Heaven Opened For You

Text: Matthew 3:13-17

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

After traveling fifteen miles from Galilee to the Jordan River to be baptized, Jesus was met with rejection.

“No! No! No! This is not right.  You?  Here?  For this? I do not need to baptize you, but you, Jesus, need to baptize me!”

You see, John the Baptist was conducting baptisms for sinners.  Thousand upon thousands of people who needed their lives turned around and transformed were coming to John for baptism. It was a baptism for people who knew they were underdogs, deadbeats, losers – sinners.   But, this was not who Jesus was.  That is why John insisted, “I need you, Jesus, to baptize me!"  But as we heard in today’s Gospel reading from Matthew, Jesus won't be put off. He said, "Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness."

And what did John make of this response?  What do we make of   Jesus descending into the water for John to baptize Him, just like all the other underdogs, deadbeats, and losers who were there being baptized?

Dear friends, this is the way it had to be. Jesus said that this is how He would fulfill all righteousness. For Jesus to be baptized in the dirty Jordan River with a bunch of sinners is exactly how Jesus will make His righteousness available for all people.  Contrary to what we might think,  Jesus’ uprightness, His holiness, His worthiness, His unbroken "yes" to the will of the Father is the very reason why He needs to be baptized in the Jordan River with a bunch of sinners. That is to say, Jesus’ righteousness is what brings Him down to the dirty waters of the Jordan to stand together with a bunch of sinners who have spoken countless "no's" to the will of God.

This past Christmas, we marveled at the fact that the Son of God took on human flesh – that Jesus took on human flesh and blood and lived among us.  It is indeed remarkable that God did not leave us in the muck of sin by ourselves, but rather, plunged into this world of sin with us, to live among us. But here in today’s Gospel reading is a greater phenomenon and that is this, the Son of God in human flesh and blood walks right into the waters of the Jordan River and stands together with us underdogs, deadbeats, losers – He is baptized with sinners in a sinner’s baptism.  The one who is perfect comes to sick-sinners.  He comes to stand with you and me in the water under the verdict of condemnation that we might stand with Him in the water and hear the verdict of righteousness, the announcement that in and with Him we are beloved children of the Father.  Jesus is splashed with the water of sinners so that we might be splashed with His righteousness.

Let us pause briefly here to make sure we understand what is going on.  In the waters of the Jordan River, we see a shadow of the cross that is to come.  We see what Jesus is all about.  He is about sinners – coming to sinners to take their sin so that they might have His righteousness.   This is what Jesus I about; this is what Christianity is all about.  It is about the Lord coming to and for sinners like me and you.

So what happens next? As Jesus comes up, dripping wet in John’s baptism, John is astonished.  There above Jesus in the water, heaven itself is opened, and as John looks up, he sees far more than the sky.  He gasps as he is given an unbelievable glimpse into the overwhelming love and joy of heaven itself.

John sees the Spirit coming down from heaven with the gentleness of dove and landing on Jesus.  John hears the Father's voice speak words of unimaginable love and acceptance, "This is my beloved Son, in Him, I am well pleased." Martin Luther adds that there would certainly have been all the angels present too, for where Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are there is all of heaven itself.

Here in the waters of that dirty Jordan River in the midst of a bunch of sinners, there is a shining glory that is revealed!  We not only see the Son of God standing in the midst of sinners, but we see that heaven is opened up and the favor of God the Father is spoken.

What does this mean, though?  It means that as God’s glory and favor shine upon the waters of Jesus’ baptism, that the same glory and favor shine upon every other baptism conducted in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Indeed, the Baptism of Jesus not only shows us the Son of God standing with sinners, but it shows us what is given to us in our baptisms.  It is like this, today’s Gospel reading shows you and me what we were given in our baptisms.  It shows you and me what we were given on the day of our baptisms, and that is, an open heaven, the gift of the Spirit, and the promise that God is well pleased with us!  

Yes, on the day you were baptized, heaven itself was opened to you.  Above the water that poured over you, the Cherubim put away their swords and the gates to paradise swing open wide. Heaven was not barred and sealed to you when you were baptized, but it opened wide to you becoming your true home. 

Yes, on the day you were baptized, the Holy Spirit descended from heaven and landed on you.  To live with you and never leave you again.  At the day of your baptism, you became a citizen of the Kingdom of God.  At the day of your baptism God’s favor was pronounced upon you, “Your sins are forgiven; I am well pleased with you!”   

Dear Baptized Saints, do not brush this off.  Stop.  Pause.  Take note of what we hear this day. On the day you were baptized, God the Father looked down from heaven and said to all His angels and all the world,

"Look! This is my own child! This is my beloved! How pleased I am with this one!" 

Yes, at your Baptism you were plucked out of the kingdom of darkness and made a child of God.

But you may be saying to yourself,

"Oh, pastor, come on. A little bit of water and few words and all of that is the result? How can water accomplish all of that? How can water do such great things?"

We remember from the Small Catechism that it is not the water that does all of this, but the Word of God which is in and with the water and faith which trusts that Word of God in the water.

So while the world thinks that baptism is some 5-minute empty and dry church ritual that Christians do to babies, we know that God is up to something so much more.  In other words, while the world sees baptism as a dead old church ritual, we know this day that the splash of the water, the power of the Word, and the Spirit binds us to Jesus the Lord… all in baptism.  The world in all of its sophisticated wisdom is made foolish, for in simple water and God’s powerful word, baptism drives away death and hell and makes us eternally alive. 

All of what we hear this day is why Jesus calls the church to baptize all nations in the Gospel of Matthew the twenty-eighth chapter.  He calls us to baptize not as some dead ritual and not as some sort of act of obedience towards God showing that we are somehow really pious and good Christians.  But rather, He calls us to be baptized so that we can be made His disciples. 

Dear friends, Baptism is a mighty gift.  It is what the Lord does for us to make us His own.  In baptism the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit show up again and again and again as the water lands on each sinner at the baptismal font. 

It is rather simple my friends is it not?  Where God's name is, there is God. In and with the water of baptism the Lord is present to make us His own; therefore, it is so much more than ordinary water. 

All this we celebrate today on the Baptism of Our Lord.  By faith, we cling to the events of Jesus' Baptism and know that these events are for us too.  We know that on the day we were baptized, heaven was opened for us, the Spirit was given to us, and the Father claimed us as His very own loved child.

Today, know that the gifts given to you in the water of baptism can never be taken away.  People may forsake and leave the gift of baptism, but the gift of baptism will never leave.  So, when we wander – because we indeed are prone to wander and prone to leave the God that we love – we only need to be returned to our baptism where everything good in the Lord began.    

Baptism remains in all of its fullness.  At our baptism heaven and the gift of the Spirit and the gift of our citizenship of the Kingdom of God are completely present for you today, tomorrow, and until the Lord takes you home to Himself.

Blessed friends, you are baptized.  The Lord God is well pleased with you this day.  Heaven has been opened to you. 

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

Portions of the Sermon are indebted to William Weedon’s sermon on Matthew 3:13-17.

CLICK HERE to 'Like' on Facebook
CLICK HERE to 'Follow' on Twitter
CLICK HERE to Subscribe on iTunes
CLICK HERE to Subscribe on Podbean