“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?” Matthew 3:13-14
Christmas is over, and now even the Wise Men have come and gone. The decorations are put away, and we risk putting the purpose and meaning of Christmas in storage as well. Jesus has come, but for what? In real time, some 30 years pass between the Christmas readings and this reading from Matthew. Perhaps it is good that the move so quickly to the Jordan River, so we don’t lose sight of the significance of Jesus arrival on the earth. John presumably baptized many, but this is baptism was different. There was a unique even odd feeling to the whole ceremony. This baptism was unlike any other, yet Jesus’ baptism lays the groundwork for our own. We understand our need for the washing away of sin, but Jesus was nothing like us in nature nor in the manner in which He entered the world. And that is where the need for clarification and deeper examination begins.
As we look at Matthew’ account, it gives us a unique opportunity to talk about a crucial means God uses to show us His Grace, baptism.
What are the Benefits of Baptism?
1. Baptism works forgiveness of sins.
Matthew does not explicitly enunciate the doctrine of Christ’s sinlessness, but he seems to point to that understanding in the exchange of John the Baptist and Jesus in v. 11. John has expressed his feeling of inferiority in the presence of the Messiah. He now acknowledges his sinfulness in comparison with Jesus and how the tables should be reversed. Jesus should be baptizing John. Here are some Bible verses about baptism to further explain the role of baptism in the life of the believer.
• “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
• Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away Acts 22:16
• You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. Galatians 3:26-27
The Bible further explains that Baptism saves us from the effects of sin:
2. Baptism delivers us from sin and death.
• Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Romans 6:3
• “because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,” 1 Peter 3:20-21
The question that begs to be addressed is: didn’t Christ do all that is needed to save us with his death and resurrection? So, what role does baptism play in our lives as Christians? As Dr. Martin Luther points out in his Catechism, “By His suffering and death Christ has indeed earned these blessings for us; Baptism, however, is a means by which the Holy Ghost makes these blessings our own. Baptism is a means of grace.” So, then what happens in baptism is all the promises of God that became fulfilled with Jesus did on the cross, become ours personally through the waters of baptism. Our forgiveness of sins, our adoption into the family of God as His dear children, God’s promise of eternal life all become our personal gifts through my faith and my baptism.
But then all of this makes this text even more confusing. Why would Jesus need to be baptized when His work on the cross in the very foundation and power that baptism is based? Jesus had no sins to repent of. He needed no promise of eternal life so why was He baptized? If Jesus were a sinner needing forgiveness, he would be no different than any of us and his death would not save us. So why was Jesus baptized? Looking again at the text it reads,
Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Matthew 3:13-15
It would aid our study of we clarify what the words “fulfill all righteousness” means. Both righteousness and fulfillment are key themes in the Gospel of Matthew. They are key to understanding the theology of Matthew. Righteousness here means, as often elsewhere, doing the “revealed will of God.” In Matthew, fulfill seems to mean simply “do, perform,” and the meaning is that it is necessary for both John and Jesus to “do God’s revealed will,” which includes the baptism of Jesus. The plural “us” links John and Jesus together as partners in carrying out God’s saving plan. So, Jesus baptism has nothing to do with sin and repentance. Instead, it has everything to do with carrying out God’s plan of salvation.
So, then what is this plan that John and Jesus are carrying out? The baptism of Jesus has two key elements that will need to look at that will add insight into that plan. This event is the beginning of Jesus ministry as king. And the two events that mark that kingship is:
1) The Spirit, the presence of God
“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.” Matthew 3:16
This verse is important because there were six other times the “spirit of the Lord came upon people” the last person was King David. So, this verse makes Jesus the seventh person the “spirit of God descended on.” Some biblical experts believe that the number seven is God’s number, the number of perfection and completion. There is some merit in that reasoning. The world was created in six days and the seventh day was a day of rest, God’s day. There are numerous times when seven is seen in Revelations, the seven bowls, the seven churches. So, if that is genuine and seven is the number of completion what importance is it that Jesus is the seventh person to receive the Spirit of God on him? To understand this, you need to go back to a promise God made to King David in 2 Samuel 7. In 2 Samuel 7, David wants to build God a temple and God tells him through Nathan, the prophet that this is not for him to do. His son, Solomon will build him a temple. But at the end of the chapter God makes David a promise. “Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever’” 2 Samuel 7:16.
God, says to David I will make your kingdom last forever. Now if you are up on your Bible history, you know that the kingdom fell thousands of years ago. Israel today has no king. So, what happened to the promise? Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promise to David. He is the last and eternal king. He is the one that through whom God will establish David’s kingdom. Jesus is the king that is reigning right now on the throne, and his kingdom will last forever. The event in Matthew 3 is Jesus’ coronation. He is being anointed as the last and eternal King. We see this even more clearly in the next section were the Words from God from heaven are taken from Psalm 2 the Coronation psalm.
2) The proclamation by God of Jesus Sonship.
And a voice from heaven said,
“This is my Son, whom I love; with him, I am well pleased.”
I will proclaim the decree of the LORD:
He said to me, “You are my Son;
Today I have become your Father. Psalm 2:7
What does all this mean to us? It means that we serve a God who keeps his promises. We serve a God who sent His Son from His throne on heaven to suffer and die to rescue His lost and condemned subjects. Jesus did not send someone else in His place He came down personally to redeem us. And to make sure we received all the benefits of His death and resurrection He sealed it with the waters of Baptism. He says to us in our baptism today I have become Your Father and you have become My sons and daughters.
Jesus’ baptism was essential to the fulfillment of His mission on earth, in identifying with the “righteous remnant” of Israel. His baptism was unique. It was not a “baptism of repentance” nor was it a “Christian baptism,” as ours is today, But, it was the beginning point of Jesus’ public ministry. It would mark the start of Jesus’ march toward Calvary and the sacrifice He would make to redeem the world and the empty tomb the visible symbol of His victory over death and the grave. It all begins like our new life begins with the waters of Baptism and God’s word claiming us as His own.
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