Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our
Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
There’s always a bit of a danger in using a movie as a sermon
illustration, because it’s entirely possible that only a few people in the
congregation may have seen it. Nevertheless, I think most of you are familiar
enough with the plot concept that it’s not a huge risk. Even if you haven’t
seen the movie, you may have seen others based on the same theme, or read the
novel on which it was based.
This morning, we’re going to be contemplating the Baptism of Our
Lord, and an important aspect of that event is that it continues the process of
the Great Exchange. That Great Exchange is the removal of your sin and human
frailty by Jesus, and the bestowing of His righteousness and eternal life upon
This began at Jesus’ conception, and will continue throughout your
life. Indeed, it will continue throughout all history, until the final trumpet
sounds and every believer receives resurrection and life everlasting. It began
for the world at Jesus’ conception, but it began for you at your baptism.
In 1983, a movie came out called, “Trading Places.” It was a
comedy, starring Eddie Murphy, Dan Ackroyd, and Jamie Lee Curtis. Its plot was
one of many adaptations of Mark Twain’s 1882 story of The Prince and the
Pauper. Twain’s novel told the tale of two 16th century boys who share a
striking resemblance, but lived under very different circumstances. One lived
in poverty, and the other in royal luxury.
In the movie “Trading Places,” two incredibly wealthy and
well-bred brothers find themselves on opposite ends of an argument: Does one’s
outlook and behavior in life come from one’s heredity, or from the environment
in which that person was raised?
They decide that the best way to settle their argument is by
having an experiment. They’ll pick one highly pedigreed member of society, and
one who comes from the bottom end of the social order. The experiment seems
easy enough: do what they can to ruin the life of the successful one, and
radically improve the fortunes of the struggling one, and see how they respond.
Neither man deserved what he got. It’s all very funny, at time uproariously so.
Exchanging places with someone else is something about which many
people have fantasies. Some of you probably do, too. From recent news reports,
many Americans fantasize about being celebrities, perhaps because they seem to
have a glamorous lifestyle.
Some fantasize about being very wealthy and having the things that
money can buy. But no one I’ve ever known fantasizes about exchanging the good
things in life for poverty, and wants to live the life of a poor servant. But
that is exactly what Jesus does in his earthly ministry.
Today we celebrate The Baptism of Our Lord, but it is one of the
least understood events in our Lord’s ministry. Just what was it, and what does
it mean? The word “ministry” really means “service,” but who is serving whom?
It seems that a good many people fail to understand that the Baptism of our
Lord is the beginning of his official, public ministry for the world. They
don’t comprehend that Jesus is submitting to something for which he has no
St. Matthew tells us that John the Baptist even protested Jesus’
desire to be baptized, knowing that the Lord was without sin, and that he,
John, was the one in need of the Lord’s baptism.
Earlier in the chapter, Matthew tells us that John was in the
wilderness proclaiming repentance, and the prophesying of the nearness of the
kingdom of heaven. He went on to spell out the fruits of repentance, about how
people needed to change their behavior based on this repentance. Finally, Jesus
comes for baptism. In spite of John’s protests, Jesus was baptized along with
all the other sinners.
By the way, all of the ancient works of art that portray the
Baptism of Jesus show Jesus and John standing in the Jordan, with John pouring
water over Jesus’ head. There is no historical evidence to suggest that either
Jesus or other baptismal candidates were fully immersed, in spite of the usual
meaning of the Greek word, and the protests of some of fellow Christians!
But of course, the mode of Baptism is not important, nor is the
amount of water, or even the source of the water.
The larger question we may have is: Why did John baptize Jesus
even though Jesus did not need to repent, even though Jesus had no sins?
What it shows is: That Jesus was now declaring himself to be in
solidarity with all of us sinners. Just as Jesus became a true man with his
Incarnation, so now he takes upon himself the sins of the world. Jesus becomes
the biggest sinner in the world! It isn’t because he had any sins of his own,
but because he was fulfilling his God-given role as the Lamb of God. In St. John’s Gospel account, we have that clearly proclaimed, as John the Baptizer points to
Jesus and says, not once, but twice:
“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”
(John 1:29, ESV)
To understand this whole scene, we must know something of the Old
Testament and the Great Day of Atonement, as recorded in Leviticus 16. On that
day, known as Yom Kippur, the high priest would sacrifice a bull for the sins
of the priests, and then sacrifice a lamb for the sins of the people. The blood
of this lamb was then sprinkled on the mercy seat in the tabernacle, on behalf
of the sins of the people. This lamb died innocently, shedding its blood for
Then another animal was brought forward, and the priest laid his
hands on its head, confessing over it all the sins of the people. The sins of
the people were transferred to this animal. They were “put on his head,” as it
were. This animal was also known as the scapegoat, and you all know what that
A scapegoat is an innocent person who gets blamed for the wrongs
of another. Jesus was your scapegoat. The scapegoat was then sent out into the
wilderness, taking away the sins of the people. In the wilderness, wild animals
would attack and kill this scapegoat, the sins dying with it.
An exchange took place on Yom Kippur. The sins of the people were
put on the lambs and the innocence of the lambs was transferred to the people.
All of this was prophetic of what Jesus would do in his ministry.
Listen to a hymn describe it. In a great Christmas hymn by
Nicolaus Herman, Let All Together Praise Our God, it goes like this:
4 He undertakes a great exchange,
Puts on our human frame,
And in return gives us His realm,
His glory, and His name,
His glory, and His name.
5 He is a servant, I a lord:
How great a mystery!
How strong the tender Christ Child’s love!
No truer friend than He,
No truer friend than He.
Text: © 1969 Concordia Publishing House Used by permission:
In another well-known hymn, Oh, for a Thousand Tongues to Sing,
it’s described like this:
6 See all your sins on Jesus laid;
The Lamb of God was slain.
His soul was once an off’ring made
For ev’ry soul of man.
Text and Music: Public domain
Non-Christians, new Christians, and sometimes even veteran
Christians often struggle with the idea of the Great Exchange. It is the very
heart of the Christian faith and it is the heart of Holy Baptism!
One historical description of it reads as follows:
Then comes the Lamb of God, our High Priest and Advocate, with the
Blood that speaks better things than the blood of Abel. On behalf of the
miserable, lost and condemned criminal, he urges his suffering and death in our
place, his perfect merit and victory over all our enemies. What an advocacy!
The poor sinner near to death embraces his feet, in fullest trust, and full of
penitence and sorrow.
Then comes a voice from the Holy of Holies: “Tear down the
indictment. The guilty man is acquitted for Jesus’ sake from all guilt and
punishment; he is justified, and without price the righteousness of Christ is
accounted his. [The
Where does all this take place? God always acts concretely. He
puts his forgiveness where sinners can find it, and he directs us to it.
He directs us to Holy Baptism first of all. Jesus was baptized
into all our wretchedness and unhappiness. Jesus takes on all our sin, guilt,
and misery when he was baptized. Isaiah described it well in the prophetic book
that bears his name:
“He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and
acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was
despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried
our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.” (Isaiah 53:3-4, ESV)
Such sweet words these should be in our sinner’s ears! Jesus
entered into this Great Exchange where he took on everything that has made us
miserable. He took it into his own body, and He took it to the cross where He
made an end of it all. Like all those Old Testament lambs, Jesus died
innocently in our place. He took on our sin, our death, our punishment, and we
have received his righteousness, his sinlessness, his life.
The Apostle Paul puts it all into the context of Holy Baptism in
“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ
Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by
baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by
the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:3-4, ESV)
For every Christian, the Great Exchange happens on the day of his
Baptism! It happens that way for every sinful child of man. The Great Exchange
has been made for you. All your sin, that which you inherited from your earthly
parents as well as any sins you have added, were placed on Jesus, and Jesus
gave you his righteousness, his holiness. The act is all his work. We do
nothing but simply receive this wonderful gift.
And Holy Baptism is pure gift. Jesus does everything. He willingly
takes our place, he takes on our sin, he dies in our place. We are simply the
recipients of his gracious work. There are those who view Baptism as man’s
work, as man’s decision, yet it never is! It is pure divine gift. An infant
being baptized exemplifies this best, because children can do nothing to
receive the gift. No decision statement, no testimony of how they found the
Lord, just pure reception. Christ seeks us out and calls us by name.
How can you be sure that this is so? Don’t look to your own feelings
or emotions because they are often faulty. Look only to the heavenly seal, the
word of the Father himself. When the confirmation of Jesus’ ministry came with
the Holy Spirit descending on him like a dove, there was also the Father’s own
voice, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
If the Father is pleased with Jesus, then he is pleased with you,
because you have been baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection. God the
Father approves this Great Exchange that his Son has made for you! God appeared
at Jesus’ Baptism and he appears also at every proper Christian Baptism. Listen
to what Luther wrote of this: Indeed, if I had the matter under my
control, I would not want God to speak to me from heaven or to appear to me;
but this I would want-and my daily prayers are directed to this end-that I
might have the proper respect and true appreciation for the gift of Baptism,
that I have been baptized, and that I see and hear brothers who have the grace
and gift of the Holy Spirit and are able to comfort and encourage with the
Word, to admonish, warn, and teach. For what better and more profitable
appearance of God do you want? 1
And again: Even though God does not appear to us in an
extraordinary form, as He did to Abraham, yet His usual and most friendly and
most intimate appearance is this, that He presents Himself to us in the Word,
in the use of the Keys, in Baptism, and in the Lord’s Supper. 2
Here again, today, God speaks directly to us in Word and
Sacrament! Here The Great Exchange takes place! Here The Great Exchange
continues for you in the hearing of Christ’s Word and in the receiving of
Christ’s body and blood. He is so rich in grace and mercy that we cannot fathom
So today the Church celebrates The Baptism of Our Lord because you
hear once again the great, good news that “The Great Exchange Begins”
and continues for you!
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son
and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
1, 2 Luther, Martin. Luther’s
Works (Vol. 3, Pg. 165): Lectures on Genesis: Chapters 15-20 (J. J.
Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Saint Louis: Concordia