Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Last Week, we were having a brief discussion about sermons here at Sychar during the Board of Worship. During this discussion, I made mention that I was going to be preaching on today’s Gospel lesson from Matthew 3 on the Baptism of Jesus. A suggestion was made that I spend this Sunday speaking about “What Lutherans believe about Baptism”, due to this woman admitting that most of us didn’t pay really good attention during Confirmation.
Yet as soon as I heard the request to speak about what we believe about Baptism in relation to Jesus’ Baptism. I had to state an important point in that the reason that Jesus got baptized at the age of thirty and the reason we get baptized generally as infants; has no connection. When we try to compare Jesus’ Baptism to our own Baptism, we are comparing Apples to Oranges, or life on Mars to life on Earth.
This leads us to the first question for this morning. “Why did Jesus go to John to get baptized?” Was Baptism present in the Old Testament?
Our lesson begins with the following words:
“Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tries to deter him, saying, I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”-Matthew 3:13-14
Note in these verses John the Baptist’s initial shock at being asked to complete the task of baptizing the Son of God. John considered himself to be unworthy. John didn’t really see how his Baptism applied to Jesus since it was centered on the idea of washing away one’s sinful state; John recognized right away that Jesus wasn’t a typical applicant for his Baptism.
I think as we seek to understand the meaning of Jesus’ Baptism this morning it is helpful to understand the history behind John’s Baptism explained by the Old Testament which helps us understand how we should contrast it from Christian/Lutheran Baptism explained by the New Testament.
One of the big themes within the Old Testament was a huge distinction within worship between those who were clean and unclean. For example if a man touched bodily discharge or fluid that made it’s way to a bed that man would not have been able to enter a worship space without a ritual washing. This ritual washing would always take place in the form of a bath.
Another type of uncleanliness would be disease. In the Book of 2 Kings comes a story that I will eventually test the Confirmation students on where the Syrian Commander Namaan contracts the skin disease of Leprosy. Leprosy would have also kept a person from being welcomed in God’s house. Yet when Namaan seeks to go find the prophet Elisha, Elisha gave Namaan the command to cure his skin condition by dipping himself several times in the Jordan River. At which point Namaan’s Leprosy would be healed in a type of Baptism.
This brings us to John the Baptist. John’s Baptism was quite a bit different than ritual washing as a means to end uncleanliness. John’s Baptism was focused around repentance for the forgiveness of sins. John the Baptist spent most of his life living in the wilderness, living apart from the traditional spaces of religious worship. John’s outreach was spent mostly reaching out to the lower classes who were the types of people who were often excluded from God’s House on account of their poverty.
The way that people typically had in generations past received the pronouncement of the forgiveness of their sins was they would buy an animal and bring it to the Temple so that the Priest would perform a ceremonial sacrifice on their behalf. But due to the distinction within the Old Testament about clean and unclean an animal had to be inspected and deemed ritually pure before it would constitute an acceptable Temple sacrifice. So buying clean animals was expensive, even today if someone were to visit a Jewish restaurant that keeps Kosher, the food will be more expensive due to the thorough inspection process an animal must undergo to be determined to be clean. The key point about the origins of John’s Baptism is it provided a sharp contrast against the Rabbis of the day by claiming that there was a way to God outside of the Temple system, and outside of traditional religious means.
So this brings us to the question of utmost importance to our lesson in “why was Jesus baptized?’
Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.”-Matthew 3:15
So we know the reason that Jesus had to get baptized was “to fulfill all righteousness”. There are a few points that need to be stated here.
1. The first point is in regards to the age of Jesus getting baptized at thirty. Our Baptist friends think this is important. I’ve heard the objection to Infant Baptism on more than one occasion that “remember Jesus was baptized as an adult.” This is true (no doubt). But why be baptized at the age of thirty? It couldn’t have been for insufficient religious knowledge. At the age of twelve, Jesus was able to walk into the Temple and amaze the greatest religious scholars of his day. John couldn’t get the reason for Jesus’ Baptism since he saw no sin in him to indicate he was turning over a new leaf in life. It makes no sense that Jesus got baptized as a means of publically stating his faith in front of an audience, since this seemed to be pretty on display at the Temple at the age of twelve. Something else is at work here, perhaps it is explained by the 4TH chapter of Numbers describes thirty being the traditional age to enter the Priesthood. And a couple of additional things that one had to do to properly enter the Priesthood according to the Old Testament were to be washed with water along with anointed with oil to symbolize the blessing of the Holy Spirit. When one digs deeper into this background information. It begins to make sense why we have little to no details of Jesus’ life from the age of two to the age of thirty. His ministry was only going to begin with a proper initiation into it or “a fulfillment of all righteousness.”
2. Jesus’ existence is radically different from ours in that he needed to fulfill the Law such as a proper initiation into the Priesthood. One of the toughest things for Christians and Non-Christians to do is to get the Old Testament to understand its meaning. The Old Testament has a lot of strange laws in its pages. The people of Israel are told not to eat pork, so Jesus didn’t eat pork. The people of Israel are told not to eat Shellfish, so Jesus didn’t’ eat Shellfish. The people of Israel are told not to mix meat with dairy, so Jesus didn’t mix meat with dairy. The Old Testament is filled with all sorts of seemingly strange laws dealing with touching animals, offering proper incense in worship, even mixing fabrics on one’s clothing. Yet the whole point of the Gospel/the Ten Commandments and any other strange law within the Old Testament’s pages is that Christ would end of the demands of the Law. Christians have been set free through to the cross to take confidence in one’s salvation because it is about what God has done for you, not what you must do for God. While there might be plenty of good reasons not to eat a Cheeseburger or Bacon (I can’t think of any, but this is what I’ve heard) because of death and resurrection these reasons have nothing to do with your salvation. This has been recognized since the earliest days of the Christian church.
This leads to a final question. What is the relationship between John’s Baptism and Christian/Lutheran Baptism?
John the Baptist would baptize people several times; John even had followers who underwent daily Baptism rituals. Christian Baptism was different from John’s Baptism in it’s invocation, Christian Baptism always occur in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
The difference between John’s Baptism and Christian Baptism is on display in the 19th chapter of the Book of Acts where the Apostle Paul came across some disciples of John the Baptist who had been baptized by John, but had not yet heard of the Holy Spirit. At this point in time, they are rebaptized by Paul in the name, of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Paul explained to John’s followers that John’s Baptism was merely pointing the way to one that would come after him in Christ Jesus.
Paul in Romans the 6th chapter states the true nature of Christian Baptism in contrast to John’s Baptism when he says:
“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.”
John the Baptist even drew a distinction between the inadequacy of his baptism and the baptism to come in Christ Jesus when he said:
“That he only baptized with water, but the one to come after him will baptize with the Holy Spirit.”
If one were to seriously study the New Testament they could in no way conclude that Christian/Lutheran Baptism and John’s Baptism served the same purpose or possessed the same meaning. Since Christian Baptism was only given it’s origins through the death and resurrection of Our Lord, Jesus Christ.
The key point to understand the comparison between Jesus’ Baptism and our Baptism is our Baptism has nothing to do with following Christ’s example. Our Baptism is rather centered on the unique promises given by God within Baptism. The declaration given by God is really no different then the declaration which ends our lesson for today.
“This is my son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”-Matthew 3:17.
Christian Baptism is ultimately about the promises of God’s Word. God came down to wash away our sin. Jesus’ Baptism is not our Baptism. Today is the “First Day on the Job” that our Lord undertook to be our savior. The beginning of his earthly ministry, Jesus’ Baptism took place to lead to the day when he took our sin unto himself. Christ took on our sin so we may be washed clean in the Baptism into his death that was to come. Amen
 Leviticus 15
 2 Kings 5:1-14
 Numbers 4:3
 Leviticus 8:6, Exodus 29:4- taken from Slick, Matt. “Why Was Jesus baptized?”. CARM. 10.Dec.2008. Web. Jan.8.2014
 Acts 19:1-7
 Romans 6:3-5
 Mark 1:8/Matthew 3:11