Second Reformed Church

Sunday, January 08, 2017

"The Baptism" Sermon: Matthew 3:13-17

“The Baptism”
[Matthew 3:13-17]
January 8, 2017 Second Reformed Church
            Today, we are looking at the Baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist.  Jesus is around thirty years old, and this is the beginning of His public ministry.  As we are introduced to the text, we see that Matthew tells us that Jesus specifically and purposefully went from Galilee to the Jordan River to be baptized by John.  This was not an accident; this was not a chance meeting.
            We see, first this morning:
            John does not want to baptize Jesus.
            “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?’
            John is baptizing people at the Jordan River.  We may remember that baptize was a practice of first century Judaism:  Gentiles – non-Jews – would participate in this ritual cleansing as part of their being received into the Jewish faith.  (And there were times that Jews also participated in ritual cleansing, but it was primarily for the non-Jews who were coming to the faith.)  So what John was doing was not shocking in that respect.
            What was shocking about John’s baptism – which was a baptism of repentance – is that John preached that even the Jews – even the people of God – had to repent of their sins and be washed in the waters of baptism to be received back to God.  John is preaching that every single human being has to be made right with God – and a sign of that is repentance and baptism.
            John is preaching that every human being is at odds with God; every human being needs to be saved and be made right with God.  It’s not just the Gentiles who need salvation – it’s not just the “big sinners” that need to be saved – seniors who are unthankful need to be saved – people who voted for Bernie need to be saved – people who preach the Word of God need to be saved – every single human being since we are all born sinners – we are all born in rebellion against God – we all need to be reconciled to God.
            So, Jesus comes to John and asks His cousin to baptize Him.  And John the Baptist freaks out – “What are You talking about?  I should ask You to baptize me!  I should not baptize You!”
            What’s the problem?
            The problem is that baptism is about sin and salvation, and if Jesus is the Savior – the Christ – the Messiah – He cannot be a sinner.  He cannot need to be made right with God.
            If Jesus is a sinner, then He needs a Savior, so He can’t be the Savior.  Understand?
            If Jesus needs to be baptized for His sins; He is not the Savior.
            That’s why John doesn’t want to baptize Jesus.
            But, second, Jesus says it is fitting for John to baptize Him.
            “But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then he consented.”
            What is it “to fulfill all righteousness?”
            Well, what is “righteousness”? 
            Righteousness is a state of moral perfection – specifically, it is the keeping of the whole Law of God perfectly.  If you are righteous, you have kept the whole Law of God perfectly.
            “To fulfill all righteousness” is the process – the living out of a life – that keeps the whole Law of God perfectly.
            Have you kept the whole Law of God perfectly?
            What was that?  Have you kept the whole Law of God perfectly?
            We need two things to be made right with God:  we need to be forgiven for our sins, and we need to keep the whole Law of God perfectly.
            Theologians explain what Jesus did with the term “double imputation.”  What that means is that Jesus kept the whole Law of God perfectly and credits that keeping of the Law to our account, and Jesus credits all of our sin to Himself.  So our sins are imputed to Jesus, and His righteousness is imputed to us.  And we are reconciled to God.
            Are we ok?
            So, what does this have to do with baptism?
            Jesus had to keep the whole Law of God perfectly, and one of God’s laws is that we must be baptized.
            And here it’s a little tricky, because you can read through the entire Old Testament – which was the whole Bible for Jesus – and there is no law that a person must be baptized to be right with God.
            So what’s going on?
            The law to be baptized is a New Testament Law given by God:  as Jesus said, “And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age’” (Matthew 28:18b-20, ESV).
“And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus
Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’” (Acts
2:38, ESV).
            So there is a law from God that everyone who repents and believes must be baptized.  So, Jesus had to keep it to be righteous.  So, Jesus asks John to baptize Him – not because Jesus is a sinner in need of being reconciled to God, but because He is keeping the whole Law of God perfectly.
            In other words, Jesus asks John to baptize Him, because being baptized is part of the whole Law of God, and Jesus had to keep the whole law of God perfectly.
            Third, in the baptism, the Trinity is revealed.
“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.’”
John acquiesces and baptizes Jesus, and the heavens open – the sky opens – and God the Holy Spirit – not incarnating as a dove – but descending and having something of the appearance of a dove – rests on Jesus – why?
Jesus’ first sermon was on the prophecy He fulfills: “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor,”
The Holy Spirit anointed and indwelled Jesus to enable Him to do all the things He would have to do to merit salvation for all of us who would ever believe.
The Father responds to this by announcing, “This is My Beloved Son, with Whom I am well pleased.”
What greater word could God the Father speak of God the Son?  The Father loves the Son and is pleased with the Son and what He is doing to save His people – by fulfilling all righteousness – by keeping the whole Law of God perfectly -- and taking on our sins.
And so, here we have, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, One God working together to merit salvation for all we who believe.
“Well, this has all been very interesting, and I believe all these things:  Jesus has to be sinless, Jesus has to keep the whole Law of God perfectly, and God exists in Trinity.  But what do I do with these truths?”
Thank you for asking:
First, we ought to respond by being baptized and requiring any we know of who come to faith to be baptized, because it is the Law of God and because it symbolizes the problem every human has in being separated from God by sin and our need for being cleansed.
Second, we when are baptized, or when we baptize a child or an adult, we are enacting one of the visual displays of the Gospel authorized by our God and Savior – the Lord’s Supper being the other.
Paul explains, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-4, ESV).
Baptism symbolized the death and resurrection of Jesus – and our dying and being resurrected in Him – so, just as Jesus lived a perfect life under God’s Law, we also can live a perfect life under God’s Law – because our sin has been paid for and we have been credited with Christ’s Righteousness.
Jesus was baptized as part of our salvation; we are baptized to remember what He did, and – if we believe – to be met by Him and equipped in the sacrament.
Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You for the visual displays of the Gospel that You gave us to accompany the Word.  We thank You for Your Son keeping all of the Law – including being baptized – and we ask that You would help us to know the necessity of baptism, even though it does not save us.  For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray.  Amen.

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