“Allow it for now, because this is the way for us to fulfill all righteousness.” – Matthew 3:15
As we make our way through the season of Epiphany, the time in which Jesus is manifested to us as who he is for us, we leave the Magi behind and move thirty years into the future at the bank of the Jordan River. There we find John the Baptist doing his work of baptism and preaching, calling for the people to turn from their own perceived righteousness and fall upon the mercy of God. It is there, with the waters of baptism, that John is preparing to make known this Jesus who will come “to baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” In the Gospel of John, John the Baptist declares that he came baptizing with water so [Jesus] might be revealed.” (John 1:31) There in the water John is applying the work of the kingdom, repentance and forgiveness of sins, to all who are washed in that river until the One comes who is the embodiment of forgiveness.
John doesn’t want to baptize Jesus though. He sees the need for himself to be baptized by Jesus, with the Spirit and fire, but Jesus says to him, “Allow it for now, because this is the way for us to fulfill all righteousness.” That as Christ enters into the waters of baptism, he is fulfilling the righteousness that comes in him. That he is revealed as the Christ, the Son of God for you. That he sanctifies every baptism in his name now because he applies himself to those waters, so that if you are baptized, whether older or younger, you have received from God in that baptism the very Jesus you need. Not some work you do. Not some special feeling or favoritism, but actual life in Jesus. The gifts of his righteousness that you can’t gain in any way apart from him giving them to you.
What matters for you is that in that water is not some special magic that makes you distinct just by its mere application. It is not something that just by having some water splashed on you that you become some uber-religious holy man/woman. What we receive from it is what Martin Luther says in the Small Catechism: It works forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.
Luther makes clear the distinction from the water and the promise of Christ: It is not the water indeed that does them, but the word of God which is in and with the water, and faith, which trusts such word of God in the water. For without the word of God the water is simple water and no baptism. But with the word of God it is a baptism, that is, a gracious water of life and a washing of regeneration in the Holy Spirit, as St. Paul says, Titus, chapter three: By the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, which He shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ, our Savior, that, being justified by His grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
So, cling to your baptism as a token from God that he has done for you what you can’t do yourself. That you trust that Christ’s baptism is the fulfilling of all righteousness you cannot fulfill, and that he has done for you all that you could possibly need through the washing of regeneration in him. For this is most certainly true.