The Baptism of Our Lord
January 12, 2020
A Time for Transition!
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.” Then John consented. 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. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (NIV1984)
Dear fellow baptized children of God,
Do you like change? No, I am not talking about the kind of change that you keep in the pocket of your pants or the kind of change that you find on the bottom of your purse. Nor am I talking about the change that you discover when you clean the couch or when you clean out the car. I am talking about changes in your life. Do you like change? That is obviously one of those questions which can be answered in any number of different ways. While we don’t mind changing our clothes I am not so sure we would appreciate having to make a complete change in the style of clothing that we wear. And while we usually do not mind changing our cars— especially if we are able to upgrade to a new or at least a newer car— we might not feel quite as comfortable changing the kind of car we drive whether it is changing from an SUV to a subcompact, or changing from a Buick to a Honda. Where we most often resist change, however, is when we personally do not feel that the change is needed or when we do not feel that the change is for the better.
Our sermon text for today, my friends, places before us a huge monumental change. This morning as we study these words from Matthew chapter three let’s see how the baptism of Jesus Christ signals a change— a transition— in both the life and the ministry of our Savior. With that in mind, let’s study these words of our text under the theme: A Time of Transition.
Approximately thirty years before the events recorded here in our text took place the Lord Jesus made a similar journey from Galilee in the north down to Judea in the south. Still inside the womb of the virgin Mary the soon-to-be-born Christ-Child was taken on this journey from Galilee to Judea specifically so that His heavenly Father’s Plan of Salvation for this world would unfold precisely as it was designed to unfold. So also now. Matthew very specifically tells us, “Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John.” Jesus didn’t just “happen” to travel from Galilee to Judea at this particular point in time. Jesus made this journey deliberately! Why? Because now was the time for change. Now was the time for transition. Now was the time for Jesus to be baptized by John.
Now if any of you are wondering why Jesus specifically wanted to be baptized by John you are in very good company. John the Baptist himself was the very first one to protest that such a thing would happen. Matthew tells us, “But John tried to deter him saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?'” There was a very good reason as to why John the Baptist was reluctant to fulfill Jesus’ request to be baptized. Not long before this John had told the Pharisees and the Sadducees that the One coming after him would be far more powerful than John, He would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire, and He would be so much greater than John that John did not even consider himself worthy to carry His sandals. And now here is the One about whom John spoke requesting to be baptized? “I don’t think so!” was John’s reply. Instead of Jesus being baptized by John, John felt that the only proper thing was for John to be baptized by Jesus! But no matter how much John protested Jesus was not about to be deterred. Finally Jesus simply put an end to the discussion by authoritatively saying to John, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.
While reassuring John that his testimony concerning Jesus’ was in no way exaggerated, at the very same time Jesus reveals to John— and to us— that His baptism in the river Jordan was necessary in order to “fulfill all righteousness.” Here is where we see that the baptism of Jesus Christ marks a time of tremendous transition in our Lord’s ministry here on this earth. For thirty years Jesus’ ministry had quietly focused on what is now called His “active righteousness.” What this very simply means is that for thirty years Jesus lived an absolutely perfect righteous life— as our substitute. For thirty years Jesus always kept all the Commandments. For thirty years Jesus always fulfilled all the rules and all the regulations contained in the Law of Moses. For thirty years Jesus did everything which God requires of us— and He did it perfectly!
Now think about what that means, my friends. As a little child Jesus never once disobeyed or disrespected His earthly parents or anyone else in authority over Him. Can we make the very same claim? As a teenager Jesus never once allowed an impure thought to go through His heart or through His mind. He never once allowed an improper word to come out of His mouth. Can we make the very same claim? As an adult Jesus’ heart and mind and life always reflected a perfect love for God as well as a perfect love for His neighbor. Can we make the very same claim? This is why the active righteousness of Jesus Christ is so important for us, my friends! As our Substitute, in our place Jesus actively lived the perfect righteous life that God demands of us— the life that we are simply not able to live.
But now, now was the time for transition. Now was the time for change. While continuing to live that perfect life Jesus knew that the time had come for Him to enter into that portion of His ministry which would focus on what is now called His “passive righteousness.” Very simply put, Jesus’ baptism marks the beginning of three year public walk which would lead Him directly to the cross on Calvary’s hill. (Pointing to the cross) For the next three years Jesus would endure the temptations of the devil over and over again. For the next three years Jesus would increasingly endure the ridicule and the rejection of the unbelievers. And finally, Jesus would endure the very public humiliation and the hellish agony of being nailed to a cross on the hill called Calvary. The glory of it all is that Jesus was willing to endure all of this, my friends! He was willing to endure everything that you and I deserve to receive for our sins all so that you and I might receive eternal life in heaven as a free gift from our God.
That’s the glorious truth that the baptism of Jesus Christ proclaims to us right down to this very day, my friends! But there’s more isn’t there! Here on the bank of the Jordan River Jesus is unmistakably identified as the true eternal Son of God. Matthew tells us that after the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus there was a voice from heaven which said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” Besides being a proof passage for the teaching of the Holy Trinity, this passage assures us that our Father in heaven approved the path that Jesus was taking to secure our salvation. Jesus was doing exactly what needed to be done. He was fulfilling His Father’s Plan of Salvation for this world precisely as it was designed. The change that Jesus was in the process of making for you and for me, the change that Jesus was in the process of making for the entire human race was and will always be the greatest and most glorious change we experience here on this earth! Through His perfect life and through His innocent death Jesus changed our status before God. Instead of being the enemies of God destined for eternal punishment in hell Jesus’ work of atonement has made us at one with God. Through faith in what Jesus has done for us we are now the dearly beloved adopted sons and daughters of the heavenly Father.
Right there, my friends. (Pointing to the baptismal font) That is where both the active righteousness and the passive righteousness of Jesus Christ touched our hearts in a truly miraculous life-changing way. We know that there are a number of ways in which people today seek to find an identity. Sometimes people try to find their identity in their work— “What I do for a living makes me me.” Buy if for some reason they lose their job or when they retire from their job they can suffer an identity crisis. Some people strive to find their identity in their achievements— “What I have accomplished over the course of my life makes me me.” But when those accomplishments fade into the distant past or when people are simply no longer impressed with what they have accomplished, they can suffer an identity crisis. Economic status, material possessions, family name, outward looks— these are all examples of things in which people vainly seek to find their identity. But our true identity, my friends, the identity that will last for all of eternity was given to us when we were baptized with water in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. There at the baptismal font through the power of the Holy Spirit we experienced a change that will only be surpassed when God decides it is time for us to make the final transition from His Church here on earth to His Church in heaven. There at that baptismal font the Triune God of heaven and earth graciously looked down on us and said, “This is now my son/daughter whom I love; with her/him I am well pleased.”
To reinforce the importance of remembering how our baptism applies to our daily lives I would like you all to open up your hymnals to page twelve. Please join me in reading out loud the words printed in bold at the bottom of that page, “Baptism means that the sinful nature in us should be drowned by daily sorrow and repentance, and that all its evil deeds and desires be put to death. It also means that a new person should daily arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.” There is no doubt that Jesus’ baptism marked a time of transition— a time of change— in His life. In a similar way there is no doubt that our baptism marked a time of transition— a time of change— in our lives. Our Christian baptism changes the way that we think. It changes the way that we speak. It changes the way that we act. Our Christian baptism changes the way that we look at other people as well as the way that we look at ourselves. Our Christian baptism changes our goals and priorities in life. Our Christian baptism changes us from the inside out! It makes us different from the unbelieving world around us. That’s why we need to daily strive to remember what our baptism means for us! That’s why we need to daily strive with God’s help to live up to the new identity we were given in our baptism.
So how do you like change? When it comes to minor things such as the clothes that we wear or the cars that we drive change isn’t really all that difficult to take. When it comes to more important things like what we do for a living or where we live change might take a little longer to get used to. My prayer for you this morning, my friends, is twofold. First, I pray that every single day of your life you will fall on your knees and humbly praise the God of heaven for the change which Jesus effected for this world through His perfect life and through His innocent suffering and death. (Pointing to the cross) Secondly, I pray that every single day of your life you will fall on your knees and humbly thank the God of heaven for the miraculous change that was freely bestowed upon you at the time of your baptism.
To God be the glory!