The Baptism of Our Lord

Text: Mark 1:4-11

You probably know these words from the Catechism, “What benefits does Baptism give? It works forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.”[1] We talk a lot about Baptism, about how it brings us the forgiveness of sins and rescues us from death and the devil through the gift of faith, which receives these things. We know that Baptism is for sinners. In Baptism the Old Adam in us, our old sinful nature, is daily put to death and the new creation we have been made in Christ daily arises to live in righteousness and purity.

Baptism is for sinners. Baptism is for the washing away of sin through the forgiveness of that sin. Today we celebrate Christ’s Baptism. Now, if Baptism is for sin, why was Jesus Baptized? Jesus is sinless; He has no sin that needs to be forgiven, so why be Baptized by John in the Jordan River? If you look in the hymnal at the Order of Holy Baptism on pg. 268, that first prayer is called Martin Luther’s Flood Prayer. Part of it affirms that God, “through the Baptism in the Jordan of Your [God’s] beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, [You] sanctified and instituted all waters to be a blessed flood and a lavish washing away of sin.”[2] Luther would elsewhere say that Baptism was made primarily for Christ, and then afterwards for us. Through His Baptism in the Jordan River Christ continued His work of salvation by taking our place, and thereby made our baptism a true washing of salvation.

I.

The text from Mark 1 begins with the account of John the Baptist. We hear that, “John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.”[3] By now we should be familiar with John; we had him pop up in the readings a few times in Advent as well. Part of John’s preaching included that there would be one coming after him whose sandals he was unworthy to untie. This one is mightier than he and would baptize with the Holy Spirit. John was identified by Jesus and the evangelists as the prophet who cries out in the wilderness. Jesus said John “is he of whom it is written, ‘Behold I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you,’” and, “among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist.”[4]

John proclaimed a Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. His call was to prepare the way of the Lord, calling to mind the people’s constant transgression against God’s Law. He reminded people of their sinfulness, but also comforted them with the promise of the Messiah who would cleanse them of their iniquity, and to that end people were baptized by him. They heard the Word of God, became repentant and confessed their sins, and received forgiveness. This all kind of revolves around the fact that people are sinful and need forgiveness. But then why was Jesus baptized? He didn’t have any sin, so what is this about “fulfilling all righteousness,” as Jesus says in Matthew?[5]

II.

I’ve already drawn upon Luther for some insight today, so I will let him explain a little bit. Preaching a sermon on Baptism, he said:

“[Christ] accepted it from John for the reason that he was entering into our stead, indeed, our person, that is, becoming a sinner for us, taking upon himself the sins which he had not committed, and wiping them out and drowning them in his holy baptism. And that he did this in accord with the will of God, the heavenly Father, who cast all our sins upon him that he might bear them and not only cleanse us from them through his baptism and make satisfaction for them on the Cross, but also clothe as in his holiness and adorn us with his innocence.”[6]

The purpose of Jesus being baptized is the same as His entire life on earth, to take our place. We are born and die as sinners. In this flesh we never escape the snares and schemes of the devil, the temptations of the world and our flesh. All too often, we find ourselves falling, or even ignoring the fact that we do not behave the way we should. We do not love God above all things and do not love our neighbors as ourselves, and we do justly deserve temporal and eternal punishment. But God desires not the death of the sinner but that he turn, repent from his ways and live. But, we even fail at the whole repentance thing, too.

That is why God sent His Son – to save us from our sins. It pleased God, even as it pained Him, to place our chastisement upon Christ. Jesus took upon our flesh to bear our sin and take our place in death so that we might take His place in life. Thus, in order to fulfill all righteousness, Christ even took our place in His Baptism. In His Baptism He made the good confession that we fail to make when we fail to be truly repentant. He who knew no sin became sin and was Baptized for our forgiveness. By His washing in the Jordan River Jesus sanctified all water with His own Body to be a renewing flood and washing away of sin. St. Paul illustrates what this means for us in his letter to the Romans.

III.

Paul writes, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”[7] Paul is saying that when Christ took our place and sanctified Baptism by His washing in the Jordan River, He made it so that we too may share in His life. In the waters of Holy Baptism we are united with Christ’s death. Just as Christ died to sin, so is the old nature, the old sinful Adam in us, put to death. We were buried with Him by baptism, in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead, we too may be brought to new life.

The context of Paul’s writing this was to encourage the Roman Christians to no longer devote themselves to the pleasures of the flesh, either by becoming slaves to the Law or by throwing off the Law entirely and committing whatever sins they want, figuring that God will forgive no matter what. But, Paul says that we are united with Christ through Holy Baptism. This includes the glorious when we shall see Christ in the flesh. Scripture says, “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin…Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.”[8]

By His Baptism Christ took our place, repenting when we too often fail to do so. He repented of sin He did not have and, by His Body, sanctified our Baptism to be a washing away of sin. In Baptism we are united with His death and resurrection. Through this washing we receive the gift of faith that receives the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. This eternal life in heaven we now have. For the Christian, eternal life begins at the font. So now we live, no longer as slaves to sin, gratifying the desires of the flesh, but as alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. All thanks, honor, and glory be to Him who by His life, death, and resurrection, even His washing in the Jordan River, secured for us the forgiveness of sins. Amen.


[1] Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 339.

[2] LSB, 268.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Mk. 1:4–5.

[4] Matt. 11:10-11.

[5] Matt. 3:15.

[6] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 51: Sermons I, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 51 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 315.

[7] Rom. 6:3–4.

[8] Rom. 6:5-6, 8-9.

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