“Who do you think you are?” It’s a rhetorical question. We ask it all the time. If you have children, you’ll ask it more than you care to ask it. If you’ve been wronged in some way, you might ask it to someone’s face. It’s a question usually asked in exasperation. When we ask a child who they think they are, the occasion is when they say or do something that is the last straw. Same for the person who has wronged you. We know who they are. They know who they are? Yet it seems that the other person has lost their identity along the way. Who we thought they were is no longer the case.
Let’s ask the question in the non-rhetorical sense. Who do you think you are? You have a name. When a woman marries a man, the woman usually changes her name to the man’s last name. Some people may not like the name their parents gave them. They go through a legal process to change their name. Even if the name is changed, the person remains the same. It’s not as if they have gone through a change that has made them a completely different person.
Yet because of your baptism you are a completely different person. Once you were in darkness. Now you are a child of the Light from above. Once you were dead. Now you are alive. Once your identity was outside of Christ. Now you are in Christ, and Christ is in you. No one notices the change in identity because you remain the same ol’ you on the outside. Before God, however, you are a different person because you have been incorporated into the Vine of righteousness. You can actually answer the question, “Who do you think you are?” with the answer, “God’s own child, that’s who.”
Who did Jesus think He was when He came to John the Baptist and asked to be baptized? John is right to ask, I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me? The shoe needs to be on the other foot. John is the sinner. Jesus is the sinless Lamb of God. Jesus should take up baptizing in John’s place with John being the first one in line.
Perhaps you, like John, question our Lord’s request for baptism. It’s nonsense. Submitting to something unnecessary embarrasses both Jesus and John. The scene seems to be made worse when Jesus answers John’s statement with His permission: Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness. All righteousness is fulfilled in Christ. He doesn’t need to be baptized. Why doesn’t Jesus choose another way to fulfill righteousness?
It’s as if we don’t want to see our Lord as both divine and human. We’d rather He keep His distance and not come near us sinners. A wave of the hand, maybe a little stage smoke and mirrors, that would be a better way to get the job done. It could look Hollywood enough to sway even the most hard-boiled agnostic.
Jesus doesn’t change form when He is baptized. He’s still the same ol’ Jesus we know and love. There’s no change in Him, for He is holy and perfect. His baptism inaugurates His ministry among us. He was always one of us according to the flesh, yet without sin. Here and now is where our Lord begins His march to declare the world righteous in His innocent suffering and death. All that is ours becomes His as John pours water over His head in the Jordan River. The Father attests that Jesus is His only-begotten Son in the voice from heaven. The Holy Spirit descends in the form of a dove. The Christ comes to bring peace between God and man. He alone is able to do it not for His own sake, but for ours.
In your baptism Christ is put on you, and you are put into Christ. That’s a unique way of putting it, but it’s true. Outside of Jesus you are a dead branch. Yet when He picks you up and grafts you into the Vine of righteousness, you live. You are a rusty can. You aren’t worth much. But to our Savior, you are precious. He takes His trash stick, pokes it right into you, and puts you into His bag. He doesn’t take you to the recycling center for scrap. He keeps you close to Him by applying His Word of life in your ears and feeding you with this Word under bread and wine. All His righteousness is yours, too; every last drop of it.
That blessed day when you were buried in the watery grave of baptism, you arose from the font a new creation. Baptism is a picture of death and resurrection. Now because you are baptized into Christ, you have no fear of death. You have died to sin because Christ has died to sin for your sake. As a new creation, you are reborn in the image of God, zealous to love both God and your neighbor with open hands and hearts. The Spirit descends in the Word of Christ heard in preaching and the sacraments, keeping you close to Jesus in the forgiveness of sins. The Father declares you to be worthy of eternal life because of Jesus.
Who do you think you are? In baptism you are good enough for God because of Jesus’ work upon you. You are put into His blood and His righteousness. His royal robe put on you covers every blemish of sin. You live in the Vine of righteousness, flourishing where He plants you, and given to do the good things He gives you to do in your many callings. Whatever your name, wherever you’re from, whomever you look like, you are a child of paradise because of what was done to you that blessed day when God’s name was poured over you with water and God’s Word. All righteousness is fulfilled in you because Christ fulfilled all righteousness for you. What the prophet Isaiah says about the Christ is also said about you: Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights.