170115 Matthew 3:13-17

Last Updated on Sunday, 15 January 2017 Written by Pastor Pagels

Text: Matthew 3:13-17
Theme: The Baptism Of Our Lord: A Day To Remember

On Thursday morning St. Matthew's three and four-year-old preschool class went on a little field trip. They didn't visit the Octagon House in Watertown, and they didn't go to Discovery World in downtown Milwaukee. There was no need for a bus or chaperones because this short field trip took them right up here, to the baptismal font in the front of the church.

About this time every year I like to talk to the youngest students at St. Matthew's about baptism, and every year I begin my presentation with a question: How many of you know when your birthday is? When I asked that question on Thursday, hands shot up all over the place because just about all the students knew when they were born.

But then I followed up with another question: How many of you know when you were baptized? There weren't very many hands this time. Instead I saw quite a few confused looks because most of the students had no idea. For homework I suggested that they ask their parents to show them their baptismal certificate because that piece of paper would give them the date, and it would give them the opportunity to talk about the importance of that day.

The day of his baptism was also an important day in the life of Jesus. We don't know exactly when Jesus was baptized, but the Christian church celebrates it every year on the first Sunday after Epiphany. Because of what took place on the banks of the Jordan that day, and because of what those events mean for our lives today, there is no doubt that....


I. The Son made a unique request
II. The Spirit made a special appearance
III. The Father made a bold declaration

If you have ever wondered why Jesus wanted to be baptized in the first place, you aren't the only one. When Jesus approached John with this request, John was surprised. John was surprised because he preached a baptism of repentance. And as far as he was concerned, Jesus didn't need to repent.

Perhaps an illustration will help us understand John's predicament. How would you feel if Aaron Rodgers asked you for some help reading NFL defenses? Or how would you feel if Bill Gates wanted your advice about computer software? You get the idea.

The way John saw it, he wasn't at all qualified to do what Jesus was asking him to do. That is why he was so reluctant. That is why he tried to change Jesus' mind. That is why he said: "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me" (14)?

Jesus, however, was on a divine mission, and no one, not even John, was going to stand in his way. He replied: "Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness" (15). Notice that Jesus didn't say: "John, you've got it all wrong" because in a sense John was right. Of the two men who stood face-to-face on the banks of the Jordan, John was the sinner. John was the one who needed to repent. John was the one in need of God's forgiveness. And that is exactly what Jesus came to bring.

The challenge for us is to understand Jesus' baptism in the light of Jesus' words. Some will say that Jesus asked to be baptized because it was his Father's will. This is true, but there's more. Others will say that Jesus wanted to be baptized to give us a good example to follow. Again this is true, but there's more.

Jesus didn't need to be baptized for the same reason we do, but it was the proper thing to do and it was the proper time to do it to "fulfill all righteousness." The Son of God had been fulfilling the righteous demands of the law since the day he was born. For thirty years he had been perfectly obedient to his parents and superiors. For thirty years he had done everything God's law required.

But Jesus' life was about to change. The events of this day thrust Jesus into the public eye. Over the course of the next three years some hailed him as the Lord. Others called him a liar. Still others dismissed him as a lunatic. His enemies attacked him and arrested him, and even though he had done nothing wrong they eventually executed him.

And the amazing thing is that Jesus let it all happen. The sinless Son of God willingly obeyed his Father, and he willingly suffered and died to "to fulfill all righteousness." And Jesus' march to Jerusalem began on the banks of the Jordan River when he was baptized by John.

Before we talk any more about the event itself, there is one matter that still needs to be cleared up. If Jesus came to earth to "fulfill all righteousness," the implication is that there are others who have left God's righteous demands unfulfilled. So who has fallen short? Who is guilty? Who is to blame?

You might not want to hear the apostle Paul's answer: "There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one" (Romans 3:10-12).

Paul's words could not be more clear. No one is righteous. No one is blameless. There is no one who does good, not even one. Our sins made it necessary for Jesus to leave his Father's side. Our sins were loaded onto his shoulders when he carried them to the cross. Because of our sins we desperately need a Savior. Because of our sins we need the saving waters of baptism, and that is why the baptism of Jesus is so important to us.

"God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Corinthians 5:21). Jesus wasn't baptized for his own sins because he didn't have any. By his baptism a sinless God identified himself with sinful people. Jesus was born and baptized and lived and died and rose again so that we might be declared righteous in the eyes of God, so that we might have the forgiveness of sins and life and salvation, all the blessings the Lord showers on us in the sacrament of Holy Baptism.

Unless you recently welcomed a new baby into your family, there is a good chance that you haven't walked up these steps in a while. And from where most of you are sitting this morning, it isn't very easy to make out the exact shape of the baptismal font. I can tell you that the font has eight sides, but that doesn't make it unique. Lots of baptismal fonts have eight sides, but do you know why?

The eight sides of the font represent the eight people whose lives were saved in the ark. While it is true that the Lord used a worldwide flood to execute his divine judgment, he used the same flood waters to lift Noah and his family to safety. So in a sense the flood saved the people in the ark. The apostle Peter connects this idea with baptism when he writes: "In it (the ark) only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also" (1 Peter 3:20, 21).

The font is where the water and the Word come together. The font is where the Lord uses the water of baptism to wash away sin. The font is where the Holy Spirit takes a little child and makes that child God's child. And the same Spirit made his presence known at Jesus' baptism on the banks of the Jordan: "As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him" (16).

The Holy Spirit's appearance was an important moment for John the Baptist. It was the Lord's way of telling John who Jesus was and what Jesus had come to do (see John 1:32,33). But as significant as the Spirit's appearance was for the Baptist, it held even greater significance for the one who was baptized. As Jesus prepared to embark on his public ministry, as he looked ahead at the difficult path that lay before him, it was encouraging for him to know that he was not alone. God was with him, and God's Spirit rested on him.

But the Spirit didn't descend only to encourage Jesus. He also came down to equip him. Jesus knew that when he went up out of the water. Jesus knew that when unrolled the scroll of the prophet Isaiah and proclaimed: "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor" (Luke 4:18,19). Jesus understood that when he rolled up the scroll and declared: "Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing" (Luke 4:21).

The Holy Spirit anointed Jesus at the very beginning of his public ministry. And as Jesus set out to carry out his divine mission, a voice from heaven made this bold declaration: "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased" (17).

Most sons want to make their dads proud, so Jesus was probably very happy to hear that his heavenly Father was pleased with him. And God's declaration, "This is my Son," reminded Jesus that he enjoyed an intimate relationship with his heavenly Father. But perhaps the Father's most meaningful words can be found right in the middle, when God said: "This is my Son, whom I love."

God loved Jesus more than any human parent could ever love a child because God is love. But if God loved Jesus so much, then why did he send him to his death? Why did a loving Father sacrifice his one and only Son? Because God also loves you. Because God so loved the world... Because "this is love: "not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins" (1 John 4:10).

"This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased" (17). This is a message that bears repeating. This is a message that God did repeat on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 17:5). This is a message that God's Son carried to its final conclusion on Mount Calvary. There Jesus demonstrated his unwavering love for his Father by obeying his will. There Jesus demonstrated his undying love for sinners by sacrificing himself on the cross.

The baptism of our Lord is filled with memorable moments. For the rest of his life John remembered the day when he was privileged to baptize Jesus. For the rest of his earthly ministry Jesus remembered how the Holy Spirit descended on him in the form of a dove. Both John and Jesus remembered seeing the heavens opened and hearing the Father's voice.

We weren't there, but for Christians the baptism of our Lord is still a day to remember. We celebrate this special festival every year for good reason, really for two good reasons, to remember the events of Jesus' baptism and to rejoice in the blessings of our own baptism. Amen.

Our Mission Statement:

Compelled by the love of Christ, St. Matthew’s Evangelical Lutheran Church and School seek to reach out to our families, community and world, using Law and Gospel to make disciples, growing and nurturing them in their Christian faith and life.


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