Look was an American magazine published from 1937 1971. It had more emphasis on pictures than words compared to other magazines. It's interesting that the internet has again taken us the way of pictures over words emphasizing short tweets and YouTube videos. Today I want you to look at pictures and hear words.
Look at what's not there. Any artist would tell you that what he doesn't put in a painting is significant. Bible translations leave things out as well, and when they do emphasis is changed or lost and sometimes so is meaning. Look at what's not in the first sentence of the third paragraph, "As soon as Jesus was baptized, He went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened." Compare this to the ESV. "And when Jesus was baptized, immediately He went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to Him." Our NIV insert leaves out that the heavens were opened to Him, to Jesus. The heavens weren't opened to John, or to the crowd, or to you or me but to Jesus.
"To Him" is not the only thing left out of our text. Look at what else is. Two times the word "behold" is left out. The insert reads, "As soon as Jesus was baptized, He went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on Him. And a voice from heaven said, "This is My Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased." The ESV reads, "And when Jesus was baptized, immediately He went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on Him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, "This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased."
The Greek word the ESV translates "behold" can even be translated with our vernacular "Look!" By leaving it out the insert looses the amazement, the excitement, the awe that the Holy Spirit has put in the text. "Look the heavens opened!" "Look the Father speaks from heaven."
Look, two Old Testament prayers are finally answered. Psalm 144:5, "Part your heavens, LORD, and come down." And Isaiah 64:1. "Oh, that You would rend the heavens and come down." Isaiah uses the same Greek word for "open" that Matthew does that means "tear asunder" "rip open." And when God finally does open heaven look how He comes out? In the form of a Dove. No one's afraid of a dove.
Look! God at last speaks from heaven. The last time I find God speaking directly from heaven is when He came down to Mount Sinai in thick smoke, earthquakes, thunder, and lightening. Then the people begged God not to speak directly with them lest they die, but look He speaks here and there is no smoke, thunder, lightening, or quaking of earth or people.
As in art so in Scripture. What is present is more important than what is absent, so look at what is here: a disagreement between John and Jesus. A disagreement between the herald and his King. A disagreement between the creature and the Creator. A disagreement between the one who is not fit to untie the sandals of the other. You ought to be taking John's side in this beef or you don't get what's going on. Luther did. He said, "How marvelously backward this is" (LW 58, 44)!
It's backward in just the way John says. He needed to be baptized by Jesus. John has sins to repent and confess. What sins does the Holy One of God have to repent and confess? So holy, so pure, so unburdened by sin is Jesus that when He walks into water He doesn't sink but walks on top of it. But not you, me, or John, right? So unholy, so dirty, so weighted down with sins we sink beneath the waves like a stone. And these are the sins Jesus stands in the waters of the Jordan repenting and confessing, yours not His. Look! Today Jesus enters the office of sin bearer, the last Passover lamb who really carries away the sins of the world.
Look what else is here: the fulfillment of all righteousness. Not some, not most, but all righteousness is fulfilled by John baptizing the sinless Son of God with the dirty waters of Jordan. When that sense of sinfulness, that sense of dirtiness, that sense of smelliness comes upon you because of sin as it rightfully should when you have failed to fear, love and trust in God above all things; when you've used the Lord's name carelessly; when you've failed to hold preaching and God's Word sacred and holy; when your sins stink to high heaven, come here. At the Baptism of Jesus all righteousness is fulfilled in this way. Jesus came out of His Baptism covered with the sins of the world, so you come out of yours clean, forgiven, covered with His holiness.
Look at what is here. The Spirit of God descends out of an open heaven not as a screeching eagle, not as death sniffing vulture, not as an avenging angel but as a gentle Dove. But look! The Dove of the Spirit lands and not in a tree but on a Man. We marvel when a bird trainer has a bird swoop out of the sky to land on his arm because that's not natural. Well it's not natural, normal, or expected that the Holy Dove of the Third Person of the Trinity should land on a man. He can and does land on this Man because this flesh and blood Man is holy, righteous, deserving of all the gifts the Holy Spirit has to give.
We've looked at what is not in our text; we've looked at what is in our text. It remains to look at what is here because of what is there. The first thing that is here is the most obvious. Sanctified, sanitized divine Water is here in our font because of what happened to Jesus at the Jordan. Luther said that Jesus touching water with His holy body sanctified Baptism and filled it with blessing (LW 58, 48-9). In another place he said, "'The water which is poured in Baptism is not the water given by God as the Creator, but given by God the Savior'" (Conservative Reformation, 541).
Jesus Baptism gave Him our sins. All the guilt, shame, and blame that comes with your sins, was carried by Jesus up out of the Jordan, and there was only one place they could be paid for, damned for, died for. That was under the wrath of God, under the curse of God, under the judgment of God. And so it was laden with the sins of all mankind, Jesus went to the cross to suffer God's just wrath, curse, and judgment against a world's sins. And He did till it was finished: the Father's wrath satisfied, the curse removed, and judgment carried out against your sins.
Jesus' Baptism gave Him your sins; your Baptism gives you His forgiveness and life everlasting. Imagine if there was a doctor who was able to prevent people from dying and even if they did die he could restore them to life to live forever. How the world would rush to him and snow and rain money on him. Because of the pressing crowd of the rich no one else could get near him. But here in Baptism there is brought to every person's door just such a priceless medicine that swallows up death and saves the lives of men (LC IV, 42). And it's free, so that even an infant like William here can afford it. It's free because Jesus bought and paid for it.
Look at what's here because of what is there. The Father declared out of an open heaven, "This is My Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased." This could have been another one of the things left out. The Father actually says, "in Him" I am well pleased. Outside of Jesus, God is not pleased with me, you, anyone. Inside of Jesus God is well-pleased. In so far as you won't confess a sin or sins, defend a sin or sins, accept a sin or sins, you are outside of Jesus. Then you not Him answers for it or them. But the life of the baptized is one of constant repentance, constantly throwing all that we are and are not on the rubbish pile of sin saying I don't want to be anything that God doesn't want me to be.
The life of the baptized is not only one of constant repentance, but one of constantly hearing that the Father is well pleased with you. I read a true story about a school teacher who died. Her students were talking at her funeral. These were students who struggled either with grades, problems, emotions, bullies. They all had turnarounds in her class. They came to find out that each of them had been told privately by this teacher, "You know, you're my favorite student." Behold the power of love. The Father tells each of us in Jesus' name, "You know, you're the one I'm pleased with most."
Look at what is here in this house of God today because of what was there in the Jordan 2000 years ago. Life-giving waters that are rich in grace are here. The pleasure of God the Father in Jesus' name is here. And an open heaven is here. I teach confirmation kids that the physical church building is not a portal, wormhole, or looking glass that automatically delivers you to the realm of God. But here heaven is open to sinners through God's Word and Sacraments that are here.
Heaven is so wide open that not only does the Father speak here from this pulpit, lectern, and altar, so wide open that not only does the Spirit descend here on sinful mankind, so wide open that not only does the Son come here bodily, but all of heaven does. Not for nothing has the Church from the very beginning confessed that Communion is celebrated with angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven. Not for nothing were churches designed with half circle Communion rails. The Church on earth assembled on this side of the half circle; the Church in heaven gathered round the other.
When God touches water things happen. He hovered over the face of it and creation happened; He stepped into it when the Old Testament Church entered the Promised Land and the flood waters stopped. He stepped into it in His Baptism and recreation began flowing from water. Look! I'm telling you the Baptism of Jesus is such a big deal pictures can't do it justice. You need the Word for that. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
The Baptism of our Lord (20140112); Matthew 3: 13-17