The Baptism of Our Lord, 2019
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt
In the first two chapters of his account of the gospel, St. Matthew records details that describe Jesus as the Christ (or Messiah), as the Almighty King, and as the promised Son of David.
Introducing his account of the gospel, St. Matthew begins: “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Matthew 1:1).
In the genealogy of Jesus, St. Matthew includes “Boaz the father of Obed the father of Jesse the father of David the king” (cf. Matthew 1:5-6).
In the account of the birth of Jesus the Christ, St. Matthew connects Jesus to David the king with these words from an angel of the Lord: “Joseph, son of David…” (Matthew 1:20).
In the visit of the magi, in the presence of Herod the king, the magi ask, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him” (Matthew 2:2).
And, of course, there is a working contrast here, in that, “when Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him” (Matthew 2:3).
This is how St. Matthew begins his account of the gospel. He describes accurately the events that have occurred, but he also tells us what to expect from Jesus.
Now, two-thousand years later, we’re used to calling Jesus king and God and Lord, but this was still new to St. Matthew and his audience.
So imagine not knowing what you know about Jesus and reading the first two chapters of the gospel according to St. Matthew.
The expectation is set for Jesus to be royal—of the house and lineage of David, born King of the Jews, promised from of old, hailed by signs in the stars.
So Jesus will be King.
Add, on top of that, the natural comparison of Jesus with Herod, the troubler of Jerusalem, and the question we arrive at is this: will Jesus be a good king?
The account of Jesus’ baptism in Matthew chapter three shows us that He will.
First, Jesus comes specifically to be baptized by John.
John, as St. Matthew records, “came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ …Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins” (Matthew 3:1-2, 5).
Knowing who Jesus is, knowing that his baptism is for repentance and that Jesus doesn’t have any sins to confess, and knowing that there is one greater than he coming to baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire, “John would have prevented [Jesus], saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’” (Matthew 3:11).
Then, Jesus says something strange.
“Jesus answered [John], ‘Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then [John] consented” (Matthew 3:15).
We—today—expect Jesus to say only that it is necessary for Jesus to be baptized so He and He alone can fulfill all righteousness.
We—Lutherans—are very good at knowing and confessing that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, revealed in Scripture alone.
And—or But—Jesus says, basically, “Stand aside, John, and baptize me, for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”
To redeem those under the Law, Jesus must submit to the Law’s demands. He’s not a sinner, but He’s treated as one—so that we, sinners all, may be treated as He truly was and is.
Or, if it helps to think of it this way, Jesus’ baptism is different than the baptism we received in this way:
When you were baptized, you were prepared to receive eternal life. The Holy Spirit was poured out upon you in the washing of regeneration (cf. Titus 3).
You were, at your baptism, in not so many words, saved.
But Jesus, at His baptism, was prepared to receive the sin of the world. He doesn’t yet receive the Holy Spirit, that’s immediately after He went up from the water (cf. Matthew 3:16). In His Baptism, Jesus it set apart, marked as the Redeemer of the world, identified by John as the King who is at hand.
In any case, it’s a strange thing that Jesus says, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15).
It reminds of Aslan in C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe when they’re assembling for the battle with the White Witch, and Aslan says, “We lions will be in the front.”
Another lion begins to excitedly whisper to anyone who will hear, “Did you hear what he said? He said, “We lions.”
Aslan is a very Christ-like figure.
It’s very strange for us to consider that Jesus would include anyone else in “fulfilling all righteousness” but He includes John the Baptizer and all Christians.
Any time you teach the faith, to your children, friends, or family, any time you share the gospel by telling someone of the forgiveness of sins earned by Christ on the Cross and given freely in His Word proclaimed, any time you forgive the sins of others, according to your office, you are, with Christ, fulfilling all righteousness.
Did you hear what He said? He said, “We lions…”
Jesus includes you in the plan for the salvation of the world. John the Baptizer’s responsibility was the Baptize the Eternal Son of God.
Mother Mary had the privilege and responsibility of bearing the Christ-child and raising Him.
We have the responsibility of living our faith—but not in fear of a Jesus like Herod, the troubler of Jerusalem.
Our King, our Jesus, is a good king.
“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 3:16-17).
The visual descent of the Holy Spirit onto Jesus, confirms Him, anoints Him, sets Him apart as the Christ.
But Jesus is more than the Christ, more than the King.
He’s a good son.
That our Heavenly Father is well pleased with Jesus has limitless implications.
The eternal Son of God, your Christ, your Lord, is good.
For what ailment is the gospel not a cure?
What grudge is not abrogated when both parties rejoice in the universal forgiveness of sins?
Whose conscience is not set free when the power of God unto salvation is announced and given plainly, freely, for the sake of Jesus?
What slander can truly harm you when our Lord endured blasphemous slander—and He was truly innocent of all accusations—and yet He remained silent?
What death can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord?
We are sure, as St. Paul is, “that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).
There is no ailment for which the gospel is not a cure.
All our problems, from the paltry and picayune to the peculiar and powerful, Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Almighty King, and the Son of David.
But we would all be lost if He were not good.
And He is good.
With Him—and with all those who believe in Him—our Heavenly Father is well pleased.
In Jesus’ name, Amen!