by The Rev. Mark Buetow
Jesus comes to be baptized by John and John says Jesus should baptize him. But our Lord says, “Let it be so now in order to fulfill all righteousness.” Warning! Big church word alert! “Righteousness.” It's one of those big words we hear in church and don't really know what it means. Do you know what “righteousness” is? Do you have any? How do you get some. What good does having it do you? It's really not as complicated as all that. Jesus comes to be baptized in order to fulfill all righteousness. Right there, in the Jordan River, we learn everything we need to know about what “righteousness” is. So are you ready? Ears open? Paying attention? Here is everything you need to know about “righteousness.” Here, in simple terms, is a definition of “righteousness” that's easy to remember and repeat. Ready? Here it is: “Righteousness” means “Jesus takes your place.” Practice that. Everybody say, “Righteousness means, 'Jesus take my place.'” You got it. It's that simple. Now you can answer the question, “Are you righteous?” Answer? “Of course! Jesus takes my place.” Do you have righteousness? Of course! Jesus takes your place? When you read in the Bible the words “the righteousness of God,” what does it mean? You got it...Jesus takes your place. God the Father desires to save you from your sins. Our sinfulness means we have no righteousness. So the Father sends the Son and makes Him into a sinner and in that way makes us into His children. That's our salvation. That's our righteousness.
What was John the Baptist doing in the wilderness? He was baptizing sinners. The Gospel say that John came “preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” So if you had sins, the Jordan River was the place to be, because John was washing those sins away by water and God's Word. Now, we know that Jesus is sinless. He is the pure and spotless Lamb of God. He is the one sinless and perfect man. Even John knows that! Even John figures that since Jesus is perfect and holy and doesn't have any sins, He should be doing the baptizing. So what a surprise when Jesus comes to get baptized by John! If He's sinless, why does He need to get baptized? The answer is this: He doesn't get baptized for Himself. He gets baptized for us. When JESUS is baptized, the sins that were washed away from sinners all stick to Him. At His Baptism, Jesus comes to be a sinner covered with our sins. And not just one person's sins. He comes to take on EVERY person's sins ever! And that tears open heaven. And it puts a huge smile on the Father's face. When Jesus gets baptized, Matthew writes that “Heaven was opened to Him” and we hear the Father's voice, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased!” Even the Holy Spirit is there, landing on Jesus and pointing out: This is the Guy! This is the One who is becoming the sinner for the sake of sinners to make sinners into children of God! He takes on our sins and then takes them to the cross and flushes them away with His blood and water that gush from His side. Jesus takes on our sins and then goes to die and take them away. He doesn't just take them and keep them. He takes them from us, takes them to the cross and buries them forever in the tomb from which He rose!
Now understand something. God the Father is pleased with Jesus because Jesus does what He is told and takes the place of sinners. It's His doing what His Father says and taking our place that makes us right with God. Nothing else. In fact, if you read this Gospel closely, everything good is said about Jesus. Heaven is opened to HIM. God the Father is pleased with HIM. The Holy Spirit lands on HIM. But wasn't all this about Jesus taking YOUR place? It's great for Jesus that heaven is open to Him and He's got the Holy Spirit on Him and the Father says, “That's my boy!” But how does that do us any good? Here's how. Maybe you've heard the radio ad on WJPF that talks about “closing the circle.” It's about recycling, so that instead of a car battery sitting on a pile of newspapers in your garage, you recycle them and they make it back into the store as something else instead of going to waste. Well, the Lord's salvation is accomplished and delivered in a similar way. At His Baptism, Jesus takes your place. On the cross, Jesus is taking your place. But how does that benefit you? The circle is closed when what Jesus did is delivered to you and bestowed upon you. Where does that happen? It happens in YOUR Baptism! When YOU are baptized, that is God's promise and seal that Jesus took YOUR place. That He died for YOUR sins. That YOU are a child of God. In other words, Jesus is Baptized for you and you are baptized to be given His place as God's Son! Salvation is accomplished by Jesus taking your place and delivered to you when you were Baptized.
Another way to put it is this: since Jesus, the true Lamb and Son of God takes your place, everything that He does and accomplishes and everything that happens to Him is now yours. Because you are washed with water and the Word in Baptism, heaven being opened to Jesus means that now heaven is opened to you. Because you are baptized, the Holy Spirit who lands on Jesus has come upon you, giving you peace with God. Because you are baptized, the Father speaking of Jesus is now the Father speaking of you: “This is my beloved Son!” Because you are baptized, Jesus' defeating the Devil in the desert is your defeating the Devil. Because you are baptized, Jesus healing forgiving is your healing and forgiveness. Because you are baptized, Jesus death on the cross is your death, His paying for your sins means your sins are paid for. Because you are baptized, Jesus resurrection is your resurrection and the promise of you too rising from the dead. Because you are baptized, Jesus' Ascension and sitting at the right hand of the Father is your ascension and being seated in heavenly places. Because you are baptized, Jesus' eternal glory and the defeat of all enemies on the Last Day is your victory for all eternity over every enemy. Get it? Whatever is Christ's is now yours through Holy Baptism. All that God is and has and does for you is given to you as a gift at that font, by the washing of new birth by water, the Word and the Holy Spirit.
But be careful! Being baptized means that just like Jesus was a marked man who was attacked and assaulted by the world and the Devil, so those enemies will come after you. The Devil will tell you over and over NOT to trust in your Baptism. The world will tell you a thousand and one ways to find God, none of which are your Baptism. The world will tell you that “righteousness” is all about how you live. The Devil will tell you that your sins keep you from being a child of God. And the great temptation you will have, brothers and sisters in Christ, is to live as if you Baptism didn't actually do anything. That your Baptism hasn't changed anything. That you aren't any different because you are baptized. That you can have some religion and find God apart from your Baptism. That if you a live a good life you can make up for your sins. All lies! Apart from your Baptism, you don't have Jesus, heaven is shut, the Holy Spirit is nowhere to be found and God the Father calls you cursed and not His child. But in Holy Baptism, all of that is yours because it is Christ's. Therefore repent of any despising of your Baptism and learn to live in it each day. Learn to make the sign of the Holy Cross and begin and end each day with your Baptismal name.
So, are you all clear on what “righteousness” is? It's Jesus taking your place. Are you all set on where that righteousness is given to you? In your Baptism. The world and even the church are filled with people who want to make anything other than Baptism the big deal. But Baptism isn't ours. It's the Lord's. Courtney didn't get herself baptized today. The Lord baptized her. I didn't baptize her, the Lord did. Sure, He used my hands but it is HIS water and word. Baptism is God's work and gift! As you come to the Sacrament today, the font still has water in it. Why not splash a little on your forehead with the sign of the cross to remember your Baptism and to confess to the world that by that Baptism, Christ has taken your place and taken everything bad that is yours—your sin and death—and given you everything good that is His—heaven opened, the Spirit of Peace, and a heavenly Father who claims you as His own. Jesus was Baptized to take your place. Now in your Baptism, you have His place, as the dearly beloved Son of God for all eternity. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.
Rev. Mark Buetow is pastor of Bethel Lutheran Church in Du Quoin, IL. Pastor Buetow is also Internet Services Executive for Higher Things.
Created: January 11th, 2009