So this is the beginning of the New Creation in the Body of Jesus. When darkness shrouds the whole world, and thick darkness permeates the hearts and minds, the bodies and souls of all the people; when the chaos of Satan’s wicked lies and savage tyranny seems to have the upper hand; when all appears to be for naught, the Spirit hovers over the waters and God the Father speaks.
And in the baptized Body of the incarnate Son, the Holy Triune God brings forth new Life from out of death and causes the true Light to shine forth in the darkness. Instead of doom and gloom and deep despair, He gives hope, new confidence, and courage in the promise of the Resurrection. For all of Creation, all things in heaven and on earth are made new in the Body of Christ Jesus.
This divine good work of the New Creation is brought about through the repentance of St. John’s preaching and baptism unto faith in the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting with God. And be sure of this, across all these many years and all the many miles, you also are called to this same repentance and faith, as you are baptized into this New Creation.
But it is first of all accomplished for you and for all by the Lord Jesus, the Son of God and Mary’s Son from Nazareth in Galilee. He who is true God and perfect Man, the very Word made Flesh — all the fullness of the Godhead dwelling bodily among us, sinless and holy, flawless in every way, without any blemish or defect — He humbles Himself and takes His place with all the people, with you and all the other sinners. He comes and numbers Himself with each and all of us in the waters of the Jordan, and submits Himself to St. John’s preaching and baptism of repentance.
This is what it means for Him to be the sacrificial Lamb of God, as you sing to Him in the Liturgy, in the Agnus Dei, in the Holy Communion. Namely, that He takes upon Himself and repents for the sins of the world; He drowns and destroys them in the waters of His Baptism; He puts them to death with His own flesh and blood upon the Cross.
He is baptized for the forgiveness of all our sins. Though none of them were His to begin with, He makes all of them His own, and He makes Himself accountable for them in the River Jordan.
So does He also achieve and establish repentance concretely in Himself, in His Body of human flesh and blood, in His dying and His rising, for you and for all the people of all times and places.
His going into the water is already His Crucifixion, death, and burial, wherein He bears the full responsibility for all of the sins of the world, from Adam & Eve to the close of the age. Although He committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth, it is as though He were the worst of all the sinners, indeed, the only sinner ever. As though He were the One, the only One, who had actually committed all of your sins. As though He alone were guilty of all the bad stuff in you.
Hence, the profound paradox of the “happy exchange,” as Dr. Luther loves to call it: The dear Lord Jesus goes into the waters of His Baptism all clean and sparkly, absolutely perfect in every way, and He comes out of the water all dirty and dying, stained and stinky with the whole world’s sin; whereas you go into the waters of Baptism dirty and dead, and you come out alive and clean.
Now, then, you wanna tell me what’s “fair,” and what’s “not fair,” in your experience of life?
It is for your sins of thought, word, and deed; for your unbelief and false belief; for your refusal to love anyone as much as yourself; for your selfishness and greed, your covetousness and bitter envy; for your laziness and neglect, and your unfaithfulness in your vocations; for your cheating and shortcutting; for your apathy and anger, your antagonism and arrogance — for all of that, and for everyone else’s sins, all of which Jesus receives in His Baptism — it is for all those sins that Jesus suffers and dies. Which is why His Baptism is an immersion in His own Cross and Passion.
Yet, even bearing the sins of the world under the judgment of the Law — and even though your sins alone are a crushing and damnable weight, which daily threaten to take the very heart of you and drive your conscience to despair — yet, the Lord Jesus remains faithful and obedient, holy and righteous, even unto death. He does not whine or complain. He prays and confesses. He does not waver or fall, but walks forward. He does not balk or resist, but He lays down His life willingly.
As the true and perfect Man — and this is what it means to be truly human — He lives by faith in His Father, in the Word and Promise of His own God and Father.
I especially want you to take careful note of this: Although He is thoroughly soaked and saturated with the sins of the whole world in the waters of His Baptism, Jesus emerges and arises from those waters and receives the Word and Spirit of His Father from a heaven that is torn open to bless Him and receive Him. The heavens are rent and the Spirit comes down, not for the condemnation of the nations, but for the demise and destruction of death and the grave.
The true Holy of Holies made without hands, eternal in the heavens, is opened to the One who is both Priest and Sacrifice; so that all of the people of God may enter with Him through the Veil of His Flesh, by the cleansing of His Blood, to live by His Holy Spirit in the presence of His Father.
This Promise He receives from heaven, by and with and in the Word and Spirit of His Father, as He who bears the sins of the world comes up out of the waters of the Jordan. It is thus already the Promise of His Resurrection from the dead, which is the proclamation of forgiveness for all those sins that He carries, and of justification and sanctification for all who are members of His Body.
It is, in short, the Pledge and Promise of the New Creation in the baptized Body of Christ Jesus.
Jesus lives, and He goes to His death upon the Cross, in this faith and confidence; which is to say that He lives in the significance of His Baptism.
So are you likewise called to live in the significance of your Baptism; which is to live by faith in the Cross and Resurrection of this same Lord Jesus Christ. And what does this mean for you? The Word of the Lord has taught you, and tells you again this morning: Daily to repent of your sins, not only in your heart and mind, in your thoughts and feelings, but in your words and deeds, in your body and your soul. You are to become altogether new, altogether other than you have been; to live and die righteously; to confess your sins, and to rely upon the Absolution of the Gospel.
It is a completely false understanding of Holy Baptism to suppose that it sets you free from any accountability or responsibility before God. It does not save you from God, but sets you free from sin, death, and the power of the devil. It is the fountain and source of your identity and calling to be and to live as a child of God, that is, according to His Word, by faith in His Word and Promise.
Your Baptism calls you to trust the Lord your God, to rely upon Him for all that you need and for all good things, and to pray to the Father in the Spirit through the Lord Jesus Christ. It calls you to flee from sin and every evil, and to do as the Lord commands within your own station in life. It calls you to confess His Holy Name, and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it.
To be baptized in the Name of the Lord also means that you belong, not to yourself, but to Him, and to His people, His Church. For there is one Lord Jesus Christ, one Holy Spirit, one true faith, one Holy Baptism for the forgiveness of sins, and one God and Father of all Christians. As you are baptized into Christ, you are a member of the one Body of Christ Jesus, and therefore a fellow member with all His brothers and sisters. You are not a free agent, but a servant of the Lord.
You live in this significance of your Baptism, as a child of God, by faith in His Word. There is no other way to live, not really. As all of Creation is enlivened by the Holy Spirit, the Author and Giver of Life, so also do you live by the Spirit of Christ Jesus. You can’t catch the Spirit or keep Him by any power or intelligence of your own, but you receive Him in the Ministry of the Gospel, in the water and the Word of Holy Baptism, and in the Body and the Blood of Christ Jesus.
It is the gracious good work of God that, day by day, He separates the Light from the darkness in you by calling you to repentance and faith in His forgiveness of all your sins. Though you wander and get lost in the wilderness, and you keep returning to the same old, same old bad habits, to the sinful lusts and wicked desires of your fallen flesh, and to the deadly patterns of your inheritance from Adam, the Lord continues to send His messengers to preach to you in the wilderness, to call you back, again and again, to the significance of your one Baptism into Christ Jesus, so that you should die to sin, to yourself, and to the world, and that you should live unto righteousness in Him.
Not that you should pull yourself up by your own bootstraps! But that you are raised from death to life by the grace of God, by the Word and Spirit of the Father in the Gospel of Christ Jesus. For His free and full forgiveness is given to you in His means of grace. Not as permission or license to keep on sinning, but as genuine freedom from sin and death, and from the tyranny of the devil, so that you are free to live in Christ as the true man or woman that God created you in love to be.
Your sin no longer has the upper hand, because your dear Lord Jesus is risen from the dead, and the Spirit of His God and Father has come down upon Him, upon His Body of flesh and blood. God and Man are permanently reconciled and united in harmony in that baptized Body of Christ; and as His Baptism, His Cross and Resurrection have become your Baptism and your repentance, so is His crucified and risen Body your Justification, and His Holy Spirit your Sanctification.
In the bodily Resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead is the fulfillment of His Baptism and the restoration of the Image of God in Man. He is Himself the Image of God in His Incarnation, because He is the Word made Flesh, conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary by the Holy Spirit. But you are recreated in the Image of God by your Baptism into the Baptism of our Lord; for so do you share His Cross and Resurrection, His faith and faithfulness, His Righteousness and Holiness in your own body of flesh and blood, in the life that you now live by faith in Him.
So it is, by the Ministry of the Gospel, by the preaching of His Word, and by the Holy Sacrament, that God raises you from the dead, from the dust of the earth, and breathes His Holy Spirit into you through His forgiveness of your sins.
And you really do live in the true Light of His Salvation, in righteousness and purity before Him.
Indeed, His Word to you in Christ Jesus is that you are His own dearly-beloved son or daughter, and that you are well-pleasing to Him. For His forgiveness of your sins is not a joke or let’s pretend or wishful thinking, but is as tangible and certain as the waters of your Baptism, and as real and complete as the Resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead — in whom all of Creation is made brand new and is perfected, and in whom you also are a New Creation, now and forevermore.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.