Stop Pretending That You Are Not A Sinner

Text: Matthew 3:13-17

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

The religious leaders crossed every “T” and dotted every “I.”  They were squeaky clean. If anyone were to ask who the model citizens were, everyone would point at the Pharisees and Sadducees.

And so, things got interesting when these Pharisees and Sadducees came into contact with John the Baptist. We can imagine these religious leaders with smug faces and noses up in the air. We can also imagine John the Baptist aiming for their pride and self-righteousness when he said,

“Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘we have Abraham as our ancestor.’ . . . Even now the ax is lying at the root of the tree; every tree, therefore, that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” 

In other words, John was saying: you Pharisees and Sadducees stop pretending that you are holier than thou!  Indeed, repent of your pretending that you are not a sinner. Get off your high horses and get into this dirty water with sinners, confessing your sins in thought, word, and deed. Confess your sins, be baptized!

Things got even more interesting, though, when Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan River. You see, when Jesus came to John, He came to be baptized. However, John prevented Him and said, “I’m the one who needs to be baptized, not you!” Jesus insisted, though, “Do it. God’s work is coming together right now in this baptism.  Everything through these centuries is being put together here.” So, John baptized Jesus in a baptism of repentance for sins.

Now, think about this for a moment. The religious leaders, who were full of wickedness, pompous arrogance, and snotty attitudes, avoided John’s baptism because they hid their sin and diminished its seriousness. They refused to be baptized because they were squeaky clean on the outside and did not fully comprehend how dirty they were on the inside. They were righteous in their own sight – not like all those dirty filthy sinners in the dirty filthy water of the Jordan River. On the other hand, Jesus Christ, who is without sin, who alone can claim that no deceit was found in his mouth, came and asked to be baptized by John.

Stated concisely; the religious leaders who should have been baptized and needed to be baptized, refused. And Jesus who should not have been baptized and did not need to be baptized, well… He was baptized.

But why?

It is like this; we humans tend to get things backward. We think about ourselves more highly than we ought. That is why we are so quick and capable of seeing everybody else’s failures and sins, but not ours.

We all have an image in our head of a large ruler where we elevate ourselves close to the top while placing everyone else down on the bottom of the ruler.  Those who are good and right like us, we put close to the top, just under us.  And those people who are bad and not like us, we put at the bottom of the ruler so that we can look down upon them with disapproval.  And so, like those religious leaders, we become blind to our own sinfulness because we are too busy looking down upon everyone else.   

Dear friends, the sinful nature is a deep evil corruption that we many times fail to comprehend. Our culture does not help either when it continually tells us that we humans are good, with untapped potential within. And so, God’s Word of law must always be preached into our ears and laid upon our hearts, so that we can understand that there is no bottom to the sinful nature – that we are all at the bottom of the ruler together… guilty. In fact, this is one of the reasons why we begin each service with confession.

The confession of our sins at the beginning of each service is meant to protect us from becoming like those Pharisees and Sadducees, who denied their need of John’s baptism. The confession of our sins is meant to crush all of our smug and pretentious holier than thou attitudes. That is to say; to confess our sins at the beginning of each service is grounding us in reality.  It is a blessing even though it many times hurts. You see, the sinful old Adam hates confessing sin. The old Adam despises when we confess that we are sinners in thought, word, and deed.

So what this means is that if you struggle confessing sins at the beginning of the church service or if your friends or family are offended by the confession of sins, then good. It shows that your old Adam – the sinful nature – is being attacked and confronted.  Dear friends, the old Adam should be offended. The old Adam does not like to be dragged out of the shadows before the throne of God in confession.  The old Adam hates falling to the bottom of the ruler and smashing to pieces. 

The confession of our sins at the beginning of each church service also prevents this church from becoming a country club for the self-righteous. Confession keeps us humble. Confession teaches us that the church is a hospital for sinners. Confession reveals that we all come to our church services precisely because we are sinners in need of forgiveness, life, and salvation.  All at the bottom - together at the bottom of the ruler.  

Once we confess our sins, though, you are not left in despair, guilt, and condemnation but the pastor in the place and by the command of Jesus – with his hand placed upon the baptismal font — proclaims, “I forgive you of all of your sins in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” And the congregation, in hearing the absolution makes the sign of the cross over their heart, remembering that they are baptized into Christ.

Let us not get too far ahead of ourselves at this point. Back up and consider that sign of the cross that we make.  In the hymnal, there is a red cross printed throughout each church service. And so, every time we see the red cross, we can joyfully make the sign of the cross on our head or heart. And why? Because the sign of the cross is a remembrance of our baptisms.

You see, our baptisms are not some historical irrelevant past event that has no application in the present moment. But rather, our baptisms are a present reality for us. You and I are the baptized – the ones baptized into Christ. We are the reasons why Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River in the first place. In other words, when Jesus stepped into the Jordan River, He stood in our place. He assumed the form of sinful flesh and became the greatest sinner, and carried on Himself the sins of the world. Yes, He placed all sin upon Himself in His baptism at the Jordan, and washed them from Himself, indeed, from us all, so that they might be submerged and drowned in His baptism.”[1]  Loaded with the world’s sin, Jesus buried it in the waters of the Jordan, just like he buried the sins of the world in his nailed marked hands at Mt. Calvary.  He fulfills all righteousness!     

Dear Baptized Saints, hear this: Jesus joins himself to sinners – sinners like you – in the baptism at the Jordan. And you and I are joined to Jesus – the righteous one – in baptism as well.

So, dear friends, stop pretending that you are not sinners. Stop hiding behind your self-righteousness. If you claim that you are free of sin, you are only fooling yourself. A claim like this is utter nonsense. Indeed, if you claim that you are not a sinner, then you are contradicting your baptism and Christ Himself. Trying to live as if you are better than everyone else, without any fault, makes God out to be a liar. Self-righteous smugness does not impress anyone, especially God, but only shows off your ignorance of God.

Instead, repent. Repent of not confessing sins and confess sins boldly.  Not with pride, but with remorse.  And more importantly, when you confess, remember that you have been plunged into baptism. Yes, return to your baptisms.  Remember that the guilt of your sins is in the bathwater of Christ.  Remember that He was baptized and nailed to the cross and shed His blood for your sins, to cleanse you, justify you, and to save you. Remember that these are yours.

And know this too, as the Father was well pleased with Jesus in His baptism at the Jordan River, the Father is also well pleased with you. How can he not be pleased with you, for you are baptized into Christ? If Jesus is the object of God the Father’s good pleasure, and Jesus’ is the object of your salvation, how can the Father not be pleased with you?

Dear Baptized Saints, the heavens were opened at Jesus’s baptism, and they are open to you in your baptism.  They stay open to you, for your baptism remains true. There is no dividing line between God and you.  Because Jesus went down into the water, and touched it with his body and blood, He made your baptism holy. Therefore do not doubt; in your baptism heaven stands open to forgiven sinners — saints — saints like you, who bear the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
In the name of Jesus: Amen. 

[1] Johann Spangenberg, The Christian Year of Grace: The Chief Parts of Scripture Explained in Questions and Answers, tr. Matthew Carver (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2014), 391.

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