Out of Egypt God has called His Son. And here now is the reason why. He rewinds the Exodus, in order to relive the history of Israel in Himself, in His own flesh and blood, in faithfulness and righteousness before His God and Father. He will not be called a son of the Pharaohs, but, in order to become the Firstborn of many brethren, He chooses rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God; to be afflicted with all of their afflictions; to bear the burdens of all their sins and griefs and sorrows and death. Therefore, having escaped the wrath of one King Herod, He returns to Judea in the time of another, to be baptized by the one whom Herod will imprison and behead.
To John the Baptist He comes, to be baptized by him in the Jordan River, by this priestly son of Zacharias. Even John does not yet realize or know or understand what is happening, but thus the Lord fulfills all righteousness. And so it is that John, whose preaching and baptism are from the Father in heaven, becomes Abraham offering beloved Isaac as a whole burnt offering to the Lord. He is Aaron offering the bull and the ram, the goat and the Lamb for Israel. He is Samuel, the prophet, priest, and judge, anointing David as the chosen of the Lord, the Man after God’s own heart. And he is Elijah, calling down the Spirit and fire upon the One who baptizes with the Spirit and fire, upon the one true God in the flesh.
The greater One is baptized by the one who must decrease. Joshua succeeds Moses, and Elisha follows Elijah. From the wilderness He passes through the Jordan into Canaan, in order that the people might enter with Him and become the children of God. This is the point and purpose of His coming, also now to you. And this is what righteousness is, and what it means to be and to live as the Son of God, by the grace of the Father in the gift of His Spirit, through faith in His Word.
What is revealed in the Baptism of our Lord, and what is given to you in your Holy Baptism, is the inner divine Life of the Holy Triune God manifested and made available in the flesh of Christ Jesus. The one true God turns Himself inside-out, as it were, in order to draw you and embrace you to Himself in love. He loves you with the divine eternal Love of the Father for His Son, and He brings you to Himself in the faith and love of the Son for His Father. He anoints you with the Holy Spirit, the Author and Giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father in the Son; who is poured out upon the Body of the Son and rests and remains upon Him, so that you, who belong to the Body of Christ by your Baptism into Him, also receive the Spirit of God and become His child.
The heavens are here opened to you, in the waters of Holy Baptism, because the Holy Triune God opens Himself to you in the baptized Body of Christ Jesus. For not only who and what He is from all eternity, but so also His relationship with the God and Father in the Holy Spirit, has entered into human flesh and lives with you in His human flesh. He establishes His divine Sonship in His true Manhood, in order to accomplish and perfect this righteousness for you, and in you forevermore.
What does this mean, but that He lives as you and all people are created to live: He lives by faith in the Creator, though He Himself is the Word by whom all things are created. As the perfect Son, He relies upon His Father, and He receives all things from His Father. Not only what He needs to support His body and life on earth, but also now the Cross from the hand of His Father, in the sure and certain hope and confidence of the Resurrection. For His rising and emerging from the waters; the opened heavens; the descent of the Spirit like a dove; and the voice of His Father — all of these are the pledge and surety of His Resurrection. They confirm what He has learned to know and trust from the Prophets, that His Father will uphold Him and establish Him as a Covenant to the people, as a Light to the nations and the Glory of His Israel.
He takes for His starting point the place where the people are, in order to bear their burdens and the consequences of their sin. By submitting Himself to St. John’s baptism of repentance for the remission of sins, He identifies Himself with sinners in the brokenness of their relationship with God. He makes their sins and yours His own. He shares their fall, their frailty and failure, their fear and fatigue; so that, by His faithfulness, from within that lost cause and hopeless predicament, the people — all who believe and are baptized into Him — are also redeemed and reconciled, in and with Him, by the vindication of His God and Father. As God raised this same Christ Jesus from the dead, who shared your death by His Baptism, so are you also raised unto righteousness and life by your Baptism. For as you thereby die with Him, so do you also live with Him.
This is the point, and this is what it’s all about: Righteousness and life with God in Christ. Not simply the keeping of the Law with its rules and regulations, but actually to be and to live as a child of God, as a son of the Father:
To receive life from Him by His Word and Spirit, rather than trying to create and preserve your own life for yourself. To bear His Name, to sanctify His Name in your life and conduct, and to call upon His Name in prayer, praise, and thanksgiving, instead of striving to make a great name for yourself. To learn from Him, by hearing and heeding His Word and the preaching of it, the Law and the Gospel, unto repentance and faith in His Christ. To fear, love, and trust in Him, at all times and in all circumstances. And to glorify and honor Him in your thoughts, words, and actions.
Not as a means to some other end; and not as though to justify and save yourself by such efforts, which is neither possible nor necessary; but as the life of righteousness which is lived by faith in His Word. It is to live righteously, to live a holy and godly life in what you say and do, as one who is right with God, that is, a son of God in Christ. Beloved, that is who and what you are, by grace through faith in Him, by your Holy Baptism into Christ Jesus, our Lord.
For so has He established His divine Sonship, His righteousness and life, in His own human flesh and in the waters of His Baptism. Beginning from within the brokenness of the fall into sin, He has been raised up for the justification and sanctification of all the son and daughters of Adam, to make of them the children of God.
What His Baptism thus means, signifies, and requires of Him is the Cross, which He accepts in His love for His Father, and in His love for you; and which He bears and carries and suffers in the faith that His Father will raise Him up from out of death and the grave and vindicate Him in Glory for the salvation of the world.
Take careful note and consider that your dear Lord Jesus Christ does all of this — He fulfills all righteousness and accomplishes this great salvation, for you and for all people — by submitting to and making use of the external means that His God and Father provides and ordains for this purpose. It is fitting, Jesus says, for Him to be baptized by John. It’s not a show, but the very way and means by which your redemption begins.
It is all of one consistent piece and divine activity: The preaching and ministry of John the Baptist, and his baptism with water for repentance and remission of sins; the Word and promises of God; the gift of the Holy Spirit in bodily form; the Crucifixion and Resurrection of the Body of Jesus.
None of this is play-acting, make-believe, or merely symbolic, but these are precisely the means by which God works: Within which the Lord Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, fulfills all righteousness for you. And now, from the waters of His Baptism to yours, from His Cross and in His resurrected Body, He pours out His Spirit upon you to raise you up to newness of life in body and soul, and He accomplishes all righteousness in you.
Beloved, you are God’s own child. I gladly say it. You are baptized into Christ. So are you well-pleasing to your Father in heaven, and so shall you live in Him who loves you, forever and ever.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.