Matthew 3:13-17 (NIV) 13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. 14 But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented. 16 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 alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”
What would you have done? It was July 7, 1968 and my ordination into the ministry in a new mission in Belvidere, IL. I was told by the pastor who was serving this infant church from Beloit, WI that a family would be requesting baptism for their child the next Sunday. The request came and another request along with it. Could they use water from the Jordan River the dad’s brother had given them from the time he served in the military in that part of the world. The Lord promises he will give the words to speak and I responded that it was fine, if they did not see the water making the baptism any better than another baptism, any more special, shall we say. They assured me they did not see it that way and so the next Sunday their child was baptized with some murky water from the Jordan River in Israel. Well, today via God’s word we are privileged to see another baptism in Jordan River water. Only this baptism can indeed be considered very special, really beyond special. So today may the Holy Spirit bless us as we see JESUS BAPTISM IN THE JORDAN RIVER IS MORE THAN SPECIAL. I. It fulfilled all righteousness for us. II. It revealed the Father’s pleasure in his Son.
As the prophet Isaiah had foretold, John the Baptizer was preaching in the Judean wilderness that the people needed to repent for the kingdom of heaven was near. He was also administering a baptism of repentance, baptizing the many people who came out to him in the Jordan River valley. One day a very special person came to him requesting his baptism. John knew Jesus. He was a relative. Perhaps he had heard May tell of the angel Gabriel’s announcement that she would have a child whom she should name Jesus because he would save his people from their sins. Also, that this child born to her would be conceived by the Holy Spirit and was the very Son of God. So it is hardly a surprise that John, sinner that he knew he was, tried to talk his way out of this because it didn’t seem right. He was the lost, Jesus was God who had come to seek and save the lost. Jesus had no need to repent for he had no sin of which to be repentant. It should be the other way around, Jesus baptizing John.
But Jesus stood firm. “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Jesus knew full well his Father had sent him to do absolutely everything he demanded of all people in order to serve as their Savior. He didn’t need to make any New Year’s resolution to do better. He had no sin himself, but his Father connected him to all sinners when he made him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God through him, as the Apostle Paul would later write. Jesus’ will was to do his Father’s will in every way, all the way through a perfect life, all way to the cross and empty tomb, to make unholy, unrighteous sinners, righteous and holy before God once again. Now that John understood why Jesus requested baptism, we are simply told, “Then John consented.” And the baptism beyond special was done.
Do you now understand why this baptism of Jesus you and I get to be part of is more than special? Jesus was fulfilling all righteousness we don’t have for us, that we can be the righteousness of God through him. That was just the beginning so to speak, but his saving work for you and me could not have had a better, more special beginning. Sometimes you hear sports announcers say of a gifted athlete, “He/she can do it all.” I doubt that, but Jesus did it all, fulfilled all righteousness for you and me, even the demand, “Be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect.” But we can’t ignore the other person, the one doing the baptizing. Surely his was true humility when he said Jesus should baptize him. But what a service our Savior allowed him to do for Jesus and for us. Sometimes ours may be a false humility when asked to serve Jesus or serve others as doing it unto him as he will say on Judgement Day. “I’m not good enough.” But usually it is true humility, because it is true, we aren’t. Except that Jesus made us good enough by fulfilling all righteousness for us. So when asked to serve on the council, as a Sunday School teacher, in the choir, as an usher or outside the church to help someone who is sick or in any other way, instead of saying “I’m not good enough” consider serving because your Savior came not to be served, but to serve, and give his life as a ransom of many.” And his Father was pleased with what he was doing and would do all the way to his return to heaven.
We are told Jesus went up out the water. There are those who say this indicates baptisms are to only and always be by immersion, dunking under the water. Well, we are not told how the Jordan River water was applied. Perhaps Jesus was dunked under. However, while there are similarities, this is not the sacrament of Baptism Jesus instituted right before he ascended back to heaven. And there he gave no command how the water is to be applied as all nations are made disciples by baptizing them “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
And what a Trinity happening we see at this special baptism. As Jesus comes up out of the Jordan River water God the Holy Spirit rests on him in the form of a dove, the bird that came back to the ark with an olive branch in its beak, a symbol of peace. Jesus was being anointed as Old Testament prophecy foretold for his public ministry as Prophet, Priest and King, as we heard or read in the Meditations devotions this past week. As the Prophet, we can totally trust his words of life and salvation to us. No fake news, only saving truth. As Priest, he sacrificed himself on the altar of a cross to pay for every one of our sins. As King, what amazing comfort to know that throughout this new year, come what may, he leads the way and will finally lead us into his heavenly kingdom forever. All this God the Holy Spirit would guide and empower him to do, even in his true humanity. Then, if any doubt remained as to who had just received this more than special baptism, the heavens opened and the voice of none other than his heavenly Father identified Jesus as his Son. And as he was about to embark on his final three years as the Savior of all, the Father placed his real seal on him, declaring, “whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” The dairy industry used to put a real seal on products to indicate they were the real thing. The Father’s voice left no doubt, Jesus is the real thing, the real Messiah, our very real Savior. And he will never stop putting that real seal on him. From beginning to end the holy Trinity carried out our salvation.
In his humanity, Jesus needed all the aspects of this more than special baptism. Right after this the same Spirit would lead him out into the wilderness to do battle with Satan for us, using the power of God’s word to overcome him for us. We need the same encouragement. It is what makes our and our children’s baptisms so special. All that Jesus was doing and did as indicated in his baptism experience is the source of the power in our baptisms into the name of the same Triune God. The Holy Spirit doesn’t come down in the form of a dove and rest on us in our baptisms, but he is very much at work, performing the miracle of working saving faith and empowering sinners who love to serve self to serve their Savior and others. Yes, I said a miracle. No wonder when we see in the bulletin there is going to be a baptism in the worship service we don’t mutter under our breath, “Oh, the service is going to be even longer today.” No, we rejoice in this very special blessing of God we are privileged to be part of. Jesus’ more than special baptism in the waters of the Jordan River and all that accompanied that event make every sacramental baptism today special indeed.
What would you have done if you were me and asked to use Jordan River water for a baptism? Or what would you have done if you were John the Baptizer and Jesus came to you to be baptized? The answers to those questions are not nearly so important as the answer to the question, what will you and I do now that all we see at Jesus more than special baptism is ours?