Sermon Text: Matthew 3:13-17
Pastor Steven Hillmer
When you hear the name “John the Baptist” what thoughts come to mind? A baby leaping in the womb, the miracle child of elderly Zachariah and Elizabeth? Do you think of his camel’s hair clothing, and diet of wild honey and locusts? Perhaps you think of his fiery preaching of repentance down by the Jordan river. Ever thought of John the Baptist as the one who argued with Jesus?
We’re familiar with the accolades of praise that John made of Jesus. “After me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry,” (Matthew 3:11) and, “A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me,” (John 1:29). John knew that Jesus was his Savior-God; yet it’s with his Savior-God that John puts up a protest – to not perform his baptism; but then he consents and does so, and all is good.
There’s a definite transition and change at this point in Jesus’ life, which helps us understand the answer to the question of “Why did Jesus have to be baptized?” For 30 years he’s lived a relatively quite life in Nazareth, but now comes a distinct change. Jesus is about to enter the Last Leg of his Journey: a 3-year mission to complete what God the Father has sent him to do. Today as we meditate upon Jesus’ baptism, we marvel at the willingness of our Savior; and the he does so to attain what we never could – salvation. And through this great time of change – his Father gives his full blessing and approval.
- Jesus goes willingly
It was 30 years ago when a very pregnant virgin and her husband Joseph made that arduous south-ward journey to Judea. From all outward appearances, the trip occurred only because of the decree of Caesar Augustus – and yet this young couple willingly obeyed. Whether they realized it or not, they also willingly obeyed the Almighty God – who had decreed that the child she bore in her womb would be enter into this world in the town of Bethlehem. Fast forward 30 years; that now fully-grown child makes the arduous south-ward journey to Judea. From all outward, human appearances, he looked just like everyone else who was heading out to the vicinity of the Jordan river to be baptized by John. Jesus went, not because of a governmental decree, but because of his Father’s eternal decree. Jesus went willingly – which is the key point.
At times Jesus’ baptism is referred to as his inauguration into the public ministry. Until now his days have been spent in “no-where-ville Nazareth”; now he’s going public. While this is true, there’s a much deeper truth here we don’t want to miss!
In Catechism and Adult Instruction classes we talk about Jesus’ ACTIVE Obedience as well as his PASSIVE Obedience. Let’s not sell Jesus short. For 30 years, for 3600 consecutive months, for nearly 11,000 days in a row, Jesus was actively lived a perfectly holy and sinless life for us. If you think that’s easy, have you forgotten how young children can be… how teenagers are sometimes… how you yourself were back in your 20’s? For every single one of those days, Jesus’ ACTIVE obedience is nothing to gloss over. And what’s more – he did that for you and me! Jesus was the perfect teenager, he was that saintly 2-year old – so that when God looks upon us, he sees Jesus’ perfection.
The change and transition at Jesus’ baptism is the emphasis on his PASSIVE Obedience. You see that in the first verse. Jesus came TO BE BAPTIZED by John! He willfully intentionally desires to be baptized. Even as dear John tries to deter him, that isn’t going to stop him from willingly doing his heavenly Father’s will – because at the heart of the Father’s will – is our salvation. And what makes this even more astounding, Jesus knows what accomplishing salvation is going to take – yet he goes willingly for you, for me, for all.
- Jesus states His intent: To complete Salvation
I think we all would agree, John’s argument is valid. If we were in his sandals, we probably would have said the same thing, “No Lord, “I need to be baptized by you!” Thankfully, however, this account isn’t about John’s intentions – it’s about God’s intentions – and that’s something Jesus understood perfectly. 15 Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.
Again, look at Jesus’ passive obedience. For Jesus to be baptized by John very fitting and proper. (in the words of the old Common Service, this was meet, right and salutary.) For Jesus to be, “The Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” he had to willingly allow this baptism to happen, just as much as he needed to allow wicked sinners to capture him torture him and put him to death on the cross. This would be the only way for him to fulfill ALL RIGHTEOUSNESS – active and passive. This was Jesus’ eternal intent: to accomplish salvation – and we know he did just, for in his own words he exclaimed, “It is finished.”
There through that glorious cross and by that empty tomb, Jesus’ journey ended… and ours began. Because Jesus fulfilled all righteousness, because he accomplished salvation, the mission of His church begins – that of going and making disciples of all nations, baptizing them and teaching them about their Savior Jesus and the eternal blessings that are ours through faith – faith freely given to us in baptism – faith nurtured in the preaching and teaching of God’s Word – faith enlivened and strengthened by the Holy Spirit. This is our mission, or we might say, this is the last leg of our journey. We who have been clothed in Christ, who know what our Savior’s intention is: that he wants all to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth – we set out each day empowered by the Holy Spirit to make this good news known to the public.
- Jesus Receives God’s Blessing on His Plans
When a person goes public, they need support. If you want to start a business, you need financial support. If you want to be in public office, you need votes. When Jesus went public, he had $0 in his bank account and almost no notoriety among John Q Public. That really didn’t bother him, because he knew he had the very best supporters, as our text states:“At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” Jesus had the support of his Heavenly Father and the Holy Spirit before, but now, the rest of the world gets to hear and see this heavenly support.
Some might have thought Jesus was crazy to go public with no support… but then again those are folks to didn’t see the complete picture. Jesus had his Father’s unconditional love, and God’s united approval – to do something that would be utterly foolish and cost him everything, including his life – and why? It was all for rebellious, arrogant, ignorant, foolish sinners like you and me. And to have such support and approval to do such thing as giving up your life – for the sake of Jesus’ human nature, these words of blessing were truly priceless! “Son, I love you and am well pleased with what you are willing now doing!”
Wouldn’t it be nice to hear God’s voice say this to us? It doesn’t even have to be in grand fashion with the Holy Spirit shining upon us in front of everyone else, but wouldn’t it be nice if God just sent us a simple text message with those words. “Hi there, just letting you know I love you, and am very well pleased with you today.” Well guess what, this isn’t just a pious hypothetical wish. You’ve already gotten that message. It’s what God said to you upon your baptism. In those waters God washed away your sin. In those waters God clothed you in all of Jesus’ fulfilled righteousness! In those waters, God says to you, “You are my son, you are my daughter – whom I love. Through Jesus I am well pleased to call you my own.”
This is the approval and empowerment you and I have to go public, to share the message of salvation through faith in Jesus, to share an invitation or to talk about baptism with your neighbors or friend who is expecting a child or just had a baby. It’s not awkward or impossible, it’s awesome – because you get to be part of watching the Holy Spirit do what he’s best at… and Dave never thought he could.
When I met Dave, his 5th wife had already divorced him. When he turned 18, he sort of left it all behind; but God had a way of not just bringing him back, but engaging him in ministry. In the 11 years I’ve known him, both his hunting buddy and that buddy’s dad, were ones he invited to church. Dave brought them regularly; he attended BIC classes with them; he stood at their sides at their baptisms. Within the last 18 months Dave also witnessed our Gracious heavenly Father receive them into heaven. Some of my last words to Dave were, “Well done, good and faithful servant – now go find another one.”
Friends let’s go. Go because you have God’s full blessing and approval. Go willingly as our Savior did. Go because you know the saving intentions of our God – accomplished in Christ and empowered by the Spirt. Amen.