IN NOMINE JESU
Last Tuesday was the Epiphany of Our Lord, as is every January 6. On that day we remember the Christ Child being revealed to the Gentiles in the persons of the Wise Men. The word epiphany means "revelation"—a sudden revelation, to be precise. They did not plan a trip to see the child Jesus; they saw the star and followed it. Thus was the Christ revealed to the nations. When we come to quick realization of something, we have an epiphany. Similarly, the Christ Child was suddenly revealed to the Wise Men; that was the Epiphany of Our Lord.
As we move ahead a number of years in Jesus' life and, consequently, a few days later in the church year, we come upon another revelation of our Lord. On this day as we celebrate the Baptism of Our Lord, we see our Lord with regard to both of His natures. We see Him as to His human nature as He was baptized by St. John the Baptizer in the Jordan River. We witness His divine nature as the entire Trinity is revealed when Jesus comes up from the river following His baptism. Today is, in a sense, a "Trinity Sunday" before Trinity Sunday. Here we see, as Jesus comes up from the river, heaven is opened up and God the Father pronounces His blessing upon His Son, on whom the Holy Spirit descended in the form of a dove.
But in the moments prior to the revelation of the Trinity, we see Jesus coming to the Jordan River to be baptized by John. We have reason to give thanks for the baptism Jesus received, though He certainly did not need it. And we thank the Lord and sing His praise that He has given us this blessed Sacrament of Holy Baptism, that we are baptized into His Name most holy: the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. You see, fellow baptized, Jesus became baptized for us. John preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Those who came to John needed to repent of their sins so that they would receive this Sacrament worthily, just as St. Paul advises that we examine ourselves prior to receiving the Sacrament of the Altar, that we, or anyone else, not make mockeries of the Means of Grace. John baptized the repentant, and they received the gift of forgiveness, which would be won by the Messiah who was to come and who was very near, as John testifies: "I indeed baptize you with water; but One mightier than I is coming, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire" (v. 16). Jesus alone baptizes with the Holy Spirit, for He Himself has the Spirit. He had the Spirit prior to our text, for the Son is God as the Holy Spirit is God. Each Person in the Trinity is fully God from eternity. But the descent of the Holy Spirit as a dove and the Father's booming voice from an opened heaven was the public divine pronouncement of Jesus' Sonship, of His divinity.
Jesus, true God and true Man, certainly had no need to become baptized by John, for Jesus is holy; that is, He is without sin. John, needless to say, was baffled. Saint Matthew's account tells us, "And John tried to prevent Him, saying, 'I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?'" (Mt. 3:14). John realized that he himself was the lesser and Jesus, the greater. John knew that he himself was the sinner and Jesus, the sinless. John understood that he himself needed to be baptized by Jesus. "But Jesus answered him, 'Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.' Then he allowed Him" (Mt. 3:15). In essence, Jesus was saying to John, "John, My dear relative and My forerunner, I know what you mean. I hear what you are saying. I understand your position. But please do it My way. Baptize Me so that the sins of the whole world would be washed away through Me. Baptize Me so that I may prove that I am true Man, that I may actually experience for Myself what the sinners I have come to save also experience, that I may endure what they too endure. Baptize Me into My own death, that the sins of all mankind which I have taken upon Myself would be forgiven and fully atoned for and for all time. Baptize Me into My own death so that all who place their faith, hope, and trust in the Messiah would also be baptized into My death and receive newness of life by My resurrection from the dead."
Jesus did not become baptized for the forgiveness of His sins, for He is sinless. But He became baptized for the forgiveness of our sins. We, who are also unworthy to stoop down and loose the strap of His sandals, are in need of forgiveness of our sins and rescue from death and the power of the devil. Our sins are many and great, and they stain us irreparably. We can do no good work to remove the stain of sin. No amount of showering, bathing, or being hosed down can remove it, for it is more than a stain. It is worse than a birth defect; yet we are born with and born in sin. Sin is a disease, a cancer that lurks within us. It spreads within us, and it kills us. There is no cure; there is only death for the sinner. John the Baptizer called upon his hearers to repent and be baptized. God calls us, His hearers, His baptized children, to repent of our sins, for we daily sin much and indeed deserve nothing but death and punishment. We do not behold the Holy Trinity because we are caught in the web of the unholy triad: the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh. We are slaves to sin and cannot free ourselves. We are driven to our knees in despair. We lie prostrate on the ground, wallowing in our pool of tears, for God has accused and convicted us by His Law. We stand condemned before Him.
We must repent of our sins. This means that we, having been brought down by the Law, brought to contrition, confess our sins to God our Father, imploring Him for the sake of His Son, Jesus Christ, to grant us forgiveness. Repentance literally means "to have a turning around." We are to vow before God and in His Name to turn from our evil ways and to walk in His ways, to the glory of His holy Name. As St. Paul writes in our Epistle: "What shall we say then? Shall we to continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?" (Rom. 6:1-2). To not turn from our sin and to remain in it is to make a mockery of the Lord's Means of Grace. If we choose to remain in our sins, we despise God's forgiveness. We loathe eternal life. We shun His salvation. And we are headed for hell. Apart from Christ, the death we die is our own death, a death that is eternal, for we will drown in our sins.
This is the sinful nature of which we speak. It is the Old Adam in us that "should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever" (Baptism IV). "Daily contrition and repentance...." This is our living out our Baptism, daily confessing our sins, daily receiving God's forgiveness, daily living in newness of life. Yes, we were each baptized on a certain date and at a certain place. But we are baptized. That blessed event at the font has continual effects for us today, for each day Baptism "works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare" (Baptism II).
The baptism Jesus underwent He underwent for us. He became baptized for the forgiveness of our sins, for He took our sins upon Himself. He became baptized into His own death. John's baptism would be completed in the crucifixion of Christ, which brought about the total and complete forgiveness of the sins of the whole world. John's baptism was a valid sacrament, for he had the command of God to baptize with water, attached with God's word of promise, fulfilled in the coming Messiah. The baptism Jesus instituted is one of His Sacraments, for He has given the command to baptize, part of the charge He has given the Church to make disciples of all nations, baptizing in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As the entire Trinity was present at the baptism of our Lord, so also was the entire Godhead present at our Baptism. There at the font heaven was opened to us; He has opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers. The Holy Spirit entered our hearts, and our heavenly Father called us by name and said, "You are My beloved child; with you I am well pleased, well pleased for the sake of My only-begotten Son." Jesus, the Son of God and Son of Man, has loved us so much that He humbled Himself to be born of a virgin. Jesus, who knew no sin, submitted Himself to the requirements of the Law by becoming circumcised, placing Himself under the old covenant for the sake of all the Old Testament faithful who placed their trust in the long-promised Messiah who was to come, that they would not be cut off. He subjected Himself to the new covenant, submitting to John's baptism, doing so to fulfill all righteousness. Jesus placed Himself under the new covenant for the sake of all the New Testament believers who have placed their faith in the Messiah who came in the Person of Jesus Christ and who will come again, regardless of when in life the members of mankind began to believe the Good News. Jesus received both the Old and New Testament sacraments because He assumed our human nature for Himself, taking our sins and the sins of all people at all times and in all places upon Himself.
It pleased our heavenly Father that He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, begotten of the Father from eternity and born of the Virgin Mary, into the flesh. It pleased our Father in heaven that His Son who knew no sin to be sin for us. The sinless Son of God took on our sin, became our sin, and killed our sin, washing away our sin by His blood shed on the cross. What happened on the cross completed what took place in the temple when Jesus was eight days old and completed the event in the Jordan River at the start of Jesus' earthly ministry. Jesus died to wash away the sins of all mankind. He has taken away my sins. He has taken away your sins.
We have received the seal of this promise at our Baptism, marked with the sign of the cross both upon our foreheads and upon our hearts to mark us those redeemed by Christ the crucified, and baptized in and into the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Not only are we baptized into Christ's death, we are also baptized into His resurrection, as St. Paul reminds us in our Epistle: "Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life" (Rom. 6:4). What does this mean, to walk in newness of life? As we heard earlier, it means that we, God's baptized children, live our Baptism each and every day, beginning and ending each day in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, confessing our sins each day as the Old Adam in us is drowned, and as the new man daily emerges and arises as our sins are forgiven in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As baptized Christians, we go back to our Baptism each and every day as we, by the Holy Spirit's working within us, remember who we are and whose we are: sinners in need of a Savior, saved by the One who was baptized, crucified, and risen, redeemed by His blood and baptized in His Name, heirs of the promise of eternal life, heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, through whom our heavenly Father is well pleased with us. In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
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