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.”
“Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.” John the Baptist was preaching this good news to the people around him. He wanted them to be ready for the coming Savior. He was telling people exactly how to be ready. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” To phrase it a different way, he was telling people to turn away from their sin and come near to God. God’s glorious reign over sin was at hand. The Savior was coming. Not everyone received John’s message with open ears. The Pharisees and the Sadducees were having a hard time taking John seriously for a couple reasons. Reason one is that John was a bit different. His message was good and clear, but he lived in poverty. For example, he hung out in the desert all day, he ate locusts and wild honey for food, and wore simple clothes of camel-hair. He definitely wasn’t used to the high and mighty lifestyles lived by the Pharisees and Sadducees. This wasn’t as weird of a lifestyle choice back then as it would be today, but it certainly wouldn’t have been the top choice of many people. The Pharisees and Sadducees would have expected something different from one of God’s prophets. They probably expected someone to come with riches and power, instead life devoid of self-indulgence demonstrated by John. They were letting their personal expectations get in the way of hearing John’s powerful message. The second reason the Pharisees and Sadducees struggled with John’s message is because they were so prideful. They often thought they didn’t need to repent of any sins. Many of them figured they were good enough at keeping the law Moses had given them long ago. 1 John 1:8 tells us, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” They deceived themselves and they could not see past their pride to the truth. Despite people like the Pharisees and Sadducees, a good number of people still took John’s message to heart. They came to John confessing their sins and urging John to baptize them in the name of God. They wanted to be a part of God’s kingdom. They wanted to be under God’s rule, letting him guide their lives and rule in both their hearts and minds. They wanted God to empower them to live a new life under him. We ask God to do the same for us today as we hear about our Savior’s baptism.
This is the account in which Jesus begins his public ministry to the entire world. In our text for today, we see Jesus taking quite a journey. The exact distances aren’t important, but the travel details give us just a little bit of foreshadowing. Just know that Jesus is traveling a lot farther than necessary in order to find water for baptism. There is a reason for this. Something special is going to happen. Jesus arrived to where John was baptizing and joined the group of people waiting to be baptized. John looked up and saw Jesus coming. “Uh-uh! No way am I baptizing you! Are you kidding me?”
Now, before we go any farther, let’s think about this for a second. What is the whole point of baptism? Baptism is something we call a “sacrament.” And the whole point of a sacrament is that it takes God’s word in combination with an earthly element and offers a variety of benefits including the forgiveness of sins. This begs the question: did Jesus have sins that needed to be forgiven? John the Baptist answers this question for us. No, Jesus had no sins to be forgiven. This is why John was protesting. “Jesus, you have no sins to be forgiven. You don’t even need to be baptized. I shouldn’t be baptizing you. You should be baptizing me.”
Jesus, understanding John’s concern instantly, waved his argument off. “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented. So let’s figure this out. If Jesus has no sin, which is mentioned repeatedly throughout the Bible, and baptism grants the forgiveness of sins, why is Jesus being baptized? Both Jesus and John both knew he was the Savior of the world who has no sin, so what is going on here?
There are so many details showing how this event fits into God’s grand plan. I wish we had time for them all right now, but we don’t. I urge you to take some time and study this chapter on your own if you can. For now, want to make clear one very big reason Jesus is doing this. In our text, this shockingly unexpected action of a baptism is completing all righteousness because Jesus is performing the saving deeds of God. “It is fitting” because Jesus would perform “all righteousness” by literally standing with sinners, taking the place of sinners, receiving from John the baptism that sinners receive. Just as in death he is the payment in the place of many, it is fitting for him to come and stand in the Jordan and be baptized, to stand in the place of many. He is taking his place with sinners, even though he has no sin. He is identifying himself as the substitute for humanity’s sin and failure.
As we pick up our text in verse 16 something miraculous happens. “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. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” Scripture doesn’t want to leave anyone with doubts about who Jesus is and what has happened in these verses. These verses make abundantly clear that Jesus is the chosen Messiah who was coming to wipe away the sins of the world. All three members of the Trinity are shown at work here. The Son, Jesus, was baptized. The Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus and both equipped him for his ministry and encouraged him for the work he was about to do. The Father proclaimed the pleasure found in the Son’s perfect life and his willingness to be a substitute for all people. If that weren’t enough to show us Jesus is the Savior, this event was also predicted hundreds of years earlier through prophets such as Isaiah. One passage such passage says, “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 (Isaiah 42:1).” This would have stood out like a sore thumb to the Israelites. They knew the Scriptures from infancy. They would know these were the signs of the Messiah.
All this points to the fact that this Jesus being baptized was indeed the Savior of the World. It points forward to the rest of Jesus’ life, which he would live out in perfect obedience to God’s law. It points forward to his death on a cross. It points forward to his resurrection from death and ascension into heaven. It points forward to his reigning power on heaven and earth. And of course, it points forward to the empowerment of baptism still today.
The Father was pleased with everything his beloved Son did and endured for our salvation. The baptism of Jesus is heaven’s way of validating the Son of Mary as the Son of God to the world. The world is to know that Jesus of Nazareth has divine authority to complete his saving work. This way, we may be certain that we are reconciled to God and are heirs of everlasting life for Jesus’ sake. This reaches to our baptism too.
This is a good thing for us to hear. Often, when we see baptism we just think that it’s a whole lot of mumble-jumble that amounts to nothing. We think, “Oh great! Water was poured on someone’s head, what is that going to do?” Sometimes we think how we didn’t feel any different or look any different during the baptism, even though the whole point is how God feels about you and how he looks at you, regardless of how you feel on any particular day. Our hard hearts doubt because we often can’t see God’s power working on the outside. But there is a reason for that! The Word through the water is working on the inside. It makes clean that which is inside of you. It forgives us of our sins and works a faith within us that will empower us for the rest of our life. It is nothing short of a miracle.
For anyone who doubts God can do something like that, baptism isn’t the first time Jesus has worked miracles using just water and his Word. This is the Savior who stopped the wind and the waves of a terrifying storm with a mere command. This is the Savior who walked on water and allowed his disciple Peter to do the same. This is the Savior who had the water give up its inhabitants in a miraculous catch of fish. This is the Savior who turned water into wine. If he did all that with a single utterance connected with water, think of what he does for you through your baptism.
Jesus’ baptism foreshadows his whole life for you in a visible act of his love. His baptism shows he empowers your baptism. He is the reason why your baptism is effective. This is the charge that can jumpstart and empower your whole life. It equips you for every trouble. It’s like putting the batteries into living a life of faith and doing good works for God.
Another way to think of it is like this. Think of your faith as a candle. Baptism is one way to light the candle. If your candle has already been ignited by hearing the Word of God, then baptism just helps that candle grow brighter. It is possible to blow out the flame if someone rejects God’s Word, but the baptism will still be there to help restart the flame. Your baptism helps you in everything you do for the Lord. That means your baptism empowers you every time you pray to the Lord. It empowers you every time you read his Bible. It empowers you even as you are hearing these words right now.
Jesus’ baptism is a mirror of how your baptism empowers you. Let me explain. 1. At Jesus’ baptism the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were all present. The same is true for your baptism. You were baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. 2. At Jesus’ baptism, he was given strength to fulfill all righteousness. He did this by dying for the sins of the world. His righteousness and the forgiveness of all sins is now yours through your baptism. 3. Jesus was given the Holy Spirit to equip him for his life and ministry. The Holy Spirit is given to you at your baptism, empowering you to pray, share the message, and live a godly life. 4. At the baptism of Jesus, the Father said, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” At your baptism, you also are welcomed into God’s family as a dear child.
I just want to make a quick offer to everyone in the congregation tonight. If there is anyone out there who has not been baptized, and wants to be, let’s make that happen tonight. Let me know on the way out of church because if we can ignite or strengthen that candle of faith, if we can help assure you that you are forgiven of your sins and that Jesus died for you, let nothing stop us. We are all empowered by our baptism. It happens through the miracle of Jesus. This is what we see in Jesus’ baptism. Through Jesus, God says to us. “This is my Son. This is my daughter whom I love.” You are a marked and redeemed child of God. Amen.