Questions Answered — by Christ!
Lessons: Isaiah 42:1-7, Acts 10:34-38, Matthew 3:13-17
Hymns (from Christian Worship and CW: Supplement): 294, 82:1-2, 371, 709, 299
In the Name of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.
It ought to stun you, every time you read the Bible, the matter-of-fact nature of the Spirit’s reporting. So matter-of-fact is it, that often the Holy Spirit chooses to leave a lot unsaid and unexplained. He’s not purposely obtuse or obfuscating, it’s just the nature of God’s revelation. And because we are sinners who cannot fully understand the Spirit’s ways and means, we’re left with questions. Just as the people living this history were. There are questions. And there are answers, from Christ.
Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. Left unsaid is a powerful moment preceding Jesus’ arrival at the Jordan – He leaves home. How did it happen? Had it been a topic of discussion for some time, or did it come out of the blue? How did Mary handle it when Jesus came in from the shop, or running some errands, or after breakfast, kissed her on the forehead and said, “I’m leaving now. I’m going to be baptized by John”? Did she put up a fight? Did she ask questions? Did she get excited? Did she treasure up all these things and ponder them in her heart? Did she cry? We’re not told.
Then, Jesus arrives at the Jordan and Matthew says, John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” This is the first face-to-face meeting between Forerunner and Messiah, and it’s a little bit awkward. John, who jumped for joy in his mother’s womb at the sound of Mary’s voice, now challenges His Lord. Not ignorantly, for John’s words reveal that he gets exactly Who he’s talking too. And seeing Christ, John sees his own great need. “I’ve been baptizing these hundreds and thousands, but I need to be baptized myself! This holy gift I’ve been given by God to administer, I don’t deserve to administer at all. Least of all to you! You’re coming to me? Cleanse me first!” John has not forgotten the holy nature of the sacrament with which he’s been entrusted. So much so, that he questions Christ.
It’s not hard to step into the shoes of Mary and John. We don’t get God’s ways and means. Why is this when the time had fully come? Why is this how the time fully came? Why Word made flesh? Why Baptism? Why does a holy God in the flesh need to be baptized, a washing that is for rebirth and renewal? And why is Baptism even being put into my hands at all? Even worse, though, is when we don’t ask these questions. When it doesn’t interest us enough to ask them, when we’ve taken the text so for granted that it’s no longer fascinating to us anymore. You say that’s not the case? Then, tell why are more than half of us not in church on any given Sunday. There must be something more interesting going on. Tell me, why are festival and seasonal services often far less attended than Sunday services. There must be something more interesting going on. Tell me, why are more than two-thirds of us not in Bible class in a given week. There must be something more interesting going on. Or you know it all already. And tell me, why is that when there are legitimate reasons for missing church or Bible class — family emergencies, serious illness, work emergencies, unavoidable travel conflicts — that the pastor’s phone isn’t ringing off the hook looking for the nearest WELS church to your location, or the Lord’s Supper you missed, or the topic in Bible class so that you can study yourself?
Before us today is one of the more incredible moments in Bible History – the whole Trinity made time to show up for this one – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Hardly something to be taken for granted. And every Baptism among us is the same, for that same Trinity is present. It’s not a family event. It isn’t a ritual. It’s tearing open heaven! It’s a fulfillment of righteousness! It’s an anointing by the Spirit!
Reinforcing that are Christ’s words to John: “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented. The time has fully come. God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law. Here He is, redeeming. Questions answered.
John asked, “Why?” Jesus says, “You have a valid concern, but let it go for a moment. I will explain why we’re waiving my holy and righteous status. Baptizing me fills up the cup of righteousness.” Most interesting. Because our cup of righteousness is empty, way empty. We’ve fallen short on the righteousness scale time and again. But Jesus does not. He fills it up completely. There’s no falling short, not even by the teeniest, tiniest amount. Nothing is missing, lacking, or wanting. Nothing can be said against Christ personally. He has no sins of His own to confess. This Baptism for Him was not on account of His repentance. Sinful flesh had not given birth to sinful flesh in His case. But it was so now. Here Christ made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant. His Baptism seals the deal. Nothing can be said against Christ personally, or as a substitute in our place. Jesus did not stand aloof in His saving work.
Don’t dare forget how intentional this is. This was the plan, the purpose, the goal. From the moment Jesus set out from His home in Galilee it was to do this. And more. Because He didn’t ascend into heaven after His Baptism. He continued fulfilling all righteousness. He left nothing undone. And every word of Scripture details that fulfillment, in word and deed, up until that most holy deed – letting His flesh be nailed to a cross in place of our flesh. He Who was baptized on our behalf, died on our behalf. He who is the fulfillment of righteousness, gave up that righteousness and took on our sin. The answer to the question from Mary, John, and us, “Why?” is “You. Me.” As Matthew was so fond of doing in his Gospel, so we can do here, point to this as the fulfillment of prophecy, Isaiah 42, specifically: “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations. He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth. In his law the islands will put their hope.” This is what God the Lord says— he who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and all that comes out of it, who gives breath to its people, and life to those who walk on it: “I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.”
And, thank God, the Father and His Spirit found this interesting. They didn’t drift off to sleep or move on to another project or find one more fascinating. This was the big one. All attention here. Because there’s one more answer I need. I need proof that Jesus is in fact the answer to all my questions. Matthew: 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 lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”
Christ’s Baptism was the same as the Baptism we received, and yet it was also different. We too receive the Holy Spirit in Baptism, but not as Christ did. Our Baptism was not our anointing as the Savior Prophet, Savior Priest, and Savior King. Christ’s was. Here He is publicly made, named, declared the Messiah. More than that, the Father says, “I love Him. I am pleased with Him. He makes me happy. He does what I desire. I have no bad thoughts about Him ever, at all.” This is music to our sin-soaked ears. The Son has pleased Him, is pleasing Him, and will please Him. His life pleased the Father. His death pleased the Father. His resurrection pleased the Father. This means our Baptism-soaked body is, by faith, filled with righteousness. Christ’s righteousness. As always, where there are questions, the answers are found in Christ. Amen.