Sunday, January 07, 2018

[Matt's Messages] “The Baptism of Jesus”

“The Baptism of Jesus”
The Gospel of Matthew
January 7, 2018 :: Matthew 3:1-17 

We are just a few steps into our journey through this theological biography of Jesus Christ called “The Gospel of Matthew.”

So far in chapters 1 and 2, we’ve read about the genealogy of Jesus, the birth of Jesus, and the search for Jesus after he was born (by both the Gentile Magi and the evil King Herod).

In chapter 3, Matthew leapfrogs over more than 25 years of Jesus’s life and lands at the time when Jesus, now an adult, gets Himself baptized.

“The Baptism of Jesus”

Which, knowing what baptism means, is kind of shocking!

Now, obviously, Matthew leaves a lot of stuff out. Unlike Luke who tells a story about Jesus when he was about 12, Matthew doesn’t give us anything about Jesus’ life growing up in Nazareth in the home of a carpenter named Joseph.

Matthew is selective. He has things that he thinks we need to know, and those are the ones that he tells us. The other gospel writers are the same! Mark starts his gospel right at this place. And John, when he gets into the action, picks up even a bit later!

We aren’t told everything we might want to know, but we are told everything that we need to know.

Jesus has not yet gone public with His ministry. That will happen in the next chapter, chapter four. He’s still living in obscurity. He’s still preparing and being prepared for His mission.

And one of the things He has to do to be prepared, apparently, is to be baptized.

And who better to do it than his relative, John the Baptizer?

Matthew chapter 3, verse 1.

“In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea and saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.’”

And so the action begins!

After 400 years of prophetic silence, there is a genuine prophet of God on the scene once again.

And not just any prophet of God, but the forerunner of the Messiah. The man who links the Old Testament to the New Testament. The man who serves as a bridge from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant and points everybody to the Messiah who was to come. V.3

“This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: ‘A voice of one calling in the desert, 'Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.'’”

That’s Isaiah chapter 40, verse 3. Matthew recognizes that John the Baptist was the fulfillment of the promise of “a voice of one calling in the desert...‘Here He comes’!”

John was definitely a prophet. He looked like one. V.4

“John's clothes were made of camel's hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey.”

This guy looked like Elijah? Remember Elijah from the books of Kings? 2 Kings 1, verse 8 said that Elijah the Tishbite wore, “a garment of hair and with a leather belt around his waist.”

John dressed like this on purpose to signal to everyone that he was a prophet.

He didn’t go into town for his meals. He ate locusts, which were a kind of large, wild grasshoppers, and he ate the honey he could grab out of wild beehives.

He was totally committed to his prophetic message.

And what was his message? V.2 again.

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”


That’s our first application point of only two this morning. Repent.

What does that mean?

It literally means, “a change of mind.”

It means to turn around.

It means to make a U-turn.

Anybody make a U-turn in a car this week?

You were going down the street headed towards what you thought was your destination, and then something came to your mind and you said, “This is the wrong way. I need to be going in the exact opposite direction.”

To repent is to make a 180 degree turn with your life.

And that’s what John the Baptist was calling people to do. Why?

What did he say?

“Repent, FOR the kingdom of heaven is near.”

That’s really important. That’s really big. That’s really huge.

“The kingdom of heaven,” another name for the kingdom of God, “is near.”

That idea that there is this Kingdom of Heaven, this kingdom where God rules, is one of the biggest ideas and most important themes in the Gospel of Matthew.

We’re going to encounter it again and again and again.

It’s one of Jesus’ favorite things to talk about!

The kingdom of heaven.

And it’s “near.”

It’s at hand, it’s on the way, it’s come, it’s right here. We’re on the cusp of it!

And so, you better repent!

That was John’s message. And there were a whole lot of people who were receiving that message. V.5

“People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.”

Massive crowds. The time had come for the message to be received.

People were repenting. They were coming to John and taking the first step of repentance. They were confessing their sins.

They were owning their sinfulness. They were agreeing with God about where they had gone wrong. And they were turning from those sins and getting baptized.

This is why John is called “John the Baptist.”

Because he preached repentance and he baptized those who were repentant.

Now this was pretty much a new thing John was doing.

There were ceremonial washings in the Old Testament and some religious communities like the Qumran community practiced their own ceremonial washings.

And later on, the Jews will practice baptism for new converts. If a Gentile wanted to become a Jew, they could get baptized to join. And it’s possible that there were already doing some of that at this time.

But John was baptizing JEWS. John was baptizing folks who already were at least on some level a part of the covenant people.

He was telling everybody that everybody needed to repent. It didn’t matter who they were.

And those that did, he baptized.

But those who didn’t repent, he didn’t baptize. Verse 7.

“But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?”

He knew that they weren’t coming out to get baptized. And if they were, it was false pretenses. They had come out to judge him, not to confess their sins and indicate their repentance.

They showed no fruit in keeping with repentance.

Interestingly, the Pharisees and the Sadducees were normally enemies. They were normally opponents of one another, but they were getting together to see what was going on out in the wilderness, at the John the Baptist show.

And what they got was an earful:

“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?”

“You crafty, dangerous sons of snakes! Who told you that you could find safety here?”

“Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.”

“You say you’re repentant? Show us. Act like it.” v.9

“And do not think you can say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.”

You see what he’s saying?

They were trusting in their ethnic identity.

They were trusting in their family identity.

They were taking it for granted that because they shared DNA with Abraham, they could live like the devil.

And John says, “No way. That’s not how it works. And you will soon find out for yourselves.” v.10

“The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. [Judgment is coming. But it’s not John that will bring it. V.11] ‘I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.’”

Those are such powerful words!

That last picture is so sobering.

The farmer grabs his winnowing fork and he sticks it into the wheat and he tosses the wheat into the air.

And there is this great sifting. This great sorting.

The heavy good full healthy wheat falls back down and gets put safely in the barn.

And the nearly weightless worthless chaff floats up and out and what doesn’t fly away gets used for fuel. It’s only good for the fire.

And those are two kinds of people. The repentant wheat and the unrepentant chaff.

And just to be clear, the chaff is burned in an unquenchable, unending fire.

It never goes out.

So John says, “Repent!”

And that’s what God is saying to us today.

Make the U-Turn.

If you have never confessed your sins and turned to God, then know that God is calling you to do that today.

Repentance is not optional.

And it’s not just something for back then.

Repentance is for everyone. The Bible says that God calls everyone everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30).

And don’t think that you’re exempt because you come from a good family.

It doesn’t matter if your Grandma is a Christian. Or if your Dad is.

It matters if you are.


Now, John was primarily talking about the once-for-all repentance that comes at the beginning of the Christian life.

Turning from sin to the Lord.

And symbolized by water baptism. V.11 “I baptize you for repentance.”

Because you have repented, you have been baptized.

But, in this life, we’re never quite done with repentance.

Until we’re perfected in glory, we still have repentance work to do.

Martin Luther called the Christian life “a race of repentance.”

Repenting is not just something we do at the beginning of the Christian life, it’s something that we have to do every day.

Make the U-Turn.

Make the course correction.

Head in a different direction.


Of what sins do you need to repent these days?

Where is the Lord working on you?

What sins is He putting His finger on and asking you to confess and turn away from?

If you answer, “I’m not repenting of anything these days,” then I’m worried for you.

What needs to change in your life?

I’m not talking about new year’s resolutions here, though if one of your resolutions is to grow in repentance, I think that’s a great idea!

But what needs to change in your life?

I love the word picture that Matthew quotes from Isaiah in verse 3.

This is what repentance is, “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.”

Isaiah was saying that the King was coming to town. And if the King is coming to town, then the city planners get together and improve all of the roads, don’t they?

We can’t have the king come bumping into town!

He has to arrive smoothly in style.

So where are the low spots in the road? Where are the bumps that need smoothed out?

What needs to change so this a road fit for a King?

In Isaiah 40 it says, “Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain.”

We’ll do whatever it takes to get ready for this King!

What needs changed in your life?

Recently, I had to repent of a foolish decision that I had made. I made a hasty and unwise decision that affected other people. It seemed right at the time, but it wasn’t.

And I had a buddy who took the time to confront me on my foolish decision and point out where I had gone wrong. He was a John the Baptist for me.

I’m sure it wasn’t easy for him, but I am really thankful that he confronted me.

Now. Here’s the thing. I needed to change.

I needed to confess my sin to God (v.6), and I needed to do verse 8, “Produce fruit in keeping with (my) repentance.”

It wasn’t good enough to just agree that I had done wrong. I had to go and make it right. And there were several steps I had to take to make it right. I had to do an about-face. I had to do an U-turn. I needed to change.

How about you?

What in your life needs to change?

What in your heart needs to change?

It might seem like a small thing, but it’s not.

It might seem like too big a thing, but it’s not.

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”

Now, did you catch that John was predicting the Messiah here?

John isn’t just a baptizer, he’s a forerunner.

John loves to talk about the Coming One. V.11 again.

“I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”

Did you know that Jewish slaves didn’t have to untie or carry their master’s sandals?

Carrying your master’s footwear was considered below the slave level!

What is John saying?

“This One Who is to come? I’m not worthy to be his servant. I’m not worthy to be someone lower than His servant.”

“My baptism is nothing compared to His. My baptism is water. It is external. It is symbolic of repentance. His baptism is Spirit and fire. It is internal and effective and transformational.”

I think that word “fire” means both refining fire and the fire of judgment.

For those who are repentant and know the Lord, the fire is a purifying and powerful fire that was symbolized by the tongues of fire over the apostle’s heads at Pentecost.

But in the context, there is also the unquenchable fire of judgment. You don’t want that kind of baptism.

Do you see how fixated John is on this Coming One?

And then He comes! V.13

“Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John.”

Isn’t that...strange?

I mean, from everything we just read about baptism and repentance?

Why would Jesus want to be baptized?

That’s what John says. V.14

“But John tried to deter him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’”

“I’m just not sure we’ve got this right, Lord?

I need your Spirit and fire baptism. You don’t need my little water baptism.

You don’t have anything to repent of!”

John knew that this was the Messiah. This was the One to come.

This was the Lamb of God who comes to take away the sin of the world.

Here. He. Is!

But why would he get baptized? V.15

“Jesus replied, ‘Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then John consented.”

Jesus doesn’t say, “You’re right. Let’s not do that.”

He also doesn’t say, “I am sinful and need to repent.”

That’s not why Jesus gets baptized.

Jesus doesn’t get baptized for repentance. He gets baptized for righteousness.

Do you see that in verse 15?

“ is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.”

There’s that favorite word of Matthew, “Fulfill.”

To fill up. To bring to fullness. To actualize.

Jesus says that His baptism will fulfill all righteousness.

And think He’s saying more than just that it’s the “right” thing to do.

He’s saying that His baptism will bring righteousness to fullness.

Now, I think to understand that, we have to understand another thing about baptism than what we’ve seen so far.

And that is that baptism is an identification with something or someone else.

You are getting immersed into something that stands for something.

You’re being included, absorbed, connected, identified in your baptism.

When Christians get baptized, we are identifying with Jesus.

We are identifying ourselves as sinners who need washing.

And we also know that we are actually identifying with Jesus’s death and resurrection.

Buried with Jesus in death, raised with Jesus to new life.

With what or whom do you think Jesus was identifying with when He got baptized?

With us, right?

He is identifying with us and with our sin.

He’s giving the official stamp of approval to John’s ministry, and He’s proclaiming His solidarity with us sinful humans whom He has come to save.

And talk about that word fulfill? Listen to this from Isaiah 53, verses 11 and 12.

“ his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.”

I think that’s what it means for Jesus to fulfill all righteousness!

Jesus was baptized at the beginning of His ministry to inaugurate His mission to be numbered with us, to bear our sin as our substitute, to go to the Cross, and to give us His righteousness!

And watch what happened. V.16

“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.’”


I don’t really know what that means. But I see the Trinity here. Father, Son, and Spirit perfectly unified yet also distinct.

I see the Spirit of God descending like a dove(?), like how He hovered over the waters of creation and now resting on Jesus like Isaiah 11 promised. “The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him–the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD–and he will delight in the fear of the LORD.”

And I hear the voice of God the Father saying, “That’s my boy!”

“This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

One of the key questions that is asked and answered again and again and again in the Gospel of Matthew is “Who is this Person? Who is Jesus?”

And here is God’s own answer!

“This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

“It was right for Him to get baptized. It fulfills all righteousness.

Everything He does makes me happy! I sure love Him!”

“This is my Son.”

That picks up language from the Old Testament. Psalm 2, Isaiah 42.

There is Son language in the Old Testament.

But this ratchets it up to the highest level.

Jesus is the Son of God!


Rejoice that this is who Jesus is!

And rejoice that you know who Jesus is!

And rejoice that you know this Jesus!

And rejoice that this Jesus got baptized...for you.

He didn’t need to repent.

But you needed Him to identify with you and your sins.



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