Saturday, January 11, 2014

Made Sin for Us

Sermon on Matthew 3:13-17
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
January 12, 2013 (Baptism of our Lord)

John’s baptism was for repentance.  Repentance is not necessary for those who have not sinned.  And so John’s question is a pertinent one.  How could the sinless Son of God need repentance?  You might as well ask how the sinless Son of God could die.  After all, death is the wages of sin, right?  So how could God die?  How, for that matter, could God sin?  He created us, and therefore He’s the one that gets to decide what is, and is not a sin in the first place.  Accusing Him of sin is, not only offensive, but ultimately illogical.  And yet here he stands, willingly asking for a baptism of repentance, and thereby standing in the place of the sinner.

But that’s what He came to do.  He came to take our place.  As St. Paul puts it in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”  Becoming sin without actually being a sinner was the whole point, the whole reason why He came to earth in the first place.  If he were here merely to teach how God wants us to live in order to escape hell, or even how to have a better life here on earth, He need not have bothered.  And He certainly would not have become such an offensive figure to the religious authorities that they wanted Him killed.  No, He came to do what no one else but God would, or even could, do, and that is become sin without sinning.

When you take a bath or a shower, you wash off the dirt and grime and sweat that previously covered you.  Same thing when you wash your hands: whatever you got your hands into is washed off.  You become clean.  But what happens to the dirt and the sweat and whatever else you may have gotten into?  Does it simply disappear?  Of course not!  The water takes it somewhere, either to a sewage treatment plant or to a septic tank.  The water carries it away from you, but it still needs to be dealt with somehow.  The same thing is true with the Sacrament of Holy Baptism.  You are washed clean of your sin, both the original sin you have inherited from Adam, and every actual sin you have committed in your own life.  In fact, this water washes you clean, not just of past sins, but of future sins as well.  But the sin has to go somewhere.  God doesn’t just wave His hand and make it disappear.  Where it goes is onto Jesus.  Where it is dealt with is on the Cross.  And so, in a sense, Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan is the counterpart to when we received the Sacrament of Holy Baptism.  What is washed off of us, is washed onto Him.

And so, that’s why Jesus had to be baptized.  He who knew no sin was made sin for us.  He washed us clean by becoming dirty.  He made us pure by becoming impure.  We who have done everything wrong, are treated by God as if we have done everything right, precisely because He who has, in fact, fulfilled all righteousness, became sin for us.  We inherit eternity with the Father, Himself, and the Holy Spirit, precisely because of what He experienced when He cried out, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?”

That’s also why, by the way, the Father and the Holy Spirit put in an appearance here.  It is precisely the fellowship of the Holy Trinity we enter when we are baptized.  We are in Christ, and being in Him we participate in the love of God the Father and the communion of the Holy Spirit.  When Jesus later institutes Holy Baptism, He stipulates that it should be done “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  Baptism involves the full fellowship of the Holy Trinity Himself.

Which is why it is especially remarkable that the Father would call Jesus “My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased,” in that very moment in which He publicly showed Himself to have been made sin for us.  But that’s no more paradoxical than Jesus giving the disciples His body and blood while reclining right there next to them on Holy Thursday, or of His ruling heaven and earth as the almighty, creative Word while at the same time needing to be fed by His mother and have His diaper changed.  We have a God who does things paradoxically, because we have a God who is Himself a paradox: three Persons, one God, neither confusing the persons nor dividing the substance.  We have a God whose very existence is something that cannot be comprehended by human logic or reason.  And that’s a good thing.  Human logic and reason would tell us that sin (even if you don’t call it that) earns its own bad rewards, either in the form of eternity in hell, or in the new-age concept of “karma,” in which everything you do comes back at you in one form or another.  It is precisely a God who transcends our reason that can treat us sinners as saints.  It is precisely a God who transcends our reason who can be made sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

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