Jesusí Baptism Identifies Him as Godís Son and Gives Us Confidence and Courage
Matthew 3.13-17

Are you a confident person?  Are you confident and firm in your faith in Jesus Christ?  Let me tell you a story to illustrate confidence.  The United Press released a story some years ago about a hospital in the Midwest.  Officials discovered that fire-fighting equipment had never been connected.  For 35 years the hospital had relied on a water hydrant system that had never been connected to the water main.  The pipe went four feet into the ground and stopped short.  They thought that if a blaze broke out there would be a water hose nearby to extinguish it.  But they had a false security.

Many people are confident about different things today.  But not all that confidence is well placed.  This weekend we are celebrating the baptism of Jesus.  In this miracle we are brought face to face with the true and only Son of God.  It was the first of many events that would give people confidence that Jesus is their Savior and Lord.  The Apostle Peter once preached to the disciples in the Book of Acts referring to all that Jesus did "beginning from the baptism of John to that day when He was taken up from us" (1).  Jesusí baptism was an important miracle that gave His mission a start.  It is a miracle that still, when we encounter it in Godís word, encourages us and strengthens our faith.

Make a note that the Devilís effort to undermine our confidence always works first to divert us from Jesus.  Thatís why studying the life of Jesus and the acts of Jesus--not just morals, and "how to's" of a good life are so important.  This kind of teaching and focus is often called "spiritual" today.  But it is more like the hydrant system mentioned above.  Itís not properly connected to the source of salvation.  We want to be connected to Jesus.  He alone is our rock and our salvation (2).  Even good things can begin to take the place of Jesus and undermine confidence.

I donít know how many times I have heard a very unchristian person say, "But let me tell you, ĎI pray everyday.í"  "Yes, you pray to God."  But the real question is, "Do you listen to Him?"  Salvation doesnít come by praying but by hearing.  Sometimes people substitute the church or the school for Jesus.  "Hey, Iím there all the time.  Iím there for games, programs, church mealsÖ  Iíve served on boards and committees."  Friend, let me inform you.  On the day of judgment no one will be asked how often they came to a church building.  They will be asked whether they came to Jesus, believed in Him, and worshiped Him.

It is important that our confidence be placed on the right person.  How do we encounter Christ in His baptism?  And, how does this miracle that we are learning about create or strengthen our confidence in Jesus?  It does so in three ways.  In this miracle there are three people who speak:  John the Baptist, Jesus, and God the Father.  As we look at what each person said, we will find the confidence that God wants us to have.

I.  John Tried to Prevent Him

John was baptizing in the Jordan- a baptism of repentance.  People were coming to him to confess their sins and to be baptized.  This is similar to but not the same as the baptism that Jesus would later give us in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  That baptism is also for forgiveness of sins.  But in this case it doesnít make sense to John, "I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?"

John is puzzled because he knows that Jesus is the sinless Son of God.  At the great Christmas miracle that we just celebrated recall that the angel Gabriel told Mary that this child she was to bear would be "the Holy One of God" (3).  Jesus boldly challenged His enemies, "Which of you convicts me of sin?" (4).  There are many other passages to affirm this truth (5).

Can you imagine what it would be like to meet someone who was truly holy?  This person would tell us the truth in all things.  He wouldnít gloss over unpleasant realities about us.  This is where our confidence building begins.  It actually begins by tearing us down.

Once in a while high school students call and ask if they can "shadow me."  Itís a program in which students follow someone around for a day to learn more about a particular vocation.  Imagine if Jesus, the Holy One of God, were to be your shadow.  What kinds of things would you want to hide from Him.  Could He see all your e-mail, chats, and conversations with family members or fellow workers?  Would there be a few things that need to go?  Jesus once described His Father as a gardener who trims out the dead branches so that the vine can grow and flourish (6).

Our first encounters with Christ, like this one with John the Baptist, can be a little confusing.  His holiness exposes our unholiness.  This is something we have to see.  This is why every Sunday in our worship as a Christian church and individually in our private prayers we daily confess our sins and recognize our unholiness that we have according to our earthly bodies.  Our sin and the sins of the world around us is the most destabilizing factor in our lives.  Our confidence in Christ begins by recognizing this and confessing our sin.

II.  To Fulfill All Righteousness

Now Jesus speaks.  "Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness."  Jesus was not only born holy, He also complied fully with Godís holy law to fulfill all righteousness.  But in this baptism He is doing even more.  Here He is giving His righteousness to us.  He fulfilled the holy law of God not only for Himself, but for the whole world.

Isaiah spoke of this in chapter 53 of his great book.  "My righteous Servant will justify many" (7).  Now let me make this as clear as I can.  In the Hebrew language the word "righteous" and the word "justify" are basically the same word.  The problem is that in English we donít use the root word "righteous" to say "make righteous."  If we did we might try to say something like "righteous-ize."  "My righteous servant will righteous-ize many."  Jesus fulfills all righteousness in this sense that He makes us righteous.  In His baptism He is not being forgiven of any sins.  Rather, He is stepping up to take the sins of the world into Himself.  Isaiah goes on to say it this way:  "For He shall bear their iniquities."  This is the Gospel.  This is the good news answer to the problem of our unholiness.

Allow me to illustrate this with an unusual story.  Back in the 1950s two young couples went out on a double date.  The girl from the couple that was riding along in the back seat had certain allergies.  While they were at a party she indulged in some food that she shouldnít have eaten.  Her boyfriend reminded her of the potential reaction, but she said it wouldnít be a problem.  She didnít eat much.  Everything seemed to go well for the rest of the evening until they were driving home.  Then the allergy attacked with a vengeance.  In her case this allergy appeared with the symptom of nausea.  She became very sick to her stomach but was too embarrassed to say anything.  They were getting close to her home, and she was just sure that she could hold on long enough.  But as they were within one block of her home she lost the battle with the allergy.  Now all this time her boyfriend was quite aware of what was developingÖ  to save her from total humility in just the nick of time he allowed her to lose the contents of her stomach in the sleeve of his suit.  He also pulled out his clean handkerchief and wiped her face.  Within seconds they were stopped in front of her house.  The couple in the other couple never knew what had happened.  They said their goodbyes, and this loving young man proceeded to help his girl friend to the house.  He had saved her from a very bad situation.

This illustrates what Jesus has done for us.  He has taken into Himself all the sin and guilt of this world in order to save us from a horrible situation.  When He was baptized, He stepped into the Jordan River in order to receive His anointing.  This means that He was selected by God the Father to fulfill all righteousness.  This is the beginning of the great exchange.  We give Him our sin.  He gives us His own righteousness.  Imagine all your sins and shame.  How embarrassing it would be to see that portrayed on a huge video screen for everyone.  Think of all the ways you have hurt people and disappointed God.  But now think of all those terrible, stinking things scooped up by Jesus.  He took them with Him to the cross, and there they died with Him never to haunt you again.

III.  This Is My Beloved Son

The last one to speak is God the Father.  In Jesusí baptism we clearly see the Triune God.  Many sermons on this text focus on the Trinity.  It is a wonderful theme, but we will have to save it for another time.  For now we see that at Jesusí baptism the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus like a dove.  Then the voice of the Father came from heaven.  "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased."

Jesus probably needed to hear this as much as we do.  Remember that He was fully and truly a man.  He was facing the most awesome task of all.  With this voice God the Father assured Him and strengthened Him.  This shows us one of the interesting things about Jesus.  Throughout the New Testament we can see just how close He is to His Father.  It is a beautiful and perfect relationship.  Throughout His ministry He would turn to the Father in prayer.  As Jesus drew near to the cross He would also draw near to His Father in prayer.  There is something very special between them.

Now the beautiful thing about Jesusí baptism is that Jesus also brings us to the Father.   The Fatherís word to His Son also becomes His word to us.  Because we have been given Jesusí righteousness by faith, God the Father can also say about you, "This is My beloved son or daughter, in whom I am well pleased."

Compliments and assurances like this build confidence.  This is no meaningless compliment either.  Remember that God is holy, and He cannot say anything to us that is not true.  Yet in Christ these words can be applied to us.  Because He fulfilled all righteousness we can be assured.  We can have confidence.  "Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!" (8).


(1)  Acts 1.22  (2)  Psalm 62.6  (3)  Luke 1.35  (4)  John 8.46  (5)    1 John 3.5; 1 Corinthians 5.21; Hebrews 4.15; 7.26  (6)  John 15.2  (7)  Isaiah 53.11  (8)  1 John 3.1

Pastor Michael P. Walther
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church,  Collinsville, Illinois
The Baptism of Our Lord, January 13, 2002

Michael P. Walther, Copyright, 2002