Last Sunday the epiphany being celebrated was the baptism of Jesus. John’s baptism was for sinners, so when Jesus was baptized, He began His work as our substitute. In our baptism, we are united with Him in His death, burial, and resurrection (Romans 6:3-11). Thus, the Holy Spirit descends on us. We have by adoption what Jesus has as the Father’s only begotten son, so that the Father can say of us, “You are my beloved son.” And because Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us, the Father can say of us, “with you I am well-pleased.”
I’ll let my pastor, James Douthwaite, explain it, from his sermon on the subject:
All that John was pointing to and talking about happened . . . when Jesus was baptized. The heavens were opened, the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus in bodily form, like a dove, and the voice of the Father sounded out from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” Or in other words, the kingdom of heaven came to the Jordan when Jesus was baptized. For there heaven is open. There is the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There Jesus begins His work for us and for our salvation. There His work of judgment and forgiveness begins. . . .
For Jesus didn’t need to repent or be baptized. He had no sin to repent of and no sin to be forgiven. And yet He is baptized. So if He’s not doing it for Himself, He must be doing it for those He came to save. For you and me. And what He’s doing is beginning the judgment that John talked about. Luke points to that in an interesting way by saying that when all the people were baptized, or after all the people had been baptized – as if Jesus is the culmination of all these baptisms – then Jesus is baptized. Once the water of the Jordan got good and dirty with all the sins of all those people, then Jesus stepped in – not to get clean, but to get dirty. Not to be forgiven, but to take the guilt of the sin of the world upon Himself. That He be judged for it instead of us. That He be condemned for it instead of us. That He pay the penalty for it instead of us.
And that’s Jesus did when He offered Himself on the cross. Though He was the perfect, innocent, spotless Lamb of God, He was imputed with the sin of the world – it was put upon Him in our place. So that, as Paul would later explain: He who knew no sin was made sin for us, that we who are sin might in Him become the righteousness of God (2 Cor 5:21, paraphrased). Or in other words, He took our place in judgment, so that we could have His place as children of God.
Which is why the Father is well pleased! This is exactly what He wanted. This is exactly why He sent His beloved Son into the world – to take away the sin of the world. And so when Jesus stepped into the Jordan that day, it was the beginning of the end. It was the beginning of His work that would take Him to the judgment and death sentence of the cross, but end in His resurrection from the dead and His ascension into Heaven. So that we who die might also rise from death and ascend into heaven to live a life that will never end.
Which is what the Apostle Paul says in Romans is exactly why we are baptized – that as Jesus in His incarnation is united to us in our flesh, so in baptism we are united to Him in His death and resurrection. When you are baptized, all that Jesus did for you became yours. As your sins were imputed to Him so now all His righteousness is imputed to you. And so baptized into Jesus, you and your sins were judged with Him, condemned with Him, and you died with Him; but then also were you raised with Him and set free from sin with Him. United to Jesus the Holy Spirit descends upon you too, and you too hear those wonderful words from God your Father: You are my beloved son; with you I am well pleased.