In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The Father in His merciful wisdom sent His Son Jesus Christ to us, for us men and for our salvation. Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. By His birth on Christmas morning, it was revealed that the Son of God had united Himself to our humble human flesh – He had taken into Himself our own human nature, every bit of it except for our sinful quality. Throughout this season of Epiphany, Jesus demonstrates the implications of His incarnation by His teaching and miracles and life and work. For example, when the gentile wise men from the east visit, it’s a glimmer that God’s plan of redemption is offered to all nations. By uniting Himself with the human nature, and not one particular race, Jesus’ death and resurrection is sufficient to redeem the sins of all humanity. God does not reduce us to our race or country of origin, but rather loves us individually, having joined Himself to our common humanity.
So also then at the Baptism of Jesus, we see our Lord uniting Himself to you in another, further way. He did not need to be baptized for His own forgiveness, but rather went through with it for your sake, for your forgiveness. He was baptized so that we could be baptized. The Holy One put Himself into this promised washing, that we might be renewed in His holy humanity. He put His righteousness into the baptism, so that we who are baptized receive it therein.
Water, by itself, is plain water and no baptism. But with God’s Word of promise attached to it, plain water becomes for us the holy baptism, life-giving water, rich in grace. A washing of new birth in the Holy Spirit. Ordinarily, water is simple and effective: it is nourishment for the thirsty body, it can cleanse us of dirt, it can water the earth and cause it to bring forth and sprout. We can’t have life without water. Yet God perfects water in this – He joins His Word to it. When used for Holy Baptism, God uses this water to connect us to Christ Jesus. It connects us to His atoning death on the cross, it connects us to His glorious resurrection from the dead. It communicates His righteousness to us. It confers adoption to us as God’s children, heirs of heaven’s kingdom, inheritors of paradise. Eternal life comes through this Word and Water.
Where our sin and subsequent exile from Eden separated us from God, by Jesus’ incarnation and baptism, He is restoring us to union, communion, with the Holy Trinity. Ephesians 2[:12-13] reminds us to remember that once we were: “12b separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” What restores us from our alienation? Christ Jesus. How? Through His promises, as we heard today the promise of Holy Baptism that sticks with us. Again it is written in Hebrews 4[:16] “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
So think about this: the Lord Jesus who unites Himself to our frail human nature, is still united to it. Jesus is, right now in heaven, both God and man at the same time still. Through holy baptism into Jesus’ death and resurrection, there can be human beings like us in the presence of God the Father almighty. So also, God the Father and the Son send the Holy Spirit to renew and sanctify you who are human, who believe and are baptized. Baptism is not a one time event, but rather the beginning of a life-long restoration of our humanity.
Jesus took on a human nature to restore our human nature. When we sin, or when we are broken and grieved by the sins of others, this makes us poor and miserable. Sinners captivated by their sin are enslaved, being reduced to some part or portion of their animal nature. It often feels like we’re not very good at being human. But Jesus is here to restore us to our humanity, into the pure human nature that we were created and intended to live in. By this new birth from above in Holy Baptism, He is restoring you to the full and free humanity. His perfect humanity, bestowed upon you. Because He was baptized “to fulfill all righteousness,” His righteousness is now bestowed, declared, imputed, and being renewed in you. So raise up your heads, you who are poor and miserable, look to Him, you who are sinful, for your sins are forgiven. The Son of God and Son of Man has forgiven your sins, and is restoring you even today. When the accusations of the Law or temptation’ dire hour strikes, remember Who God is making you to be, Whose family He adopts you into. God the Father is well-pleased with Christ Jesus His Son, and since you who believe and are baptized are united to Him, on His account, our Father in heaven is likewise well pleased with you. In the name of + Jesus. Amen.