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LSB Baptism of Our Lord H Sermon – Matthew 3:13-17

January 9, 2017

January 8, 2017 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan….”

Joshua comes to the Jordan. This is where the LORD would bring His people into the Promised Land. They were to receive the great fulfillment of the LORD’s promise: He would take them from bondage to freedom; He would give them the inheritance that He had been pledged to their forefathers. Joshua was chosen to be the instrument through which the LORD would accomplish this. That was his destiny. The LORD had made that selection. Now the LORD would complete the task.

This is what you heard about in the Old Testament Reading: “Then Joshua rose early in the morning and they set out from Shittim. And they came to the Jordan, he and all the people of Israel, and lodged there before they passed over…. The LORD said to Joshua, ‘Today I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that, as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. And as for you, command the priests who bear the Ark of the Covenant, “When you come to the brink of the waters of the Jordan, you shall stand still in the Jordan.”’” When Joshua fulfilled the LORD’s instructions, great things happened: the flow of the river was cut off, so that “the priests bearing the Ark of the Covenant of the LORD stood firmly on dry ground in the midst of the Jordan, and all Israel was passing over on dry ground until all the nation finished passing over the Jordan.”

The Crossing of the Jordan marks the entry of Israel into the Promised Land, bringing the Exodus to its conclusion. No longer was Israel an enslaved people. Neither would they exist as a nomadic nation. Instead, the LORD’s people came to the blessed inheritance that He had established for them. His promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was being fulfilled. As the LORD acted in this great way, Joshua was exalted. All the LORD’s people would know that Joshua was His man, His chosen one, a leader with whom He was well pleased. But this event foreshadowed an even greater act that the LORD would perform. For the destiny of the LORD’s people was not having an earthly homeland; it was to have an eternal dwelling place where all divide between God and Mankind was overcome.

So how was that destiny to be completed? What would it take? The LORD would raise up another Joshua to be the instrument through which His plan would be fulfilled. The nativity of this Second Joshua is what we have celebrated during Christmastide. The Son of the Most High God is born. He is given the name Joshua—or as we have Hellenized it, Jesus. The name reveals His great task: to be the LORD’s salvation, to be the Savior of His people. And that salvation would restore the harmony between God and Mankind, to overcome the gap that sin and rebellion had caused, to reverse the curse of death.

As this Second Joshua takes up the task that the LORD had assigned, He goes where the First Joshua had once stood: “Then Jesus came from Galilee to John, to be baptized by him.” Jesus also walks into the Jordan. But when He does so, it is a unique event. For Jesus is a combination of the figures and elements present at the Jordan Crossing. He is the LORD’s presence in the world, the LORD Incarnate. As such, Jesus is the Ark of the Covenant in a personal form, standing still in the Jordan. When this happens, it is done “to fulfill all righteousness,” to bring the LORD’s salvation to His people, as Joshua had done.

When Jesus is baptized, the LORD exalts Him, just as He exalted Joshua before Him. That is seen in the great theophany: “And when Jesus was baptized, immediately He went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on Him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is My Beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’” Jesus’ presence in the Jordan reveals Him as the LORD’s Messiah, the Savior who had been promised so many years before. Now He begins the task of bringing the LORD’s salvation: to be the LORD’s gracious presence in the world to atone for sin, to rescue people from the slavery that the fear of death causes, to bring humanity into the Paradise that surpasses Eden from which they had been driven.

That great task has been completed by Jesus for us. He fulfills all righteousness as our Great Substitute. With Jesus, we see not only the Second Joshua, who leads the LORD’s people. We also see the Second Adam, a Man who is truly well-pleasing to the LORD, who doesn’t deviate from the LORD’s will in any way. Jesus acts righteously. He doesn’t fall into sin, but bears our transgressions and guilt and carries them away. Jesus fully keeps the Covenant terms, expiating our failure to live up to them. Jesus performs His redemptive work by living according to the LORD’s Law, offering Himself in our place, and rising to life again after His crucifixion.

That is why Jesus later institutes Holy Baptism as a way for us to be recipients of the merits of His redemptive work. For the same Jesus who stood in the Jordan River continues to make Himself present in water. Jesus puts His power there, so that we are baptized into His death and resurrection. His Covenant is made with us, so that we are rightly called Christians, the people who belong and are bound to Jesus.

The baptismal font becomes our Jordan River. It stands as the portal that we pass through to new life. What happens to us in the baptismal font echoes what happened when Jesus stood in the Jordan: the heavens are opened to us; the Spirit of God descends upon us; the Father’s voice declares that we are well-pleasing to Him. We are exalted from being “the low and despised in the world” to being the honored members of the LORD’s household. He takes us from being paupers to princes, as we are His children born from above, given the noble birth of water and the Spirit.

Why does this take place? Because the LORD has placed His power there. Because the LORD is keeping the great promise that He had made to all mankind. Humanity wasn’t meant to be outside the LORD’s presence. That was never the LORD’s intention when He created mankind. But now the redeeming of humanity has been done. And the LORD’s desire is to have people receive the restoration that He provides.

The Baptism of Our Lord happens so that Jesus’ identity as the One through whom the LORD’s will is accomplished can be revealed. We understand that it took place, as Jesus declared: “For thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” We learn that He is the “wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption” for us to receive. We know that His presence is for our benefit, so that He is with us, just as the LORD was present with Moses and Joshua.

So we turn to Jesus for the salvation that we need. But then we confess His identity to the world. What we have received can be obtained by others. We lead others to the font, so that they also can pass over from death to life in Jesus. The entire nation of the LORD’s people has not yet finished their crossing; others can be added to that number, just as we have been included in our generation. They also are meant to have the heavens opened to them, to have the Spirit of God descend on them, and to have the Father declare them to be His well-pleasing children. More people are incorporated into the Covenant of salvation as the number of those who go through the baptismal font increases.

So what shall be the final result of Jesus’ coming to the Jordan and making the waters of baptism a portal for His people to go through? He will bring His people into the Promised Land. He will offer the great fulfillment of the LORD’s promise, taking us from bondage to freedom, giving us the inheritance that has been pledged to us. Jesus, the Second Joshua, is the instrument through which the LORD accomplishes this. That was His destiny. And as Jesus has “fulfilled all righteousness” for us, we shall have our place with all whom He has redeemed in the life of the world to come.

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

From → Sunday Sermon

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