January 12, 2020: Baptism of Christ Sunday

Let us pray: Dear Savior, thank You for coming to earth, being born, fulfilling God’s entire Law on our behalf, suffering and dying to pay for our failures to keep God’s Law perfectly, rising from the grave, and then ascending in glory—all for us, all to fulfill God’s righteousness on our behalf!  Today You formally begin that journey of salvation by being baptized by John.  May we all view our baptism as the venue You have given us on our walk of faith, too.  Amen


TEXT:  Matthew 3: 15: “Let it be so for now.  It is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.”

Dearly Beloved In Christ:

          Have you ever played dominos? I recall having some dominos around the house as a kid, but I never knew how to play the game.  Instead,  I would set them up in a row and then push the one on the end.  They would slowly all topple, one after another.  It was fun for about 5 minutes—for an eight year old kid.

          Those dominos are a microcosm of everyone’s life.  We all consider ourselves “good people.”  So we emotionally deal with our shortcomings and failures by self-justification.  “Did you do all your homework?” my mother would ask.  I would answer: “Well, I did most of it and the rest isn’t that important.” I would answer.  It was an attempt to evade her question and justify my laziness.  Domino # 1.  Then we add to the line of dominos.  “Yes, I cleaned my room; yes, I mowed the lawn; yes, I took care of the snow; yes, I went to work (short of on-time); yes, tried to make friends at school; yes, I remembered Aunt Sophie in my prayers; yes, I studied for confirmation—all those are additional dominos.  That’s because we did them grudgingly, or we did just enough to get-by, or we told little “white” lies about it all so as to salve our conscience for the moment.  The point is: nothing we do is ever perfect in thought, word, or deed.  But over time we begin to believe that our occasional good intentions are enough.   This is why at funerals people talk about how Frank and Mary were: “Good people.”   But who defines good?  Good in human eyes, or good in God’s eyes?


          The word: righteousness, or the state of rightness with God, is used a lot in the Bible.  It is used right here in our lesson by Jesus.  But what does it mean?  It addresses the issue all people face: are you right with God?  Do good intentions cut it with God?  The short answer is: No.  Why?  Because God doesn’t play human comparison games.  He doesn’t judge you against any other human being.  He judges you and compares your life against His standard of perfection in absolutely everything.  And unlike friends, parents, teachers, or anyone else—God sees everything you do—all the cutting of corners and playing word games to weasel out from being guilty and being found out for it.

          So, what is Christ getting at in our lesson when He tells John the Baptist that He wants John to baptize Him into a life of repentance and John responds by basically saying: “Why?”  “You have come to me to be baptized?  I need to be baptized by you!”  John knew that Jesus was the Messiah.  He knew that Jesus came to take away his sins eternally via Jesus’ perfect life lived in our stead and His innocent death, died in our place.  Yes, as the perfect Son of God, Jesus was our substitute in all things.  You and I try to be “good people” and fail every day.  Something gets in the way of our thoughts, words, and actions perfectly meshing with God’s holy will.  We erect those dominos and the line gets longer and longer and looks pretty good to the human eye—until one nudge too hard collapses the whole thing.  Sin is the culprit.  And then we end up feeling guilty; feeling sorry for ourselves; feeling inadequate; feeling worthless; and some people just give up altogether and walk away from our Lord.  That’s the genesis of that famous passage: “There is none righteous, no not even one.”


          Baptism was the start of Jesus’ public ministry.  For us, most of the time it is also the beginning of our walk of faith, as well.  And it’s all about being “right with God.”  So, Christ condescended to be baptized in a life of repentance at His baptism—for you and me.  It was the start of His “fulfilling all righteousness” that God demands from us.  Here Jesus fulfills that impossible demand.  He was God’s Son and with God “all things are possible.”  This life of true holiness by Christ has a fancy name among theologians.  It is called the “active obedience” to God’s will.  Put into today’s terms, every time you create a new domino of half-way measures, God in Christ removes that domino from God’s eyes and by faith Jesus’ perfection is put in its place.  So, at the end of the day, there is nothing to topple.  Only Jesus the immoveable Rock of salvation remains! 

          It begins with baptism.  And for us it also ends with baptism.  As St. Peter later wrote: “Baptism doth now also save us.”  This is why it is so important that we be baptized, remember our baptism daily, draw strength from it, and thank God for it.  For in baptism Jesus’ rightness with God is transferred to each of us.  The Perfect Rock that is immoveable becomes the foundation stone of our entire lives. 

          Some people don’t give any of this a thought.  Most people prefer to play emotional dominos and spiritual dominos and admire their creativity and artistry until, until in their arrogance a slight nudge collapses the entire building they’ve constructed about their own goodness and achievements.  So today I leave you with this one question:  “Are you right with God?”  Why?  How do you know?  Jesus answers it here: “I have come to fulfill all righteousness.”   Or, as He says elsewhere: “Come unto Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”  Amen


Pastor Thomas H. Fox

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