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Jesus' Baptism: To Fulfill all Righteousness

Series: Matthew

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Feb 9, 1997

Matthew 3:13-17

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Turn with me in your Bibles to Matthew chapter 3, as we continue our study in this gospel. Matthew chapter 3, beginning in verse 13. Hear God’s holy and inspired word.

"Then Jesus arrived from Galilee at the Jordan coming to John, to be baptized by him. But John tried to prevent Him, saying, "I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?" But Jesus answering said to him, "Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness." Then he permitted Him. And after being baptized, Jesus went up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove, and coming upon Him, and behold, a voice out of the heavens, saying, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased."

Thus ends this reading of God’s holy word. May He add His blessing to it. Let’s look to Him in prayer.

Our Lord and our God, this is Your word. And it is your Word for us. And so we would desire not only to understand it, but to become obedient to it. Apply it to our hearts by the Spirit. Make us willing hearers and eager doers for the love of Christ. And because we ask it in His name. Amen.

This passage is a great passage. John the Baptist’s ministry is in full swing. Last week we saw all Judea was going out to hear John preach and to participate in the Baptism of repentance. And in the midst of that, our Lord Jesus comes by Himself, for He had not as yet called His disciples. And in the midst of those crowds, He presents Himself to John. John is shocked. "Lord, Jesus, I am preaching the baptism of repentance to prepare the way for the Lord and You are revealing Yourself to me as the one who I have been preaching. Why should I baptize You? You need to baptize Me." It is a strange and a wonderful passage, and I would like to point to four things today about our Lord Jesus Christ’s scene in this passage.

1. The humility of Christ.
    And the first thing is this. We see it in verse 13. The humility of Christ. Our Lord’s humility is evident in this passage. This is the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. John’s ministry is in full swing. But the first public action of our Lord is to humble Himself. The first public action in the ministry of our Lord is to enter into humiliation. He will receive the baptism of repentance, though He is without sin, though He is the one who knows no sin, He will take upon Himself, the baptism of repentance. That is humility and that is our Lord. We saw Him entering in as we looked at His infancy as presented in this gospel. We saw Him partaking of the sufferings and humiliation which were part of His being our Mediator and now, consistently with that, and consistently with what we know about our Lord in His later ministry, and finally in His giving Himself in the passion, He enters into a humbling experience. He humbles Himself before John, a godly man to be sure, a great preacher to be sure, but a man, the herald, the servant of Christ. He the Messiah, says, John. I will receive your baptism. John himself sensed that it was somehow inappropriate for him to be baptizing the Lord Jesus, the Messiah, the one who was the lamb of God, who would take away the sins of the world. But the Lord Jesus said, "No John, I will receive this baptism." He was following the way of His Father. Later He will explain that He needed to enter into this baptism in order to fulfill all righteousness but evident throughout His actions is His humility.

Our Lord was humble and He calls us to the way of humility, and the world tells us that we ought to act otherwise. But the Lord Jesus’ action reminds us of the importance of humility. It was required for His obedience on our behalf. And He says to His disciples, that all those who follow after Him, the great servants, must themselves, learn to humble themselves and serve.

Young folks, in your schools, it is very likely that the most popular children will be those who are attractive, filled with personality, somewhat prideful, somewhat able to push themselves forward. They may be boys who are arrogant, talented, but they are perhaps mean-spirited. They may be young girls, who may be beautiful and yet they are very arrogant and look down upon others that are not part of their circles. And you may be tempted to think that the only way that you can match up is to emulate that sort of behavior. The Lord Jesus says, the way of glory is the way of humility. And though the world says, if you want to be successful, you must be prideful, you must be self confident, and you must be assertive. The Lord Jesus says, the way of glory is the way of humility. Don’t ever forget that. It is a lesson that none of us can ever desire to forget, for in this life, we are constantly tempted to assert ourselves pridefully, sinfully, in order to get what we want. But the Lord Jesus says, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." It is not the proud who will be exalted. No, the Bible says the proud will be abased. Pride goes not before a fall, the Proverb says, "pride goes before destruction." But those who are lowly of heart, the Lord will exalt.

Perhaps the Lord has called you to significant ministry as He had called His Son. I not only warn you, I promise you if that is the case, He will cause you to walk in the way of humility. For the Lord has never used an arrogant servant. The Lord breaks His servant before His servant serves Him in the world. And that goes for all of us, not simply for those missionaries who deny themselves. Not simply for those campus ministers who put themselves in a place where they are counter-cultural. Not simply for those who plant churches, and preach the gospel. It goes for all of us in our vocations. If the Lord is calling us to His service, He calls us to His service in the way of humility. And our Lord and Savior is the great example of that. Our Lord is humble and so we should be too

II. The Significance of Christ’s baptism.
   
The second thing I would point you to is the baptism itself as it is described in verse 15. Here we see the significance of Christ’s baptism. You often hear it said, Christ is baptized for us. This is true. But what does that mean? What does it mean that Christ was baptized for us? Did it mean that by receiving the baptism of repentance that Christ was repenting for us? No. How could Christ have repented? He never sinned. Throughout the Gospels, the Lord Jesus Christ goes about saying, I forgive you, and your sins are forgiven, and never once does He intimate that He has sins that need to be forgiven. He will pray for the forgiveness of your sins. He will forgive your sins by divine power, but He does not ask forgiveness Himself, He is perfect. He is not repenting in His baptism of repentance. No He is doing something else. And we see it in the words of verse 15. He says, "Permit it as this time, for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness."

I want you to note two parts of that phrase. Notice that He says to John, it is appropriate for us to fulfill all righteousness. He doesn’t just say, it is appropriate for Me to fulfill all righteousness by being baptized. He recognizes that there is something that both He and John must do in order to fulfill the plan of God and part of that is going to be done in receiving John’s baptism. Notice as well, that He gives an explanation to John. John, I am not being baptized because I need repentance. I am being baptized in order to fulfill all righteousness.

Baptism as you know, was used in the Old Testament. It was a form of consecration. When a priest reached the age at which he was entering into his public ministry, we are told in Numbers chapter 8, that he was baptized. He was consecrated, set apart, showing that God had called him into service and that he was to serve in God’s kingdom and the Lord Jesus Christ is being consecrated to service in this baptism. What does it mean though? That He was to be baptized to fulfill all righteousness? Well, there are many, many things that that means. But let me just share a few of those things with you.

First, Jesus’ baptism was an affirmation of John’s ministry. By being baptized it was as if Jesus was saying, John I want you to baptize Me, because that will show that your message was true, your ministry was true, and it will link Me, the Messiah, with your ministry, which was to pronounce the coming of the Messiah, and it will link My ministry with your ministry as building upon it. So that is the first thing that His baptism does to fulfill all righteousness.

It also serves to relieve John’s doubts. We know from John 1:31, that John himself had been unsure about the identity of the Messiah up until this time. In fact, we are told in the Gospels elsewhere that John had his doubts later on. Jesus did not turn out to be quite who he was expecting, and he had to ask the Lord on at least one occasion, "Are You the one, or is there another?" This baptism was the Lord Jesus’ gift to John to assure him, "Yes I am the one. John, remember you baptized Me. Remember I am the one that you were preaching towards."

This baptism also serves to confirm the message of John. It symbolizes the Lord Jesus’ identification with His people and their plight. It is as if Jesus is saying, "Yes, John’s message is right. You are sinners, you do need redemption from sin. And My receiving of this baptism, is My sign that I am identifying with you and I will be the sinbearer so the baptism of repentance has efficiacy."

It is also a sign that the Lord Jesus is the Messiah. He is publicly showing and claiming that He is the Messiah who comes to take away the sins of the world. And that is why He enters into the baptism of repentance even though He is sinless. For He is the Messiah who comes to eradicate sin in the lives of His people.

The baptism also serves, and this is clear from verses 16 and 17, that God has anointed and appointed and equipped Christ for ministry. The baptism is a sign of God’s approval of the Lord Jesus. A sign that God has chosen the Lord Jesus to be Messiah on the part of His people.

And finally, the baptism fulfills all righteousness because it is a sign Christ Himself is willing to take on the role as our Mediator. He is willing to be our Redeemer. In the baptism, the Lord steps down. He enters humbly and receives the baptism. He acknowledges, Lord, I will receive all the humiliation that is necessary to fulfill My work on behalf of My people. I will take any humiliation necessary in order to save My people from their sins. The baptism shows Jesus’ willing acceptance of the Messianic role. And so John, how much he understood, we don’t know, John says, "Okay, Lord, I will baptize You."

The Lord Jesus’ baptism was an act that He performed on our behalf as the mediator of the covenant of grace. He did not need the baptism of repentance. And He did not repent on our behalf. But He did identify Himself with His people as the one who would be the sin bearer and the whose baptism, the baptism of the Holy Spirit would bring renovation of our hearts and lives.

III. The Father’s spiritual provision of the Son.
   
The third thing I would like to point you to is this, and you will find it in verse 16. Not only in this passage do we see the humility of Christ, not only do we see the significance of His baptism, but we also see the Father’s spiritual provision for the Son. We read in verse 16 that after being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water and behold, the heavens were open and He saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and resting on Him. In this passage we are told that as Jesus and John came back up from the river, onto the banks of the Jordan, John saw the Holy Spirit in the form of or a vision of a dove, coming down and landing on the Lord Jesus. This, in and of itself, was symbolic of the fact that God Himself equipped the Lord Jesus in His humanity to be our Redeemer.

It is an awesome thing, my friends, to remember that the humanity of Christ, that Christ in His humanity was dependent upon the Holy Spirit in His ministry. He was filled, like John, above measure with the spirit. He was sinless, unlike John. And yet He was dependent upon God. He was dependent upon the Holy Spirit as He ministered. And the very sending of the Spirit in this visible form, this tangible form, reminds us that the Lord Jesus, the prophet and head of His church, before He gave gifts to men, He Himself was equipped by the heavenly Father for the ministry that He had. Before He served as God’s representative to His people, He Himself was equipped by God.

Was He equipped as the Spirit was sent down visibly? No. Of course not. He was equipped before then. But descending is a visible sign. It is a symbol of the fact that God Himself equips the Lord Jesus. What a great encouragement this must have been to the Lord Jesus later on in the midst in of the trials of His ministry, to be able to look back to that day when the heavens were opened. We remember the words of Hebrews 12, "That for the prospect of what lay ahead, for the glory that lay ahead, He despised the shame." Our Lord Jesus endured what He did for us, despising the shame, because He knew what was ahead. And this opening of Heaven was a prospect of glory.

It also reminds us of His constant dependence upon the Holy Spirit. If the Lord Jesus had to be dependent upon the Holy Spirit as He worked on our behalf for our salvation, how much more ought we to be dependent on the Holy Spirit? Well, what does that mean? Well, it means a lot of things, but it means at least this. We never ever think either in our sanctification, or in our work for God, that we have in and of ourselves the resources that we need in order to minister. Did you know that every single act of real ministry is beyond our resources. Do you know that we have not even begun to minister to one another until we minister beyond our own personal capacities, beyond our own talents, beyond our own personalities. We don’t even minister in strict accord with our character. We minister out of the character which has been renovated by God. But ultimately what we minister is heavenly. What in the world can we do to raise men from the dead spiritually? What can we do to bind up the wounded in this world? Nothing. But God, the Holy Spirit, can. And as we minister, we must minister dependent upon Him, because we cannot do it alone.

This is why it is so wrong for us to think that with just a little enthusiasm, and a little bit of money we can do anything. Oh no. We are always dependent upon the Holy Spirit. And though in these next weeks, we are going to do our best to give everything we can to God for His cause and the building up of the Kingdom in this world, none of it will matter. None of it, unless God Himself determines to bring revival. Will you pray that He will do it? Will you pray that He will do it here? Will you pray that He will do it in our state, and in our country and in the world? Will you be dependent? The Lord Jesus was dependent even in His ministry. Will we be dependent? Will we give Him everything that we can, and then recognize that we must wait for His hand of blessing?

IV. Heaven’s declaration of Christ’s identity.
   
And then we see, finally, my friends, in verse 17, not only the Father’s spiritual provision for the Son, but the Father’s identification of the Son. God tells us who the Lord Jesus is in this passage. He tells us from heaven, what heaven thinks about the Lord Jesus Christ. In verse 17, you see the view of the heavenly Father. You see what the Father thinks of the Son. "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." For two thousand years, for two millennia, for twenty centuries from the time of Abraham, we have been waiting to see the unveiling of the one who would be the deliverer of Israel. The one who would build the city that has foundations. And in Psalm 2, verse 7, and Isaiah chapter 42, we are told that when the one came who would build the city with foundations that the Father would say of Him, this is my Son, today I have begotten Thee. The heavens opened at the baptism of Jesus and the Father’s voice is heard from heaven, and He says, "this is My Son." Two millennia of waiting were fulfilled. And the Father has said, this is Him, this is My Son, this is My estimate of who He is, and we must remember this as we work through this Gospel in the weeks to come, and we see the Lord Jesus despised and misunderstood and rejected and crucified and dead and buried. And when we see the world hating Him, or ignoring or thinking that He is crazy, we must remember that the Father does not see Him that way. He is the beloved Son, and every time we see the world despise Him, we ought to remember that the Father loves Him. Any parent in this room, knows what it would be like to watch your child despised. And any parent in this room, knows what it is to love that child with all your heart, even if he is rejected by his contemporaries. And every time we see the Lord Jesus despised by men, we ought to remember what the Father has said of Him, "This is my Son, in whom I am well pleased." The affection of the Father is poured out on this Son. This Son is, as Paul says in Colossians, "The Son of His love." We will never know to the bottom how much the Father loves the Son.

But my friends, let me say this, if you are in Christ, if you have embraced the Lord Jesus Christ, the heavenly Father delights in you, just like He delights in His Son. For you have become brothers and sisters in Christ if you are joined to Him. And the Father delights in you. It is one of the hardest things for us to take in as believers. But the Father delights in His children like that. This passage also reminds us that we can’t be apathetic about this Christ. You see, if the Father says, "This is My Son," then there are only two options, you may either say, "No, I reject Him," or you must embrace Him. You can’t say, "Well, that is good for you, you be religious and worship the Son, and I will get to God in some other way." No. The word of the Father from Heaven reminds us that there is but one way. There is but one Son. There is only one that He has said, ah, this is my only, my unique Son. You hear Him. He is the only way to the Father. We must reject Him and perish or we must embrace Him and find all the treasures of adoption.

Have you embraced Him? Are you apathetic about Him? Are you holding Him at bay? Are you waiting for a more appropriate time? Now is the day of salvation. Embrace the one that God the Father has identified as His Son in whom He is well pleased. Let’s look to Him in prayer.

Our Lord and our God, in this passage, we see Your Son. We see Him as you want us to see Him, as humble, as obedient, glorious, beloved of You. Equipped by the Spirit by measure to do ministry to do battle with Satan and with His kingdom on our behalf. But we know in the end that in the gates of hell will not prevail against Your Son’s kingdom. And we would be safely within its walls. We can only be there by faith O God. And so if there is anyone O Lord this day, who comes here not trusting in Christ, we would that by the Spirit that You would draw that person to Yourself by faith that they might embrace the beloved Son. Hear our prayers, oh God, and bless us we pray. For we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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