Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Matthew 06: Baptized in Water and Spirit

Baptism Of Christ - Fra Angelico 1437/46
Scripture Text: Matthew 3:13-17

Introductory Comments

Our focus last week was on the preaching of John the Baptizer and his call to the people to “[3:2] Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” This message was preached to all the hordes of people coming to be baptized, including those who, believing that they already had all the salvation credentials necessary, probably thought they didn’t need such a baptism. The message for us, from that, is not just to assume the benefits of Christ without understanding the cost. Understanding the cost Jesus paid for your sin is what drives us to ongoing repentance in the church also. For the Christian who acknowledges Jesus as Lord, repentance shows forth our ongoing dependence upon the abundant grace of God for our very survival now. Seen in that way, repentance becomes for us not a shame inducing dread-laden duty, but an awe-inspiring, joy-filled experience of release, refreshment, and renewal in Christ. We grieve for our sin, and then shout with joy for our forgiveness. Over time, repentance brings us closer and closer to Jesus, sanctifying us in a way that makes us appear more like Him. This ongoing sanctification by God is empowered by the Holy Spirit, who is given at baptism.

This week, we will look at Jesus baptism. This story brings up a lot of questions for the Christian. For example: Why does Jesus need to be baptized if he was born and lived his entire life without sin? That is a very good question. Two other questions flow out of the first one. First, what does the baptism of Jesus have to do with us? Second, if Jesus’ baptism does have something to do with us, then do we have something we must do?

Why Does Jesus Need to Be Baptized?

Matthew has set the scene. John has already appeared in our gospel painting as a man in the tradition of the Old Testament prophets, who even dresses, grooms, and eats like the Elijah. He has told the people that the very kingdom of God has come near, and in his preaching calls upon all the people to repent, to get back in line with God’s ways, in light of the news that God has come near. He has also promised that another one would come, mightier than himself, who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. The stage is now set, then, for the appearance of this mighty person. And it is here, in Matthew 3, that Jesus re-enters the gospel painting as an adult. This is the one so mighty and great that John said he was unqualified even to tie the might one’s sandals.

At this point, we’re thinking something big is going to happen next. And something big will happen, but in a totally unexpected way. This mighty one, who will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire, comes to John and submits to being baptized.
[13] Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. [14] John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” [15] But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented.
Can you see the pattern Matthew has established so far? The fulfillment of the promises God made to Abraham and David are found in a little baby born in a shed and sleeping in a feeding trough. And by the way, his family background is pretty sketchy, what with all the gentiles and sinners scattered in it. And he’s spend much of his life thus far in dirty backwater blip of a town called Nazareth in Galilee, a town of such inconsequence that the great Jewish historian Josephus, a very meticulous man, didn’t bother including Nazareth in his list of cities in that region. Everything about this Jesus points downward, to his humility.

And that includes even this part of the story, his baptism by John. John picks up on this apparent incongruity really fast. This is the mighty one of God, His anointed, and he’s coming here to be baptized with all the other sinners? He’s right here with them. John’s reluctance, given what he has been preaching, is understandable, isn’t it? And so he resists the notion that this Jesus should receive his baptism for repentance of sin. He says, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” John is asking the very question many Christians sometime wonder about. Why does this sinless Jesus need to be baptized in repentance of sin?

And Jesus graciously answers the question this way: “[15] Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” He is being baptized for the sake of fulfilling all righteousness. That’s why he must be baptized.

How will Jesus’ baptism fulfill all righteousness? Here’s what I think this means. Like everyone else there by the riverside, Jesus is declaring publicly through baptism that he will live in total obedience to the will of his Heavenly Father. That’s part of repentance. But here is where Jesus’ baptism by John differed from everyone else’s: Jesus did not sin. Nevertheless, he pledged what every sinner would also have pledged at that time – that he would live a life in obedience to God no matter what. We will soon see why this is such tremendously good news for us in our baptisms. Here’s a hint: We fail constantly to be obedient to the will of God, but Jesus never fails to be obedient. And therein lies our hope, because Jesus’ obedience for us overflows and is given to us as a gift in our baptisms. Jesus’ baptism is, therefore, the root of our salvation from God’s just wrath. Jesus’ sacrificial death for us on the cross was only saving by virtue of the fact that he did keep his commitment to be 100% obedient to God’s law for us. His baptism by John was a public testimony that he would do this, and that public testimony was proclaimed, signed, and sealed by the fullness of the Triune God as described next in the story.

This also ties in with what we concluded last week: Our repentance proclaims our dependence to God, specifically, our repentance shows our dependence on the baptism, obedience, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The good news of the gospel for the faithful in Christ is that his baptism overcomes all of the failures we experience in our lives, even after we’re baptized.

The Baptism of Water and Spirit

Jesus steps into the water.
[16] And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; [17] and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
Three things are revealed when Jesus is baptized.

First, the heavens were opened. He is granted unimpeded access to the glory of his heavenly Father. At his crucifixion, the curtain of the temple is torn into two and all have unimpeded view of the Holy of Holies. Jesus blazes ahead in front of us at the moment he was baptized. In baptism, then, we have access to the Father that not even the high priest in the Old Testament had.

Second, the Holy Spirit comes to rest upon him, signifying his anointing as the messiah, the long awaited king. He is, therefore, living out the fulfillment of Isaiah 42:1-4
[42:1] Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. [2] He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; [3] a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. [4] He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law.
Note in that text from Isaiah that the beloved servant/son is not portrayed by the prophet as a mighty conqueror, but one who is gentle and meek. I think that is why the anointing of the Holy Spirit appears as a dove. This servant of God will serve with gentleness and grace. The people of God are called to share the gospel and love their neighbors in the same manner.

Third, a voice from heaven is heard, from the Heavenly Father, declaring his deep, abiding, eternal affection for the Son. “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” He is beloved, precious to the Father, because, with the Holy Spirit, he is eternally begotten from the Father. The Son has always been the beloved of the Father, and here, in Jesus’ baptism, this infinite love is revealed and declared to the whole world, and to each one of you in your baptism.

This account shows us clearly that Jesus is the promised servant and Son of God. And in this reading, he is proclaimed to you as the promised One, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

I started this sermon with several questions. First, why was it necessary that Jesus be baptized? It was necessary for the fulfillment of all righteousness by the beloved Son of God. It was his declaration and commitment to fulfill his mission of living in perfect obedience to the Father.

The good news of the gospel is that the reason Jesus did this was to save lost people like you and me, out of an infinite love that we do not merit, for the sake of the glory of God and his praise and worship.

The second question was: What does the baptism of Jesus have to do with us? And the answer is, everything.

First, Jesus’ baptism transformed the baptism of repentance of John’s ministry into a baptism of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, Jesus commands his disciples to baptize, but this time in the name of the three persons who were present at his baptism, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Second, the reason Jesus commands this baptism is because of what this baptism signifies and accomplishes. Because Jesus did not need forgiveness of sins, our baptism, received at His command, grants to us that which he did not need, total, complete forgiveness of sins. If you are in Christ, you receive the benefits that overflow from His baptism. Similarly, because Jesus is fully God, he grants to those who receive baptism the gifts he already has. His righteousness and obedience are imputed to us not on the basis of any merit in and of ourselves, but by virtue of the fact that he was fully righteous and obedient for us. We are also granted the gift of the Holy Spirit, and retain that gift even into eternal life. If you have been baptized into Christ, the Holy Sprit of God dwells within you. Reflect on that for a moment. The very Holy Spirit dwells with you, if you are in Christ.

Third, because Jesus’ gifts are granted to us in baptism, we receive divine favor instead of divine wrath. When the heavenly Father looks upon those who are in Christ, he is able to say to that person, who lives in Christ, “You are my beloved! And I’m well pleased with you, too!”

These are all astonishing gifts, and we all ought to reflect on these gifts every day, with great joy and thanksgiving. If you are in Christ, you have received the very same gifts given to Jesus at his baptism. Through baptism, you are made co-heirs with the Son of God. That should be the source of awe and wonder in every Christian.

But we so often forget. We are so often bogged down by the burdens of life that we do not ever reflect on the nature of what we already have in Christ. I plead with you, reflect on those gifts. Relish in them. They are yours. They are powerful and empowering. Your heavenly Father has seen fit to grant them to you because you are in His Son. The Holy Spirit is at work in you, right now in the hearing of this Word.

The final question was this: If Jesus’ baptism is relevant to us, how are we to respond? We are to respond by obeying the Jesus’ command in Matthew 28 to baptize others in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Churches are all called upon to perform acts of righteousness for the glory of the Father, and one of the most glorious acts we can perform by the power of the Holy Spirit is the baptism of infants and adults in public worship. We are to share the gospel, the good news, infectiously with our friends and neighbors, so that in the hearing of this news Jesus might draw those who are his into himself. Just as John participated in the baptism of Jesus, Jesus commands us to participate in the announcement of his kingdom to the ends of the earth, baptizing as we go. Churches that do not obey this command will, naturally, cease to be, because they are not living in obedience of the command of their Lord. Beloved, we are called to be a baptizing people. Let’s get with it, for the glory of Christ.

We can do this by grace because in baptism, God declares to the recipient, “You are my beloved child! I am all for you! Now go live life like you believe Me.” Amen.

Given at First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Minnesota
August 28, 2011
22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Copyright © 2011 by Christopher Donald Drew

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