Can you see what this is? This is my baptism certificate. It says, “This certifies that Nathan David Moldenhauer… was baptized… in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” On February 28, 1988, why did my parents bring me to the baptismal font of Trinity Lutheran Church in the Town of Liberty? Why do we do that as parents, as a church? Why do we baptize? Perhaps the simple answer, the answer Martin Luther gave in his small catechism, is that God commands baptism. Jesus said, “Go and make disciples of all nations baptizing them.” When we baptize we are following a command God gives. But why does God give that command? It’s a command of love, isn’t it? He knows we need it. That’s why God commands baptism and that’s why we baptize. We need what God offers in baptism: The forgiveness of sins, life, salvation. We are born tainted by sin and separated from God. We all are. In baptism, God forgives all of our sins and welcomes us into his family. That’s what baptism is and that is why we baptize. We need it! What a wonderful reminder this (my baptism certificate) is that in my baptism God gave me exactly what I needed.

So then, what’s going on in today’s Gospel from Matthew chapter 3 when Jesus, the holy, perfect, sinless Son of God comes to the bank of the Jordan River to John the Baptist to be baptized. John wonders the same thing. More than that, he tries to stop it from happening. John understood exactly. He was saying, “Jesus, unlike me and everyone else, you have no need for this. You have no sins to be forgiven.” That was all true. And yet, Jesus is still baptized. Why?

The answer to that question allows you and me to walk around feeling a lot lighter. There are so many different burdens that can weigh down our hearts from day to day – burdens that make us feel a lot like this guy. Have you seen this image around church? It’s the image on all the posters for our new sermon series, and it might sum up very well how you often feel.  Today we begin to consider what some of those burdens are and how our Savior Jesus has lifted them off of us.  This first week we consider the burden of approval. Do you have the approval of your spouse? Your friends? Your co-workers? Your boss? The teachers and other parents at your kid(s)’s school? Do you have the approval of your parents? Your children? Do you have the approval of your God? Both the “Why was Jesus baptized” and the “What happened right after Jesus was baptized” completely relieves you of any weight that began to build when I asked if you had the approval of all of those different groups of people, including your God.

On Super Bowl Sunday back in 2010, CBS rolled out a new reality tv show called “Undercover Boss.” And the 9th season of the show actually premiered just a few days ago on January 8th. Are you familiar with show? Each episode features a high-positioned executive or owner of a corporation going undercover as an entry-level employee in his or her own company. The executive changes appearance and assumes an alias and fictional back-story. They spend about one week undercover, working in various areas of the company’s operations, with a different job and in many cases a different location each day. The “undercover boss” is exposed to many of the situations and tasks their employees carryout each day and also ends up spending time with some of the company’s employees learning about their professional and personal challenges. Unlike ever before, these executives are able to identify with their employees and areas of their company that are out of sight and therefore often out of mind. It’s an interesting idea for tv show. But I promise that this isn’t a commercial for the show at the beginning of its 9th season. I don’t have a deal with CBS.

Rather, that’s why Jesus was baptized even though he clearly didn’t need it. Jesus was baptized – the same way that sinners are baptized – in order to affirm his identity with sinners. In his baptism, Jesus willingly and purposefully identifies with us. Can you picture it? John the Baptist is preparing the way. He proclaims that the Messiah, the Son of God, is coming soon. “So, repent!” He says. “Turn away from your sin and be baptized.” And many of the people believed and accepted John’s message and followed him to the banks of the Jordan River. They lined up. And all of a sudden here comes Jesus down from Galilee, the Messiah John was pointing ahead to, the sinless Son of God, and he gets right in line with the sinners. What a statement Jesus makes by submitting himself to the same baptism! He says, “I came to live among sinners and for sinners; to carry their burdens and give them my righteousness.”

Then God places his stamp of approval on all of it. As Jesus goes up out of the water, heaven is made open and the Holy Spirit descends like a dove and comes to him. A voice from heaven, God the Father’s voice, says, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” Here we clearly have all three persons of the Trinity: God the Father and his voice claiming Jesus as his son; God the Son, Jesus, living among and for sinners. God the Holy Spirit, descending in the form of a dove to give strength to the Son for the saving mission that stands in front of him. This happens at Jesus’ baptism so that we can see it, learn and benefit from it. But it is also for Jesus. There are two words here that are so significant, and honestly I don’t think I ever noticed them before. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw… “Jesus saw.” Matthew emphasizes that all of this – heaven opening, the Spirit descending like a dove, the voice of the Father – is for Jesus’ benefit. God says to Jesus as he stands with sinners at his baptism: “This is right. This is good. I will continue to strengthen you and guide you. I love you and approve of you.”

Let’s take a step back. We see two things in this gospel. 1) Jesus identifies with sinners and makes it clear that he is the Savior who has come to live in our place and provide us with his righteousness. 2) God says this is good. God says this is right. This is the fulfillment of his promised plan of salvation.

Yet right before today’s gospel there’s a warning. See, many people listened to John’s message of repentance and forgiveness. They took it to heart. We’re told in verse six, Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. They found their identity; their desire for approval was completely met in God’s forgiveness. Many did that, but not everyone.

But when he(John the Baptist) saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 10 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

The Pharisees and Sadducees, these elite religious leaders and teachers, found their identity and fulfilled their desire for approval in who they were – they were blood descendants of Abraham – and the good, righteous things they did. All they cared about was who they were and the outward things they did. That is where they sought approval. And by doing so, they refused, ignored, and completely passed by the approval and identity, the forgiveness God wanted to give.

That’s the warning. If you and I are always seeking approval from the things and people of this world – whether it’s being so concerned about having and keeping a certain image, or being accepted by others and worrying about what they say or think, or like the Pharisees and Sadducees who came to where John was baptizing and are far more concerned with who we are and the good outward things we do – we willingly carry a burden that God says we don’t need to carry. We place our focus on the burden of approval and completely miss out and pass by the identity and approval that God gives. We hold onto something that God has already lifted off of us and taken away.

Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. He insisted John baptize him though it was clear he didn’t need it. Why? Jesus stood with us at his baptism to clearly show that he stood for us at the cross. He took our sin, our shame, and every burden we choose to carry, and gave us his holiness, perfection, righteousness. God approves of you. God smiles at you. God loves you.

Your own baptism is proof of that. Whether you know where your certificate is or not, your baptism is a reminder that you have God’s love, forgiveness, and approval. Leading up to baptisms here at Immanuel, you have heard me and the pastors say that in baptism God connects us to Jesus’ cross and everything that Jesus has won – forgiveness, life, salvation. Our baptisms also connect us to everything God says about Jesus. And what does God say here in Matthew chapter 3? “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” At your baptism God looks at you through Jesus, and he says, “This is my daughter, my son, whom I love; with her, with him I am well pleased.” That’s all the approval we’ll ever need! Amen.