For thirty years Jesus, Son of Mary and Joseph, was obedient to His earthly parents. His life was an amazing journey so far. His birth foretold by prophets, announced by angels, and witnessed by shepherds. His presentation in the temple attested by Simeon and Anna that Jesus was indeed Messiah, the consolation of Israel. He spent some of His life in Egypt, waiting for Herod to die after the king had all male children under the age of two slaughtered in order to do away with this so-called great pretender to the throne. Instead of making His home in Bethlehem or even Jerusalem, His parents head to Nazareth. There He learns the carpentry trade and helps His earthly father in his shop.
Everything changes for our Lord and for us one day when Jesus presents Himself to John the Baptist at the Jordan River. No longer is He the carpenter’s Son Whose hands are familiar with the plane and the lathe. Here is the Christ, the Son of God, uniting Himself with sinners like John, like you, and like me. He Who has no sin is baptized with water for repentance. He Who need not confess a sin, by virtue of His going to the Jordan and being baptized, confesses, as it were, for every sin of every sinner.
In all of these things, Jesus Christ was, and is, holy and pure. That’s what mystifies John. John tells Jesus, I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me? All the holy acts in our Lord’s life up to this point were unnecessary. Jesus didn’t need to be circumcised. Yet He sheds blood on His eighth day apart from the womb and receives the name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins. Jesus didn’t need to be presented in the temple in order to be bought back for the price of birds. Nevertheless, there He is, presented to the Lord and redeemed in order that He may redeem us from sin and death in His shedding of blood upon the cross.
So why go through the motions of being baptized? Why not take up the mantle of John and start baptizing people right then and there? If Jesus simply stays put and continues the ministry of John, then Jesus is not able to equate Himself with sinners. He will not fulfill all righteousness. That’s what Jesus tells John. Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness. That’s all it took. John consented.
Jesus is more than happy to step into our place of unrighteousness to fulfill all righteousness for us. When Jesus says, Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness, He is ready to begin the work of our redemption from Satan and from eternal death. We are witnessing, as it were, Jesus’ inauguration into the office of Savior. The office was already His for many centuries before this moment. Even at His birth the Son of Mary and Joseph was also the Savior. Now, though, His work on our behalf begins in earnest.
You might think it would be better for Jesus to have a lavish ceremony with pomp, circumstance, ruffles, flourishes, and a big parade, capped off by a dinner and dance. These events befit a leader, even a Savior. Jesus has none of that stuff. He has an encounter with a prophet who balks at the notion of baptizing Him. Nevertheless, because this event fulfills all righteousness, John lets it happen. Then comes the pomp, although not the inaugural pomp we’re used to seeing once every four years.
A voice from heaven and a dove descending from heaven follows our Lord’s baptism. The voice says, This is My beloved Son, with Whom I am well pleased. Our Father in heaven is happy with Jesus. This event doesn’t humiliate His Father. He is well pleased to see His Son begin the journey to Golgotha, to the tomb, and out of the tomb to His ascension into heaven. This is a happy occasion! Jesus is our Brother. What He goes through on our behalf makes us receivers of what He wins for us. We have forgiveness in Jesus. We have life in Jesus.
You might think then that baptism should be replaced with much pomp and flourish. After all, if we believe that Jesus has been baptized in order to begin the work of our salvation, it would be better to celebrate Jesus’ baptism than our own baptism. Martin Luther drives at that notion in today’s Chief Hymn when he writes: “All that the mortal eye beholds/Is water as we pour it.” No big deal. Just water. There’s not much to celebrate in pouring water over someone’s head. It would be better to celebrate our Lord’s baptism than ours.
Luther continues: “Before the eye of faith unfolds/The power of Jesus’ merit. For here it sees the crimson flood/To all our ills bring healing;/The wonders of His precious blood/The love of God revealing,/Assuring His own pardon.” If you’re going to make a big deal of our Jesus’ baptism, then make a big deal out of your own baptism, or anyone else’s baptism, even if they don’t make a big deal out of baptism.
Jesus makes a big deal out of baptism. Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. Peter makes a big deal out of baptism. Baptism now saves you. Where the Gospel is preached, faith is kindled and fostered. Then comes baptism. That includes little children and infants, too, because Jesus has what they need. Baptism is good for all ages, especially children. The crimson flood, as Luther calls it, flows over them, forgiving sins and clothing them in Christ’s righteousness.
Today we rejoice that Jesus didn’t shirk His vocation as Savior of sinners. The voice from heaven and the dove on His shoulder confirm our joy. Jesus is the Father’s beloved Son. You are His beloved child. He is well pleased with Jesus. He is also well pleased with you, for you are God’s own child…a child of Paradise.