The Baptism of Our Lord
“All Righteousness Fulfilled”
Reverend Philip G. Meyer, Pastor Emeritus
St. Matthew 3.13-17
09 January 2022
✠ SOLI DEO GLORIA ✠
The unbelieving world gets the life of Jesus wrong. In an attempt to be respectful, they really disrespect him by putting him with other great moralists, namely, Buddha, Confucius, and maybe even Muhammad. They see him simply as a moralist, a teacher, an advice-giver, but not the only begotten Son of God. That’s why they get it so wrong. Matthew tells us very plainly what the Baptism of Jesus is and what it means for us.
John had been preaching a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” [Mark 1.4] Sinners were repenting and coming out for baptism. When Jesus presented himself for baptism John refused, and for good reason. Baptism was for the forgiveness of sins, but Jesus had none, so John balked. Jesus answered John’s objection:
“Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”
By being baptized Jesus would show himself to be the Savior, the Redeemer, who would complete everything that all humanity had failed to do. He would show that God’s Law is valid and that he would be the One to fill it up to the brim, and even overflowing with righteousness, going to the cross.
Somewhere Luther said of this event, “Here Jesus really begins to be Christ.” This marks the beginning of our Lord’s earthly ministry and his march to the cross. It marks the official start of his work of atonement, that is, his substitutionary work of standing in the place of sinners under the wrath of God. At this very moment Jesus assumes his office as High Priest for us. In this high priestly office Jesus will offer himself as the sacrifice for the world’s sins. John had already identified Jesus as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” [John 1.29]. At this very moment Jesus steps forward—willingly—to offer himself as the substitutionary Lamb of God. He will be the lamb of sacrifice, the scapegoat, the Passover lamb—he will be all of them. All this Jesus does when he offers himself for baptism by John. It is the beginning of his work as the Christ.
Jesus came to John to receive the sinner’s Baptism. That’s what John was doing out there in the wilderness— baptizing sinners, people run afoul of the Law of God. Jesus was identifying with these sinners. He didn’t put himself above them; he came to live with them and befriend them. These were people whose consciences had been convicted by John’s preaching and repented. They were the kind of people that the religious leaders shunned.
All righteousness” is simply not done by us if we merely avoid certain behaviors.
If I do not fear, love, and trust in God above all things;
if I do not hold the name of God holy by failing to pray, praise, and give thanks;
If I don’t hear the preaching of God’s Word;
If I don’t kill my neighbor;
if I don’t engage in adultery;
if I refrain from taking advantage of my neighbor;
if I keep silent when others slander him;
if I refrain from committing overt sinful acts against him;
Then I have not fulfilled all righteousness.
Why not? Because I have not filled up all of the good that I was to do and didn’t do, such as
putting God first in my word, deeds, and actions by honoring his Word;
obeying those placed over me in the various stations of life;
helping my neighbor in his bodily need;
banishing the lustful thoughts and words and honoring marriage,
helping my neighbor to improve and protect his property and business;
speaking up for him and putting the best construction on his actions;
not coveting what does not belong to me;
If I have merely refrained from the sins of commission, I have not fulfilled all righteousness because I have committed all these sins of omission. That’s what the Jewish leaders did not see, nor does our world see. They don’t see their sinful hearts and their failure to be righteous in thought, word, and deed.
Here Jesus becomes not merely a sinner, but the sinner. He is the Lamb of God, the one perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world because he bears all these sins in his own body. He identifies with sinners so completely that he receives the sinners’ Baptism. Jesus becomes our substitute. He begins to live the life that God requires us to live, a life of complete righteousness in thought, word, and deed. He has come to fill up God’s righteousness with his own life.
Amazing things happen when Jesus was baptized. The heavens opened and the Holy Spirit came down and rested on him like a dove, anointing him for his work. Then the voice came from heaven, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
God in heaven was pleased that Jesus was baptized! The Father in heaven was pleased that because of Jesus fulfilling all righteousness you and I would find heaven’s door opened to us. God had sent Cherubim with flaming swords to guard the way to the tree of life after Adam and Eve sinned, but now through our Lord’s Baptism, heaven is opened to us once again. His fulfilling all righteousness removed the cause of its closing, our sins. In our Christmas hymnody we sang:
He is the key and he the door
To blessed paradise;
The angel bars the way no more,
To God our praises rise,
To God our praises rise. [LW 44.6]
No more thundering as at Sinai, but the welcome voice of the Father and the presence of the Holy Spirit! Truly it is a new beginning for the world! It is the beginning of new life instead of death. Everything is comforting, lovely, and joyful. Jesus is baptized! God is pleased with his Son!
What is more, God is pleased with us! Why is God pleased with sinners like us? Because of Jesus! God sees Christ’s righteousness, his fulfillment of the Law, as your own! This happened when you were baptized in the Name of the Triune God. The Apostle Paul makes it very plain:
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. [Romans 6.3-4]
That’s a new beginning! We are united with our Lord Jesus Christ in his life, death, and resurrection. His righteousness is ours and we get the whole death thing over with, just as Paul says. Eternal life is yours through Holy Baptism. Heaven’s gates are open! It means that Christ shares everything with you, that you share in all the riches of heaven!
God himself was present in the water of Jesus’ Baptism. That’s why the Holy Spirit descends like a dove and rested on Jesus. The Holy Spirit is present in the water of Holy Baptism for every Christian, too. He brings Christ to you. Your Baptism is not merely an empty formalism, an empty righteousness, an obedience to the command of God, but through it the Holy Spirit brings all the righteousness of Christ to you!
Now, if you received Christ when you were baptized—and you have!—then you indeed have a new life. On that day of your Baptism you really began to live. You live the life that shall never end! Your physical life shall indeed end one day, but the life of Christ given you in Holy Baptism will never end because he gives you his righteousness, and righteousness is what it takes to live in the presence of God.
We endeavor to celebrate all the baptismal birthdays of our congregation. It’s a good practice to remember your baptismal birthday. I used to require our catechumens to know their baptismal birthdays because other than your physical birthday no other day is as important as the day your really began to live the life that shall never end. You got eternal life and heaven is open to you. You remember your Baptism every time you repeat the words “In the Name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit” in remembrance of your Baptism and confess the Apostle’s Creed, a practice you should do morning and evening as Luther instructs in the Small Catechism.
So our Lord’s Baptism in the Jordan began his real work of fulfilling all righteousness on behalf of every sinner in this world. All righteousness has been fulfilled!
In the Name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit.