Sermon for the Baptism of Our Lord
January 13, 2019
Jesus’ Righteousness Assigned to You
None of us could imagine Jesus walking down by the river and never stepping in, that is, never being baptized. To do so would be to deny who He is and what He had come to earth to accomplish. The eternal Word of God through whom all things were made; He who is begotten from the Father from eternity; of the same essence or substance as the Father; uncreated, eternal, infinite, and almighty as are both the Father and the Holy Spirit. How could He not do what His Father had asked of Him? How could He do anything but step into the waters of the Jordan and receive the baptism meant for sinners, a baptism in which He aligns Himself with all humanity as one opposed to God? He couldn’t. He couldn’t deny Himself and He could not deny His Father and His Father’s will that He bear the sin of every sinner that has denied God as creator and has rejected the divine will.
The name Emile Ratelband may not mean anything to you but you may recall the story about this Dutch man’s court bid to legally change his age from 69 to 49. Because he feels 49, he believes that he should be able to change how other people should view him. He lost his case but in this world where facts are ignored and self-identification is all the rage, I don’t understand why. Just think of all the money that we could save in social security if people would assume younger ages, contributing longer and withdrawing for shorter periods of time. But that is ridiculous. No matter how many times a person “turns” 29, she can’t just pick an age she likes and be that age. There is an old nautical saying that time and tide waits for no man. There is a natural law, a law established by God that does not allow for time to stand still for anybody.
So it is with a person’s biological sex. With the extremely rare case, each of us is born male or female. It is not a decision left to parents to decide nor a decision that can be left alone for a few years until the child wishes to decide. It is not something that is changed by self-identification, hormones or surgery. Appearances can be changed, but that which has been assigned is not un-assignable. On this trajectory, children would be able to self-identify as the neighbor’s child, denying their father and mother to choose an identity of their liking. It all seems a bit confusing and illogical doesn’t it?
In reality, such self-identification has been going on ever since Adam ate the forbidden fruit and covered himself in the manner of his own choosing. Every one of us puts on an outward appearance that we want others to see, a façade by which others can appreciate us. We might call it being polite or civil, but that outward appearance would break down if we were stranded on one of those reality TV show islands. No matter how much we think ourselves good, we cannot make ourselves good. We can believe that we are righteous all we want but that doesn’t make us righteous. Internal or innate righteousness or holiness is something that all of mankind has lost in the fall. It is not increased by having the right blood line or any other contrived way. Holiness is something that can only be given by the One that is holy.
The confession and the absolution that we participated in at the beginning of today’s service doesn’t stand all by itself. It is connected to and essentially an extension of your Holy Baptism where every façade and pretend identification has been stripped away and you stand naked before God with no reason to be afraid. The font is the place where identity is revealed for it is the place were sinners go to be identified as holy and righteous.
To be baptized is not a self-identification it is the acceptance of the identification assigned by God – sinner by nature and saint by imputation. In your confession today, you said all kinds of bad things about yourself. You said that you were sinful by nature and to your core. You cannot control what you think, say, or do. You do not love God or those around you like you love yourself. This is what was said about you in your baptism as well. It is what we confess about ourselves because it is what God reveals to us as our nature. It is not a self-identification but an unveiled identification. To confess is to say the same thing as God says about us. It is to accept the reality of who we are without putting up a front or pretending that it isn’t so and accepting our fate as God wills it.
This is where natural law is turned upside down; where physics makes things fall up, time to go in reverse, and sinners to be saints. It makes perfect sense for us to accept our fate as those that have displeased God, but for Jesus to step into the Jordan, to be identified as a sinner, to bear the load of man’s rebellion, and it pleases God, this is where things are spun on their heads. It has pleased God that His holy, almighty and eternal Son would become man to identify as the whole of mankind in rebellion against God and assume the fate of man as the enemy of God. It is the ultimate identification. As we see in the Gospel story, this identification of Jesus as sinner before God is not a simple self-identification, it is assigned. Applied in His baptism, man’s sin now belonged to Jesus. It is for this sin that He would suffer and die, sin that was now was His own.
We often think of Jesus carrying our sin on His back as if it were a pack that could be offloaded or set aside. In 2 Cor (5), Paul says that Jesus, “Who knew no sin became sin for us.” He was assigned our sin by God. It became His own and it was for that sin that He died and was forsaken by His Father. It was that sin, your sin, that was buried forever in death.
What that means for you is that God has assigned to you a new identity. In Holy Baptism, you have been united with Jesus and God’s divine will has reformed natural law to assign you a righteousness not your own. As He has imputed your sin to Jesus, He has imputed His Son’s holiness to you and has called you His beloved son with whom He is well pleased. It is an identity freely given and received only by faith.
While it is an identity not fully realized in this world, which means we still drag around our sinful nature until this age comes to an end, it is our assigned identity which we are to embrace. It is what living in our baptism is about, clinging in faith to the identity that God gives to us in Jesus Christ. This also means that we are to stop self-identifying as non-Christians by our thoughts, words, and deeds. We are called to struggle against that old identity of sinner that desires to what it cannot have, slanders its brother, steals, lusts, hates, rebels against authority, refrains from God’s Word, is listless in prayer, and seeks after an identity independent from God’s assignment.
Today, in your baptism, on account of all that Jesus has done for you as the Christ, and by the absolution spoken on the authority of Jesus, your identity in Adam remains buried and your identity in Jesus is reasserted, renewed, refreshed – assured!
All that the mortal eye beholds Is water as we pour it.
Before the eye of faith unfolds The pow’r of Jesus’ merit.
For here it sees the crimson flood To all our ills bring healing;
The wonders of His precious blood The love of God revealing
Assuring His own pardon. (LSB 406:7)