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Baptism: John's, Jesus', and Ours

January 8, 2023 |Baptism| Matthew 3:13-17

JD Cutler

In the Christian church calendar the liturgical year begins with Advent where we focus on anticipating his return and reflect on the period before he came the first time, then comes Christmas, where we celebrate and reflect on his arrival as well as it’s implications, and after that the season we call Epiphany.

Epiphany celebrates the revelation that Jesus is God incarnate and lasts until the liturgical season of Lent.

In the Western church this season is marked by remembering the wise men’s visit to child Jesus and thus his revelation to the gentile world as well as the Hebrew world in the announcement of the magi to Herod’s court that the king of the Jews had been born.

One of the foundational aspects of this season is his baptism by John the Baptist where God the Father speaks, God the Holy Spirit descends, and God the Son begins his earthly ministry.

The importance of this event is hard to overstate, both what it teaches us about Jesus and his mission as well as how it informs our own lives as baptized believers.

It is to that event that we turn our attention to this morning. Open your bibles to Matthew 3 at verse 13.

Let’s begin by looking at…

The Baptism of John

Matthew 3:13-14 (ESV) 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?”

During the second week of advent we looked at verse 1-12 under the title Prepare The Way. We looked at the topic of repentance which was central to John the Baptist’s message and ministry. To catch us up to the context of this event, I will remind you that Jesus was living in Nazareth, he was about 30 years old when John the Baptist began his ministry in the wilderness.

His message- Matthew 3:2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

His method- Matthew 3:6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan

His ministry- Matthew 3:11-12 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

John the baptist is described as a rough and wild prophet after the pattern of Elijah. Dressed in skins and a leather belt, living off the land by eating wild honey and locusts. We know from the gospel of Luke that they were distantly related on their mother’s side, but did not grow up together and there is no other mention of them together until this moment.

John the Baptist was given his mission by God who called him to prepare the way for Jesus to be revealed to Israel by calling the nation to repent with a public response of baptism as a sign of that repentance and preparation for the coming king and kingdom. We find out in John’s gospel that God gave him a sign to look for. There would be one who he saw the Spirit descend and remain on, that was he who was not only the son of God, but he who would baptize with the Holy Spirit.

As we can see, his baptism is different from what we talk about today when we talk about baptism, but it is important to understand his baptism before we move on.

During a time where God had been silent for some 400 years, during a time where the temple was being rebuilt, but the Jewish people’s hearts were far from God, during a time where rather than being a light to the gentiles, the Jewish leaders had completely separated themselves from Gentiles, during a time where the people though that just their lineage was enough to make them right with God, John appears in the wilderness calling all of Israel to repent. To turn from their ways and turn to God.

His baptism was a new thing.

Up until this point, baptism, or ritual immersion was not regularly practiced by the Jews. There were some sects of Judaism that practiced it for cleansing, but by and large it was reserved for those Gentiles who wanted to convert to Judaism, and therefore unnecessary for Jews. This is why the Pharisees came to investigate what was happening, it is also why they asked him why he was baptizing in the first place. They didn’t understand. John’s answer was that they should not rely on their lineage to be right with God, but to repent and show evidence of that repentance by how they lived their lives.

His baptism was to prepare the people for Jesus’ arrival and ministry.

(Reformed Expository Commentary (28 Vols.) - REC) So John’s baptism represented repentance, cleansing, and faithfulness to God.

One day, Jesus arrives and after John has baptized the people, he steps into the water to be baptized by John. Although it would appear at this time, he doesn’t know Jesus is the one who he has come to prepare the way for, he recognizes that Jesus doesn’t need to be baptized, which is an incredible testimony in and of itself.

He says, ‘if anything, you need to baptize me!’ He recognized that Jesus did not need to turn away from any false sense of security, that Jesus did not need to repent and therefore did not need to participate in John’s baptism.

Here is where we are, Jesus and John in the Jordan river, John is protesting baptizing Jesus.

Now, having examined the context of the baptism of John, we have come to this moment of tension between Jesus and John, let us move to the act itself…

The Baptism of Jesus

Matthew 3:15-17 (ESV) 15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 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.”

Having looked at John’s refusal, let’s look at Jesus’ rebuttal. Notice first and foremost, he does not contradict John. He doesn’t so, no John, I need to repent and be baptized, he doesn’t agree with John at all, he simply says, let it be so now.

Essentially, even though you are right, at this moment, because my time of baptism with fire and the Spirit are not yet, allow this to happen.

Why? Jesus says for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.

There is debate on exactly what Jesus means here, but there seems to be at least a few reasons why Jesus says this.

1)By being baptized for repentance, he is identifying with the nation of Israel, as true Israel, as the true son of God, he steps into the waters of the Jordan to symbolize his mission to not only identify with sinners but to stand in their place as the righteous one. This is part of his intercession on behalf of men and women where he stands in their place, which would ultimately be finished when he who knew no sin became sin so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

2)By being baptized, he sets a model for his followers that he will later use when he commands them to baptize converts in his name, thus identifying them with his own righteousness. And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

3)By being baptized, he displays a perfect picture of what he has come to do with his death, burial, and resurrection and his offer of righteousness to all those that believe. This picture is easy to see, as one is lowered into the water, they are buried, having died to themselves and to sin, and as they rise out of the water, they have been cleansed and brought to new life.

Having been obedient to the Father’s will, when he is baptized we have a record of this beautiful interaction between the triune Godhead.

God the Son obeys, God the Spirit descends and rests on him, and God the Father speaks.

As Jesus comes up out of the water, Jesus is revealed to be the obedient son of God, set apart by the anointing of the Holy Spirit to fulfill his mission of redeeming and reconciling mankind.

The Reformed Expository Commentary says it well when it says ‘This statement completes the first phase of the revelation of the identity of Jesus. Matthew has already said he is the Son of David and the son of Abraham (1:1). He was conceived by the Holy Spirit. He is Immanuel and he will save his people from their sins (1:20–23). Now we also know he is the unique and beloved Son of God.’

This is the culmination of his preparation and the beginning of his public ministry. In just three short years, he will finish his ministry by going through what his baptism in the Jordan by John so perfectly pictures. He will give his life on a Roman cross, be buried, and rise again to be the firstborn of the resurrection, securing forgiveness and salvation for mankind.

This is the beauty of the baptism of Jesus. Having made our way through our text, there remains a question. What is baptism for now then?

If John’s baptism was a transitory baptism marking the end of the old covenant and the beginning of the new covenant, to call Israel to repentance, and if Jesus’ baptism was the start of his public ministry, his identification with believers, in obedience to the will of God, and unrepeatable, what does baptism mean today?

Let us give our attention in this final division to…

The Baptism of Believers

In the same way John changed what baptism was for the Jews, Jesus changed what baptism is for his people. No longer is it a ceremonial washing, no longer is it just a sign of repentance and faith in God, but it is also a declaration of the believer’s own spiritual death of self, burial of their old life, and being raised in new life. It is an outward indication of our identification with the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ.

One of the things we often say when we baptize is that it is an outward and visible sign of an inward spiritual reality.

Make no mistake, the baptism that saves is not water baptism, the baptism of the Spirit that Jesus made possible with his death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and subsequent pouring out of the Holy Spirit.

However, water baptism is an outward sign of that and for the first century church there was no separation of spiritual baptism and water baptism. The response to being saved by grace through faith was to be immediately water baptized as an outward sign and seal of your new life in Christ.

Some may rightly ask then.

Is it possible to be water baptized without being saved? Of course it is.

Is it possible to be saved and not water baptized? Of course it is.

But when we talk about baptism in the biblical sense it encompasses both, the actual and the representative. So we do it an injustice when we try to separate them too far from one another. This is another reason we reject infant baptism as a biblically correct mode of baptism. There is no spiritual reality to reflect in baptism for someone who has not yet been born again.

This morning, I want to share two passages from Paul concerning baptism. In both places he uses the terminology baptized into Christ.

Galatians 3:25-29 (ESV) 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise.

Now this is interesting because it takes us back to what John condemned the Pharisees for. They thought by their lineage they were heirs to the promise, but here Paul says, the reality is that Christ is the heir and the only way to participate in those promises is to be in Christ. If we are in Christ, it is by faith no matter what our lineage, social states, or gender. That is there is only one way to God and it is through Christ. Then he immediately goes from faith to being baptized. Remember, think both Spirit baptism (the act of God putting us in Christ) and water baptism (our response declaring that truth). He says, as many as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

Paul says, don’t you know that when you were baptized it wasn’t just a cleansing from sin, but rather you were baptized into Christ, the promised seed of Abraham, you belong to him. Your life is now hidden in him.

The second scripture is Romans 6.

Romans 6:3-4 (ESV) 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

Here Paul is reminding them that their water baptism symbolizes a spiritual baptism by which they are not only in Christ, but that for all intents and purposes they buried their old life and just as Christ was raised to new life, they too have been raised to walk in newness of life.

In an article titled, ‘have we undervalued baptism’, the author makes the point that the Apostle Paul, in dealing with the false argument that since God’s grace is greater than sin, we can keep on sinning, he points back to their baptism as a reminder that they are baptized people who should be living baptized lives.

For Paul the symbol and the reality were intertwined and they were not just one time events but realities that changed who they were and therefore how they lived.

The author goes on to share this wonderful insight.

“We are meant to be able to remind one another that we are baptized people: people under the protection of Christ, people whose sin has been washed away, people who have risen to a new life and a new hope. Christ gave us baptism as a comfort in life and death.” - Tim Chester

This is one of the reasons baptism is performed in front of the church in an assembled time of worship and not just in bathtubs and pools.

I have often said, as one of my mentors did, there is nothing special about the baptismal waters. They did not save you, there is nothing special about who baptizes you, in the sense that they did not save you. But what I once did not see, that I see now, is that there is something special about where you are baptized.

If baptism is an outward testimony of an inward change as well as a testimony of being united to Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, and if we who are baptized now belong to one another as co-heirs and family members, then the only logical place to be baptized is gathered together with the church.

This is one of the reasons why baptism is a prerequisite for membership at our church. We are called by scripture to hold each other accountable, to help identify sin when it creeps into a brother or sister’s life, we are called to exhort and encourage one another as brothers and sisters in Christ, and that begins at baptism, when we stand before the church and declare that we have placed our faith in Jesus Christ for salvation and we have been baptized by the Holy Spirit and have been raised to new life. That is the moment we should point each be able to point one other back to. When we are experiencing struggles with sin, struggles with identity, struggles with living holy lives.

Didn’t you declare your allegiance to Christ?

Didn’t you proclaim that you had been born again in Christ?

Don’t you know that you are the Lord’s and he has already secured the victory over sin?

Don’t you remember that you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and placed into Christ?

These questions take us back not to a private confession but a public one where we stood before brothers and sisters and declared our salvation in and through Christ as a reality.

These questions take us back not to a private confession but a public one where we stood before brothers and sisters and declared our salvation in and through Christ as a reality.

We have looked at John the Baptist’s baptism that Jesus submitted to, and in doing so gave new meaning and depth to the practice, and then that same Jesus commanded his disciples to baptize those who believe in the name of the Father, the son, and the Holy Spirit.

We have seen that the practice of believer's baptism is no empty ritual or practice, but one overflowing with symbolism and meaning, and that it is an ordinance that rightly takes place after someone is baptized in the Holy Spirit because of their faith and trust in Jesus Christ, his death, burial, and resurrection.

As we close, I want to address a few different people that may be reading this.

Maybe you have never come to Jesus for salvation. The gospel could not be clearer than is represented in Jesus’ baptism. The sinless son of God standing in your place, beginning at his baptism and ending on Calvary’s cross. In his death he paid the price for your sin and in his resurrection showed not only that his sacrifice was accepted but that he is the new and living way to be reconciled to God.

Maybe you have come to Jesus, you have been saved and therefore baptized in the Holy Spirit, but you have never submitted to the ordinance of believer’s baptism. I pray that you see not only the value but the necessity of taking that step today.

Maybe you have been baptized, but you need to be reminded of what happened to you. You have died to your old life, you have been forgiven, cleansed, indwelt by the Spirit and given a new heart. You have been born again and your life ought to reflect that reality.

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