TREASURE THE BLESSING OF BAPTISM
There is a clause in the Constitution of our country that says that certain criteria must be met before anyone can run for certain political offices. Regarding president of the United States, “No person except a natural born citizen, or a citizen of the United States, at the time of the adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the office of President; neither shall any person be eligible to that office who shall not have attained to the age of thirty-five years, and been fourteen years a resident within the United States.” When that was adopted in the late 1700’s, the lifetime of people was viewed differently. Thirty five was older. People didn’t live as long. Imagine if you could be president at age 18. Imagine if a large teen vote put Justin Bieber or Miley Cyrus into office. On the other hand, the way things are going these days maybe they can do just as well. .
The age that someone entered into the public ministry in Jesus’ day was also like that. Jesus began his ministry at thirty. The first thirty years were spent in obscurity in the city of Nazareth, but then things changed and it began at his baptism. We study that today with this thought
“Treasure the Blessing of Baptism.” We study 1) What baptism meant for Jesus; 2) What baptism means for us.
At thirty years old “Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John.” The last time the Bible spoke of Jesus was when he was twelve years old. But it is also true that for many millennia there was the promise he was coming. God now set this all in motion. God’s plan to save was no longer in the future. Jesus began his world changing ministry. For that to happen, Jesus traveled from Nazareth to the Jordan River, about seventy miles as the crow flies. His ministry began with his Baptism.
But when Jesus showed up at the Jordan River to be baptized, John Baptist wondered why. “But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” There are so many people, even within Christianity, who don’t understand the purpose and blessing of Baptism. It is all about forgiveness of sins to the one who is baptized. That’s why John questioned why Jesus was there. “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”
Anyone who really understands the purpose for Baptism – to convey and individualize the forgiveness of sins that Jesus would win and did win – would ask the same question, “Jesus, why are you here? Jesus, you have no need to repent; you have no need for forgiveness. You are perfect.”
Jesus said in response, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Many Bible commentators have different thoughts as to what Jesus meant by that. Allow me to give you some thoughts to consider.
Jesus’ ministry could have begun any number of ways, but God chose to begin it at the Jordan River with John the Baptist baptizing him. There was a prophecy about that. Isaiah 61 records it how the eternal Son of God, the servant of Jehovah spoke about this in Isaiah 61. Jesus is in fact speaking through the prophet, “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn.” The prophecy speaks about how the Spirit of the Lord would anoint Messiah. The Messiah was anointed or designated to preach to the brokenhearted and to those who needed freedom and comfort. This was God’s way of announcing Jesus to the world.
Pastors nowadays in many megachurches are rock stars. Televangelists have body guards and limousines in which they travel. I am comfortable with my Chevy Cruze. When we lived in Orlando there was a Pentecostal Church on the east side of town who made an entry into the sanctuary with lasers and fireworks. He got an entry like a member of the Orlando Magic. Some pastors really have it made. I can’t even get a “Ladies and gentlemen…heeeeeere’s Pastor.” And I know if that’s what I demanded there would be a “And there gooooooes Pastor” in no time flat.
After thirty years of obscure life in Nazareth, the Father let it be known to all the people at the Jordan River, including John the Baptist, that there was no doubt that Jesus was the long awaited Messiah. “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 alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” There were no lasers and bright lights, there was something better – the testimony of God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. If the Father recommends him and the Spirit approves of him, it is clear to us all – Follow him. He had come to fulfill what God had said and promised.
There are others who give some thoughts about what Jesus meant when he said that he had come to fulfill all righteousness. Martin Luther said, “Now he accepts his three-fold office for our sake. But his baptism is not simply the acceptance of the office as our Prophet, Priest and King with the pledge that He will perform properly the duties of the office – it is also His divine preparation for his exalted mission as the Messiah.” Jewish people knew that there were three important people who touched their lives who were anointed. Each was anointed into public office when oil was poured over their heads. There were the prophets, who spoke the Word to them; the priests who interceded for them with sacrifices and prayers; the kings who ruled over them and were to protect them.
While there were three different persons in each of these offices, Jesus, the one person filled each office at the same time. He is our anointed prophet. He supplies us with this book that will never be lost. He sends preachers and teachers to proclaim it. He is our anointed Priest whose bloody, selfless sacrifice promises cleansing of sin and guilt. He is our anointed King who says we never need to worry about the direction of our lives. He is in control. His baptism anoints him as our prophet, priest and king.
Another thought about Jesus came to fulfill all righteousness. Jesus was both God and man in one. As man he was subject to human frailties and weaknesses. What do I mean by that? When he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, he prayed so intensely that he sweat great drops of blood. He was drained. The Bible says angels came from heaven to attend to him and give him strength. When he was at the well at Sychar, he asked a woman for a drink of water. He got hungry. He was just like we are. The Bible says he was tempted as we are only without sin. When we are tempted, what do we need? We need the Holy Spirit to strengthen us. Jesus needed the Holy Spirit too who was sent to him at his Baptism to continually strengthen him in his battle against sin. He was supplying us with the perfect righteousness he credited to us.
Let me mention one more thing that gave me pause to think about when it comes to that phrase, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” The mission on which Jesus embarked was to be the great Sin-bearer. As Isaiah says it, “Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.” God’s plan to save was a vicarious one, one of substitution. He substituted himself for us. Paul writes a most amazing passage on this very subject, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” He was sinless but the Heavenly Father willed Jesus to bear all sin of all people - not just yours and mine – everybody’s. It’s hard to say this but it is absolutely true, Jesus was the greatest sinner of all time. What do sinners need? Forgiveness! How does God do that? Holy Baptism! He needed baptism because he bore the sins of all.
But as we study and appreciate the Baptism of Jesus, our thoughts turn to what Baptism means to us. It is a big deal that must never be compromised or nullified. There is a reason why the Baptismal fount is so prominent on this altar. There is a reason the bowl seems so oversized. It is that way so it grabs your attention and you remember what your Baptism is for you.
Baptism is not merely symbolic. So many think of it as something you do, when you become Christian. Baptism is not about what I do, Baptism is about what God does. Listen to the following passages. In his letter Peter writes, “Baptism now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God.” Baptism actually saves you by bringing to you forgiveness of sins. It is not symbolic. It doesn’t say, “Baptism is your way of showing that you have been saved.” Baptism saves!
How about this passage from Galatians? “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” You were baptized into Christ. In that relationship you were clothed with Jesus. You have the white robes of Jesus’ righteousness. You are pure!
Paul writes in I Corinthians, “For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free.” We become members of the body of Christ. Luther made a comment on this and said, “Dear friend in your Baptism you entered into brotherhood with Christ with all the angels saints and Christians on earth. Hold to his fraternity and live up to its demands.”
In John 3 Jesus was having his middle of the night visit with Nicodemus and spoke about Baptism, “Except a man be born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter the Kingdom of God.” I read a theologian of Reformed persuasion who denied that the water was the water of Baptism. He claims that the water was referring to Old Testament purifications. I simply want to know what led him to that conclusion when Baptism is referred to so many times in the New Testament. Look who is present with the waters of Baptism – “except a man be born of water and the Holy Spirit.” Luther commented on this verse too. “Baptism is not an empty token… But the power of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit is there and doesn’t merely mark me externally before men. Rather it makes a different person of me before God so that just as a person is born of a woman is born of sin, so he who is born (again) of Baptism is born to righteousness and eternal life.” Baptism is not merely my way of saying I am a changed person, rather through Baptism the Holy Spirit changes me. How? From sinner to saint, from unbeliever to faithful one.
Often when there is a disaster in this world, our nation is there to help. People are very generous. The Red Cross gets involved. Our government gets involved. A few years ago already, there was a horrible earthquake in Haiti. Our country, like we always do, shipped all kinds of food and medical supplies to those who were hurting. The trouble was, it remained on the docks and at the airports and didn’t get to the people soon enough. There needed to be a delivery system. Baptism is the delivery system that brings Christ’s forgiveness to the individual.
Luther said about how he wanted to die. He said, “When our last hour comes, we intend to clothe ourselves in the vestment of Baptismal grace and hear the absolution of faith and pass away.” Have the thoughts and promises of your Baptism on your heart everyday, most of all, on the last day. Amen