Luke 3:15-22 From the very beginning, God’s people had a hope-filled expectation that God would raise up and send someone to make things right, where sin and Satan had ruined them.
Adam and Eve were looking for the Seed of the Woman. Moses was looking for the Greater Prophet. Isaiah was looking for the Virgin-born Son and the Suffering Servant.
God’s people came to call this person the “Messiah”—translated in Greek as the “Christ”—the deliverer who would make things right. Every generation of believers expected that theirs would be the one who would welcome his arrival. The Bible says that:
…the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ,
For the nearly four hundred and fifty years that preceded the person and work of John the Baptist, there was prophetic silence.
When Malachi stopped preaching, there was no further revelation from God—only silence. Among God’s people, there were political aspirations, there were military alliances, there were various factions—but God himself was silent for all those years.
And so you can imagine how it must have been when John the Baptist began his preaching ministry along the Jordan River. Here was the kind of man and the kind of preaching that they recognized from their own history. He looked like the prophets from of old and his unflinching message repentance sounded like the prophets of old.
When you saw John, when you heard John—you knew that God was no longer silent in the world. And so it was only natural for people to wonder—after all those years of silence—if he might be God’s promised Messiah. To the questions of their hearts, the Bible says that
John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.
John made it perfectly clear that he was not the Messiah promised in the Bible but nevertheless, his person and his presence and his purpose was prophesied.
In some of the very last words of God spoken before the 450 years of silence, Malachi promised that the Messiah would have a messenger who would go before him and prepare the people to receive their Savior.
That is what he was doing by the Jordan River and that is what his words still do today. He was calling people to repent of their sins. He was reminding them that real repentance showed up in real amendment of life. He was setting an example of single-minded commitment to God and whole-hearted rejection of the world’s values.
Most importantly, he was pointing people to Jesus and proclaiming him as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
And even though John has long since gone to his heavenly home, his words and example still accomplish the same in every generation who encounter him on the pages of Holy Scripture including us here today—calling us to repentance and preparing us to receive our Savior.
That is who John the Baptist was. That is how important his work is. And yet, and as important as he was, his life and his work stilled paled in comparison to the Messiah whose messenger he was. He said about the Messiah that:
He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, right here is just exactly what’s at stake when you encounter Jesus Christ. You can either be baptized by him with the fire of the Holy Spirit -- or be burned by him in the unquenchable fires of hell.
Please understand, it is no mere man, not even the greatest of prophets who can do that—who can give you the gift of God himself or consign you to the unquenchable fire of hell—only God can do that. That’s who Jesus is. He is the might one whose sandals John was not worthy to untie because he was the very Son of God.
And when Malachi was prophesying of John the Baptist before those long silent centuries, that is exactly what he promised about the Messiah: that God himself would come to his temple—that the arrogant and evildoers would be stubble in the fire of God’s judgment but for those who feared the Lord, the sun of righteousness would rise upon them with healing.
With the arrival of the Messiah, John proclaimed that every person in the world stood on one side of that divide or the other-- just as we all do today.
Many, many people heard John’s preaching, repented of their sins, and looked in faith to the one he pointed to. Others did not. The Bible says that:
Herod the tetrarch, who had been reproved by him for Herodias, his brother's wife, and for all the evil things that Herod had done, added this to them all, that he locked up John in prison.
Herod had every opportunity to do what so many in Judea did. He was very familiar with John and his teaching. He could have taken John’s message to heart. Repented of his immoral marriage. Allowed himself to be baptized. Amended his life and turned to Jesus in faith and lived as a true son of the true King.
That was what was needed in his life just as it is in ours and heaven and hell stood in the balance.
But Herod was a proud man and he would not stand by and be criticized by some preacher. He would not humble himself with other sinners and walk into those baptismal waters. And like his kinsman kings before him, he certainly would not recognize Jesus as King.
And so he imprisoned John and then had him put to death. But that could not silence John for he was merely the mouthpiece of God and the message of John was the message of Jesus-- and the message of Jesus was the message of the apostles --and the messages of the apostles is the message of every true preacher in every place and time: repent of your sins and receive your Savior! The Bible says that:
…when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying
The message of John was repent of your sins. The message of John was receive your Savior. The message of John was amend your ways. The message of John was produce the fruits of repentance. And countless number of people did just that and were baptized.
And along with them…Jesus was baptized. Jesus was baptized. There’s a shocker! Jesus didn’t have sins to be forgiven. Jesus was the Savior. And Jesus needed no amendment of life. Why on earth would be baptized?!
That’s not just our question—that was John’s question too! He said to Jesus, “You come to me to be baptized?! I need to be baptized by you!” And Jesus said “no, it is fitting for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness”.
Every person who came to the waters of the River Jordan, just like every person who enters baptismal waters today, lacks the one thing necessary to have a life with God and that is a righteousness that will avail in God’s sight for salvation—a righteousness that is as full and complete as that of God himself.
Every person save one—and that was Jesus. Jesus brought his holiness into those waters to fulfill the righteous requirements of God to overflowing abundance for the sake of our salvation.
And he did even more. He identified himself with our sin, he numbered himself with the transgressors and he came out of those baptismal waters bearing the sin of every person who would ever enter them. That is what John pointed to Jesus Christ and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”
A great exchange took place there that day. The sins of the world were given to Jesus Christ and his righteousness was given to us. Sinners became saints. Enemies of God became children of God. The Lord of Life was marked for death. And all of it happened in those baptismal waters and still does.
That is why the Bible says that in Holy Baptism we die with Christ and are raised Christ and walk with him in newness of life that death cannot destroy. It is because Jesus identified himself with in all our sin and brokenness so that his life can become our own.
This was the promise of God from the beginning fulfilled: that he would send someone—a deliverer, a Savior, a Messiah, a Christ—who would make things right again between us and God and restore what sin and Satan has destroyed—fulfilled in a way too wonderful for words: by god’s own Son. The Bible says that
the heavens were opened and the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus in bodily form, like a dove;
Every prophet who spoke God’s Word, every priest who offered sacrifices for sin, every king who ruled God’s people was anointed with oil and set apart for his work.
And so Jesus the Christ, our prophet, priest, and king was anointed that day, not with oil but with the Holy Spirit for he not only spoke God’s Word but was God’s Word; anointed with the Holy Spirit for he offered not another animal for our sins but his own holy life on the cross; anointed with the Holy Spirit for he did not rule an earthly kingdom but an eternal kingdom as the risen, ascended, glorified King of kings and Lord of lords. The Bible says that: a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
The Good News for us on this day of our Lord’s baptism is that through faith in him and his saving work on our behalf as the Messiah, God says exactly the same about us. Amen.