Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Matthew 3:13-4:1 13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16 And 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; 17 and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
Every Gospel reading has two parts. First it tells us who Christ is, and second it gives us a spiritual lesson for all believers.
Today our Gospel writer tells us about the baptism of our Lord. The baptism of Jesus was like this: Jesus came from Galilee to be baptized by John. Take note, He came from Galilee. Now this is an astonishing thing. In this little word, from Galilee, we know everything we need to know about Jesus. The King of the Jews? The Son of God? The ruler of the universe? The creator of all things visible and invisible? Coming from Galilee? Nothing good comes from Galilee. Especially from the despised, worthless Galilean town of Nazareth. It was the Apostle Nathaniel who said of Jesus, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” The Jews from Galilee were the lower-class Jews. They were an uneducated, backwards people. They spoke funny. They had a distinctive accent which exposed Peter as a disciple of Jesus at his trial in the home of the high priest. The respectable Jews were the ones from Jerusalem and Judea, the upper class, the rulers, the powerful, the leaders of the church, and they looked down on those from Galilee.
But Jesus came from Galilee. He lived a life of humility. He chose to be one of the outcast, the lowly, the despised, the poor. He chose to be one of us. Normal people. People of low estate. Not rulers, nor kings, nor celebrities. Not wealthy, high-society, learned scholars. But the people of Galilee. This is a great comfort to us who were born in sin, who were rejected by God in the Garden of Eden, that Jesus came not to lord it over us, to rule us with a sword. Not to conquer and subjugate us. Not to condemn us and give us the punishment our sin deserves, but he comes to us as a lowly servant, in meekness and humility to be our Savior. He came to do his Father’s pleasure in complete obedience. He came as one of us, to be our brother in flesh and blood, to suffer and be tempted in all things just as we are tempted, and to bear our sin and carry our sorrow. He was meek and gentle, riding upon a donkey, stooping down to wash our feet, carrying a cross on his back. A smoldering flax he would not quench. Rather, He was crushed for our iniquity, a man of sorrow and grief. A man upon whom God placed all our sin and guilt and who bore the punishment of death for us. And by his stripes we are healed.
Jesus came to John to be baptized by John, but John prevented him. Here we see another example of the humility of faith. How easy it would have been for John to become proud and puffed up. What a great honor and tribute that the Son of God come to him for baptism. John could have thought in his mind, “What a great preacher I must be that even the Son of God comes to me for pastoral care!” Or he could have said, “What good and marvelous deeds I have done to merit such a great honor!”
But the answer is No! John took no honor for himself. He desired no title. He shunned fame and renown. Rather John said within himself, “I am a man unworthy of any honor or recognition from Jesus. I am like the unworthy servants who have only done what was required, therefore I don’t deserve even a word of thanks for my service. I have no merit that I should be considered worthy of any honor from Jesus.” That is a fine example to us all of the humility of the true believer in Christ. He admitted that he wasn’t worthy even to be Jesus’ slave who unties the sandals of Jesus feet. Accordingly, John tried to prevent Jesus from coming to him and said, “No Lord, I am the one who needs to be baptized by you.”
But Jesus answered, “Let it be so for now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” As if to say, “I have come to do my Father’s will. I must obey my Father. For only by my obedience shall righteousness be completed.” For I have come to make you righteous in the eyes of my Father. I have come to save you from the anger of God which his hot, fiery breath is breathing down your neck. I have come to deliver you from the punishment of God. The law must be fulfilled. All God’s commands must be kept for him not to annihilate you with his justice.
Then John understood. He understood that Jesus had come to be his righteousness, to bestow righteousness upon him, to be his Savior from sin. John needed and wanted this righteousness, therefore, he consented and obeyed Jesus’ command.
And when Jesus came up out of the water three marvelous things happened. God uses the word, “Behold!” Behold. Pay attention. This is important. Don’t miss this, but be sure you see and understand this.
First, the heavens were opened to him. The doors of heaven opened up wide. Heaven which had been sealed to all mankind since God expelled Adam and Eve from the Garden, had now opened its doors once again.
Second, Jesus saw the Spirit of God descending from heaven like a dove. Father, Son and Holy Spirit were all three present at the baptism of Jesus. The Spirit was poured out upon Jesus and came and stayed upon him, until his death when Jesus handed the Spirit back to his Father. Jesus, the Christ, the anointed one, had just been anointed with the Spirit of God, who dwelt within him from then on.
Third, a voice came from heaven, that said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am will pleased.” A voice. God had spoken. Behold! Pay attention to every word that comes from the mouth of God. He declares that Jesus was his Son and that he was well pleased with Him. Well pleased because he was faithful in carrying out his commands and fulfilling all that he sent him to do.
What is the spiritual meaning of this Gospel for us today? It is this. God says behold. This is crucial for us. Behold. But when we behold our baptism all our eyes of flesh see is water being poured out. Simple water straight out of the tap. Nothing special. Not some high and lofty water, but plain, simple water, a poor and lowly thing indeed, just as Jesus was a simple, plain, ordinary man from Galilee.
But the eyes of faith see three of the greatest marvels. First, they see the heavens opened up. To those without such faith, the heavens are sealed shut. The wrath of God burns hot against them. God has cast them out of his heaven and closed the gates. Like Adam and Eve when they sinned, an angel has been placed at the door to make sure no one enters in. Those who do not heed these words of God, have no hope, no salvation, but only the eternal, never ending fire of the bottomless pit as their final destiny.
But to those who pay heed to God’s word and see these things with the eyes of faith, the heavens are opened wide, and the Angel of the Lord ushers us into the kingdom of God through the cross of Jesus. For by his death all righteousness is fulfilled. By his obedience, the law has been fulfilled and he has become our righteousness. The law of God has been obeyed and there is nothing lacking that must be done. It is finished. Our righteous is won. Our salvation has been accomplished. It is done! The gates of heaven are open to us, we don’t have to open them, we don’t have to wait for something more to be done. It is accomplished.
Second, the Holy Spirit comes to you in baptism. He comes upon you and remains on you. He gives you faith. He opens your eyes of faith to see Jesus as your righteousness. He opens your ears to hear and listen to the word of God spoken from heaven. He molds and changes you, and he does good works of love through you. He is at work to love your neighbor, to serve others in their needs, to humble you, as Jesus and John were humble servants, so he molds you in meekness and clothes you in humility. Not to lord it over others or to take a higher position than others, but to become the servant of all. He is at work through you to spread his Gospel and take his baptism to all nations to make disciples of all peoples.
Third, the Father says, “You are my beloved sons and daughters, in whom I am well pleased.” Again, he uses the word “behold!” Take notice. Take this to heart. He calls you his son or his daughter. In baptism he takes you and makes you his child. He grabs you with his hand and no one can snatch you from the Father’s hand. God is now well pleased with you. No more self-condemnation, self-effacing. Such is to deny God’s word. No more guilt, for Jesus is your righteousness, not what you do, say or feel.
At his baptism, Jesus took from the water your sins, and purified it with his righteousness. At your baptism, your sins were washed off into the water, and the righteousness of Jesus covered you in the water he had purified.
Hear and mark well these words of God. His word is spoken. Let no doubt dwell in you. But woe to those who cast aside the word of God and despise the grace God has so freely given you. Those who do not listen to God’s word and take it to heart by faith, shall in sin and shame abide and be driven in despair. They are born in sin and their works fail them. Their efforts never save them. They are lost forever. Eternal death is their portion.
But the eyes of faith unfold the power of Jesus’ merit. They do not see mere water in baptism, but a crimson flood pouring from the cross of Jesus to heal all your sins and ills and assure you of God’s own forgiveness and pardon. Amen.