The Baptism of our Lord + January 11 & 14, 2018 + Pr. Dale Reckzin
Text: Matthew 3:13-17
Most of us have had to deal with someone who is impossible to please. Maybe it was (or is) that teacher. You study and study. You take notes and participate enthusiastically in class. You do all your assignments on time. You follow all the directions. But still you only get a “C minus.”
Or maybe it’s your boss. You work hard. You never complain. You show up early and stay late. You do the difficult jobs nobody else wants to do. But your boss still gives you a poor job review.
But the worst is to have a parent who is never satisfied. You do everything your parent says. You never talk back. You follow all the rules. You never get in trouble. You do well in school. But your parent says, “Why are you such a lousy kid? Why can’t ever do anything right? I’m so disappointed in you.”
That’s crushing, isn’t it? You want to please your parent. You expect your parent to encourage you and praise you for your efforts. You look for love. But, all you get is criticism. All you get is anger and rejection.
That’s what our relationship with God can feel like. We think, I try to be good. I come to church. I say my prayers. I give my offerings. I help my neighbor. I don’t commit any “big” sins. I even tell other people about God’s Word. But I always feel so guilty. No matter how hard I try to be good, God always points out my filthy and impure thoughts. God always exposes my hypocrisy. God always confronts me with my failure to put him first. It’s so frustrating trying to be a good Christian. Sometimes, I feel like, no matter how hard I try, God will never be happy with me.
Do you know what? You are absolutely right. God will never be happy with you. God will never be satisfied with your performance as a Christian. At the beginning of our service we heard the ten commandments. And after every commandment we said, “Lord, have mercy.” We need to say that because we fail to keep even one of God’s commandments. So, as harsh as it is, God has every right to tell you, “Why are you such a lousy Christian? Why can’t you ever do anything right? I am so disappointed in you.”
That’s crushing, too, isn’t it? You want to please God. You expect God to encourage you and praise you for your efforts. You look for love. But all you get is criticism. All you get is anger and rejection.
But God is not a cruel and uncaring Father. Yes, God has impossibly high standards. There is absolutely no way that you can ever measure up to the stringent requirements of God’s commandments. And God is brutally honest. God does point out all your failures, all your imperfections, and all your sins. But God has had mercy on you. God does not despise you, his imperfect creature. God loves this whole world full of sinners. God loves you.
And God proves his love. God gave us the one human being who did measure up. God gave us the one child who never failed his Father. God gave us Jesus. In our Gospel lesson, we see Jesus at his baptism. Our text says, "Jesus came from Galilee to be baptized by John at the Jordan. But John tried to stop him, saying, 'I need to be baptized by you, and yet you come to me?'" (v. 14)
John the Baptist understood how sinful he was. Even though John had one hundred times more holiness than any of us will ever have, John knew that he was a foul, filthy sinner. So, John properly confesses how much he needed Jesus to wash him clean of all his sins. John properly says, “I need to be baptized by you, and yet you come to me?”
But then Jesus says something profound. Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, because it is proper for us to fulfill all righteousness.” (v. 15) In a few short words Jesus explains the whole reason he took on human flesh and came down to this earth. Jesus left his throne on high and became true man…to fulfill all righteousness.
That means Jesus came to do what you and I should do but cannot do. You and I should keep the ten commandments and all of God’s laws. In our thoughts, words, and actions we should obey God perfectly all the time. But we don’t. We can’t. Our inborn sinful nature makes us fall flat on our face as soon as we leave the gate on the track of holy living.
But, again, Jesus came to do what you and I should do, but cannot do. Jesus kept all the commandments of God. Jesus obeyed his heavenly Father perfectly all the time. That’s why our text says this: "After Jesus was baptized, he immediately went up out of the water. Suddenly, the heavens were opened for him! He saw the Spirit of God, descending like a dove and landing on him, and a voice out of the heavens said, 'This is my Son, whom I love. I am well pleased with him.'" (v. 16-17)
Jesus never disappointed his heavenly Father, not even once. Jesus always made his heavenly Father beam with pride and burst with joy. Jesus was the perfect Son, the best child any parent could ever hope for. So, like any proud parent, God let people know about it. In one of the few times God ever spoke in an open voice directly from heaven, God said, "This is my Son, whom I love. I am well pleased with him." (v. 17)
Wouldn’t it be nice to have God say that about you? Wouldn’t it make you feel loved and feel secure to have God say about you, “You are my child. I love you. I am well pleased with you.”
Well, God has said that about you. God has said that to you.
No, he did not shout it from heaven with his own voice for all the world to hear. But he did something very close to that. God did that on the same occasion as when he did it with his Son, Jesus. God spoke his public approval on you at your baptism. Through the voice of his called and ordained servant, God said to the world, This is my child. I love this child. This is my perfect child. In my sight, this child has kept my law perfectly all the time. I am beaming with pride and bursting with joy over this child. This is my perfect child. This is the best child any parent could ever hope for.
Now, how can God say such glowing, wonderful things about you when you are a poor, miserable sinner who can’t even keep one of God’s laws even once in your life? Well, the answer is baptism, more specifically being baptized into Christ and his perfect holiness. In our epistle lesson, Saint Peter says, "baptism now saves you—not the removal of dirt from the body but the guarantee of a good conscience before God through the resurrection of Jesus Christ." (I Peter 3:13-22)
Baptism saves us from our sins because of Jesus Christ. In baptism God transfers the perfect holiness of Jesus to you. Saint Paul says in Galatians, "You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ." (Gal 3: 26-27) Also, in baptism, God washes away all our sins by the blood of Christ. Paul says in Titus, "God saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life." (Titus 3:5-7)
So, on the one hand, it is impossible to please God. No matter how hard you try, no matter how well you behave, God will never be satisfied with you. But on the other hand, by being baptized into the purity of his perfect Son, God is always pleased with you. God is always delighted with you. So, through the baptismal faith that connects you to Jesus, God says about you, I am pleased with my son. Yes, through Christ, and through Christ alone, you are God’s dear child. You are God’s loved child. You are God’s precious child, now and forever. All glory be to Christ alone, now and forever.