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Baptismal (In)Justice

Isaiah 42:1-7; Matthew 3:13-17; Romans 6:3-11

Pastor Jason Zirbel

The Baptism of Jesus
Grace Lutheran Church  
Greenwood, AR

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Sun, Jan 10, 2021 

The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.

We know that baptism is all about God’s free and unmerited gift of grace.  This is precisely why the sacrament of Holy Baptism is referred to as a “means of grace.” This is one way in which God gives to us His grace.  And that’s just it: We don’t earn God’s grace and forgiveness.  We certainly don’t deserve it.  God’s grace is an unconditionally free and unmerited gift. 

And I begin with all this because as I was looking over these texts in preparation for the sermon, I was continually tripped up by the language about bringing forth/establishing justice.  It all seems so legalistic; so law-focused.  Justice is a legal term.  If there’s one concept that just doesn’t seem to fit with baptismal grace, it’s justice.  Justice—true justice—as we understand it (and even how Scripture understands it) means that right is right and wrong is wrong.  True justice means that the wicked don’t prosper.  The crooked and the criminal don’t win.  Rather, the wicked criminals get caught and punished, and the innocent/good are kept safe; delivered from injustice.  Wrongs are called out, brought into the light and made right.  That’s justice.

Now we could come at this many different ways.  Where do we begin?  Look around at the world we live in.  Is there justice?  Nope.  Not even close.  There never has been… not since the fall into sin, at least.  But isn’t the Christ supposed to bring forth and establish justice?  I know that some of you are already thinking, “Yeah, but that’s a future tense thing.  Jesus will eventually bring forth justice on Judgment Day, whenever that is.  When Jesus returns, that’s when all the wicked will finally be put in their place.  That’s when the righteous victims will finally be vindicated.  That’s when justice will finally be served.” Well… you’re not wrong, but what about now?  And this still doesn’t answer the question as to what all this talk of justice has to do with baptism.

Let’s talk about the “justice” of baptism.  When you think about it, there’s nothing “just” about baptism.  It’s a tremendous injustice.  We’re not innocent victims when it comes to sin.  We are, like Scripture says and like we confess, sinful by nature.  We deserve nothing but present and eternal punishment.  And yet… through baptism God gives to us His grace.  He washes our justly-deserved death sentence away and adopts us into His royal household.  And why is this the case?  Again, it’s not because we’ve done anything on our end to merit such gracious pardon and promotion.  Nope!  All this is solely because of the all-atoning work and person of Jesus Christ alone.  Just like St. Paul tells us, we are baptized into His death and resurrection.  His victories over sin, death, and the grave are made ours through baptism.  It’s through baptism that Almighty God credits us with Christ’s victory.  That’s not fair at all!  Like I said, there is no justice when it comes to our baptism.

Look at that cross!  That’s what we’re baptized into, right?  There is NOTHING fair or just about this!  The innocent One; the one and only truly holy/righteous One suffers and dies for us; for our sins, in our place.  He is our substitute.  And this is only what we can see with our eyes.  We can’t see God’s righteous anger and wrath against our sin being poured out on Him.  We can’t see the hell of being cut off from God and forsaken.  We can’t see ALL the horrific injustices being poured out upon Him.  The holy suffers in the place of the unholy.  The righteous dies instead of the unrighteous.  The Lord of Life suffers the death sentence in the place of this corrupted body of death.  There is NOTHING fair or just about this, and then when you realize that these blood-bought victories are credited to us through the likes of simple water and word, as if we’re “co-victors,” the level of injustice is incomprehensible.  It almost makes you feel ashamed that such a cosmic injustice was undertaken for you. 

But you know what?  That’s how much God loves you.  And when you do think about it, God’s holy justice does still prevail.  I know that we would do anything for our loved ones if it meant that they would be delivered from death.  If it came down to it, we would pervert justice in order to save the life of a loved one.  But that’s not how God works.  God is a just God.  God is truly just, unlike any of us, even on our best day.  Justice calls for the debt of sin to be paid, and paid for in full.  “Almost” or “good enough” simply don’t cut it.  There can be no hope/possibility of life and peace with the Almighty so long as the debt of sin—even one single sin—remains outstanding.  The holy God cannot abide in the presence of the unholy and unclean.  Righteousness cannot have fellowship with the unrighteous. 

This is precisely why God sent His only-begotten Son into this fallen world of sin, death, and corruption.  God Himself took on flesh for the sole purpose of paying that deadly and eternal wage of sin—your sin, my sin, and the sin of all those ever descended from Adam.  Justice was indeed served in the crucifixion of Christ.  The debt wasn’t simply forgotten or erased.  God doesn’t work like crooked politicians pandering to broke voters.  That sinful debt was paid for in full with the blood of Christ.  In terms of legalities, the case wasn’t thrown out of court.  Charges weren’t simply dismissed.  That would make God a crooked and unjust judge.  No!  The penalty was paid in full by Christ Jesus with His own holy body and life.  Justice was indeed served, and in that justice is revealed the incomprehensible love of God for you.

In fact, if you really want to get down to it, this is what Isaiah is pointing to when he speaks of the Messiah bringing forth justice and establishing justice.  Like I said, we so often and so easily look around at all the injustice in our fallen and sinful midst, and we only understand these words in a future tense.  There is no justice now, but when Jesus returns in judgment…!  Again, that’s all true, but that’s not the justice Isaiah is speaking of with these words.  The original Hebrew says that Jesus, the beloved servant of God, in whom His soul delights and is well pleased, will “yatsah mishpat.” We only hear “bring forth justice,” but a more wooden translation would be that Jesus is bearing or carrying the judgment of God.  To “yatsah mishpat” has criminal overtones.  Again, look to that cross.  Jesus is yatsah-ing God’s mishpat—His just judgment against sin.  He is bearing our sins in our place.  The same goes for the language of “establishing justice.” Folks: This isn’t just a future tense thing!  In the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, the justice of God is “shoomed,” that is, it is set in place and established.  It is immovable and unchangeable.  Well… behold!  The justice of God is established, once and for all!  It is finished!  Your Lord didn’t faint from this mission.  He didn’t grow weary, in spite of all our stubbornness and stupidity.  Not once did Jesus ever look to the Father and say, “Really?!  I’m done!  These people just don’t care!  It’s not worth it!” Nope.  This great justice (and injustice) of God [crucifix] is how much your Lord Christ loves you.

Folks: This is what our celebration today is really all about.  Yes, we do rejoice that we are baptized children of God.  But we don’t rejoice that we simply went through some sort of initiation rite or ritual that satisfies family traditions and makes grandma happy.  No!  We rejoice in the fact that through holy baptism God has joined us to Christ Jesus.  Like Paul says, we have been baptized into His death and resurrection.  O, the glorious injustice of it all! 

Folks: Look to this font.  Here is God’s means of grace and justification for you.  Here is how God brings the justice of the cross to you.  Here is how God covers you over in the tremendous injustice that is His incomprehensible love for you.  Here is where He drowns the death sentence of your sin and imputes Christ’s perfect righteousness to you.  Rejoice!  In spite of all the injustices and wickedness in the world, rejoice!  In all times and in all circumstances, rejoice, for you are baptized into Christ!  Give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good and righteously just (and graciously unjust), and it’s all for you, in Christ and because of Christ. 

To Him be all the praise, glory, and honor… AMEN.

Feel free to use any or all of this sermon for the edification of God's people. It is NOT necessary to ask my permission for any of it! In fact, you don't have to mention me at all. (I think it's highly problematic when pastors seek credit/glory for sermons inspired by the Holy Spirit!) Give praise to God for the fact that He continues to provide for His people.

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