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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Baptism of Our Lord - 1/13

Jesus Fulfills All Righteousness

1st Sunday after the Epiphany
January 13th, 2008
Matthew 3:13-17
Bethany Lutheran Church

“We shall overcome. We shall overcome. We shall overcome some day. Deep in my heart, I do believe. We shall overcome some day.” Most of us are familiar with these words. Some of us were alive to watch them sung on the evening news by a crowd of people that had assembled. Those of us from the younger generations have most likely heard them during our education in school. Words sung, primarily by the black people of our nation, seeking to find their rightful and just place in a society that judged them on the basis of their skin color. But watching the videos and hearing various interviews, although the struggle was theirs, these black people were not alone. Occasionally in the marches, parades and interviews, there could be found white people joining in the song for the black people. Standing side by side they sang together with one voice, the black people longing to be recognized as citizens without fear of racism or segregation, the white people singing in solidarity for the peace and reconciliation of their brothers and sisters. The same solidarity that says if one part of the body is suffering, then the entire body suffers.

Why exactly was Jesus crowding the waters at the river Jordan? What was he doing there? You do not have to be an expert to recognize that something about this was unusual. Even John the Baptist, at the sight of Jesus, declared “I need to be baptized by you.” He had heard and believed the words of all the prophets and knew that this Jesus was the Messiah. Only a few verses earlier, John did not even regard himself as worthy enough to untie the thong of Jesus’ sandal. For Jesus was God’s very Son, free from sin. Jesus did not have to be baptized. Jesus did not have to be washed in the waters of baptism because he was already clean.

Several things happened at this remarkable event of Jesus’ baptism. For one, Jesus’ baptism was one of the first occasions through which God’s grace was revealed. It was one of the first revealings of the adult Jesus as God’s Son. Since Epiphany is the season of God’s revealing, the account of Jesus’ baptism is indeed fitting on this Sunday.

When Jesus was baptized, an immediate response of God’s grace was made evident in the opening up of the heavens and in the coming down of the Spirit of God. It is the answer to the prophet Ezekiel’s cry in Isaiah (64:1), “O that thou wouldst rend the heavens and come down.”  Ezekiel’s cry is finally seen and heard in the event of Jesus’ baptism when God comes to dwell among us.

If we were to heed all of the words of the prophets, we might be terrified at the coming of God into our midst. Many Old Testament passages instruct us not to look directly into the face of God, a face that is too powerful and almighty for lowly sinners like ourselves. We have heard the cries of the prophets, warning us about judgment, even John the Baptist crying “heed the wrath that is to come.” We know the story of the flood where God wiped out his entire creation because of its sinfulness and wickedness. If this was the only image of God that I had, perhaps like those people gathered on the banks of the river Jordan, then I do not think that I would welcome God’s presence into my midst with shouts of joy. Believing that this God was coming to judge the world, coming to judge me, I might cower under a tree and hope that God did not find me.

The heavens could have opened up with bolts of lightning, rumbles of crashing thunder, and great tempestuous winds. Would this not be the best entrance for a God who was coming to judge all people? But the writer of Matthew’s gospel does not describe the winds or the color of the sky. The writer does not acknowledge whether or not there was thunder and lightning. Instead, all we have recorded is that the Spirit of God descended like a dove.

Doves are a very uncommon animal in the Bible. The only other place where they are recorded in the Bible is after the great flood. A dove, a very common symbol in the ancient Mediterranean world, a symbol of gentleness, beauty, and purity – a sign of God’s peace acknowledges that the kingdom of God is already coming, here and now, into this world. The flood waters have already come and the waters are subsiding. God’s judgment has already been passed, and now God reveals peace. God’s peace that is for all people.

When Jesus was baptized, God entered into an intimate relationship with humanity. God came to dwell among us. Jesus now living among us is baptized and enters into solidarity with all of creation. In Jesus’ baptism, he connects himself to each one of us, taking on our wickedness, taking on our sin, entering into our world that he might bear our burdens, struggling with us throughout all of our trials and doubts.

The end goal, as Jesus told John the Baptist, is to “fulfill all righteousness.” The goal is the salvation of the entire world, that no children would be lost. Jesus’ baptism marked the arrival of God’s kingship for all those who seek a new relationship with God, for all those who seek a new beginning to the covenant relationship that has long since been established. God identifies with us through Jesus and Jesus becomes our representative in paying the price for our sins.

No matter how hard we may try, attaining righteousness is not possible for humans. Rather, attaining righteousness is a gift from God. The fulfilling of righteousness means that salvation has come. Jesus has come into this world to redeem all of creation, to save everything that has been lost to the power of sin and death. Jesus’ baptism prepared him for what he was about to face. It prepared him for a host of trials and temptations. And it is by no coincidence that immediately following Jesus’ baptism, he finds himself in the wilderness, tempted by Satan. Having received the Spirit of God, Jesus is ready for the mission which God has given him.

Jesus’ baptism was costly and the mission was deadly. Throughout Jesus’ life, he would be despised and rejected, but through it all, he remains obedient without complaint to the will of God. His baptism demanded his death in order that God might renew the fullness of the community with the love of God’s saving grace, a grace and love so powerful that even trampled down the gates of hell. For there are none that are lost, all righteousness has been fulfilled. All of creation has been saved. The cost for this righteousness was Jesus’ death upon a cross.

Baptisms are costly since the very nature of baptism demands a death as one is drowned in the waters. But the rising to newness of life is what makes it all worth it. God’s kingdom has come and all of creation will be renewed by this great love. God is at work here and now among us. God’s Spirit is alive and dancing in our midst. Listen and hear the voice that is saying, “This is my Son, [Jesus,] the Beloved, [whom I have sent to redeem the world] and with whom I am well pleased.”


Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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