What's Jesus Doing in the Water?

Vicar Aaron Fenker

Baptism Ever since the fall of Adam, humanity has had a problem: sin, death, the devil, and even our own flesh have had it in for us. There was no way for us to get out of this problem on our own. Adam hid and blamed God for his problem, Cain killed Abel, David committed adultery and murder, God’s chosen people Israel worshiped false gods. We all need a Savior, and throughout Advent we prepared for His coming. At Christmas we celebrated that our Savior, Jesus, was born not just a cute, cuddly baby, but as God in human flesh to die for our sins. In Epiphany He appears as the Light of the world. So we needed God our Savior to come, to take on human flesh in Jesus, He was confessed God and Savior by the Gentiles, and now our Savior needs to baptized?

That doesn’t make any sense at all. John the Baptizer doesn't quite get it either. John tried to prevent Him, saying, "I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?" God doesn’t need to be baptized. We all know what our catechism tells us about what Baptism gives: "It works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation." Jesus doesn’t need any of those things. He's already sinless, He's Lord over death and Satan, and He needs no salvation. Yet Christ assures John, and us: "Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness." For righteousness' sake Jesus submits to this baptism of John.

What sort of righteousness is Jesus trying to fulfill? Yours! Jesus is in the fulfillment business. We needed a Virgin to conceive and bear a Son. Fulfilled. We needed a man who is God-in-human-flesh, Immanuel. Fulfilled. Everything that happens in the Old Testament is fulfilled in Jesus. He takes everything that was written and fulfills it. Here, on the banks of the Jordan River, Jesus yet again fulfills all righteousness by being baptized by John. He puts a seal of "fulfilled" on a big chunk of the Old Testament by being baptized. But wait, there’s more!

The Lord Jesus never does anything without giving some gift to His people. And so in this baptism of His, he secures your righteousness too! Jesus basically says, "This heav'nly washing now shall be A cleansing from transgression." (LSB 406:1) Christ has taken the old and made it new. Jesus' baptism works the opposite way ours does. We need to be baptized for our salvation. Jesus' needs to be baptized not for His own salvation, but for yours. The Spirit and the Father appear at Jesus' baptism so that you know they appear at yours. With this picture you know without a shadow of a doubt that name spoken over you brings what it says: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The waters of baptism make you clean because Jesus' baptism in the Jordan River consecrated and cleansed all waters."

When Jesus is baptized we see an image of our own baptism. When you were washed at the font, you were cleansed of every sin you had committed, would commit, will commit, and could commit. No sin can escape this washing and those sins were washed off of you and washed over Jesus. The Spirit was given to you in baptism, and God now calls you His child. Jesus died wearing your sin and now through baptism you wear His everlasting and eternal righteousness. You are now pure as He is pure. You are now God’s own child, and you can gladly say it, "I am baptized into Christ!"

Aaron Fenker is serving as vicar at Immanuel Lutheran Church of Osman in Fisher, IL. Vicar Fenker is also the voice behind the audio version of the Higher Things Reflections.

Created: January 8th, 2011