Memorable Sermons By Rev. Donald Stauty
With You I am Well Pleased
Only rarely in Scripture is there an appearance of the blessed Trinity. One visible visit of God occurred at the baptism of Jesus at the Jordan. Even then the appearance of God is behind a veil, as it were, for only the Father’s voice is heard; the Son is vested in human flesh; the Holy Spirit appears as a dove. Far from being clarified, the mystery of the of the Trinity, the essence of God, the question of God’s appearance, and many other intriguing questions remain, only to be answered when we are face to face with our Lord. But as small a tidbit of the mystery of the Trinity that it is, it enough for Matthew to introduce the appearance of the Spirit and that of the Father. Jesus, emerging from the water dripping from his Baptism, is his focus, for his whole purpose is to introduce the very Son of God who has come to reclaim a people for God. The baptism of Jesus is of such import that it dare not be neglected for it is truly an insight on the church.
The baptism of Jesus is his ordination into his mission as Saviour of the world. The manger story, the arrival of the wise men, the twelve year old in the temple are but prologues. Now the hour for his ministry has come, and on the schedule of God’s timetable he appeared at the Jordan where John had been preaching, warning people of the ‘wrath to come’ and calling for repentance and baptism. As we read, John was hesitant about baptizing Jesus, for he should rather be baptized by Jesus. But, as Matthew explains, Jesus MUST be baptized with John’s baptism to fulfill all righteousness- for the “wrath to come’ could not be stayed except as the righteousness, the will of the Father, was accomplished. So Jesus stepped into the water, and John, however reluctantly, baptized Jesus.
Then the appearance of the Trinity. The Spirit as a dove, the voice of the Father, Jesus, Son of God, manifesting themselves to all who were present. The announcement of the Father is all important; “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” The relation of the Father’s announcement to the fulfillment of all righteousness is crucial to understanding Jesus’ baptism. Sonship grants privileges and imposes purpose. Jesus, as Son, will have immediate access to the Father- to his house and to his heart. The appearance of the Father and the Spirit audibly and visibly affirmed Jesus’ authority- this is the public declaration by the Trinity that all authority is given Jesus to fulfill the divine plan of redemption. But Jesus will also be at the Father’s disposal, bound by his Sonship to do the Father’s will- in this case, to fulfill all righteousness, or more specifically, to interpose himself between the ‘wrath to come’ and the sinful world. It is no wonder that God, who so loved the world that He was not willing that any should perish, was pleased to make the announcement and pleased as well with His Son who in His baptism accepted Sonship with its privileges and responsibilities. “This is my beloved Son” is Matthew’s way of announcing to the world Jesus, standing in the Jordan, ready to embark on his mission to redeem all creation. This is the most important event in Jesus’ ministry outside of the crucifixion and the resurrection. Jesus in his humanity, as well as in his divine nature, is graced with the Spirit and declared to be God’s Son, opening the way for fallen human beings to be incorporated into Christ through baptism. If one misses this point, one cannot understand the “why” of Jesus.
Jesus did not need baptism. He is the sinless Son of God. Yet he undergoes John’s baptism of repentance, that he might identify himself with all of humanity. By this opening act of his ministry he is proclaiming his oneness with all people. By doing so, he makes himself sinner with us. As sinner he, too, would have to face the wrath to come. As sinner he would endure the wrath of God for all sinners’ sakes. He would place himself under the very judgement of the Father in all sinner’s stead, and then suffer the terrible and terrifying sentence pronounced against them. He would save humankind from eternal damnation and make possible a citizenry for heaven.
The baptism of Jesus does not have the build-up and intrigue of his conception. It is easily shadowed by his Passion. The miracles recorded in Scripture are awe-inspiring and sensational and many think that “this is Jesus.” But we must understand the nature of Jesus’ involvement in our humanity as he steps into the Jordan River. Having been baptized by John he identifies himself with us- with sinners. He will accept the punishment that is rightly ours. He will accept our death and by so doing, all sinners may have life and have it abundantly.
The baptism of Jesus at the Jordan set him on a course that would not be completed until he had survived the Passion. The Jordan baptism necessitated his suffering under the judgment of the Father and cannot be separated from the cross. Jesus would speak on several occasions of his baptism as the suffering he would experience in Jerusalem. The purpose of his Sonship, the fulfilling of all righteousness, the will of the Father to redeem himself a people, was never far from his mind.
So the Jordan event becomes the official beginning of Jesus and his mission. It was his anointing to be our Prophet, Priest and King. It was the moment of his commissioning in a public place, for all the world to know. From this moment on he will be about the Father’s business, doing the Father’s will, fulfilling the Father’s plan for the world’s redemption.
When Jesus’ mission had been accomplished- when all righteousness had been fulfilled and the wall of partition between people and God had been broken down- on the Mount of Ascension Jesus gave the mandate to teach and to baptize all nations. Pentecost saw 3,000 people baptized. Baptism for them meant son and daughter ship. It meant they had access to the Father and that they had accepted the responsibility of their adoption into the Father’s family. Their baptism brought forgiveness from the sin in which they were born and from their sin of omission and commission. By their baptism they were grafted into the body of Christ, that is, they became members of the communion of saints, members of the new and holy Christian church. They were ordained, as it were, into the royal priesthood of all believers with its privileges of the Father’s house and with the responsibility of being at the Father’s disposal. They were people on a mission with the mandate to preach the Gospel of repentance and faith in Christ and to baptize into his kingdom.
They went out in obedience and joy. Their mission took them across streets and across nations and across time- until in a quiet, wondrous moment they came to you. The water and the Word of baptism conveyed to you the great blessings and the same responsibility that all who are baptized are given. You, in baptism, had ‘the washing of regeneration and renewing in the Holy Spirit.” You received the Holy Spirit at your baptism. You were made a member of the royal priesthood. You, like Jesus, were given a commission and a mission that would maintain the kingdom of God and push back its boundaries.
Jesus’ baptism led to his cross and death- and resurrection. Your baptism identifies you with Christ- who identifies himself with you. It is, as St. Paul, wrote, “that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death. We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” Jesus’ baptism led him to the judgement, the wrath, of God. Your baptism leads to the room prepared for you in heaven. The same Spirit who led Jesus leads and blesses, guides and sustains you. Do not discount the wonder, the miracle that is your baptism. And do not ignore the responsibility it has placed on upon you.
The epistle for today does not dive into the baptism of Jesus but gives us an explanation of what baptism is and does for the Christian. It unites the baptized with Christ in his death and resurrection. The body of sin which is ours because of Adam is nailed to the cross at Calvary with Jesus through our baptism. The body of sin in which we were conceived and born is destroyed- and we can live in newness of life. The divine grace which is the remedy for sin is freely given in the waters of baptism and through the Word which Christ provides for believers. The question St. Paul raises is whether on should sin more so that grace may abound. In other words, if one sins more, one receives more grace – or so is the thought. To this St. Paul exclaims, “By no means!” Baptized into Christ one is made “alive to Christ.” They are redeemed from total depravity and sin. They have a new, sinless nature created in them. They live free and eternally in newness of life. They share the same characteristics as Christ as they follow him as his disciples, empowered by his Spirit, which dwells within them. Baptized into Christ, you are sealed with the Holy Spirit for the day of redemption. Baptized into Christ, you are made children and heirs of the Father with whom he is well pleased. Baptized into Christ you are promised full redemption, to be perfectly renewed at the last day and raised incorruptible to live with Christ forever. Do not discount the wonder and miracle of your baptism.
Your baptism is a gift of God, a sacrament which combines a common element, water, with the power of God’s Word. Baptism is divine- given by God. Already at the time of the Reformation there were sects arguing that baptism is an outward thing or a work done by man. But to be baptized is to be baptized by God himself. For Baptism is how a person is first received into the Christian Church, as Jesus intimated to Nicodemus in John 3: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” [3.5]
The power, work, profit and fruit of baptism is that people be saved from sin, death, and hell. Jesus, after his resurrection, noted this to his disciples; “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” [Mk. 16.16] It means to enter into Christ’s kingdom and to live with him forever. These things cannot be received in any other way but by believing them with the heart, as St. Paul writes: If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” [Rom. 10.9] As Luther writes, that little phrase, “whoever believes,” excludes all the works that we can do, when we think that we gain and merit salvation by our own efforts.
Your baptism into Christ is the foundation of your faith in Christ, the bedrock of your salvation, and your gift of full redemption for your sins. But in the mechanics of it all, baptism is a rather humble thing. Rather like the Christ child being born in a stable. Baptism, though, is the very means by which God the Father brings you into His Son, into his death and into his resurrection, that you are made children of God.
Martin Luther had this to say about baptism; “Imagine there was a doctor somewhere who understood the art of saving people from death or, even though they died, could restore them quickly to life so that they would afterward live forever. Oh, how the world would pour in money like snow and rain. No one could find access to him because of the throng of the rich. But here in baptism there is freely brought to everyone’s door such a treasure and medicine that it utterly destroys death and preserves all people. We must think this way about baptism and make it profitable for ourselves, remembering that we take comfort in the words, “I am baptized,” and in me, the Father is well pleased.