Luke 3:15-22: Baptized for You to Fulfill All Righteousness

Jesus Baptism at the Jordan (610x351)

When Jesus came the Jordan River for John to baptize Him, the entire Old Covenant came face to face with its Fulfillment. Every saving act of God, from Noah’s flood to the Red Sea, to the Temple sacrifices of atonement, came head to head with the Person to whom they pointed. Those events in the life of God’s Old-Covenant people directed them to the prophesied Savior, the Salvation for whom they waited.


And so, we find a flood of salvation imagery at Jesus’ baptism. At the Jordan stood the last and greatest Old-Covenant prophet, John the Baptizer. His birth was like the birth of Isaac, the son of Abraham. Like Isaac’s parents, John’s parents were also childless and past the age of having children. And so, like the birth of Isaac, the birth of John the Baptizer was also a miracle.

But here’s where both births come together. For both Isaac and John were born to fulfill a role. They were part of a gradual unfolding, over time, among a people whom God had set apart, through whom the Messiah would come.

And so, at the Jordan River, John the Baptizer, prophesied in the Scriptures, meets the One whose birth was an even greater miracle than his. For John meets the One born, not from the will of a human man, but from the will of God the Father. God sent the Holy Spirit to overshadow the Virgin Mary, and Jesus became incarnate, not only being the son of Mary, but also the Son of God.

John was at the Jordan baptizing for the forgiveness of sins. He, like the entire Old Covenant, was pointing the people forward to their coming Savior and Messiah. And there at the Jordan, the long-awaited Savior appeared.

But the Messiah doesn’t come to relieve John and take over, much to John’s surprise. For Jesus comes, first, to receive John’s baptism. The One, who had no sin came to the waters, where sinners were coming to drown their sins in repentance. The One who knew no sin came to the place of sinners to stand as one of them.

But Jesus didn’t arrive to deal with sin as we often do. We often tell others that what they did was okay, that it wasn’t a big deal. But Jesus understands how big of a deal sin is. So, He shows up, not to say that sin is okay, but to do what He needs to do to carry out our salvation. It’s no coincidence that John directed others to Jesus, saying, “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).

In the Old Covenant, on the Day of Atonement, the High Priest would bathe Himself before making atonement for sin through the sacrifice he would make (Leviticus 16:24). And so, to the water Jesus comes, to be our High Priest and Sacrifice, “Himself the victim and Himself the Priest” (LSB 637, 1). When Jesus enters the waters of the Jordan, He does so to be bathed, not only to fulfill the Old Covenant but even to prepare Himself to become the Sacrifice to take away our sins.

Well, back to the Old Covenant. On the Day of Atonement, the High Priest would take two goats. One would be a sacrifice and the other a scapegoat. He would kill the goat for sacrifice but, for the scapegoat, the High Priest would place his hand on the goat’s head. That was to transfer the sins of the people onto the goat. Then, he would release that goat into the wilderness to die (Leviticus 16:9-10, 15-16, 21-22).

Jesus comes to fulfill, and become, the sacrifice and the scapegoat. As a sacrifice, He will be slaughtered on the cross for our forgiveness. Like the scapegoat, Jesus carries all our sins to die in the wilderness, far away from us. Jesus was preparing Himself for slaughter. God’s Lamb receives this washing to ready Himself for shedding His blood.

Indeed, “God made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us that, in him, we would become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Baptism embraces all that Christ came to do. It contains the entire mystery of His coming. Jesus was baptized as a sinner, all so we would be baptized as saints in His kingdom. He died our death, all so we could have His life. He became our sin, all so we would become His righteousness.

That’s the great exchange: a sinner receives forgiveness and the Son suffers and dies. The rebellious child of Adam receives God’s pardon, and the obedient Son of God receives your punishment. God washes you clean and makes you alive; Jesus soaks up your filth and dies for it.

And what the Son is doing pleases the Father, for He is the living incarnation of God’s mercy and love. Such is our God: He puts up with our sins, our constant trying to live apart from Him, our non-stop rebellion, and our abuse of His goodness. But God’s doing more than that. He’s even bearing our hurt, taking our shame, and owning our unworthiness. He does all that, so we can have that which we do not deserve: forgiveness, acceptance, love, and a joyful welcome home in eternal paradise.

In the waters of the Jordan, the sinless Jesus becomes your sin and death, all so you could become God’s child and God’s beloved. And what Jesus is doing pleases the Father. For “unless someone is born of water and Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). And to make baptism a God-pleasing washing away of sin, “this is how God loved the world: He gave his only Son [in sacrifice], that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Today, God confronts you and me with who He is. In our Lord’s Baptism, God is teaching you to treasure your baptism and to value it above all else that you have.   For in your baptism, you can then see in whose image and likeness God has declared you to be, and is even making you become.

And here’s where it even gets better. For John’s baptism of Jesus doesn’t end with Jesus only becoming your scapegoat and sacrifice of atonement. For what do we see happen after Jesus’ baptism? Heaven opens, and the Holy Spirit descends on Jesus like a dove, and the Father blesses His Son with divine approval.

What’s the dig deal with that? It’s this: When Jesus takes hold of your sins, that’s when God smiles on You with His divine approval. When Jesus pulls your sins into Himself, that’s when you meet God in His love and mercy. That’s the signal that lets you know that you have passed over from exile, the misery of sin and death, into the new creation, the kingdom of heaven. That’s when God again becomes your dear Father, and you become His dear child.

That is why, on this day, the Church rejoices in Jesus’ baptism. It is our Lord’s Epiphany as an adult. It’s His first public appearance as the long-awaited Messiah. That’s when He revealed Himself to Israel and stood in solidarity with sinners. That’s when the Triune God revealed Himself in a wonderful way, and when God began the work of bringing about our baptism.

This day of our Lord’s baptism is the dawning day of the new creation. It’s the day when God opened heaven to the earth. It’s the day the Father’s voice spoke approvingly of what His Son came to do. It’s the day the Holy Spirit descended visibly, showing the world that Jesus is the Anointed, the Messiah, the Christ. The Son is in the water; the Spirit descends; the Father speaks. Salvation is, indeed, the work of the Triune God in baptism.

In baptism, God gathers us as one family, united by the one Spirit in the one Body of Christ, to live in communion with God the Father. That’s the reality that God designed creation to be from the beginning. But, sadly, we lost that when we chose our way over God’s way.

This paradise of the new creation will appear when Jesus comes again. But the Holy Spirit has already planted that new creation within you. Having been baptized into Christ, you have received the gift of the Holy Spirit. And if you have the Spirit within you, that means you are part of God’s family, because God is now in you. And the Holy Spirit working in you makes you into the likeness of Christ. In the communion of Jesus’ Body and Blood, His image and likeness become part of you through faith.

Baptism connects you to Jesus’ death. In the same way, Jesus’ life enters you, takes hold of you, and implants, inside you, the beginnings of the life of the world to come. So, how fitting that our Lord’s first public appearance as the Messiah was at His baptism! For baptism means death AND resurrection, for it joins us to Jesus in His death and resurrection.

And why this true? It’s because “we were buried with Christ by baptism into His death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the Father’s glory, we too can walk in newness of life. And if we have been joined with Christ in the likeness of His death, we will also be joined with Him in the likeness of His resurrection” (Romans 6:4-5).

When you were baptized into the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, heaven opened for you. In baptism, the Triune God reveals Himself to you. The Son is there with you in the water. The Spirit descends on you. And The Father speaks to you: “You are my [child], whom I dearly love; with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22).

Jesus bowed His head before the Baptizer in the water of the Jordan. The sinless Son of God came among the sinful sons of Adam, to fulfill all righteousness, to take up His cross, to prepare for sacrifice, and to empower water to become our birth from above.



The Spirit descended, the Father delighted, and the Son is revealed to you for your salvation. Amen.