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But what does it mean: He was subject unto them? Simply that He walked in those works enjoined in the fourth commandment. Such works are those which father and mother need done in the house, namely, that He fetched water, bread, and meat, that He minded the house and did other things of that kind as He was told to do, like any other child.—Sermon, 1534.
Therefore, nothing is more necessary than that we should continually turn towards God’s ear, call upon Him, and pray to Him. We must pray that He would give, preserve, and increase faith in us and the fulfillment of the Ten Commandments.—LC III:1
10 January 2022
09 January 2022
This past Thursday, people loved by God, we celebrated the Epiphany, which the Germans call Drei Königsfest. Three Kings Feast. Martin Luther once quipped, though, that the true three Kings feast is the one we celebrate today: the Baptism of our Lord. For here the three preeminent Kings, the persons of the Blessed Trinity reveal themselves to sanctify all water to be a blessed flood and lavish washing away of sin, so that we might safely come to have a portion in the divine life and reign that is their eternal joy. Before we work through the Holy Gospel, would you join me in prayer? Lord God, heavenly Father, who together with Your Holy Spirit revealed Yourself in a most gracious manner at the Baptism of Your beloved Son, who bore all our sins, and by Your voice directed us to Him, that through Him we might have forgiveness of sins and all grace; we beseech You, sustain us in such confidence, and inasmuch as, in accordance with the command and example of Your Son, we also are baptized, strengthen our faith by Your Holy Spirit and bring us to eternal life. Amen.
Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him. Isn’t it a bit odd how Baptism pops out of seemingly nowhere in the New Testament? But there were hints in the Old Testament that it was coming. Remember the vision of Ezekiel 47 and the waters that issued from the Temple and that carried life with them wherever they went. Remember Ezekiel 36 and the promise of God to give us a new heart via sprinkling with clean water and that He’d put His Spirit in us. Remember how Zechariah saw in the 13th chapter of his prophesy that a fountain would be opened in the house of David for sin and for all uncleanness. So hints are there all along. But then John the Baptist finally appeared and the hints all began to make sense. Now, there is a saying of St. Augustine in the Church “verbum accedat ad elementum et fit sacramentum.” Luther said Augustine never said anything better: that is, the Word comes to the element and it becomes a Sacrament. And THAT, people loved by God, is exactly what you see happening here. The Word, our Lord Jesus, the Eternal Word of the Father, comes to John’s Baptism so that He can transform the element, the water, and make it be by His presence more than John’s Baptism by itself could ever be. Now it will be a life giving water, full of grace. But this causes the Baptist to pucker his brow.
But John forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me? That is, I am a sinner and all these that I baptize are sinners. But You, Jesus, are no sinner. Why would you possibly want to receive a sinner’s baptism? This is a Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. This is a Baptism for those who are willing to admit they’ve gone astray; turned away from God and His love; tossed His commandments behind their back. So why are YOU here?
And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer [it to be so] now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffered him. I suppose we might render that with: Don’t argue, Cousin! Go along with me here, okay? THIS is how we will fill up all righteousness. Now, what does that mean? There is a two fold action taking place here. First, by standing with us in our sin, Jesus is promising from this moment to head to His cross. He will stand with sinners under the judgment of God and do so that sinners might be sheltered from it. And secondly, He is putting His very own righteousness, His FLAWLESS keeping of the Law, His eternal unbreakable YES to His Father’s will into the water for us, that it might be our very own. So Jesus and John fulfill all righteousness. Jesus promises to bear the very consequences of all our sins and Jesus promises to give to us His shining, flawless righteousness. And all by the Word coming to the Element, by the Son of God stepping down into Jordan’s flood.
And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, Three things immediately transpire when John consents and baptizes Jesus: first, heaven is opened. In Mark’s Gospel it is even more graphic. Heaven is torn open! The home that we lost in Eden, closed by angelic guards barring the way to the tree of life; this home Jesus restores to us in the water. Get in the water with Him and suddenly you have a heavenly home again! And second:
and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: Jesus, of course, didn’t need the gift of the Spirit, for the Spirit eternally proceeds from Him, but WE need this gift. And so not only does Baptism open heaven, but it gives the gift of the Spirit. And just to make sure we don’t think that this is only for Jesus, remember how St. Peter preached on the Day of Pentecost: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of your sins and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you and to your children.” Acts 2:38, 39 So get in the water with Jesus and heaven is opened to you and the Spirit is given to you. And one gift more:
And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Again, not anything HE needed. He was ever the Father’s beloved Son. But this is what we need. A rebirth that consists of adoption into the Father’s family. Oh, beloved! How amazingly awesome is this? The heavenly Father looks at you when you get in the water with Jesus and proclaims: “This my kid. I love them so. I am tickled pink with them.” That’s how the Father truly sees you because of Baptism.
And one last thing to note: Baptism did not merely GIVE these gifts to you once upon a time. As our Small Catechism makes so beautifully clear: it GIVES them still. “It WORKS forgiveness of sins, DELIVERS from death and the devil, and GIVES salvation to all who believe this as the Words and promises of God declare!” All present tense. The gifts Christ plants in that holy water by His presence and Word and promise there hold fast for you all the days of Your pilgrimage. No need to pour the water on you again, that water that was poured once embraces your entire life. And if you’ve wandered from it into the byways and sin and unbelief, you need only return to it again in repentance. Said another way, the absolution is wet! It dumps you right back into the initial water of Your Baptism.
So yes, indeed, the Baptism of our Lord is the true Three Kings feast. The Son stands in the water to sanctify it and open heaven’s door, the Spirit descends to testify to our rebirth, and the Father speaks in tender love proclaiming us as His very own beloved. All that, your Jesus dumps into the water. The Word comes to the element and it becomes a sacrament indeed, and for that all glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and to the ages of ages. Amen.