Dearly beloved, grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
We have worshipped the Infant in the manger with shepherds. We’ve worshipped the Child with the Persians who followed the star. Today we make a huge leap – thirty years later. We are on the banks of the Jordan River with John the Baptizer. Today is the Baptism of our Lord. Until His baptism, Jesus was recognized and worshipped only by a handful of people. Shepherds at His birth. Simeon and Anna in the temple when He was 40 days old. Wise men from the east when He was a toddler. The neighbors in Nazareth probably didn’t have a clue. To them He was the carpenter’s son, working in his father’s shop. He grew up like every Jewish boy of his day. Attended the synagogue with his family. Went to Jerusalem for the feasts.
And then one day, He stood in the water of the Jordan River, shoulder to shoulder with the people who came to John confessing their sins to be baptized by him. What a day this is! Christmas joy becomes baptismal joy. No longer do we celebrate the birth of a baby, now we rejoice in His baptism.
With the account of Jesus’ baptism, Luke’s Gospel narrative makes a change in direction. Throughout the first chapters there is a parallel to Jesus and John. That ends here. John was the last and greatest prophet, and his work was now completed. Through his preaching and baptism of repentance, he prepared the way of the Lord, pointing to the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! (Jn 1:29).
In all four accounts from the Gospel John says a peculiar phrase that gives additional insight to his message, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” We usually put it as John saying he can’t even do a demeaning job for the One who is God in flesh, which is true. But just as we understand “the Lamb of God” in reference to the Old Testament lamb sacrificed, so must we hear John’s words.
In Israelite culture, the one who takes the sandal of another is the one who redeemed another, paid their debts. (This it the custom and basis of the book of Ruth). In saying that he is not worthy to untie the sandal, John proclaims that He is not the bridegroom of Israel. He is not the redeemer. Just as all the Prophets who had come before. Moses had to remove his sandals at the burning bush, Joshua had to remove his sandals in God’s presence, because they were not the one to redeem Israel to purchase their salvation. John was not either.
For the one who wears the sandals is the one who rescues the poor from their debts (Lev. 25), buys the land of what was lost by the family, redeems from slavery, seeks justice, and does it on all with nothing to gain for Himself but on behalf of others (Numbers 35).
As long as they had been waiting, John does plainly say the same thing the angel Gabriel had proclaimed of him 30 years prior, he is the voice of the wilderness prophesied by Isaiah. He is not the one to redeem Israel, he is not the one to save. He is the one prophesied about who comes to lead the way, to prepare people for Christ.
Soon though, the Christ, the Messiah, would be revealed to them. It comes with Jesus’ baptism. When Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” He is the redeemer, the One to provide an exchange for you, His life for yours. Here is the redeemer, the One they’ve been waiting for.
Dear Christians, do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? If you are not in the death of Jesus, linked to it, covered by it, carried along by it, then you enter into death on your own terms, and there is hell to pay for that! Death is wages of sin. It’s not an accidental part of some imaginary cycle of life. Death is brought into the world by sin.
Death is payment that must be made. This is why Christmas happened, the Word was made flesh and dwells among us so that He can die. The Magi brought gifts for the King and yet they also brought the spices and incense appropriate for a burial in the gift of myrrh. Christ’s death for the sins of the whole world, it is the payment of sin. Luther called it a “happy exchange.” Jesus swaps our sin and death for His righteousness and life. His Baptism makes the exchange known and visible. He willingly submits to a sinner’s baptism in order to save sinners. He voluntarily takes a bath in the world’s sin, He immerses Himself in the bitter water of our death, and makes it sweet with His presence.
When John applied water to the sinless Son of God, things happened! The heavens were ripped open. The Holy Spirit descends. The Father speaks. The Holy Trinity is thereby revealed. Why does all this happen with a little water in the muddy stream called the Jordan?
It happened for you! The Baptism of our Lord! The Word made flesh stepped into the water where sinners gather to take upon Himself our sin. He was thereby baptized into your death and your damnation and mine. It was a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. It was His first public step toward His baptism of blood on the cross. As He took this step, the Father is well pleased and the Holy Spirit anoints Him for this saving work. See how totally the Holy Trinity loves you!
Your baptism is the most precious gift that keeps on giving! For in it you are given the death and resurrection of Jesus. You sins are forgiven. You are set free, you are buried with Christ and risen from the grave Christ gives you life. In His dying and rising, heaven stands open to earth, the kingdom of heaven is opened, God is reconciled, at peace, with the world in the death of Jesus. Through the violence of the cross comes peace, life for the world.
You have been baptized in His death and resurrection. Your sins forgiven. So don’t let the simple water fool you. There is much more here than meets the eye in Baptism. The Son stands with you, the Spirit descends upon you, the heavens are opened to you, the voice of the Father declares you to be His beloved. Amen.