When we think of baptism, we often think of our own baptisms or a new baptism in the church. We even reflect on our baptisms in our morning and evening prayers, in the Divine Service, or whenever we make the sign of the cross on ourselves. Yet how often do we think of the Baptism of Jesus? Today we will be looking at just that.
Matthew 3: 13-17
13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. 14 But John would have hindered him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and you come to me?”15 But Jesus, answering, said to him, “Allow it now, for this is the fitting way for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he allowed him.16 Jesus, when he was baptized, went up directly from the water: and behold, the heavens were opened to him. He saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove, and coming on him. 17 Behold, a voice out of the heavens said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
What is Baptism?
The small Catechism explains as such. That Baptism is not simple water only, but it is the water comprehended in God’s command and connected with God’s Word. That Word is where Christ, our Lord, says in the last chapter of Matthew: “Go ye into all the world and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Thus also according to the Word, (Mark 16:16 “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.”) Baptism then works forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.
So, it’s not just water, but water with the Word and it is not our work but God’s work of grace to us by His command. Faith then also trusts such word of God in the water. Baptism, therefore, is a gracious water of life and a washing of regeneration in the Holy Ghost, as is written in Titus, chapter three: “By the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost, which He shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ, our Savior, that, being justified by His grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. This is a faithful saying.”
Thus, baptism, signifies that the old Adam in us should, by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die with all sins and evil lusts, and, again, a new man daily come forth and arise; who shall live before God in righteousness and purity forever. As is written in Romans, chapter 6: “We are buried with Christ by Baptism into death, that, like as He was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.”
Jesus came to be Baptized
So, now that we have discussed what baptism is and does we can look at today’s passages regarding the baptism of Jesus. Jesus came to be baptized. This is an interesting statement. When we stop to ponder why Jesus came to be baptized there are many different conclusions one might come to. There are some who might think that baptism is our own act of obedience and therefore perhaps then Jesus was baptized to set an example for us to follow. This is a fine way to make Jesus into a new Moses. Yet, there isn’t any biblical basis for this notion. In fact we don’t need to discuss all the verses about baptism to know what baptism is or gives. We have it in today’s text. John was giving a baptism of repentance and here comes Jesus to be baptized by John. John, who refused to baptize the Pharisees and Sadducees, is now about to refuse to baptize Jesus.
To Fulfill all Righteousness
He tells Jesus that he needs to be baptized by Jesus and yet Jesus is coming to be baptized by John? Whoa. Why? Why would the sinless one need a baptism? Jesus tells him it is to fulfill all righteousness. Jesus must be baptized as a sinner. The very God Himself takes on a baptism of repentance. Jesus has taken on a sinners baptism to take on the sin of the world and to start his public ministry. The sins that are washed off of us in our baptism are placed on Him at His baptism. He cleaned the baptism waters for us. So that He could call us by name, wash us clean, and place His name on us
The Triune God
The heavens are opened, The Spirit descends on Jesus, and the Father says “This is my Beloved Son in whom I am well pleased”. The Triune God is shown in His entirety. Here stands Jesus with the Spirit upon Him and the Father declaring that Jesus is the Christ, the second Person of the Godhead. What a marvelous display that must have been. There are some connections to be made to Jesus’ baptism and yours. So too with your baptism the heavens open, the Spirit descends upon you, and your righteousness is complete in Christ.
44] Thus we must regard Baptism and make it profitable to ourselves, that when our sins and conscience oppress us, we strengthen ourselves and take comfort and say: Nevertheless I am baptized; but if I am baptized, it is promised me that I shall be saved and have eternal life, both in soul and body.Luther’s Large Catechism
The Means of Grace
As already stated above, Baptism isn’t a work that we do. We don’t baptize ourselves nor do the Holy Scriptures call baptism our work of Obedience. This would make baptism a work that merits God’s grace. Yet, baptism is a means of grace. God in His mercy has given us many means by which he freely gives us His grace. Through the Word and Sacraments. Holy Baptism, Lord’s Supper, and Holy Absolution, all proclaim the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins. The waters of baptism, the body and blood of Christ, and the spoken word of forgiveness all are Gospel promises of your sins forgiven.
Through Christ’s active and passive obedience, He has justified you. Yet, how does what happened 2,000 years ago get to you now? Through the Word. God’s Word tells us all that we need to know. In that Word He gives us faith, the very faith that justifies us. Yet, He also gave us other external means in which we can receive His grace, and they all contain His Word. Today, we are talking about baptism. Baptism is commanded by God for all Christian’s and is a means by which He brings you into His family, much like he old covenant of circumcision, which was a type and shadow of baptism. Yet, it is still by faith that we are saved. Let’s look at a few passages from Luther’s Large Catechism:
21] Thus, and much more even, you must honor Baptism and esteem it glorious on account of the Word, since He Himself has honored it both by words and deeds; moreover, confirmed it with miracles from heaven. For do you think it was a jest that, when Christ was baptized, the heavens were opened and the Holy Ghost descended visibly, and everything was divine glory and majesty?
22] Therefore I exhort again that these two, the water and the Word, by no means be separated from one another and parted. For if the Word is separated from it, the water is the same as that with which the servant cooks, and may indeed be called a bath-keeper’s baptism. But when it is added, as God has ordained, it is a Sacrament, and is called Christ-baptism. Let this be the first part, regarding the essence and dignity of the holy Sacrament.
23] In the second place, since we know now what Baptism is, and how it is to be regarded, we must also learn why and for what purpose it is instituted; that is, what it profits, gives, and works. And this also we cannot discern better than from the words of Christ above quoted: He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved. 24] Therefore state it most simply thus, that the power, work, profit, fruit, and end of Baptism is this, namely, to save. For no one is baptized in order that he may become a prince, but, as the words declare, that he be saved. 25] But to be saved, we know, is nothing else than to be delivered from sin, death, and the devil, and to enter into the kingdom of Christ, and to live with Him forever.
26] Here you see again how highly and precious we should esteem Baptism, because in it we obtain such an unspeakable treasure, which also indicates sufficiently that it cannot be ordinary mere water. For mere water could not do such a thing, but the Word does it, and (as said above) the fact that the name of God is comprehended therein. 27] But where the name of God is, there must be also life and salvation, that it may indeed be called a divine, blessed, fruitful, and gracious water; for by the Word such power is imparted to Baptism that it is a laver of regeneration, as St. Paul also calls it, Titus 3:5.
28] But as our would-be wise, new spirits assert that faith alone saves, and that works and external things avail nothing, we answer: It is true, indeed, that nothing in us is of any avail but faith, as we shall hear still further. 29] But these blind guides are unwilling to see this, namely, that faith must have something which it believes, that is, of which it takes hold, and upon which it stands and rests. Thus faith clings to the water, and believes that it is Baptism, in which there is pure salvation and life; not through the water (as we have sufficiently stated), but through the fact that it is embodied in the Word and institution of God, and the name of God inheres in it. Now, if I believe this, what else is it than believing in God as in Him who has given and planted His Word into this ordinance, and proposes to us this external thing wherein we may apprehend such a treasure?
30] Now, they are so mad as to separate faith, and that to which faith clings and is bound, though it be something external. Yea, it shall and must be something external, that it may be apprehended by the senses, and understood and thereby be brought into the heart, as indeed the entire Gospel is an external, verbal preaching. In short, what God does and works in us He proposes to work through such external ordinances. Wherever, therefore, He speaks, yea, in whichever direction or by whatever means He speaks, thither faith must look, and to that it must hold. 31] Now here we have the words: He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved. To what else do they refer than to Baptism, that is, to the water comprehended in God’s ordinance? Hence it follows that whoever rejects Baptism rejects the Word of God, faith, and Christ, who directs us thither and binds us to Baptism.
32] In the third place, since we have learned the great benefit and power of Baptism, let us see further who is the person that receives what Baptism gives and profits. 33] This is again most beautifully and clearly expressed in the words: He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved. That is, faith alone makes the person worthy to receive profitably the saving, divine water. For, since these blessings are here presented and promised in the words in and with the water, they cannot be received in any other way than by believing them with the heart. 34] Without faith it profits nothing, notwithstanding it is in itself a divine superabundant treasure. Therefore this single word (He that believeth) effects this much that it excludes and repels all works which we can do, in the opinion that we obtain and merit salvation by them. For it is determined that whatever is not faith avails nothing nor receives anything.
35] But if they say, as they are accustomed: Still Baptism is itself a work, and you say works are of no avail for salvation; what, then, becomes of faith? Answer: Yes, our works, indeed, avail nothing for salvation; Baptism, however, is not our work, but God’s (for, as was stated, you must put Christ-baptism far away from a bath-keeper’s baptism). God’s works, however, are saving and necessary for salvation, and do not exclude, but demand, faith; for without faith they could not be apprehended. 36] For by suffering the water to be poured upon you, you have not yet received Baptism in such a manner that it benefits you anything; but it becomes beneficial to you if you have yourself baptized with the thought that this is according to God’s command and ordinance, and besides in God’s name, in order that you may receive in the water the promised salvation. Now, this the fist cannot do, nor the body; but the heart must believe it.
37] Thus you see plainly that there is here no work done by us, but a treasure which He gives us, and which faith apprehends; just as the Lord Jesus Christ upon the cross is not a work, but a treasure comprehended in the Word, and offered to us and received by faith. Therefore they do us violence by exclaiming against us as though we preach against faith; while we alone insist upon it as being of such necessity that without it nothing can be received nor enjoyed.
44] Thus we must regard Baptism and make it profitable to ourselves, that when our sins and conscience oppress us, we strengthen ourselves and take comfort and say: Nevertheless I am baptized; but if I am baptized, it is promised me that I shall be saved and have eternal life, both in soul and body.Luther’s Large Catechism; Baptism
As we see Baptism is a work, but not our own work to God. It is God’s work to us. The same as we read or hear the Word and faith comes, faith is not attributed to our work of reading or hearing, but on the Word itself for the Spirit brings faith through the Word. I find it odd that anyone who insists that baptism is a work we do for God and thus it cant save are the ones that often times want to also say that they are saved by faith yet they take credit for their faith as if it were a work that they do that saves by their “decision” theology; which is nothing other than pelagianism, or a direct rejection of original sin.
Yet, we all have sin. What Jesus did 2,000 years ago has wiped out all of your sin. Yet, it does you no good if you cant receive it. Through God’s grace He has given you His Word and the instituion of Holy Baptism so that your sins may be washed, drowned, and die. That the new man in you, the Spiritual life through faith by the Holy Spirit, can live, being nourished by that external Word, and with the external means of water with that Word. So that, when you sin, when the devil and your conscience beat you down and try their hardest to convict you and whisper all sorts of lies to you. When it is thrown at you that you cannot possibly be a Christian, look at what you have done. You can stand and say, I am baptized. God has called me by name, washed me clean, and has given me His Righteousness. Nothing can separate you from Him (Romans 8). As we part today I want you to know that Jesus, not you, has fulfilled all righteousness. He did this out of such wondrous love for you. May the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus. Go in Peace.