Scripture: Matthew 3:1–3:17
Have you ever wondered why Jesus got baptized?
Because if Baptism is really just a symbol of our profession of faith in Jesus Christ and a symbolic washing of our sins, then it doesn’t make sense that Jesus – the messiah, the redeemer, the King of kings and the Lord of lords, the most holy and the most pure . . . the son of God - would get baptized.
It doesn’t make any sense, does it? Unless, of course, there is more to baptism than what makes sense to us.
Let us just for a few moments step back in time. Read Matthew 3:1-6
Here is John the Baptist, this rugged, unkept, smelly and dirty, bug eating prophet, is standing in middle of the Jordan River shouting “Repent for the kingdom of heaving is near”. And it says that, the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him . . . I’m sure they did . . . Here is this strange man that was shouting “repent”
We’ve seen those people; holding up those signs “repent for the kingdom of heaven is near” but nobody really listens to those people. If we stop to listen it is more to mock – or because it’s a free show.
But we cannot read this narrative from our context; we must understand the context in which John is preaching.
These were Jews who consistently practiced ritual cleansing for the purpose of purification and consecration. In fact, many would have experienced ritual cleansing at least once a year around what is known to us as Rosh-hash-ana - the Jewish new year. Our Jewish friends celebrated Rosh-hash-ana this past week.
Rash-hash-ana is a time that the people of God renew their covenant with God. It is a time to review the mistakes they had made in their life over the past year and to resolve or make improvements for the coming year.
The ultimate goal is that God would not judge them for their sins and impede punishment upon them but rather forgive them for their sins and bless them in the coming year. There are a lot of symbolic things that happen during this time but one of those things revolves around cleansing water. It is symbolic of “out with the old and in with the new” through cleansing.. Like new years resolutions.
Now, High Priests would always begin this time with their own baptism on behalf of the people. They represent the people of God renewing their covenant with God because they are the only ones who can go on behalf of God’s people. They are baptized so that God will bless His people.
And their baptism is always followed by 40 days of quite reflection and contemplation. At the end of the forty days – the high priest can begin their ministry with the people. They have a fresh slate – “out with the old and in with the new”
So with this understanding, let’s go back to our narrative.
Here is John in the middle of the river shouting “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand”. It is probably Rahs-hash-ana and he is telling the people “get right with God – confess your sins and be cleansed” So, this isn’t all that unusual but he is saying something new and radical as well
Read Matthew 3:11-12
That is some powerful stuff . . . baptism by fire. He is saying “the people of God need to get right with God because judgment is coming.” And in the midst of preaching these words, Jesus shows up and begins to make his way into the waters to be baptized and immediately John recognized that he is in the presence of the messiah, the redeemer, the king of kings and the lord of lords, the most holy and the most pure - and he asks the same question that we ask . . .
Why are you getting baptized?
And Jesus says these words . . . “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.”
With these words, Jesus was obeying the call of God and He identifies himself as the high priest who is coming on behalf of the people – to be blessed by God and to mark the beginning of his ministry with the people and ultimately to fulfill all righteousness.
And listen what happens next . . . Read 3:16-17
Can you image this . . . the skies open and the spirit of God descending upon Jesus.
And Jesus is not only being blessed by God – as the high priests were blessed – he is proclaiming Jesus to be the Son of God.
And with this, Jesus has taken on the sinful condition of the people and is set on the course to not only be the great high priest but also the ultimate sacrifice for the impeding fire that was coming because only something that was pure and blameless could be offered before God.
Paul describes this best in 2 Cor. 5:21: "He who knew no sin became sin for us in order that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (II Cor. 5:21).
And those who put their faith in Jesus will be saved.
If you were to continue the narrative of Jesus’ baptism, you would see that Jesus is immediately led to the wilderness by the Spirit for forty days – just as the high priests did – and there he would be tempted by Satan – just as you and I are in our faith journey - but he overcomes temptation and renews his covenant with God and is obedient to his calling – a call to be a servant, a call to become flesh and blood and to dwell with his brothers and sisters, and a call which would lead him to the cross for the forgiveness of sins for those who believe in him.
You see, because of Jesus, baptism becomes more than a ritualistic cleansing; it is more than a symbolic identification. It is the mark of the beginning of a journey in which God’s presence is in your life. It becomes the call to be right with God – to repent for the kingdom of God is at hand and it is a call to begin serving God with a newness in your heart – “out with the old and in with the new.
And tonight, one more will enter the waters of baptism. As we celebrate this new beginning may it remind you of your commitment to follow the call of God and to renew your covenant.
If you have never professed your faith in Jesus Christ, we invite you tonight to make that decision. It is the most important, life changing, decision you will ever make.