I rejoiced with those who said to me,
“Let us go to the house of the Lord.” Psalm 122:1

To Fulfill All Righteousness

The Baptism of Our Lord – Pr. Anderson sermon
St. Matthew 3:13-17 “To Fulfill All Righteousness”
February 11, 2024 | Christ Lutheran Church

In Nomine Iesu
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Lord God, heavenly Father, You manifested Yourself, with the Holy Spirit, in the fullness of grace at the baptism of Your dear Son, and with Your voice directed us to Him who has borne our sins, that we might receive grace and the remission of sins: Keep us, we beseech You, in the true faith; and inasmuch as we have been baptized in accordance with Your command, and the example of Your dear Son, we pray You to strengthen our faith by Your Holy Spirit, and lead us to everlasting life and salvation; through Your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one true God, now and forever. Amen. (Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary, by Veit Dietrich, p. 152)

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. (Rom. 1:7, etc.)

The sermon text for today is taken from the 3rd chapter of the Gospel according to St. Matthew. We read selected verses in Jesus’ name:

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.”

These are Your words, heavenly Father. Sanctify us by Your truth, Your Word is truth. Amen. (Joh. 17:17)

In Christ Jesus, who because of His death and resurrection you are united to Him in your own baptism, so that you might rise into heavenly glory, dear fellow redeemed:

What was your reaction when the teacher told your class that you were going have a group project assigned? Was it a reaction of joy, or was it a reaction of sadness? We have all been there when it comes to group projects and we have all had the same thoughts. We knew that we were going to be assigned some members that we wanted to work with, and some that we didn’t. The worst part was assigning the roles of who was going to do what. Some members fought for who was going to be the leader of the group. Some didn’t want to do anything. This created a mess and it would take a few days to work out the kinks. If we look at our text like a group project, the leader sticks out as John the Baptist is trying to wake up everyone with a message of repentance. A few listen, but many do not. John as the leader is doing well, but then here comes Jesus, the teacher. And He tells John He is going to take it from here. We aren’t worthy to have Jesus come and take over, but this is the way it must be. This is the plan to fulfill all righteousness.

We see that John is doing his part. “So they said to him, ‘Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?’ He said, ‘I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said'” (John 1:22-23). And He did prepare the way. People were listening to what he had to say, their hearts were moved. And as John told those who had come from the Pharisees he was only sent to prepare the way, “Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented Him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?'” Already John has realized that there is something different about his cousin than all other men and John also understood his place. As John preached repentance, even he knew that he was a sinner. The man who has come to him for baptism is not.

We see the humility of John. He understands that Jesus has come for all. He announces before this saying, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29) He knows that Jesus will increase, but he did not see Jesus coming to him. The people that John is looking for are those who are in need of repentance. And as many hear the call, there are some who will not heed it. The Pharisees and the leaders of the people did not want to hear that they were marked among the sinners. They were a step above. They however miss what the law demands. John understands that God’s law demands perfection. As some members are not willing to participate with the group, or hear the message given to them, the teacher comes to make all things new. He comes not only to increase, but to take the place.

This event has such great importance that even John did not see coming all that was going to happen. Why on earth would the lamb of God who has come to take away the sins of the world need a baptism of repentance? John was confused. He tried so very hard to turn Jesus away. He had even told the Pharisees that, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie” (John 1:26-27). John knows that he is unworthy.

This is a hard thing for people to grasp. To be unworthy. Yet that is what John has been pointing out all along. That’s what makes his message so hard for the Pharisees and religious leaders to hear it and that is what makes it so hard for us to hear it. We do not want to be told we are unworthy. The devil wants us to take a look at all of the things that we have done in our lives and think that we have done some very good things. He is pretty good at persuading us to think that we have managed pretty well. His goal is to get us to think that we really don’t need God to do good. That is what he convinced our first parents. He convinced them that they could be like God, they could be wise. When we think that we are wise without God, it is without God in our lives that we are unwise. The group project fails because even John realizes we can’t finish it.

As John saw that he could only preach repentance and couldn’t make atonement, Jesus reveals to John as to why He needs to be baptized. “But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.'” The teacher has come to do the project Himself and the project is that He will save the world just as John confessed, He would. Jesus is the lamb of God and we see that in His response. Jesus is here “to fulfill all righteousness.” How does being baptized do that when He is perfect? Jesus has come to be baptized by John and even though He is perfect, He is also the greatest sinner.

In Jesus’ active obedience, He is already carrying the sins of the whole world. He is obeying God’s law perfectly. To fulfill all righteousness, Jesus is now beginning His public ministry. Where He will passively follow the will of His heavenly Father and head to the cross for the salvation of the world. To be the lamb of God, He must be our substitute. So He substitutes for us by being baptized by John. A baptism of repentance for a man who is perfect and doesn’t need it. Jesus fulfills all righteousness. John can’t argue with Jesus any more. God’s plan of salvation has been set in motion. Jesus has already been fulfilling all righteousness with His perfect life and He will continue to fulfill righteousness as the substitute that will now suffer and die.

It is easy to see how you can’t fulfill all righteousness. Your suffering and death would be deserved for the sins that you have committed. The text continues, revealing how you can be certain that Jesus is your substitute. The prophet Isaiah foretold, “Behold My servant, whom I uphold, My Chosen, in whom My soul delights; I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the nations” (Isaiah 42:1). As Isaiah proclaimed the Word of the Lord, John witnessed this prophecy. “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.'” Not only is Jesus marked that He will fulfill all righteousness, but the Holy Triune God is present at this great event.

This is God’s will, for you to see Him taking your place. In His great mercy and goodness, He sent is Son who walked down to the river bank. His Son had no need for a baptism of forgiveness. You needed the baptism. So, to fulfill all righteousness, Jesus is baptized by John as He carries your sins. Where you are unworthy, God the Father says Jesus is worthy. The Father is “well pleased” with Him. He is strengthened by the Holy Spirit who descends as a dove onto His shoulder and ready for what lies ahead. He begins a passive ministry of perfect humility and suffering. He continues on, feeling your sins, being tempted by the devil, falsely arrested, beaten, whipped, and crucified. All this He did in your place. As you are baptized you are clothed by the One who knew no sin and became sin for you.

This is what St. Peter is describing when he says, “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to Him” (1 Peter 3:21-22). The death that you deserved couldn’t contain Jesus. He destroys the sting of death and hell! We thank Jesus for this holy institution that He has given all nations. As you were baptized as an infant, the certainty of Christ’s baptism was marked on you with water and the Word. Forgiveness of sins, life and salvation placed on you by your substitute who fulfilled all righteousness in your place. And as this baptism regenerates new life in you, the good works you do are from the work of the Holy Spirit.

The group project has been finished and it wasn’t you’re doing. Even John the Baptist understood that he could not make things new. He was under the same law as you and he had failed to keep the law like you. The lamb of God walks down on the river bank. The Son of God who had no need to be baptized because He had no sin. Seeing the unworthiness of the world the One being worthy, the One who had no sin, put on the sins of the world. He walked into the river and was baptized to begin His public ministry that will lead to His death on the cross for all. For the certainty of all who hear this message, God reveals Himself so the world can see that this is true. “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.'” Amen.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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