Matthew 3:13-17: What Kind of God gets Baptized?
In just the past few months, 5 children have been brought to this font to be baptized. Each one had water sprinkled onto their foreheads. Each one heard the words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Some cried, some slept, some held their heads over the font themselves with wide eyes watching everything that was going on around them. Some were old enough that they’ll remember exactly what happened for a long time.
But no matter how they reacted, no matter what their experience, for all 5 of those children, it was a baptism they needed. In fact, if you remember the words from that baptism service, it says “we all have a deep need for baptism.” You know Why? Because, in case you didn’t notice, you and I are quite a bit different from our God.
Of course we don’t have his power, his wisdom, his knowledge, but the biggest difference is the most obvious: He’s holy, we’re not. And when he lays his list of commands out before us, and asks “have you kept all these?” Well, let’s just say I would have to stand before my holy God and Gulp. Honor your father and mother, be his proud witness to world with my words and actions, speak up and defend others rather than gossiping about them, love the guy who cuts me off on the interstate rather than yelling at him. Be a faithful and selfless, Christ-like father and husband 100% of the time. I look at the things God wants me to do, and I quickly gulp.
Then I look at all those things God tells me not to do – don’t covet what’s not mine, don’t continuously have a thirst and greed for bigger and better upgrades, don’t get angry and use God’s name in vain, don’t gossip about others behind their back, don’t hold a grudge. I look at these commands and I see that I am anything but a son with whom God is well-pleased. I feel nothing but shame that I ever expected any amount of good things in my life.
David puts it best, “If you, O Lord, kept a record sin, who could stand? Yes, Our need for baptism is as obvious the role we have by nature: sinners in need of forgiveness, and our God who is the epitome of holiness and perfection.
So why would God reverse those roles? Why would God want to give up the greatest thing that sets him apart? What kind of God gets baptized? As I looked at this Gospel this week, that’s the question that kept coming up in my mind. Let’s listen again to those first few verses of today’s Gospel.
13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. 14 But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”15 Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.
This really is an unusual event in the Bible. The setting of the text takes us back out to the wilderness with John the Baptist. Sinners were lined up at that river, one after another. They heard John preaching loud and clear, “Repent and be baptized!” And they were doing just that: confessing, being washed in the Jordan, receiving forgiveness. Exactly what you want to see from Christians!
But then something weird happens here: Jesus shows up. He comes to the same place, to the same person, for the same purpose as all these people, “to be baptized by John,” Matthew says. Now of course John doesn’t agree with this. “Ah Jesus, maybe you’ve been walking through the wilderness a bit too long. I’m the one who needs to be baptized by you! I’m the sinner, you’re the perfect Savior!”
Understand that what Jesus is asking of John, goes against everything John had been preaching. John proclaimed Jesus would baptize all these people with the Holy Spirit and with fire. But now Jesus walks down to the Jordan, not as the powerful God who would fulfill that, but as a humble man asking to receive John’s baptism…which is for what again? Repentance, conversion from unbelief to faith, entrance into the family of God.
Do you see the issue here? Naturally those gathered at the river would have been asking: “What did he just say? Does Jesus need to repent too? Does Jesus need to be converted? Is God himself among the lost sheep? Is this really the true God who has come to take away our sin and the sin of the rest of the world and if so, What kind of God gets baptized?”
I want to turn you back to today’s second lesson for a moment, because it holds some of that answer. Peter says in acts 10, You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. Do you remember what Peter pointed to as proof of that peace with God for all believers? Jesus’ baptism. He pointed to the peace that is found in the fact that Jesus was baptized.
Now when was the last time you thought of Jesus’ baptism in that way? Or put it this way, when was the last time you came across someone who was hurting and said, “It’ll be ok, because Jesus was baptized”? We don’t hear that very often, do we? In fact, you too may still be wondering today why Jesus was baptized at all. Well John was in the same confused state of mind. But look how Jesus responds: “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this, it is proper for me, the Savior of the world to be baptized by a sinner, to fulfill all righteousness.”
Jesus’ baptism is an awesome picture of how Jesus will save his people from their sins! God himself, came down to the Jordan river that day and be baptized, to stand in your place. Jesus’ baptism identified him with a world of sinners. In better words: “God made him who had no sin, to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
Obviously, Jesus didn’t need his sin washed away. No, this was God’s way of presenting his perfect son as a legitimate substitute for mankind. He was born the natural way, He grew up like humans do, He had to follow God’s law, and He got baptized. The divine took on the essence of His own creation and became the thing that He hates most: sin. You talk about a role reversal. He put himself in your shoes in that river. Which means he was about to experience every difficulty you do and then much much more.
Dear Christians, to fully understand this, just put yourself down at that river that day. If you asked Jesus, “Lord, why are you here, why are you being baptized?” He could have looked you in the eye and gave you a few reasons: “I’m putting on your shoes.” He might have said, “And because of that my life is about to get a whole lot harder. My family is about to walk out on me. Satan’s about to dig in really hard against me, throwing every temptation he can at me. I’m going to help a lot of people, but 9 out of ten won’t even say thanks, and the good that is recognized will only fill some people with a lot of jealousy; so much so that they will work late into many nights thinking of horrible ways to get rid of me, people who will eventually rip to shreds this same skin that today feels the waters of my baptism. I am about to suffer hell for sins I will not be guilty of committing and cry out to the God I believe in and receive nothing – no answer, no help – from him. Today I’m being baptized,” Jesus would say, “to show you that I’m standing in your place, to show you that I know how hard your life is, to show you that I am willing to experience that and far far more, to take you home with me.”
Christians, Jesus baptism is God’s role reversal in plain sight. It’s our Savior willingly taking on our weaknesses, infirmities and pain. It’s the time in his life when even he would experience and know how hard it sometimes is to fear God when the valley you’re walking in is too deep, when the pain is too real, when the sky is too dark. Jesus knows how you feel.
And there’s one thing he wants you to know as you go through life and suffer through many of the same things. He wants you to see him standing right next to you in the waters of your baptism, determined to never leave your side, no matter how often you have left his, no matter how weak your faith sometimes is. And he’s standing so close that God can’t tell the difference between your life and his. What kind of God gets baptized? The kind of God who’s willing to step into your shoes.
In our first lesson today, Isaiah said of Jesus, “A bruised reed he will not break,” If you’ve ever held a bruised reed or maybe something like a flower stem that’s been damaged, you know how fragile it is. It’s weak, and on the verge of no longer being held together.
That’s accurate of us at times isn’t it? There are times in life when we feel weak and bruised. When our faith is on the verge of extinction. When we feel like we’re going to snap in half if we have to endure any more pain. Jesus was baptized for those times – to show you that he has kept a promise that you will not end up broken. That you have a brother who is standing with you in the river of baptism, a brother whose life, death, and resurrection you have been baptized into.
When Jesus was baptized by John, he stood in your place. This is the kind of God you have. A God who put on your skin, to take the punishment you deserved. A God who washes and adopts you right here. A God who graciously brings you into his family. A God who proudly declares, you are my sons, you are my daughters, you are my children, whom I love, with you I am well pleased. That’s the kind of God we so desperately needed. And that’s the kind of God we have. Jesus’ baptism shows us that.