As the Boy Jesus submitted to His earthly parents in obedience and love, so does the same Lord Jesus now submit Himself to St. John the Baptist — to his preaching and baptism of repentance. And no one is more surprised by that fact than St. John himself, who tries at first to prevent Him.
The people coming to be baptized by St. John come confessing their sins. But Jesus has no sins of His own to confess, nothing to repent. He comes, however, confessing your sins and the sins of the world, as though they were His own, as though He had committed all of them Himself. He confesses all your failures to do what you should do, and all your wickedness in doing what you should not. He confesses your murder and adultery of thought, word, and deed; your theft and false witness; your gossip and greed; your covetous idolatry and blasphemous speaking and acting.
And for all of these sins, which He takes upon Himself, He repents by way of His Cross, by His sacrificial Death and Resurrection. That is the work He begins to do in the waters of the Jordan.
He submits to St. John’s Baptism in order to fulfill all righteousness for you and for all sinners, in order to reconcile the world to His God and Father. To set all things right, as they should be. To repair what has been broken, to revive and refresh what has been bruised and bent, and to establish a good and right relationship with God, a friendship of faith and love, a true sonship of peace.
In order to accomplish such great things for you, St. John’s fierce and fiery preaching of God’s Law is here set upon Jesus, so that all the righteous wrath and judgment of God against your sins, and all the punishment of your sins, now punishes Him. At the same time, He also submits Himself to all the just demands of the Law — everything that pertains to faith and love toward God and belonging to love for His neighbors — that He should thereby perfect and establish all things in Himself, in His flesh and blood, in all of His relationships, vocations, and stations in life. That is what He does for you and all, for your sake and for your benefit, in your stead and on your behalf.
In this way He puts not only His body and life on the line for you, but His divine, eternal Sonship. In flesh and blood like yours He weathers the curse and consequences of sin and death under the Law, in order to give you His body and life and bestow His divine Sonship upon you by His grace.
All that has been yours becomes His, in order that all that belongs to Him should become yours.
On the one hand, the Law’s fire and brimstone fall upon Him; and on the other hand, the Holy Spirit descends upon Him in bodily form as a dove, anointing Him as the Christ. Thus, in Him, the fire does not consume you, but purifies you as silver and gold are purified by fire; and likewise, the same Spirit that descends upon Jesus is poured out generously upon you, in order to sanctify you in body and soul, and to give you Life with God in Christ Jesus, both now and ever after.
As Jesus went into the water for you, and He came up out of the water, so do you drown and die to sin in the waters of Holy Baptism, and you emerge and arise from that watery grave to a new life. By the water, Word, and Spirit of Christ Jesus, you are a new creation. You are a Christian, anointed by the Spirit of Jesus, the Christ. You are a beloved and well-pleasing son of the Father. As He speaks from heaven concerning Christ Jesus, so also of those who are baptized into Him.
Heaven is now opened to you, and it shall not be shut to you again, because all of your sins have been washed away, and thus are you clean. The righteousness of God in Christ is yours. Because His Baptism is not only for you; it has been given to you, and so it is yours. His repentance, His confession and forgiveness are yours. His Cross and Resurrection are yours, not only once upon a time, but once and for all, for every day of your life on earth, by His grace through faith in Him, by His Word and Spirit, until your Baptism shall be completed in the death of your mortal flesh and in the resurrection of your body to the Life everlasting, immortal, imperishable, and glorious.
Your Baptism is the beginning of that good work in you, which the Lord has already accomplished and completed for you by His Incarnation — by His Nativity and Holy Baptism, by His Life and Ministry, by His Cross and Passion, and by His Resurrection and Ascension. That is the good work that He is bringing to completion in you by His preaching of repentance and by His daily forgiveness of your sins, unto the day of His glorious appearing for the final Judgment. Then the righteousness which is already yours by faith in Him shall be openly declared before the face of all the nations, in the presence of all your enemies, in defiance of sin, death, the devil, and hell.
Just as surely as Jesus came up out of the water and out of the tomb, so surely are you justified and sanctified in Him. And it is just as true and sure and certain that you shall be raised from the dead at the last and live forever and ever in your body and soul with Christ Jesus and all the faithful.
It is true that every day your sins are putting you back into the ground, returning you to the dust of the earth from which your first father was taken. With every covetous and hateful thought, with every false and hurtful word, with every selfish and abusive act, old Adam buries you again.
But your sins do not bury Christ Jesus or put Him back into the ground. Having died once for all, and having risen from the dead, He will never die again. Death no longer has any mastery over Him. Nor does death have any lasting hold or power over you, since you have already died with Christ in your Baptism, and sharing His death you also share His Resurrection. The life He lives, He lives for you in the presence of God in all righteousness, innocence, blessedness, and purity.
As often as the old Adam in you, with all your sinful lusts and desires, puts you to death and buries you in the tomb, so often and even more decisively does Jesus Christ, the New Man, put your old Adam to death and raise you to newness of life in Himself, in peace and reconciliation with His God and Father in heaven. His Voice and Spirit descend to where you are, even to the depths of Sheol, in order to raise you up and make you brand new through His forgiveness of all your sins.
Your sins put you to death because they separate you from God, but the Father has reconciled you to Himself in Christ Jesus, the beloved Son, and He has anointed you with His Spirit, adopted you as a child and heir by His grace, and bound Himself to you, and you to Him, with His own Name.
Your sins are deadly, but they cannot destroy you in Christ. Death is brutal and devastating, but it does not have the last word concerning you, and it is not permitted to keep you. The devil is cunning and powerful, but he has been robbed of all his weapons against you — for Christ has fulfilled and satisfied the Law, atoned for all your sins, and overcome your death; He has risen from the dead for your justification and ascended to the right hand of the Father for your glory.
This same Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God and St. Mary’s Son, crucified and risen in the flesh, has been baptized for you. Therefore, your Baptism into Him avails for you at all times and in all places. What this means for you is that even sin and death must serve the purposes of God and not of the devil; they drive you to repentance — from idolatry and unbelief to faith in Christ Jesus.
And so it is that the death of your body in this wilderness of tears does not mean the end of your life with God, but only the end of sin and every evil in your flesh. Until then — though you daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment — the Jordan River of Holy Baptism is constantly washing away your sins and preserving you with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.
His mercies are new every morning, and from the waters of your Baptism, day by day throughout your life, He makes of you a new creation. The same waters that drown and destroy your sin and death, lift you up and save you aboard the Holy Ark of Christendom. They stand as a mighty wall against your enemies, a tidal wave drowning proud Pharaoh with all his chariots and horsemen, keeping them at bay, while opening up the way out of Egypt before you — through the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus — into the good Land that God has promised and given to you in His dearly-beloved and well-pleasing Son. Holy Baptism thus stands for you at the foothills of the Lord’s Holy Mountain, on the cusp of the wilderness, and at the threshold of Paradise.
The new and better Joshua has entered those waters ahead of you, in order to open up the way for you and for all; and He has established Himself in the midst of the Jordan until you and all His chosen people have passed through those waters into Canaan. He shall not be moved.
The waters that would have dashed you against the rocks and swept you away have swept over Him and swallowed Him up. But just when it seems as though He has been drowned and died forever, His body never to be recovered, He rises from the water and lives. And in that sacred bath, in that washing of Jesus in the Jordan River, which you share with Him by the washing of water with His Word — in that Baptism is your repentance, forgiveness, faith, and resurrection.
And here is the reason why: When Jesus, the unblemished Lamb of God, came to St. John, the son of a priest and more than a prophet, and submitted to his baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, He was humbling Himself before God, putting Himself under the Law, and obeying His Father in perfect faith and love by submitting Himself to the suffering and death of the Cross.
So, then, already in His Baptism the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ began putting Him to death for the sins of the world — for all of your sins — until this Baptism which He undergoes for you would be fully kindled in the fire of His Passion and finished in His atoning Sacrifice.
God put Him to death for your sins. And God raised Him up again, the very One who died for you. That is your Absolution, your righteousness and holiness, and your resurrection, now and forever.
So, then, as you have died with Christ by your Baptism into His death, and as you are risen with Him by faith in His Resurrection, your life in both body and soul is safe and sound — hidden with Christ in God by the Holy Spirit, who lives and abides in you by the Ministry of the Gospel.
Set your heart and mind, therefore, on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty. Set your sights on Him and on His sacred and eternal things, and do not cling to the perishing and temporal things of this dying world. Do not invest yourself in those things which do not last and cannot give you life, but fear, love, and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ.
That is not to say that you neglect or ignore your body and life in this world. On the contrary, it is by faith in Christ that you live your life here and now, and love your neighbor as yourself, and do the work that God has given you to do, and bear the Cross in the hope of the Resurrection. As Israel proceeded from the Red Sea to the Jordan, and as Christ Jesus proceeded from the Jordan to His Cross and Passion, so do you live and work in the wilderness on your sojourn to the Land that God has promised — from the waters of your Holy Baptism to the resurrection of your body.
Whether you are an officer and leader of our congregation, a father or mother, a husband or wife, a brother or sister, or whatever your callings and stations in life may be, your labors of faith and love are not in vain. For you are baptized into Christ Jesus, and though you die, yet shall you live. So shall He guard your body and soul in His righteousness throughout your pilgrimage on earth, and so shall He preserve you steadfast in His Word and Holy Spirit unto the Life everlasting.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.