daily biblical sermons

In his baptism, Jesus is anointed by the Father to be the propitiatory sacrifice for our sins
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, Th.D.
Homily of Sunday, the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, January 12, 2020
Isaiah 42, 1-4, 6-7, Psalm 28, Acts 10:34-38, Matthew 3:13-17


Biblical quotations are taken from the Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted




“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?’ But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now; for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then he consented” (Matthew 3:13-15).



Today to our great surprise Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God himself, comes to the Jordan River to receive, with the rest of the people, John the Baptist’s baptism for the forgiveness of sins. What sins did Jesus have to repent of? He had no sins at all. So why did he come to be baptized for the forgiveness of sins? In fact, John himself wanted to prevent him from being baptized, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” (Matthew 3:14). Jesus then gives him an astounding answer, “Let it be so for now; for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (John 3:15).



This is an extremely significant statement, seeing that the word “righteousness” is the key word used in the New Testament theology of salvation (soteriology), which is mostly developed by St. Paul, and here Jesus himself is using it at this key point of his life, his baptism, which inaugurates his public ministry as the Messiah and Savior of the world. This is Jesus’ anointing by God the Father to begin his work to “save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).



And how will he save his people from their sins? He will do so by fulfilling all righteousness, that is, by satisfying God’s own justice for our sins, for in justice we owe him eternal punishment for them, which none of us can pay and still be saved. Therefore Jesus saves us from our sins by suffering our eternal punishment for them for us by his death on the cross. Since he is the divine Son of God, his suffering and death on the cross is the equivalent of our eternal suffering and death in hell for our sins, and not for ours alone, but for those of the whole world, for “He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world” (1 John 2:2 NKJV)..



Christ’s death on the cross is our punishment for our sins, and that is how God considers it, when we put our faith in Christ and genuinely repent of our sins. This is how all righteousness is fulfilled in his work of salvation.



This anointing by the River Jordan inaugurates Jesus’ saving work, which is to offer the one and only propitiatory sacrifice that propitiates God for our sins. This means that it renders God propitious or favorable to us, at God’s initiative (Romans 8:32), by satisfying the demands of justice for our sins against God. God himself takes the initiative in sending us his own Son to be our propitiatory sacrifice to satisfy divine justice on our behalf for our sins by himself becoming our substitute, taking our place, and suffering our just punishment for our sins for us.



Therefore all that call upon Christ with faith will have God credit their personal account with Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross as paying their debt that they have with God of suffering and death for their sins. Hence, since their sins have been duly and adequately paid for and punished in Christ’s flesh on the cross (Romans 8:3-4), God can then justly declare all that put their faith in Christ righteous and reckon to them his own righteousness on the basis of their faith in Christ (Romans 4:22-24).



So Jesus insists that he needs to undergo this anointing (baptism) for ministry, for this is the way he will “fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15), satisfying God’s offended justice by paying our price, our punishment for our sins for us, so that God can then reckon to us his own righteousness by our faith in him (Romans 4:22-24).



In Jesus’ baptism, when he comes up from the water, the Holy Spirit comes down upon him like a dove, and God’s voice says from heaven, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). This line is an echo of Isaiah 42:1, the first Suffering Servant hymn of Isaiah (which appropriately enough is our first reading today): “Behold my servant [pais in Greek means servant, child, or son (Walter Bauer, William F Arndt, and F Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Second Edition; The University of Chicago Press, 1957-1979), page 604-605)], 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 … He will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not fail or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth” (Isaiah 42:1, 3b-4).



Jesus fulfills this first Suffering Servant hymn in a way far beyond what Isaiah probably expected, in that God brought righteousness to the earth by declaring and thereby making righteous all that put their faith in Jesus Christ, because of his atoning death on the cross in reparation for our sins.



The fourth and greatest Suffering Servant song is Isaiah 53, where the prophet tells us of the future Suffering Servant who will bear our sins and endure our punishment for them for us in order to make many to be accounted righteous: “The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6), and so “he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). He, “the righteous one, my servant, [shall] make many to be accounted righteous; and he shall bear their iniquities” (Isaiah 53:11).



“Baptism for Him [Jesus] was a ritual symbolizing the way in which He would fulfill all the righteous claims of God against man’s sin. His immersion typified His baptism in the waters of God’s judgment at Calvary. His emergence from the water foreshadowed His resurrection. By death, burial, and resurrection, He would satisfy the demands of divine justice, and provide a righteous basis by which sinners could be justified” (William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary (Thomas Nelson, 1989), page 1212).



When the voice of the Father from heaven proclaims Jesus to be his own beloved Son, “He seems to publish to the world that He [God] is satisfied with Him [Jesus] as the propitiation, the substitute, the ransom-payer for the lost family of Adam, and the Head of a redeemed people … Through Him, he can ‘be just, and yet the justifier of the ungodly’ (Romans 3:26)” (JC Ryle, 1816-1900).



This is what Jesus did for us. It is what he came into the world to do, and his baptism is the opening ritual inaugurating his public ministry. We benefit from this ministry when we are baptized with faith, for Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan instituted the sacrament of baptism, whereby we receive the effects of his propitiatory sacrifice, namely justification. To be justified means that we are declared and thereby made righteous by God, because our sins have been duly and justly paid for by the death of the Savior of the world on the cross. God applies this to us when we put our faith in Christ. It is then that God credits our personal account with Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross as payment of our debt of suffering and death that we have with God for our sins.



Since most of us were baptized as infants, we have no memory of it. Therefore we need to actualize our baptism by a personal act of faith, when we are old enough to do so. That is when we receive the benefits of this sacrament as mature adults. And what are these benefits? We were guilty sinners, living in darkness and depression because of our sins, unable to free ourselves from this terrible condition. But with baptism and faith we are released from all this and brought out into the light, and God’s heavenly peace fills our heart. Our sins have been fully and justly paid for by Christ’s death on the cross. Our punishment for our sins has already been suffered for us, our death sentence served for us, and so we are rightly and justly set free, fully absolved and filled with God’s own righteousness, which he reckons to us by our faith in Christ (Romans 4:22-24).



We receive all this in baptism through our faith. Baptism is the external symbol of this, whereby the priest washes us with water, which cleans our body, indicating the cleansing of our soul that God works in us through baptism with faith. As infants we can’t make an act of faith, but when we are old enough to do so, all the benefits that came to us in baptism are brought to life for us in an adult way, and we are clothed with righteousness, as Isaiah prophesied would happen, “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness” (Isaiah 61:10).



Indeed, as baptized adult Christians, we now live in the days of fulfillment of which the psalmist prophesied, “In his [the Messiah’s] days shall the righteous flourish; and abundance of peace so long as the moon endureth" (Psalm 71:7 KJV). These are the days that Isaiah prophesied, the days of salvation, the messianic times, the age of fulfillment, when the Messiah, the longed for Son of David, would come and sit on his father’s throne. In that day, “Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David, and over his kingdom, to establish it, and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and for evermore” (Isaiah 9:7). “Righteousness shall be the girdle of his [the Messiah’s] waist, and faithfulness the girdle of his loins” (Isaiah 11:5).



Let us, therefore, rejoice today in the salvation that Christ has earned for us, for today he is anointed by the Father to begin his saving work, of which we are the beneficiaries.


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