THE BAPTISM OF OUR LORD, A – January 15, 2017

SCRIPTURES – Isaiah 42:1-9; Romans 6:1-11; Matthew 3:13-17

Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”

 

Five days from now Donald Trump will take the oath of office and become the 45th President of the United States. Speechwriters – and probably Trump himself – are undoubtedly hard at work, trying to come up with some pithy statements summarizing what he intends to do; statements that will serve as a rallying cry for those who serve in his administration and be quoted and remembered for years to come. His inaugural address is one of the most important speeches he will ever give.

Today we hear words that are far more important: the words that Jesus spoke to John the Baptist. They are like an inaugural address, for they lay out the course of His life from that point on. “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Righteousness is Christ’s focus, and is to be our focus.

What is righteousness? Basically, it is God’s work; His work of ending sin and disobedience and bringing forth what is good and right, both in actions and in the desires of the heart. It is also God’s work of healing the harm and damage that sinful disobedience has brought. And, notice: Jesus doesn’t just speak of fulfilling righteousness. He speaks of fulfilling all righteousness. All; from Adam’s and Eve’s disobedience at the beginning to the final rebellion against God in the last days of this earth. All; the healing of the sufferings and, finally, the death that sin has brought to all people from the time of Adam’s initial rebellion. All righteousness means not only your bodily resurrection to eternal life in heaven with all of Christ’s believers; it also includes the creation of a new heavens and a new earth when Jesus returns from heaven.

Think of it in this way: righteousness is when no one is wrong, is filled with sin and evil desires, but when everyone is good and right. Righteousness is when nothing in this world is wrong or bad but when everything is good and right. Righteousness is when God rules, visibly and openly, bringing His good and blessing to all. All will then be right, and righteousness will reign.

All of this, Jesus says, is wrapped up in His baptism. He takes God’s plan for righteousness upon Himself and commits Himself to it. To put an end to sin He will take it within Himself and die for it. To bring forth a new and good world, and dying sinners into a new and holy and eternal life, He will rise to life again to live forever. This is all in His baptism, and by submitting to it Jesus commits Himself to bringing it all about. All righteousness; this is what Christ’s baptism is all about.

It is astounding to hear Jesus tell John the Baptist that he is part of this. “it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Us. John would have expected Jesus to say, “it is fitting for me to fulfill all righteousness.” After all, Jesus is the Messiah sent by God for this purpose. He is the Lord Himself, the eternal One, the true Light who overcomes all darkness. But, Jesus doesn’t say, “me.” He says, “us.” “You and me, John. Together we will fulfill all righteousness, will make all people new and create a new heavens and a new earth. Your baptism will be the means.”

How shocked John must have been to hear this. Now, he knew that his work of preparing people for the Messiah’s coming was important. He knew that this was God’s work. And yet, he was dealing with sinners. John baptized sinners to cleanse them and bring about change, to turn them from sinful desires to God’s holiness. He needed this himself from God’s Holy One! But, when the Holy One came to him John found out how great his work truly was. “it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” By John’s baptism God would be pleased to bind His Holy Son to sinners and fill Him with the Holy Spirit to do the great – and incredibly painful – work of forgiving them and bringing them into a new and eternal life. John’s sinful hands and mouth would be God’s instrument to begin this great work of salvation!

It is so to this day. It is still “fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Us. When the hands of a sinful man poured water on your head, and that sinner said, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” all righteousness was brought to you and joined to you. When you brought your children to baptism you brought all righteousness to them. When you urge others to baptism you are God’s instrument to bring all righteousness to them.

You know, people often hope to get credit for the good things they have done. You do also, don’t you? Don’t you want God to see and remember the good that you do, and not the bad, and even acknowledge you for it? Well, what better work could you do than be involved in bringing all righteousness – all that is good; all that is holy; even eternal life itself – to others? Boast of Holy Baptism! It is God’s work of joining Christ to sinners and changing their lives forever! There is no greater work.

Strive to live it out, also. Jesus tells us that baptism isn’t just a one-time event that is of little consequence afterward. It is a fulfilling; a constant work. This is seen in your life when you struggle against sin. The apostle Paul says, “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.” And so, “How can we who died to sin still live in it?” Turn from it! Every time you feel guilty because of what you have done, or even because of your thoughts; every time you then confess your sins and receive Christ’s forgiveness; every time you think about what God would have you do and follow that, instead of what others would like you to do; you are living out your baptism. You are living out Christ’s baptism. Jesus is at work in you, and your Father in heaven is pleased!

Your baptism was your inaugural. It was God’s inaugural address spoken over you. By it God joined you to Jesus and inaugurated you into His righteous life; into His eternal life of goodness and joy. Of course, you haven’t seen the fulfillment of it yet. In fact, when you are struggling with sin and guilt and feeling like you are not much of a Christian you may wonder if you will ever see it at all. Your baptism may seem to have been of little consequence. At such times especially, look to Jesus and His baptism at the hands of John, the baptism which was the same as everyone else’s and in which He joined Himself to sinners. Take to heart His words, “it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Jesus did not only speak them to John. He spoke them to you, for He caused them to be written down for you to hear and ponder and take to heart. “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights,” God says. “Blessèd are all who take refuge in him!”  Yes, blessed now and forever! In the holy name of Jesus. Amen.