Last week I mentioned, and I want to remind you again today, that Matthew chapter 3 takes place approximately 28 years after chapter 2. We were introduced to John the Baptist last week and we saw that he was the herald of Jesus who had come to prepare the way for Him. John carried on the message of the Old Testament prophets which was a warning for the people to turn away from their sin. He presented humanity’s problem in no uncertain terms by explaining that our sin separates us from God and will result in judgment. Today in the second half of chapter 3 Matthew introduces us to the solution for that problem.
READ Matthew 3:13-17
I want to direct your attention to Jesus’ words in verse 15. Notice that these are the first words we hear him say since he was about 12 years old when He told his parents that he had stayed behind at the Temple because He was about His Father’s business. What do we find Him focused on here 16 years later? His Father’s business. When John asked Jesus why He was coming to him to be baptized, Jesus explained it was proper (or appropriate) to do so to fulfill all righteousness. That’s why God sent Jesus – to fulfill all righteousness. But how? What did Jesus mean? How would His baptism fulfill all righteousness? And why did Jesus even need to be baptized if John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance?
WHY WAS JESUS BAPTIZED?
We recognized last week that we are all sinners. Ever since Adam and Eve’s fall into sin, we have been born into sin. Scripture states clearly that “…there is no one righteous, not even one.” (Rom. 3:10) A few verses later Paul reiterates, “…no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.” (Rom 3:20) Scripture also teaches us that “…the wages of sin is death.” (Rom. 6:23) So we are separated from God by our sin and, according to His law, we deserve to die. But the incredible news of Scripture reveals that in His astounding love for us, God sent His only son Jesus “who knew no sin to be[come] sin on our behalf, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” And this is the truth that Jesus is proclaiming through His baptism.
There may be many more reasons that Jesus was baptized, but I find the following five to be the most compelling:
1. HE WAS BEING CONSECRATED TO SERVE AS A PRIEST
First, His baptism served as a consecration for Him as our High Priest. In Leviticus 8:6 and again in Numbers 8:7 we see a picture of how God instructed Moses to set apart the priests and the Levites for ministry. In both instances, in addition to sacrifices and anointing, the men were washed or sprinkled with water so as to cleanse them in a symbolic way. Similarly, here in Matthew 3, Jesus is placed in the water as an act of cleansing and setting apart for ministry. His baptism was, in a sense, His coronation as King, or His ordination, or His consecration as our Great High Priest.
2. HE WAS SETTING AN EXAMPLE FOR US
He was also setting an example for us as He did for the disciples in John 13. You may remember that just before Jesus’ last supper with His disciples He took off His outer clothing and began to wash His disciple’s feet. Just like John the Baptist in our passage today, Peter didn’t feel that it was appropriate for Jesus to humble Himself in this way. But again, like He did with John in today’s story, He told Peter, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” John’s Gospel goes on to explain in 13:12-15, “When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”
In the same way, Jesus was setting an example for us through His baptism. While He didn’t need to repent of any sin, He wanted to display His humility by going through with baptism. He was making a public statement by being baptized and that’s what He would later command us to do in the Great Commission. Jesus wants us to not just internally make the decision to follow Him, but to publically proclaim it. We will hear Him say in Matthew 10:32, “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven.”
3. HE WAS IDENTIFYING WITH US AND GIVING US A WAY TO IDENTIFY WITH HIM
Jesus was also identifying with us and providing a way for us to identify with Him. 2 Corinthians 5:21 tells us how God acted to rescue us from our sin in that He “…made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” Seven hundred years earlier the prophet Isaiah painted a similar picture of the Messiah in chapter 53 saying,
• Verse 5 – But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.
• Verse 6 – We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
• Verse 9 – He was assigned a grave with the wicked, with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.
• Verse 12 – Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
Similarly, the author of Hebrews explains in chapter 2, verses 14-18,
“Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. 16 For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. 17 For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. 18 Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”
One of the practical lessons I believe we need to take away from Jesus’ baptism is that every believer in Christ should be baptized. Jesus Himself, although without sin, submitted to baptism; and after He rose from the dead, He gave this commission to His disciples, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:19) If you have placed your faith in Jesus Christ, you should be baptized as a matter of obedience to Jesus’ great commission.
I also believe that Jesus’ baptism argues for baptism by immersion. We’re told that Jesus went to the Jordan River; and that, when His baptism was completed, He “went up out of the water”. The idea that Jesus would go down into the river so that John could sprinkle water on his face or pour it on his head is unreasonable. In His baptism, Jesus was identifying with us, but He also commanded that we are baptized, and as we are baptized by immersion we have the opportunity to retell the story of how Jesus was buried and raised for us as we identify with through our own death to sin and resurrection to new life in Him.
But saying all that, I need to stress that Jesus was about to undergo a baptism that was fundamentally different from the ordinance we submit to in the church. When we’re baptized in a church, we are in effect publically saying that we have trusted what Jesus did on the cross for us – that we have become permanently identified with His death, burial and resurrection; and are thereby saved from our sin. The part that we bring in the exchange is our sin and the penalty of death that those sins deserve. But the part that Jesus brings is His own sacrifice on the cross; and that’s what He referred to as His “baptism”.
4. HE WAS POINTING TO “HIS BAPTISM” THAT WOULD TAKE PLACE IN THE FUTURE
Although Jesus didn’t need to be baptized for repentance, He did so to show His submission to the Father’s overarching plan of salvation that would include His death and resurrection. We hear Jesus explain this in an allegorical way in Mark 10 when He was walking to Jerusalem with His disciples. James and John asked Jesus if they could sit at His right and left hand in the coming kingdom and then we read in verses 38-45,
38 “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” 39 “We can,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, 40 but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.” 41 When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. 42 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
In the same way Jesus said in Luke 12:49-50, “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is completed!”
So, when Jesus spoke of His baptism, He was referring to His death and resurrection. That’s why when He was speaking to James and John He agreed that they would, in fact, undergo a baptism as He would be baptized with because they would be killed for their faith. As He explained to them, He didn’t come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many. It’s also why He explained in Luke 12 that He was distressed until His baptism was complete. But this baptism, His death and resurrection, which was God’s method of providing righteousness for mankind, was why He came. So, as He was baptized by John He was not only identifying with us and setting an example for us, He was proclaiming that He was willing to be obedient to death, even death on a cross, so that we might have the opportunity to be made righteous through faith.
5. HIS BAPTISM PROCLAIMED GOD’S APPROVAL OF JESUS AS OUR SIN-BEARER
Matthew tells us, “As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him.” In Luke 3:22 Luke tells us that, “the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove.” Why was this? What was happening here? Let me share with you some mentions of doves in Scripture and see if we can make sense of this.
• In the Scriptures, it was a dove that demonstrated that the waters of the great flood had receded and that God’s wrath for sin upon the world was over (Genesis 8:11).
• Doves were also symbols in the Scripture for innocence and harmlessness. Jesus once sent His disciples out to be His witnesses in a very hostile world; and He commanded them to be as “harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16).
• In the Song of Solomon, doves are used as a metaphor for something beautiful and precious and lovely; as when Solomon spoke of his bride and said, “My dove, my perfect one, is the only one, the only one of her mother, the favorite of the one who bore her” (Song of Solomon 6:9).
• Doves were also referred to in the Scripture as offerings – the most humble offering someone could make. If someone had a child, and they were too poor to offer the usual offering for their newborn child, they were commanded to offer “two turtledoves or two young pigeons” (Lev. 12:8). You might remember that Mary and Joseph were so poor that that’s what they had to offer for Jesus (Luke 2:24).
• And Jesus, as you may recall – when He drove out the money changers and animals from the temple – also ordered those who sold doves to remove them (John 2:16).
Could it be that the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus in the form of a dove in order to clearly mark Jesus out as approved by God as our sin-bearer? I believe He was marking Jesus out for us as “dove-like” – innocent and harmless in that He had no sin; beautiful and precious in the sight of His Father; a sign that peace has come and that God’s wrath for sin was satisfied; and the humblest and most available of all the sacrifices for sin that could be made.
Matthew then goes on to tell us more about what happened after Jesus’ baptism. He writes, “And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” Here, God the Father gives public approval – before the whole world – of Jesus the Son. Many scholars point out that the Jewish people would have immediately recognized the significance of those words. They reflect very clearly what God said in Isaiah 42 about the Messiah:
“Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations.
2 He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets.
3 A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.
In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; 4he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth.
In his law the islands will put their hope.” (Isaiah 42:1-4)
This is one of the most incredible scenes in the Bible! Here we see all three members of the Trinity together in one scene – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And they are all in agreement. They had all counselled together in eternity past to plan for the salvation of mankind; and now that the Son has come forth as our Redeemer, and has come forward to step into the waters of baptism and become identified with sinners, the Father and the Spirit both declare divine approval upon Him.
We have no other redeemer than Jesus! Indeed, there is no other like Him!
• No other is so righteous as to bear our sins on our behalf.
• No other is so gracious as to stoop down to the level of entering into our fallenness with us.
• No other is so clearly graced with divine approval!
• He became sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God through faith in Him.
• Because He has acted to make us righteous, He is not only a righteous King, but He is over a righteous kingdom – with us as His redeemed subjects, if we believe on Him!
And let me close with this thought. If all this is true, then how foolish would it be to reject Him?!
• How foolish we would be to reject the only Righteous One in order to try to earn God’s favor by our own pathetic efforts!
• How foolish we would be to reject Him who united Himself to us in His righteousness, when that would lead to us standing before Him in our sin!
• How foolish we would be to reject Him whom heaven has so clearly approved!
May no one in this room today insult the grace of God by rejecting His Son! Instead, may we embrace Jesus, who so lovingly and graciously embraced us.