertain if even lifelong church members are aware of what their own churches teach – I want to walk through a few key scripture passages from which we draw our teaching on baptism. I also want to, first, show you what our Catechism says about baptism. Then we’ll give the scriptural proofs.
What does baptism do? Here’s our Small Catechism:
What benefits does Baptism give? It works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.
Forgiveness of sins, rescue from death and the devil, and eternal salvation. What words and promises of God say all this about Baptism? Here are some key verses:
Mark 16:16 – “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”
Matthew 28:19 – “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in[a] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
Acts 2:38 – And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
Titus 3:5 – “He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.”
Galatians 3:27 – “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”
Romans 6:3-4 – “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”
Ephesians 5:25-26 – “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might make her holy, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word.”
John 3:5 – Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.
1 Peter 3:21 – “Baptism now saves you.”
Who should we baptize? Peter said concerning the promise of Baptism, “the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off” [Acts 2:39]. And our Lord said we should baptize all nations [Matthew 28:19] – a nation includes all its people of all ages.
All that Jesus is – all that Jesus has done – His incarnation and birth, His perfect life, His bitter suffering and death, His resurrection from the dead, and His ascension into heaven – all that Jesus is and has done makes Baptism what it is. Baptism saves.
In fact, the events that take place in Jesus’ Baptism show you what happened with you in your Baptism. What happens invisibly in your Baptism is shown visibly in His to teach us.
When Jesus was baptized and came up out of the water, heaven was opened to Him, the text says. When you were baptized, Heaven was opened for you.
When Jesus was baptized, the Holy Spirit descended and rested upon Him. When you were baptized, the Holy Spirit – which gives you faith in Christ - came down and has rested upon you.
As a side note – you should be sure to know this – some say there are two Baptisms for the Christian – water Baptism and, separately, a Baptism in the Holy Spirit. However, the Holy Spirit’s presence and Christ’s receiving of the Holy Spirit in our Lord’s Baptism shows that Baptism in the water and the Baptism of the Holy Spirit are the same Baptism.
Scripture, in fact, testifies that there is only one baptism – “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” [Ephesians 4:5], not two.
Lastly, when Jesus was baptized in the sinners’ water, God spoke from heaven, “You are my beloved Son. With you I am well pleased.” Even here, Jesus’ baptism is showing you yours. Every day, at every hour, because you stand in your Baptism, the Father says to you the same words – “You are my beloved child. With you I am well pleased.” “Sins forgiven in my sight – I am happy with you”, God now says.
In this life’s flood of troubles, how can you have the strength to stand? In your empty flood of deficiencies in holiness, how can you stand before holy God? Because Jesus stood in your place. In Baptism. On the Cross. Now, by Baptism, all that Jesus is and has done stands in you.
A sinner though you be, rejoice. Rejoice that your Lord has been Baptized for you and that you have been Baptized. Amen.