“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.’” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this Baptism of our Lord is the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the third chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Matthew. Dear friends in Christ: Jesus submits. He submits to the Father’s will; in humility He, the sinless One, steps into the waters of the Jordan and allows Himself to be baptized in the baptism of sinners. John would’ve stopped it, John didn’t get it, but Jesus knows how important this is. “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” The God of the universe not only takes our flesh but submits to our baptism. He makes Himself like us in every way; He bears our human frame, and at the Jordan, the Father’s voice declares that Jesus bears our sin. The sinless One submits to the baptism of sinners to proclaim to you, to me, to the world, that He is the sinner, the only sinner, the one who carries all sin. He places Himself under our burden; a burden that can only mean death and hell. He does not exert His power, He does not refuse our sin and all that it means, but in meekness, in humility, He lays Himself aside in order to fulfill all righteousness.
No one gets it; no one understands. Even John, although he consents, is completely confused. “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” Yes, John, He must come to you. He who has all might and all power must become nothing, lower than a slave. The Lord of the universe must submit to your baptism, because He was sent to submit to your death, to submit to your hell. He came to make Himself lower than the dregs in order to exalt you into heaven. We don’t understand, because we dwell in a world that only knows power, a world that despises the weak and lifts up the strong. We live in a world where humility is a sign of weakness, where the lowly are trampled by those who are strong.
The world declares that the lowly have no existence, that they can be exploited, abused, or even killed by those who are stronger than they are. By denying their existence, by using euphemisms like ‘fetus,’ and ‘product of conception,’ the lowly are marginalized; the propaganda makes it easier for us to destroy them. The unborn are hidden from sight inside the wombs of their mothers, the elderly are shunted away in nursing homes; human trafficking and the exploitation of the poor goes on out of sight, in bad neighborhoods or behind closed doors. And when the light shines on the plight of the lowly, few pay attention. Over a dozen videos show Planned Parenthood exploiting women and their unborn children, altering abortion procedures to obtain the organs that they need, and while many watched, most did not. Our media and politicians will occasionally exert themselves to help the immigrant, or the poor; at least they can see those people suffering, but the same news programs that continually show the plight of refugees refuse to show us the inside of an abortion clinic. It is much easier to trample on the lowly when we don’t see them, when they are beneath our notice.
You have been trained by the world you live in to think in terms of power, to praise those who can take care of themselves and look down upon those who can’t. An elderly person in a nursing home bed, the unborn child in the womb, the young girl being exploited at a truck stop, the refugee in a new land and the homeless, they are all powerless, they cannot fend for themselves, they are dependent upon others, and thus they are worthless in the eyes of the world, they are nothing. Tyranny defines us; the tyranny of the born over the unborn, the tyranny of the healthy and young over the infirm and elderly, the tyranny of those who are something over those who are nothing. It is tragically ironic to hear politicians say that refusing refugees is ‘not who America is.’ America is a place where we have legalized the killing of the unborn, the weakest and most vulnerable among us. What other tyranny or exploitation is impossible for us?
The world chooses those who can exert themselves, those who have something to contribute to us or to society as a whole. Power is our language, and we have all been trained to speak it; we seek power, even in little, petty ways, and the thing about worldly power is that it always comes at the expense of another. Our boast is in ourselves, our own talents, our own accomplishments; when we have gained so much on our own, it is easy to look down on others or at least sit quietly by while they are exploited.
Dear friends, this is not to be. Repent of your hardness of heart toward the poor and lowly, repent of your silence as they are abused. Repent of your trust, your boast in your own accomplishments. You serve a God who cares nothing for worldly power, who rejected all earthly glory, who humbled Himself to death, even death upon a cross. You serve a God, you cling to a Savior, who chooses the downtrodden, those who have nothing to give Him, those who are humbled in His almighty presence. “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are.” Christ lowered Himself to exalt the lowly. He brought Himself down to raise you up. In humility He submitted to the baptism of sinners, and in humility He submitted to the death and hell sinners deserved, even though He had no sin. He submitted to John’s baptism, He submitted to the death and hell of the cross, because He bore your sin, just as He bore the sin of the world—every person, rich, poor, humble, and powerful.
You are not saved simply by being worldly foolish, weak, or lowly, any more than you are saved by being worldly wise, strong, or exalted. The poor don’t automatically receive God’s favor any more than the rich. Paul told the Corinthians, “Consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.” Some had worldly accomplishments, but most did not, and the point is that all are the same before God. You see, it doesn’t matter what your station is in life; spiritually you are poor, foolish, weak, and lowly, yes, you are nothing, no matter what the title on your desk says, no matter what size of check you can write. You are a beggar; you have nothing to offer God but your sin, filthy rags that they are. The Lord is not interested in your supposed ‘good works,’ He doesn’t care about your accomplishments, He wants to humble your heart through His Law, He wants you to see you have nothing to impress him with. The poor man cannot boast in his poverty any more than the rich man can boast of his wealth; both are completely and totally foolish, weak, lowly, and despised. But in your abject spiritual poverty, with nothing to give God, nothing at all, He chose you.
“Because of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’” God chose you; He chose you when you were nothing, when you were poor and miserable under your sin. God chose you in Christ, the One who in humility submitted to the baptism of sinners, who made Himself lower than you, humbling Himself to death upon a cross. He came not to be served, but to serve, to serve you with salvation, to exalt you, even to the very throne room of heaven. In Christ, you are no longer nothing, you have everything. He is your wisdom; the wisdom of the cross that is foolishness to this world. He is your righteousness; He fulfilled all righteousness, making you right with God, by dying your death in your place. He is your sanctification; He makes you holy by cleansing you from you sin. He is your redemption; He paid the price you could never pay.
He took your sin, and He placed it upon Himself; when God’s voice thundered forth on the day of Christ’s baptism, it was declaring that this One, standing in the baptism of sinners, is the sin-bearer, the One appointed to take your sin to the cross to do away with it there. You had nothing to give Him but your sin; and He took it, and He died for it, and He forgives it—He forgives you; you are forgiven! Your boast is in Christ; you do not boast before Christ, for you have nothing in yourself to boast of—you boast in Christ. You boast in His love, His mercy, His grace, shown to you when you were nothing. Whether you are poor or rich, weak or strong, lowly or exalted in the eyes of the world, all that is rubbish next to knowing Christ your Savior.
Therefore, we come before Him as children, as infants; every baptism is an infant baptism. Nothing is more vulnerable, more helpless, more poor and weak than an infant. An infant cannot give, it can only receive. And that is how we come to the font, that is how we come to this place, weak and helpless, as spiritual infants, as beggars, with nothing to give but everything to receive. We come humbled by our sins, knowing quite well how foolish, weak, lowly, and despised we are. We come and Christ exalts us, we come and He gives us everything: forgiveness, life, and salvation. He gives all things, and He gives them freely to all. There is no distinction in God’s eyes between the poor or the rich, the weak or the powerful, the unborn or the born, the infirm or the healthy, the young or the elderly; all are alike His creation, made in His image, all are alike sinners, in need of salvation, and all are alike redeemed by the blood of His Son. He loves them all, and so we love them all as He first loved us, showing them the mercy that He showed us when He baptized us into His Name. For on the day you were baptized, the heavens were opened to you, never to be shut again, the Holy Spirit descended upon you, never to depart, and the Father said to you for the sake of His Son, “This is my beloved child, in whom I am well pleased.” In the Name of Jesus, Amen.