Last week we began our journey of walking through the life of Christ from birth to resurrection – from Christmas to Easter. Of course, having worked through the Christmas story already back in December, we continued down the timeline last Sunday with the only Biblical story of Jesus’ childhood – an event that happened when Jesus was just 12 years old.
And just in case you missed it last week, let me quickly give you a recap. According to Luke chapter 2, Jesus and his family had travelled to Jerusalem for the passover feast – as they did every year. But this year was a little bit different. This time, when the passover celebration was over, Joseph and Mary started home, but without realizing that Jesus had stayed behind in Jerusalem. They travelled for an entire day before they finally realized that Jesus wasn’t with them, so they turned around returned to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days of frantic searching, they finally found him in Temple – sitting with the religious teachers – listening and asking questions.
Of course, when they found him, Mary & Joseph understandably had mixed emotions. They were both relieved to have found Jesus but rather upset with him about the emotional toll this had taken on them for the last three days! Jesus had always been a responsible young man – as the Son of God, he had never sinned! So Mary & Joseph’s frustration with Jesus was probably a new experience. I think Luke says it well in Luke 2:48…
48 His parents didn’t know what to think. “Son,” his mother said to him, “why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been frantic, searching for you everywhere.” Luke 2:48
But to this Jesus gave a most amazing reply…
49 “But why did you need to search?” he asked. “Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
What a response! Even at this young age, Jesus already knew who his true Father was and He had already made it his priority to begin accomplishing his Father’s will.
And that, actually, is a key point in our passage today. Today we are jumping ahead along the timeline to when Jesus is about 30 years old and he is about to begin his public ministry. And even though about 18 years have passed since this incident at the Temple, Jesus continues to make it his priority to carry out his Father will – something that He will do single-mindedly for the rest of his time on earth!
The passage that I want us to look at today is Matthew chapter 3. The event that I want to focus on is the baptism of Jesus (which is really just the last 4 verses of this chapter) —but to understand those four verses, we kinda need to look at the rest of the chapter. So let’s begin at Matthew chapter 3, starting at verse 1.
In those days John the Baptist came to the Judean wilderness and began preaching. His message was, 2 “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.” 3 The prophet Isaiah was speaking about John when he said,
“He is a voice shouting in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming!
Clear the road for him!’”
4 John’s clothes were woven from coarse camel hair, and he wore a leather belt around his waist. For food he ate locusts and wild honey. 5 People from Jerusalem and from all of Judea and all over the Jordan Valley went out to see and hear John. 6 And when they confessed their sins, he baptized them in the Jordan River.
Now I don’t want to spend too much time in these first few verses that lead into the baptism of Jesus, but there are a couple things that we need to notice.
First of all, we need to understand what John’s baptism was all about – because it’s a bit different than the baptism we practice today. Our baptism today is primarily symbolic of our union with Christ in his death and resurrection – whereas John’s baptism was more symbolic of repentance and being cleansed.
You’ll notice in verse 2 that John’s primary message was:
“Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.” Matthew 3:2
And then verse 6 explains:
6 And when they confessed their sins, he baptized them in the Jordan River.
For those who heard and obeyed John’s message, baptism was a picture of purifying themselves before God. It was symbolic of cleansing themselves spiritually in preparation for the arrival of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Throughout the Old Testament, we see that God required the Israelites to practice ceremonial washing and bathing in order to come into the presence of God. For example, every time the priest was to go into the Tabernacle to bring a sacrifice to the Lord, they had to wash their hands and feet before they went in. Exodus 30:17 says…
17 Then the Lord said to Moses, 18 “Make a bronze washbasin with a bronze stand. Place it between the Tabernacle and the altar, and fill it with water. 19 Aaron and his sons will wash their hands and feet there. 20 They must wash with water whenever they go into the Tabernacle to appear before the Lord and when they approach the altar to burn up their special gifts to the Lord—or they will die! 21 They must always wash their hands and feet, or they will die. This is a permanent law for Aaron and his descendants, to be observed from generation to generation.” Exodus 30:17-21
So that’s one example of God’s requirement to be clean in order to come into his presence. Or as another example, every year on the Day of Atonement, when the high priest would symbolically place the sins of the nation on the scapegoat and send it off into the wilderness, the man who took the goat out into the wilderness had to wash his clothes and take a bath before he could return to camp. The symbolism here was that he was contaminated with sin, and had to cleansed before he could return into God’s presence.
And those are just a couple of examples… Yyou can see that this idea of washing yourself to be clean and pure before coming into the presence of God was a key part of Israelite practices. It was symbolic of God’s requirement for us to be without sin and to be holy before we can draw near to Him.
And so John’s baptism was really an extension of this – kind of a modern twist on their tradition so to speak. Now to be clear, we don’t see this specific kind of washing or baptism commanded by God in the Old Testament, but John used this picture of washing one’s entire self as a vivid illustration – showing one’s desire to be clean before God.
It was a public recognition that yes, I am a sinful person and I need to be cleaned. It was both a confession of sin and a declaration of repentance in order to come close to God – or to prepare the way for the Lord, as the prophet Isaiah said.
And actually, baptism had been practiced for some time even before John the Baptist. Although, generally, it was for Gentiles who wanted to convert to Judaism. From a Jewish point of view, obviously a gentile was sinful and needed to be cleansed before they could come to God. All Jews could agree with that. But for John to be baptizing Jews, that was something different.
In the minds of many Jewish people – especially the religious leaders – there was no need for John’s baptism – no need to be cleansed in order to draw near to God – because as Isrealites, they were already God’s chosen people! They were already in the “In Club” so to speak. So baptism was unnecessary in their minds. But John saw things very differently…
And we see that tension in these next verses… Verse 7…
7 But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming to watch him baptize, he denounced them. “You brood of snakes!” he exclaimed. “Who warned you to flee the coming wrath? 8 Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. 9 Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones. 10 Even now the ax of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire.
11 “I baptize with water those who repent of their sins and turn to God. But someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I’m not worthy even to be his slave and carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 12 He is ready to separate the chaff from the wheat with his winnowing fork. Then he will clean up the threshing area, gathering the wheat into his barn but burning the chaff with never-ending fire.”
You can see that John didn’t hold back any punches! He boldly declared to the religious leaders that just being an Israelite didn’t make you right with God. You actually had to repent of your sin and live accordingly. The prove was in the pudding. And if they didn’t made things right with God – then watch out – God’s judgment was on the way.
Someone was coming soon who was much greater than John – someone who would bring the ax of God’s judgement. Someone who would purify them – not with water like what John was doing – but would purify them with the Holy Spirit and with fire!
And of course, that someone would be Jesus – although at this point, nobody had any idea who Jesus was.
But John’s warnings to those who thought they were good enough were pointed and powerful. He was a fire and brimstone preacher if there ever was one – “Repent of your sin or face the coming judgement!”
And really, those warnings apply to us today too. We too, need to know that just being a good person or just going to church or just growing up in a Christian family does not make you right with God. We need to personally acknowledge our sinfulness before God and to repent – that is to change the way we live. We need to turn to God and live for him – trusting in his Son Jesus for forgiveness and life.
Because if we don’t – at the end of our life, we will face God’s judgement. 2 Corinthians 5:10 reminds us…
For we must all stand before Christ to be judged. We will each receive whatever we deserve for the good or evil we have done in this earthly body.
2 Corinthians 5:10
I know that I have sinned enough in my life to be condemned 1000 times over. I need the grace and forgiveness of God – and I have found that through faith in Christ. And I truly hope that you have found that too! Like John, I would urge you to confess and repent of your sin, turn to God, and put your faith in His Son Jesus.
And speaking of Jesus – this now brings us to the central part of this passage. This is the key part that we’ve been trying to get to. Let’s read now at verse 13.
13 Then Jesus went from Galilee to the Jordan River to be baptized by John. 14 But John tried to talk him out of it. “I am the one who needs to be baptized by you,” he said, “so why are you coming to me?”
John has got a great point. Why on earth would Jesus need to be baptized? You’ll remember from last week that Jesus lived a life of perfect obedience to God. Throughout his whole life, he never did wrong! We read from 1 Peter 2:22…
22 He never sinned,
nor ever deceived anyone.
1 Peter 2:22
Of all the people on the planet, Jesus was the one person who had no need to confess or repent of any sin. He was already complete pure and holy before God – so why would he come to John to be baptized?
Well, let’s take a look at Jesus’ response: verse 15
15 But Jesus said, “It should be done, for we must carry out all that God requires.”
Or as the NIV puts it:
…“Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”
Matthew 3:15a NIV
What exactly does Jesus mean? What is it that God requires? And how would Jesus’ baptism fulfill all righteousness?
What’s going on here?
Well, you’ll remember from last week that Jesus was single-mindedly focused on accomplishing his Father’s will. That, by the way, is the very definition of righteousness – righteousness is carrying out the will of God. Doing everything exactly the way that God wills them to be done. That is doing right. That is righteousness. When you carry out the will of God, you fulfill righteousness.
And for Jesus, being baptized right now was part of the Father’s will – it was an important step in Jesus’ overall life mission. It was part of the process in which Jesus would identify with sinful man – ultimately leading him to die on a cross in our place!
We read from Hebrews 2 at last week:
14 Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son [Jesus] also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death… 17 Therefore, it was necessary for him to be made in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. Then he could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people.
Christ’s baptism was part of that process where he was made to be like us in every respect. Not that He sinned – but he took the position of a sinner – he identified with us as sinners.
In effect, Jesus stood in that river in our place. Through this baptism of repentance, Jesus was confessing, as if they were his own, sins that He had not committed – the sins of all of us. But yet, he took those sin on Himself as if they were his own. In fact, ultimately, He would go to the cross to take the punishment for that sin. This was the very reason why Jesus came into the world. This would be the ultimate fulfillment of all righteousness!
Now, I don’t know if John fully understood all the ramifications of that at this point – but I think he was beginning to. Just shortly after this, John would declare when he saw Jesus, “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”
Jesus baptism was one of the first steps in that process. And so we read at the end of verse 15:
So John agreed to baptize him.
16 After his baptism, as Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and settling on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.”
As Jesus takes this important step of obedience in carrying out his life’s mission according to the will of God, God the Father and God the Holy Spirit both express their united approval of what had just happened. The Holy Spirit comes and settles on Jesus like a dove and the God the Father declares from heaven – “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.”
This is one of the few times where we see all three persons of the God-head specifically mentioned together. Of course, we know they have always worked together in perfect unity in all things, but this is one of those moments where we actually get to see that in action.
Of course, the point of this passage isn’t necessarily to give us a lesson on the trinity – although that is certainly something we can see in this – but it seems that God chose to make this very public statement at this time to set the stage for Jesus’ ministry on earth. God makes two clear and powerful statements about Jesus.
First of all, God identified Jesus as His Son. As we saw last week, when Jesus was at the temple, Jesus knew that he was not the son of Joseph the carpenter, but He was the Son of the Most High God. But now, at his baptism, everyone else became aware of that as well. And it wasn’t just that Jesus claimed to the son of God – but God Himself had made that declaration from heaven! This really put God’s seal of approval on Jesus and on everything that he would do over the next few years.
Secondly, God declared his absolute approval of Jesus and what He was doing. As the Son of God, Jesus had no sin to repent of, yet his Heavenly Father approved of this baptism of repentance because it was all part of God’s plan to redeem mankind – as we’ve talked about already. And so when God declares “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.” – I think God’s joy applies not only to the joy He has in Son Jesus, but also in to the joy He has in what Jesus is doing.
God was delighted that Jesus was carrying out the plan of Salvation that would allow sinful men to be made right with God.
Paul would later write in Ephesians 1:4-5
4 Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. 5 God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure.
God is delighted to adopt us as His sons and daughters! And thus, he was delighted in all that Jesus was doing to make that possible!
I think that’s a great reminder for us of how valuable we are to God! He delights in adopting us into his family! It brings him great pleasure to have us as His sons and daughters! That’s pretty amazing!
And that’s probably a good point for us to end on today – with us marvelling at the amazing love that God has for each one of us!
It’s astounding to think that Jesus, God Himself – our Creator – would become like one of us, flesh and blood – so that he could take our sin upon Himself in order that we might be adopted in His family!
At the beginning of our message – we talked about how John’s baptism was a bit different than the baptism we practice today – and Jesus’ baptism was a bit different than both of them, but can I just say a couple words about our baptism today.
Today, our baptism isn’t primarily about confession and repentance as we’ve been talking about – although that is certainly a necessary part of it. But our baptism really follows more in the pattern of Jesus. Just as Jesus was baptized to identify with us as sinners, we as sinners get baptized to identify with Jesus.
In his baptism, Jesus confessed sins that were not his own – he confessed our sins on our behalf.
And in a like manner, in our baptism today, we proclaim a death and resurrection that are not our own – we accept the death and resurrection of Christ on our behalf. Romans 6:4-5 says…
4 For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives.
5 Since we have been united with him in his death, we will also be raised to life as he was.
What a glorious promise! Baptism is a wonderful illustration of how we have become united with Christ! Because Jesus accepted our sins as if they were his own, we get to accept Christ’s death and resurrection as if they were our own.
Just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives. Since we have been united with him in his death, we will also be raised to life as he was. Praise the Lord!
And on that note, if you have put your faith in Christ and you have trusted in him for forgiveness and the promise of new life – but you have never been baptized – I would sure encourage you to consider that. Jesus commanded his disciples in Matthew 28:19…
“I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”
Just as Jesus was baptized in obedience to the Father, we too are commanded to be baptized in obedience to Jesus. And I know the river is frozen over right now, but there are always swimming pools and hot tubs or we can bring in a tank or whatever! But if God is tugging on your heart for you to take this public step of obedience in identifying with Jesus, I would sure encourage you to come speak with me after the service or sometime in the next week – and I would love to be part of that process with you!