Monday, January 13, 2014

Sermon on Matthew 3:13-17, The Baptism of Our Lord, "Stands in the sinner's place"

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The Baptism of Jesus marks the public beginnings of Jesus’ earthly ministry. In Jesus’ baptism, His identity is first publicly revealed. Let’s read back just a few verses earlier, to get the context from Matthew 3, starting at verse 11:
“I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” Then 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.” Then he consented. 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; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”” (Matthew 3:11–17, ESV)

John the Baptist proclaimed Jesus as the mightier One, whose sandals he was not worthy to untie. John put the fear of God in people by proclaiming the judgment of their sins; calling them to turn sincerely in repentance to God. John targeted and exposed the hypocrisy of those who came to him for the baptism of repentance, but who harbored evil thoughts or intentions in their heart. He called them to show the fruits of repentance in their lives. John trail blazed the way for Jesus, and many people entered those waters of repentance, confessed their sins, and were baptized. John laid down the law to make way for the Gospel, the good news.
But did John ever imagine that next in line to be baptized, in his busy Jordan River ministry, would stand Jesus, that very Mightier One, whose sandals he dare not touch? That Jesus would stand in the long line of sinners before and after Him, and go into the water for a sinner’s baptism? That Jesus would submit to John’s baptism, rather than the other way around? Not at all. John was thrown completely off-guard. First, he knew Jesus was the Promised Christ, and was sinless. Jesus didn’t even have any sins to confess! John even announced Jesus as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”, when he saw Jesus approaching. And secondly, John tells Jesus, “Wait! I’m the one who needs to be baptized by you!” John was aware of his own sin, and how could he baptize Jesus?
Everyone baptized before and after Jesus was a sinner—but this one anomaly, this One Man stood innocent in those waters. And John is flabbergasted, and doesn’t know what to do. Until Jesus instructs him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. John didn’t understand yet, but this was part of God’s plan to fulfill all righteousness. What does that mean? What was Jesus doing in those waters of repentance? Why was He being baptized, if He had no sins to confess? Let’s ask some parallel questions first, that all have the same answer. Why was Jesus circumcised and dedicated at the Temple? Why did Mary and Joseph offer sacrifices for purification after His birth? Why did He observe the Passover and other feasts? Why did He keep the Sabbath? Why did He obey every command of God, though He was God in human flesh? And most importantly, what was Jesus doing on the cross? The answer to all of these questions is the same.
In the words of Galatians 4, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” (Galatians 4:4–5, ESV) Jesus is there for us! He obeys the law for us. In Jesus’ own words, He fulfills all righteousness. He lived under the law voluntarily, but obediently, for us! Why? To redeem us! He’s in the waters of repentance, the waters of baptism, for us! He’s on the cross, suffering, bleeding, dying, for us!
But what about the law needed to be kept in baptism? John’s baptism was a “baptism of repentance, for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4). The baptism we receive today, the Baptism of Jesus is that, but more. Jesus’ baptism succeeds John’s—it includes the repenting and the washing, but brings us more than John’s baptism. We know from Acts 19, where some disciples of John the Baptist, who had somehow not heard all of Jesus’ works and teachings, including the teaching of the Holy Spirit, were baptized in the name of Jesus, to receive the Spirit. This is the only instance of a “rebaptism” recorded in Scripture, and since no one living has received the baptism of John, it remains a unique historical event, rather than a pattern for us to follow. Baptized once into Jesus, into the Triune name of God, we’re baptized—with no need for repeats. But baptism, whether of Jesus, or of John, always includes repentance.
So what’s missing in our repentance, that required Jesus to be baptized, and so fulfill all righteousness for us? The same thing that is lacking in all our keeping of God’s law—total and perfect obedience. Repentance is turning around, or turning away from our sin. It’s doing an “about-face” to turn from sin and face God. But facing God can be a pretty terrifying thing if we really own up to our sins! Doubtless there were many who were shook up in their sins when they heard the preaching of John, that the ax was at the root of the tree, and that the fires of judgment waited for the wicked. But Scripture also tells us, that facing God, when we have confessed our sins, is not to face anger and rejection, but to face the faithful and just God, who cleanses us from our sins and purifies us from all unrighteousness. God doesn’t turn us to Him in repentance so that He can turn away from us—but in the words of the prophet Zechariah, “Return to me, says the Lord of hosts, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts.” (Zechariah 1:3, ESV) God turns us to Him so He will return to us. God does this so we can face His gracious and merciful face, and receive His forgiveness!
But our repentance, like our obedience is inevitably incomplete, half-hearted or insincere. We can hardly measure the true guilt of our own sin, and the distance it places between us and God. If we had our way, we’d want God to just “get over it” and accept our sin. We minimize, excuse, or pass the blame for our sin. But God has a much more ambitious plan for our lives than our weak repentance imagines, and God takes a far more serious view of sin. God’s plan, as we heard from Romans 6, is for us to “die to sin” in our baptism. To be buried with Christ by baptism into death, and to walk in newness of life with Him. His plan is for our old self to be crucified with Him, for our body of sin to be brought to nothing. God is plainly determined to drown, extinguish, and crucify that old body of sin in us, and then to set us free from sin! To raise us to a life we that we live to God, and not to ourselves or our sin.
And for this, God needs our true repentance. A repentance better than even we can offer. A total and complete forsaking of our sin. Not a half-hearted repentance, that has in mind to go right back to sinning. Not a plan to sin now and repent later. Not giving up on trying because its hard and we keep struggling. Not finding someone who you think is worse so you can say, “At least I’m better than them!” Not thinking we can continue in sin so grace may abound. By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it!
And just when we despair of producing true repentance on our own, Jesus stands in the water with sinners to do what we are unable to do. He’s in the waters of repentance so that He can perfectly repent of our sins, perfecting our repentance. Jesus gives you true repentance so that He can turn you back to God. To the gracious and merciful God who has forgiven all your sins precisely for Jesus’ sake. He gives you true repentance to bring you to His true joy and good news, of knowing all that Jesus has done for you.
Jesus’ whole life and ministry was one of standing in the sinner’s place, doing what we by our weakness are unable to do. He’s obedient to God’s law so He can perfectly obey, perfecting our obedience. He suffers on the cross so He can assume all the guilt and judgment of sin, so that we might have His perfect righteousness. “He undertakes a great exchange, puts on our human frame, and in return gives us His realm, His glory, and His name” (LSB 389:4). He rises from His empty tomb that our tomb may be empty on the day of our resurrection, when He returns in all His glory to judge the living and the dead. And this death and resurrection, this dying and rising is yours in baptism because it joins you to His death and resurrection.
So fast forward to your own baptism, Jesus has joined Himself to you, with all His perfect life of obedience, perfect suffering and death, for you. You’re joined to His dying and rising, so your old sinful nature dies with Him, and the new spiritual nature is raised with Him to live a new life dedicated to God. We will continue to war and struggle against sin and temptation, but the good news is that our salvation and success do not depend on us, but on Jesus’ whole-hearted and perfectly obedient life. And God gives His explicit stamp of approval on Jesus, and what He does for us, in the words, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” God is well pleased that Jesus accomplishes all righteousness for us, and when we stand in Jesus Christ, baptized and clothed with Him, God is well pleased with us, His children also. And He sends His Spirit into our lives through baptism, to daily renew and strengthen us, perfecting us little by little, granting us true repentance, and leading us into obedience. Day by day He conforms us to the image of His Son, Jesus (Rom. 8:29). So baptized into Christ Jesus, we already have the life we need, the Life of Jesus Christ, who stands in the sinner’s place. In His name, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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1.      How is Jesus identified in His baptism (His first public act, inaugurating His ministry)? John 1:29; Matthew 3:11-12; 17. How did John recognize his own sin and unworthiness in relation to Jesus?

2.      Why was John surprised that Jesus wanted to be baptized by him? 2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 2:22; Hebrews 4:15

3.      Why did Jesus enter the waters of a sinner’s baptism? Why is this question parallel to why Jesus’ parents made the offerings of the law for Him; why He observed the feasts and Sabbaths; why He died on the cross in our place? Galatians 4:4-5; 2 Corinthians 5:21

4.      What was different between John’s and Jesus’ baptism? What was the same? Mark 1:4, 14-15; Luke 24:46-47; Acts 19:1-7. Why does the Acts 19 passage not set up any precedent for rebaptism? Cf. Ephesian 4:4-6

5.      When we repent, we “turn around” or “turn away” from our sin, how does God receive us? Zechariah 1:3; 1 John 1:8-9.

6.      What are some examples of our incomplete, half-hearted, or insincere repentance? What is God’s intent for transforming us in baptism? Romans 6; Galatians 6:14; Romans 8:29.

7.      How does Jesus stand in our place, to do what we are unable to do? How was Jesus our perfect substitute in everything? How does God give His stamp of approval to Jesus’ life lived in our place? Matthew 3:17; 17:5.

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