Jesus, why are you here? (January 12, 2020)
Jesus, why are you here?
What a scene it must have been. It was something like what’s going on here as we gather today… only there was no roof or walls, no seats, no altar furniture. But people were gathering to hear John preach. People were gathering to hear John preach and then be baptized. John had one sermon he preached. He probably varied it a little bit, but his theme was always the same. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Mt 3:2). And people came out to hear his rousing preaching. They came and were cut to the heart, convicted of their own sinfulness. Then, after the sermon, one by one, they approached John, confessed their sins, and were baptized by him in the Jordan River (Mt 3:6).
He actually drew such crowds that one day the Pharisees and Sadducees went out to see what all the fuss was about – who this “John” guy is who baptizes in the wilderness. The Pharisees and Sadducees, by the way, were the religious leaders of that day. Unfortunately, they had departed a bit already from what the Bible said. So when John saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he changed up his sermon a bit. He said, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance…. I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Mt 3:7-8, 11).
Then, after his fiery sermon he begins baptizing sinners who are repentant, and who’s standing there in line? Jesus. We aren’t actually told if it was the same day or not. But regardless, you could almost hear John’s impassioned plea, “Jesus, I just said I’m not worthy to even carry your sandals, and now you want me to baptize you?! I just said you were more powerful than me, and that you would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” (Mt 3:14). It seems a contradiction.
You see the confusion here. John’s message was one of repentance. It was meant to prepare the way for Jesus, the Messiah. And now Jesus is lining up with sinners who have come to repent of those sins, and here’s Jesus – not a sinner, no need to repent. Jesus, what are you doing here? I’m sure there was more to the conversation. I’m sure there were many more persuasive pleas and arguments levied by John as he tried to deter Jesus from being baptized, but we only have one such argument preserved by the Holy Spirit in Scripture. One argument to sum it all up. Jesus, you’ve got it all backwards, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” (Mt 3:14).
Jesus gives just one simple response. “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness” (Mt 3:15). Essentially Jesus was saying, it’s necessary to do this to accomplish my work of salvation. But there’s a lot packed into that. There’s a lot more to it than just that. Jesus’ answer actually contains two parts. So let’s unpack it.
First, he says, “Let it be so now” (Mt 3:15). This both puts John back in his place and reassures John that his earlier statement about Christ to the Pharisees and Sadducees was not exaggerated. John was correct when he said, “After me will come one who is more powerful than I” (Mt 3:11). “Let it be so now” (Mt 3:15) was an authoritative command from the one who is more powerful. A command from the master that is to be followed by the servant. And by it, Jesus shows that he, the Messiah, who asks for such a lowly baptism by John is still in charge.
The second part, then, explains why Jesus is requesting such a baptism. “It is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness” (Mt 3:15). In other words, things are not what they seem. There’s something bigger taking place here. It is proper for Jesus to request John’s baptism because somehow it involves “righteousness” – “fulfilling all righteousness”. And, just to explain terms, righteousness means holiness, without sin. In fact, it’s really a courtroom term that means “innocent”. So, in the Bible it refers to keeping all of God’s Law perfectly so that one is innocent before God, holy, without sin.
For Jesus this meant two things for him to be our Savior. One, he had to actively keep the Law of God so that he himself could be declared righteous. And two, in order to do that, he had to allow himself to be under the Law of God. We call this his “active” and “passive” obedience. Jesus already was “actively obedient” to the Law of God. He lived a life free from sin. The kind of life that God demands from every one of us – yet none of us could do. None of us are righteous, innocent in God’s eyes. None except Jesus. From birth he was the only child that ever lived a completely sinless life. The only person who followed God’s law to the letter. The only one who could rightly be declared holy and righteous. So, that’s a part of fulfilling all righteousness. The other part is his “passive obedience” and here, at his baptism, is really where that started. Even though Jesus was without sin, to be our Savior, he had to take the place of sinners. So, if God commanded sinners to be baptized, then Jesus too allowed himself to be baptized in your place. And if God says that the wages of sin is death, then Jesus too – despite being sinless – allowed himself to die on a cross in your place. That’s why it was “proper for [Jesus and John] to do this to fulfill all righteousness” (Mt 3:15) for you and every other sinner.
Think of it this way. It’s as if Jesus is with you, right along side you, every step of your life. When you wake, he’s right there with you. As you go about your day, he’s with you. And as you lay down at night, he’s there. The only difference is, he lived each without sin, AND he received the punishment for your sins. So, when you do something sinful, it goes to the cross of Jesus, and you are covered instead with what Jesus did perfectly. So that in every way, he is your substitute. So that when God looks at your life, he sees the sinless, righteous life that Jesus lived. And when God rightly punishes sin, he punished Jesus in your place. All this because Jesus went to the waters of baptism with you – to fulfill all righteousness for you. Why do I come here – to the waters of baptism? We go to the waters of baptism to be “buried with [Christ]” (Rm 6:4), a Savior who did what we could never do. Jesus, why are you here? He went to be baptized to be that Savior.
“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 alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’” (Mt 3:16-17). After being “anointed”, so to speak, with water Jesus was anointed in a special way by God. The Holy Spirit visibly came down and remained on him, and the Father audibly voiced his approval and the identity of Jesus. “This is my Son,” This man standing before you is the very Son of God. And, I am pleased with everything he does. So pay attention to him and listen to his words carefully!
At the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry it was important to have this divine anointing at his baptism – almost like a divine endorsement. This authorization, this endorsement, was fundamental for Jesus’ ministry. It became the benchmark by which Jesus countered unbelief of the Jews. They criticized, “By what authority are you doing these things?” (Mt 21:23). “Who gave you this authority” (Mt 21:23). And “Here you are, appearing as your own witness; your testimony is not valid” (Jn 8:13). But Jesus always countered these by saying that his Father had approved and authorized his person and plans at his baptism, and that John was a reliable witness to this divine authorization (Mt 21:23-27). Really, what more then can they say? Jesus has the Father’s divine approval – visibly, audibly, and attested to. What more can they say against God’s very Son.
This goes for you and me as well. First, for us to know and believe who Jesus really is – the very Son of God. Then also, to know exactly what he came to do. He came to be your Savior – doing all things necessary to “fulfill all righteousness” (Mt 3:15) for you. Making every baptism something more than meets the eye. God says, “baptism saves you” (1 Pt 3:21). God says, “Be baptized and wash your sins away” (Ac 22:16). God says, he “makes [the church] holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word” (Eph 5:26). So God can rightly say you are righteous.