Summary: On this “Baptism of Jesus” Sunday we might very well ask what John asked. Why did Jesus need to be baptized? Like John it is also good for us to see our need for baptism by Jesus.
John the Baptist. That name brings powerful images to mind. Camel’s hair clothes held together with a leather belt. Grasshoppers dipped in wild honey for a sweet and crunchy meal. Saying the morally right thing at the socially wrong time. John was the one who called the people who came to hear him preach a slimy gathering of slithering snakes. How is that for winning friends and influencing people? “Repent,” he shouted, “for the kingdom of heaven is near!” In spite of his outward strangeness and his directness in condemning sin he also baptized thousands for the forgiveness of their sins. He also preached the good news that God had pity on this planet and was sending a Savior.
Although John didn’t care what people thought of him and he seems to have never been at a loss for words there was one time in John’s ministry when he almost came unglued. Jesus, the Lamb of God himself, came to John to be baptized. We are told in Matthew’s gospel that John tried to stop him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” (Matthew 3:14) From what John knew about Jesus, baptism didn’t seem to fit him. Jesus was the sinless Son of God. Baptism was for sinners. John also knew that he himself was a sinner in need of God’s love and forgiveness. What right did he have to baptize Jesus? It made much more sense for Jesus to baptize John instead of the other way around.
John the Baptist’s statement about his own need for baptism and his question about Jesus’ need for baptism are two thoughts that would be appropriate for us to consider this morning. On this “Baptism of Jesus” Sunday we might very well ask what John asked. Why did Jesus need to be baptized? Like John it is also good for us to see our need for baptism by Jesus.
The Word of God that will lead us to a better understanding of both points is our gospel lesson from Luke 3:15-17, 21 & 22. Let’s use the amazing truth expressed by Luke in verse 21 for the theme of our sermon. Luke says that:
“JESUS WAS BAPTIZED TOO”
I. He was baptized like a sinner to serve as their Savior
II. He provides a baptism for sinners in order to save them
Stories often “flash ahead” in time. Perhaps you have seen a movie that began with a powerful scene of some kind. Then in the very next frame of film you read a subtitle that said, “30 years later.” If we were watching the life of Jesus played for us like a movie our gospel lesson for this morning would be just such a jump ahead in time. Two weeks ago we celebrated Jesus’ birth. Today we hear about him when he is around age 30. Other than one report about something that happened in Jesus’ life when he was twelve years old we simply are not told what happened from his birth to the time of his baptism.
Our gospel lesson for this morning takes us to that turning point in the written history of Jesus’ life. “When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’” Jesus was baptized too. That statement brings us back to the question John the Baptist expressed. Why did Jesus need to be baptized? It also leads us to see our unworthiness and our need for a baptism provided by Jesus.
As Lutheran Christians we answer any question that we have about one part of the Bible by looking at the rest of the Bible for answers. Why was Jesus baptized? The logical answer would be that he needed it. He was in need of forgiveness. But does that answer fit with the rest of Scripture? No. Hebrews 4:15 tells us that Jesus was “tempted in every way, just as we are yet was without sin.” 1 John 3:5 says of Jesus, “But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin.” 1 Peter 1:19 tells us that Jesus is the lamb of God (the sacrifice for sin) “without blemish or defect.” So if Jesus wasn’t a sinner and didn’t need baptism them why was he baptized? If you looked in a mirror this morning you saw the reason. As you look at me and I look at you we see why Jesus was baptized. It was to join us in our sinful, helpless, pitiful condition.