Summary: This is a sermon preached as part of a midweek Lenten series on the 6 chief parts of the Small Catechism on March 6th, 2013 at Emmons Lutheran Church, Emmons, Minnesota.
Tonight as we continue our “Lenten Catechesis”, our journey is going to begin in a place where our Scripture lessons don’t take us: to the banks of the Jordan River. There, we see a man dressed in camel’s hair and a leather belt, who’s diet is locusts and wild honey. He has been there preaching a message of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. People have been listing to His preaching, His warning of sin and the judgment it threatens to bring, and the need to turn away from it. But John also tells them why this is so important: Someone else is coming. He has been telling the crowd around him “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn up with unquenchable fire.” (Matthew 3:11-12) To describe his preaching in Lutheran terms, John is preaching a message of Law and Gospel, telling the people of their sin, and also telling them that the Savior they’ve been waiting for is coming.
But John isn’t just preaching. He’s also baptizing. Something to keep in mind here as we go along this evening, the Greek word in the New Testament that we get our word “Baptize” is a word that literally means “I wash”. It’s also well worth mentioning that in many different places of Scripture, sin is described as a spot, or stain, or dirt, something that needs to be washed from something in order to be made clean. Into that water in the Jordan River, we have all sorts of people who have heard John’s preaching, believe that the Savior is coming, and to prepare their hearts and minds for His arrival, know that they need to repent, or turn away from their old sinful ways, and have faith in the Savior who will make them clean. So you could say that as those people are baptized, or washed, in the Jordan River, the sin they are turning away from is being washed off of them. So we can very easily say that as John goes about his office of preaching and baptizing, that is some pretty filthy, dirty, disgusting water there on the banks of the Jordan.
And in the midst of that crowd, stands the one person who does not need this washing, because this is the Word made Flesh, the Son of God. John recognizes Him right away, pointing to Jesus and saying to the crowds gathered there: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29) Remember, this is the One who is without sin, who has no need to repent of anything and be washed of anything. Even John knows this, which is why He says “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” (Matt. 3:14) And yet, Jesus says this must happen “for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” (Matt. 3:15b) And down into that water goes Jesus.
Now remember what we said, this water is teeming with the sins of all of those repentant sinners there. And here Jesus is, about to step into that very water. The spotless, sinless Son of God. And yet, what happens? He goes right into that water and John baptizes, or washes Him with that very dirty, filthy water. It is as if those sins that were washed off everyone else were now washed onto Him.
And why? Because remember what John said of Jesus when He arrives on the banks of the Jordan. This is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. If He is going to take it away, He first has to take it onto Himself so that He can truly take the punishment for it.
And so that we would not think for a moment that this is some huge mistake by Jesus, as He is baptized, as the water containing the sin of all of those repentant sinners is washed onto Him, the heavens open up, the Holy Spirit descends in the form of a dove, and God the Father says “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matt. 3:17)
And why is the Father pleased? Because this is just one stop on His Son’s way to the cross. Where all the sins of all of the world will be placed onto His shoulders. Where He will suffer and die for the sins of the world. Where our salvation is won. Where our sinful nature goes to die. And when He gives up His life and His body is placed in the tomb at the end of the day, our sins also die with him, and are placed into that tomb.