January 20, 2019
I don’t play the lottery but I know people who do. Like you, I have heard about the woes of those who win big. Often the money is gone in no time. But something else happens when people win big. Suddenly relatives and friends come out of the woodwork looking for a gift of some kind. The big event of winning the lottery causes others to consider their relationship with the winner.
In Mt.3 we read about the baptism administered by John the Baptist and we learn that even Jesus was baptized by John. It was a significant event in the life of Jesus. But the baptism of Jesus has significance for all of us. Jesus’ baptism calls us to consider our own relationship with Jesus.
I. THIS IS A CALL FOR WHOLEHEARTED REPENTANCE. Mt.3:1-6
In v.1-6 we read, “In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.' Now John wore a garment of camel's hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.”
Each of the Gospels identify John the Baptist using Is.40:3, which says, “A voice cries: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” Malachi was the last prophet of the Old Testament. After Malachi some 400 years passed before John the Baptist came on the scene. Interestingly enough in Mt.11, Jesus alludes to Mal.4:5 which says, “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction." In Mt.11:14, Jesus says about John the Baptist, “and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come.” Clearly John the Baptist fulfills Old Testament prophecies.
John the Baptist was raised up by God to be a forerunner of Jesus. His task was to prepare the people of Israel for the coming Messiah, God’s anointed King. In v.4 we see that John even dressed like Elijah. He looked the part of a prophet.
His message was about the nearness of the kingdom of God. In light of this gospel news people should repent of their sins that their hearts might be ready to receive the King. And in v.5-6 we see that many people were going out to the Jordan River into the wilderness to hear John’s powerful preaching and to be baptized by him.
Now religion and water seem to belong to each other. In many of the world’s religions there are ritual washings and baptisms. Water often symbolizes cleansing and initiation into a new life. Here’s what is interesting about John’s baptism. In Judaism the use of water for ritual cleanliness is found in the Old Testament. What is not found is the practice of baptism. John’s call for repentance expressed in baptism was unprecedented. John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance.
But what is repentance? The word itself means to have a change or turn of mind. You are thinking in a certain way, and then you hear new information and you begin to think differently. But repentance is not just a change of mind. When we change our mind about something it effects our behavior. I may think I know how to put a child’s toy together until I read the instructions and my mind is changed. I follow the instructions. The people of Israel in John’s day considered themselves already part of the people of God until they heard John’s preaching about the coming Kingdom of God. John’s preaching worked within them a heart of repentance. They realized they were not ready to receive the Kingdom of God and they confessed their sins and were baptized. So repentance involves a change of mind and heart that will be reflected in conduct.
The repentance that John called for in his day, is no different from the repentance involved in our relationship with Jesus. Repentance presumes that something needs to change in me. I need Jesus because I need forgiveness and life in the kingdom of God. If I don’t think I am sinful enough to need Jesus then for me Jesus isn’t necessary. In fact having a repentant heart is an ongoing attitude. Those who call upon Jesus as Savior-King recognize the pervasive power of sin in our lives and in this world, and continually seek to turn from sin to live for Christ.
I wonder if you would have been one of those who went out to the Jordan River to be baptized by John. Do you have a repentant heart? Do you see your need for Jesus? I’m not asking if you want to go to heaven when you die. I’m asking do you want to be made right with God through the forgiveness of your sins.
II. THIS IS A CALL FOR SOBER-MINDED RE-EVALUTATION. Mt.3:7-12
Look at v.7-12. “But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father,' for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. "I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire." This doesn’t sound very good. What’s going on here?
The Pharisees and Sadducees were the Jewish religious leaders. They held positions of power and prestige in Israel. It seems that John didn’t think too much of them. “Brood of vipers” was not a complement. It was an indictment. One would think that those who know the Old Testament the best would be the first to seek repentance and John’s baptism. But no. They didn’t see the need. Why? It’s because they figured that since they were descendants of Abraham, they were already part of God’s chosen people and there was no question that they were part of the kingdom of God. Jews were in a place of privilege and favor.
John didn’t waste any words: “Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father,' for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.”
This is pretty astounding. Already the incongruity of God’s gift of Jesus Christ and his kingdom is asserted. John is saying, “You guys are completely missing the point. You are depending on the wrong thing. Being Jewish is not the way into the kingdom of God. In fact, that whole way of thinking is going to be brought down. ‘The axe is laid at the root of the trees.’ Whatever you think makes you valuable and worthy of Jesus and his kingdom is lacking.”
Now this is important. It’s important because all of us are prone to think of ourselves as having a measure of goodness that makes us worthy of God and his kingdom. For some of us it is our heritage of growing up in the church. “I was raised in the church and I was baptized.” Well, those Pharisees and Sadducees were raised in Judaism and they felt good about their conduct and pedigree, but they were resting in the wrong thing.
Jesus and the kingdom of God are not an “add-on” to our already good life. What we perceive as giving us value in God’s sight is just another worldly way of thinking. We are depending on our own idea of goodness. Establishing our own goodness is not the way into the kingdom of God. In fact, it is the pathway to judgment. And so, John calls us to re-evaluate our lives. What are we counting on to enable us to have life in God’s kingdom? What are we trusting in? John the Baptist preached Christ. John didn’t even see himself as being worthy of Jesus. Do you think everything will just sort of work out for you in the end? Don’t count on it! What you think makes you valuable and worthy of life in the kingdom of God will be mistaken if it does not center on Jesus Christ alone.
III. THIS IS A CALL FOR FULL-SURRENDER TO JESUS. Mt.3:13-17
In v.13-17 we read, “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."
It does not seem that John fully understands Jesus to be the Messiah at this point. Since Jesus was his cousin, I imagine John was aware of the details surrounding Jesus’ virgin birth. When Jesus came to be baptized, John discerned that he should be baptized by Jesus. But Jesus assured him that in that moment it was God’s will for John to baptize Jesus. Why did Jesus need to be baptized by John? Surely it was not because Jesus needed to repent of sin. Dr. Don Carson points out that in being baptized Jesus was intentionally demonstrating his willingness to take on his role as the suffering servant that we read about in Isaiah. Is.40:1 says, “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.” In Is.53, we learn that God’s suffering servant would be pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities. In being baptized, Jesus was launched into public ministry in the power of the Holy Spirit. He was identifying with those he came to save. He came to save sinners.
When Jesus came up out of the water the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove coming to rest on him. A voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased.” We don’t know who all may have heard the voice. But it is interesting that the voice says, “This is my son,” as if pointing out to someone that Jesus is the Son of God. Perhaps John the Baptist heard the voice, or the other people present at the river. Clearly God is identifying Jesus as his Son in a unique way, sent for a unique purpose. Of course, the Bible gives us wonderful insight into the significance of Jesus being the unique son of God. As the Son of God, Jesus is God’s anointed Savior-King. Scholars also believe that v.17 alludes to Ps.2:6-7, where God says, “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill. I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to me, "You are my Son; today I have begotten you.” The only wise response to Jesus is one of full-surrender to him. We recognize Jesus as the only Savior-King, the only One who can deliver us from our sins and bring us into the kingdom of God. Have you repented of your sin and embraced Jesus by faith as your Savior-King?
But before we leave this I want to raise one more question. John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. Jesus’ baptism was the means by which he identified with humanity and was affirmed by God from heaven. How does Christian baptism differ? Let me just point out that in Christian baptism we publically identify ourselves with Jesus Christ. Baptism is a public statement that by faith we have died with Jesus Christ to sin and have received his resurrection life to live. But it is more than a statement. It expresses the reality that the resurrection life of Christ dwells in our bodies. And because his life dwells in our bodies it means that we are called to express the life of Jesus in our bodies. And this means an all-out war against sin and the ways of this world which have so deeply infected our bodies. Jesus Christ is the One who enables us through his Holy Spirit to live Christ honoring lives.
So all this about the baptism of Jesus to say that because Jesus is the son of God our relationship with Jesus is critical. It is a matter of life and death. What is your relationship with Jesus? Do you know him as your Savior-King? Amen