The Baptism of the Messiah
“Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.””
(Matt. 3:13–17 ESV)
John just finished calling out the religious rulers on their hypocrisy. They came while John was baptizing Jews with water for repentance. A view that recognizes that they can’t rely on their bloodlines to grant them a connection to God because they are unrighteous. This is why they are called to repentance. Repentance is needed for those who are unrighteous. It is a humbling thing to admit that we are unrighteous, though perhaps we sometimes find it more difficult than others. Its interesting how easily our hearts can be drawn into the trap that says we are righteous somehow on our own. I find this especially difficult when I find myself challenged in my faith walk. For instance if someone tells me that something I have said was incorrect, or may be my tone was a bit too abrasive in some way. It’s like an involuntary reaction the way I quickly respond defensively. You know like when you go to the doctor for a physical and the doctor checks your reflexes. They take that tool that they thump on the bottom of your kneecap and without any thought as quickly as they thump that spot on your knee, your leg jerks up and you kick the air in front of you. You didn’t even try to do it, it just happens. That’s what my spiritual defenses are like. I’m just minding my own business and a friend, who loves me and desires to help me and lift me up and help me in my spiritual walk gently tells me something that I need to hear anyway, comes to me with this careful word of admonition, and like that reflex test, I’m suddenly standing there with my shield up, my mask on, and my sword drawn ready for battle. I look at myself and wonder how did this happen. I don’t even remember grabbing any of this and here it all is on and ready. We need these reminders of our unrighteousness and our need to be doing what John commanded the religious leaders last week to do, bear fruit in keeping with repentance. This is why John is taken back a second time now in today’s passage. Consider the first two verses of our passage.
(Matthew 3:13–14 ESV) “Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?””
The first observations show us that Jesus came from where we expected him to be. He was in Galilee, specifically Nazareth. We last learned that Joseph took Jesus and Mary and settled in Nazareth in Galilee so this makes sense so far. Next we read he came to Jordan, to John, to be baptized by him. His purpose is clear. He came to be baptized. He travelled over 60 miles to be baptized by John.
This doesn’t sit right with John. He just got done telling the religious leaders that they shouldn’t be baptized because they aren’t living a life that is in keeping with repentance. They are living as hypocrites and deceiving themselves. Now he is having a hard time again because Jesus has come. John is pushing back against Jesus too, “Wait a minute, I can’t baptize you!” Before we dive into the first point of why it is fitting, I want us to peer into the reasons that John is pushing back on Jesus’s request.
There are three things I want us to see here. The first can be summarized as worth, the second is lack of need, and the third is desperate need. So first, the worth. In last week’s text we say John comparing himself toe the Christ. (Matthew 3:11 ESV) “he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry.”
John is saying again here, I’m just the forerunner. I’m jut the messenger. I’m lowly, I’m no one. The one who is coming is so high above me. I follow him and I’m not worthy of the lowest office in his presence. His worth is so much greater than my worth, I couldn’t possibly be on any common level with him. The thing here is, John’s right. Every single on of us could say all those things and they would be true. None of us are worthy. There is nothing and no one of higher value in existence ever before, now, or ever to come than God himself. God’s glory is the greatest, highest thing worth celebrating and adoring. God knows this about himself, and John knows it about him.
Jesus’s Lack of Need
The second point is that there is a lack of need on the part of Jesus. Jesus came to be baptized. We know that Jesus is God, and we know that there is no sin in God, so when John is preaching a baptism of repentance, we have to ask the question: Why is Jesus getting baptized? Has Jesus some latent sin issue that we haven’t yet discovered? If he is supposed to repent, can he repent to himself? If Christ is being baptized and has nothing to repent for, what then does it mean of baptism for anyone else? We of course know that Jesus has no need for repentance, that is only for the sinful, and Jesus never sinned. If he did, then his action at the cross was worthless. This changes nothing for us in our view of repentance and baptism as we’ll see in a moment
John’s Desperate Need
John’s response to the intentions of Jesus is in verse 14, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you com to me?” John recognizes his own human lacking, and his need to be changed by God. John recognizes that even though he is teaching repentance and baptism, that this does not make him above repentance or baptism. He even goes one point further to say that what he does need is to receive the baptism of Jesus, which is the baptism of fire and the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 3:11 ESV) “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
Now, John, being unworthy of being the lowest form of servant for Christ, knowing Christ’s complete lack of need for repentance, and his own desperate need of the baptism of Christ, has laid out his argument to Jesus. This is where we’ll find this first point, “Why it is fitting.”
John is pushing back on Jesus’s request to be baptized, and he gives his reasons. Then Jesus responds. (Matthew 3:15 ESV) “But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented.”
Jesus response is not to tell John that he is wrong. In fact there is an assent there, Jesus is agreeing with John. Jesus doesn’t contest anything that John said. Jesus says, Let it be so now. Permit it for now. Allow it. Then he says why it should be permitted, he gives the ground for his argument. Let it be. Why? Because it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness. A couple of things are happening here that we want to see to answer the question why is it fitting? First, it is fitting because in doing this it is in keeping with a pattern. Jesus is fulfilling righteousness in being baptized by John, But not just Jesus, Because Jesus tells John it is fitting for US to fulfill all righteousness. John is a part of this too. In order for righteousness to be fulfilled John has to be part of it. He’s in the equation. This term for fulfillment has a sense of completing a pattern.
Patterns are predictable, patterns are consistent. If we were to take the pattern Red, Green, Blue, Red Green, Blue, Red, Green… it wouldn’t take you but a moment to be able to finish the pattern. You’d know that Blue comes next. So there is a senes here in which Jesus and John are completing a pattern for righteousness, which includes baptism. More specifically, it includes the Messiah being baptized. This act of righteousness that Jesus does with John is the launching point of Jesus into his time of ministry.
Repentance is followed by Baptism. Faith is followed by works. We believe and repent and we respond with obedience to God’s commands. We make disciples of Christ, then we baptize them. To help us broaden our understanding of this concept, lets look at a couple of other ways that Matthew uses this word for righteousness.
(Matthew 5:20 ESV) “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Jesus is teaching that the law isn’t being done away with, that obedience is still necessary, but that even these religious rulers are keeping the law, so your righteousness needs to exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees. You have to go to the next level. Not just action, but heart that is submitted to God, bowed to his authority and sovereignty. We’ll be spending more time talking about that when we get to the sermon on the mount, but there is a pattern here that is a heart that desires to obey, and action that lives it out. Doing the right things without the right belief is self righteousness and warrants us nothing.
Next. (Matthew 6:1 ESV) ““Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.”
Here the same word for righteousness is used. Again this is about heart motives. We don’t do the right things so that we can tell others how great we are, or so that others will see our greatness. We do them to glorify God. What He does with them is his business. We don’t talk about what we do, we talk about what God does.
For His glory he showed the pattern of righteousness for us. He, who needed no repentance at all, because he never sinned, went to John to live out the example, to be obedient to what we are called to do, and he did it perfectly.
Now into what that revealed, our second point.
What it Shows Us.
(Matthew 3:16–17 ESV) “And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.””
This is an astonishing thing, and sometimes we just gloss over the most amazing pieces of theology that are shown in scripture because we maybe have become to used to it, or maybe we never say it in the first place, but here, explicitly for the first time in Scripture, the concept of our trinitarian God is exemplified.
The third question of the New City Catechism asks: How many persons are there in God?
There are three persons in the one true and living God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. They are the same in substance, equal in power and glory.
Catechisms are great tools. They help us grapple with and wrestle with spiritual truths at a basic level, and they are all very thoroughly supported with scripture. They are not scripture, but they are worth memorizing. If you are interested in looking into a catechism I would highly recommend the New City Catechism. It is very similar to the Westminster Catechism that you may have heard of, but uses more modern language. It’s free online, there is an app, a book, a devotional, and there are video commentaries and scripture to look into to better understand these truths.
The whole point here is that God is showing himself to us in the scriptures and to the eyewitnesses. Here in this little river int he Middle East, God takes back part of the veil and shows himself. He came up from the water where he was immersed, and the heavens open up. I imagine this to look a little like The first Avenger’s Movie, when Loki brings in his army from space through the portal over New York. The sky opens up and something that wasn’t there before is suddenly visible, maybe a hole in the sky and through it the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit descends like a dove and comes to rest on Jesus. First there was one. Jesus was in the water. Then there was two, the Spirit descending. Then behold, the third, (Matthew 3:17 ESV) “a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.””
The Son, the Spirit, and the Father are all together and shown here for John and for us to see. God’s glorious reality for us to witness. Over time since the fall, God has not stopped revealing more and more of his glory to us bit by bit. Here we get to see more of it show to us through the text. The fullness of the Godhead is together. All three members of the trinity that make up the one true living God are assembled for a significant event. This is the commissioning of Christ into his earthly ministry. We see hints of this before in scripture. The one I think of most is in Genesis. In Genesis 1:1-2 we catch a partial glimpse. (Genesis 1:1–2 ESV) “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.”
Notice where the Spirit is positioned? Hovering over the waters. The Hebrew word for hovering, a more literal translation is fluttering. I’l never forget my Hebrew professor helping us to memorize the first five verses of Genesis in Hebrew. When he would get to this word he would stand in front of the class waving his arms and hands and it looked ridiculous, but the effect was that we’ll never forget it. So the Spirit of God is fluttering, flapping his wings, like a bird over water. Just like we see here in our passage. (Matthew 3:16 ESV) “the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him” Then later in Genesis, we see the Godhead holding council with one another, expressing the unity of their glory together in proclamation. (Genesis 1:26 ESV) “Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.””
Just to round out this image, we’ll tie in John 1. (John 1:1–3 ESV) “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.”
God is the three in one. He is perfect in his sufficiency, and completely satisfied in himself. He lacks nothing, and abounds in steadfast love and faithfulness, and though they don’t even know the significance of it yet, the world at this time in Matthew are about to see the inauguration of that steadfast love and faithfulness lived out in front of their own eyes in the life of the God-man Jesus Christ.
So we see the Trinity together. Lets look deeper and see what else he shows us in his baptism. The last verse of our passage: (Matthew 3:17 ESV) “and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”” God’s voice from heaven. We mentioned this a moment ago, but now lets look at what he says. He calls Jesus his beloved son and describes him as one “with whom I am well pleased”.
Lets take the first piece in order. Have you eve met someone who you can count on saying certain things? Like you just get so accustomed to their person that you can predict what they’re going to say. God has patterns too. We hear them in how he speaks through the prophets, so when he speaks audibly, and it is recorded, we shouldn’t be too surprised to find familiarity in what he says with something we’ve heard him say before. There are two in this case we’re going to look at. First, “this is my beloved son”. If we go back to the Psalms, we see this in (Psalm 2:7 ESV) “I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you.” If you read it in context, and I encourage you to do exactly that, you’re going to see so much of Jesus in Psalm 2. But here The Lord speaks and he says “you are my son.”
Then part two of this quote, we’ll find the rest. In this next reference we’re going to see the reference to the beloved, as well as the reference to the well pleased part.
(Isaiah 42:1 ESV) “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.”
This passage, talking about the servant that God would send, his messiah, he is called chosen. This is relationship language. A beloved one is dearly loved, in a very special relationship. The chosen is in that same vein.
Then he is described in Isaiah as the one in whom my soul delights. This is the well pleased part. God’s not saying anything he hasn’t said before. He’s just saying it in a context that helps us understand him even better. Jesus is the chosen one of God, the new perfectly righteous Israel. Baptism takes place because “Jewishness” isn’t enough on its own. That’s why John called the Jews to this ritual act in expression that they are outside the covenant relationship and need to be brought near. To repent and come into that relationship, that righteousness that is required to be present in the face of a perfectly holy and righteous God.
Application. Why does this matter?
First of all, for those who aren’t followers of Christ, this is the story of the hope that is able to save you. I’m not talking about fix your credit rating, lower your insurance, or get you out of debt. I’m talking about the real problems of life. The question of what happens after you die. God came to make a way for you to be with him. God entered the world because we have a sin problem and after thousands and thousands of years, we haven’t been able to work our way out of it. We haven’t evolved to the point where we can get shed that part of ourselves. This is the piece that really wrecks us. I’ve been through hard times and I’ve walked with others through hard times and there is not hard time that compares to the dealing with our sin issue. We are in need of God to become what God wants us to be. Only he can, and that’s why Jesus came. He lived the perfect life and died the death we deserved so that we could be with God. We get to be with him not not he merit of our righteousness, because we haven’t got any. But Jesus gives us his righteousness. That’s our hope. That can be your hope today. Don’t walk broken anymore. Surrender that fight and rest in the victory that Jesus has already won over it for you.
Second, this of us who are followers of Christ. Sometimes we can get so stuck and distracted by everything thats going on around us, that we miss the main event. John the Baptist was not prepared to baptize Jesus. He knew that he wasn’t worthy. We know we’re not worthy to be called his children, and yet he still does. Why? Because he has a purpose for us. Jesus said, yeas, John, you aren’t worthy, you doo need my baptism, but for now, let it be, because we need to fulfill all righteousness here and now. We don’t feel worthy all the time to be the one who might speak truth to someone else about their faith walk, but God has put you there for such a time as this to proclaim his glory, the Gospel message. Simple, yet profound. God saves sinners forever. Be a pointer to the truth like John was. Be obedient to the call like John was. Don’t get distracted by the partisan politics of this temporary world. The lamb is calling you to speak his truth about his son.
Finally, the fact that Jesus and John did fulfill all righteousness, they completed part of the pattern. We see it in the table before us today. Partaking of communion together is an expression offer unity in Christ. We’re saying that it is through the body and blood of Christ, the death of the Messiah on our behalf, that we have access tot the throne room of God. If you’re a believer today, then this meal is for you to partake with us.