"And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased”' (Mt. 3).
We have all been trained by experience to understand that if something sounds too good to be true then it probably is. We’ve all been bamboozled too many times. We’ve been swindled at one time or another, maybe even joined a pyramid scheme or two. Who hasn’t ordered something on an infomercial only to find out that when it actually arrived, that it was really just a cheap piece of junk.
Yes, we have all learned that if something sounds too good to be true then it most certainly is. And this is how we live our lives – always slightly suspicious of things that sounds really good.
Perhaps this is part of the problem why we don’t talk about our baptisms enough. The Scriptures say that baptism rescues us from death and hell itself, saves us from the power of the devil. Baptism delivers the forgiveness of sins and gives eternal salvation to all who believe. In baptism we become children of God. We receive new birth from heaven above, joined to the very death and resurrection of Jesus Himself, as we learn in Romans chapter 6.
Because we have been taught by experience to be suspicious of things that sound too good to be true – it’s easy to dismiss baptism as just another extravagant offer with no real guarantee. Ask yourself, when was the last time you opened your mouth to thank God at all for being baptized. Woe to us who make such a mistake and disregard this precious gift which delivers heavenly treasures!
Today we observe the historic feast day of the Baptism of Our Lord. We see our Lord Jesus march to the Jordan River to be baptized by John and John asks Jesus a very good question, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” John had earlier said he was not worthy to untie the strap of his sandles but now John is asked by the incarnate Son of God to baptize him. John perhaps was wondering in his head why Jesus would need a baptism if he was sinless – what sins would he need washed away at all? But Jesus replies “Let is be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfil all righteousness.”
When Jesus was baptized he arose out of the water, and the heavens were opened to him and the Spirit of God descended like a dove and rested upon him, and the Father’s voice from heaven rang out, saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
In the Old Testament, on the Day of Atonement, one day a year, all of the people of Israel would confess their sins to the priests in the temple. Then they would take the scapegoat, and the high priest would confess over its head all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites – all their sins – and place those sins on the animal. There were altogether two goats – one was slaughtered and its blood was used to make payment for the sins of its people – it’s blood would be placed on the altar in the temple to cleanse the sanctuary so that God could come and dwell with his people.
The other goat, carrying the sins of the people, would be sent out to a remote place to be released in the wilderness. The scapegoat carries off the sins of the people.
Maybe this all sounds strange but it’s not strange when we see what happening when Jesus is baptized. You see, the people who were coming to John the Baptist were first confessing their sins – confessing their adultery – their gossip, their rebellion against God and His commandments. They are waiting for the Messiah – the scapegoat who will carry all their sins away.
When Jesus comes to the Jordan River he’s not coming to have his sins forgiven. He’s not coming to be washed. Jesus is coming to get dirty. Because when Jesus descends into the Jordan River to be baptized, what’s really happening is that he is being baptized into your sins. He is showing himself to be the scapegoat by immersing himself in the sins of the world – including your sins. John, anoints Jesus as the Messiah – anoints him as the sin bearer – the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. He comes out of the water - the heavens are opened and the Spirit descends. The Father speaks from heaven “This is my beloved Son” – precisely because his Son is carrying your sins steadily to the cross – bringing about the salvation of the whole world.
Like the scapegoat the next thing that happens is that Jesus is led into the wilderness to show us that he will destroy the power of the devil and banish our sins from existence through his blood soaked cross.
Jesus is not baptized to be cleansed. He is baptized to become dirty with your sins all so that you would be washed clean. He becomes the guilty party that you would be pronounced innocent. He is wrapped in your rebellion that you would bask in his love.
In baptism Jesus takes everything that belongs to you – your sin, your rebellion, your death – and in exchange you receive his holiness, his righteousness, his innocence. He exchanges your death for his life – your hell for his heaven. He takes away from you everything that stands in the way of your relationship with God – your mistrust, your spiritual apathy, the sins of your youth, and your ongoing sins that trouble you. He takes it all as your scapegoat.
And everything that rightfully belongs to Jesus he gives freely to you in your baptism. His loveliness, his purity, his perfect obedience to God. All those things are credited to you freely through your baptism into Christ and your faith in him. It’s all free folks. A free gift!
Sound too good to be true? It’s not. When you were baptized something truly wonderful happened – and something wonderful happens now, all again. You are baptized. The heavens are opened. The Holy Spirit descends upon you. The Father speaks to you from heaven “You are my beloved Son, you are my beloved daughter with whom I am well pleased…your sins are forgiven.” Just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, you too may live a new life – living before God in righteousness and purity forever!
A couple years ago the elders and I studied Luther’s Small Catechism on baptism at our meetings. It was decided it would be a good idea to push the baptismal font from the side of the church to the center. It was the elders hope that you would approach the altar and come before God’s presence always remembering your baptism. You walk right past the font. You can even touch it if you like, remembering that you belong to him, remembering that your sins are washed away. Knowing and rejoicing that you are still just children of God whom are pleasing to Him on account of Christ.
So this morning when you come to the altar for communion with God, don’t think of your sins. Don’t think of what you see in yourself. St. Paul says in Romans chapter 7 that nothing good dwells within us. And of course we know exactly how true that is. But now, don’t consider any of those things. Think only about what God sees in you. See yourself only from his perspective. Because when he looks at you he sees you baptized and he likes what he sees. A child who is now forgiven, washed in the blood of Christ. He sees a Christian, one declared innocent before the gates of heaven.
All of this you have received in your baptism. So what do you think? Is it all too good to be true? No way! In fact, when it comes to the things of God you can take the old adage and turn it all around. If it sounds too good to be true, believe it all the more, and be glad that God is so kind, gracious, and unbelievably good! In the name of Jesus. Amen.