Sermon on Matthew 3:13-17
Text: 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.
16 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 lighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”
Baptism is a very special event in our lives. While most here would not remember their own baptisms, because they were infants at the time, yet it stands as a very important day in our lives. It marks the day when the Holy Spirit created faith in our hearts. It was the day when we were adopted into the family of God. Today, we focus our attention on another baptism, that of Jesus, and we will note its importance for our salvation. As we look at this event, we note NOW IS THE ACCEPTED TIME. 1. The Son Accepts The Work Of Atonement. 2. The Father Accepts The Works Of Atonement. The word “atonement” means a bringing together into harmony those who were separated or enemies. It means to make two parties at one with each other.
Our text begins with the word “then.” If you read the Gospel of Matthew, you will find that word quite a number of times, 142 to be exact. What difference does that make? It shows that Matthew is very interested in when things took place. He notes when the time for certain events has arrived. Now he takes note of a special event, not only in Christ’s life, but also in the salvation of the world.
We read in verse 13, “Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John.” The entire purpose of Jesus’ journey was so that he would be baptized by John. We know that baptism is a sacrament by which God washes away sin. John earlier spoke of the fact that he baptized “with water for repentance.” But, why was Jesus baptized? He had no need for forgiveness, because he had no sin.
Apparently, John was faced with that same question. In verse 14, we read, “John tried to deter him.” When we read those words, we might think of John asking the question, “Are you sure?” once or twice. But, the Greek verb shows us that it was a continuing discussion, perhaps even bordering on an argument. All of his emotions and actions were marshaled to convince Jesus that he didn’t need to be baptized. No doubt that John’s speech was impassioned at the time.
The Holy Spirit has preserved for us the key point of protest for John. He said, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” John, in speaking of the coming Messiah had said, “After me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry.” John knew his place in salvation history. He was to prepare the people for the Lord’s coming. Now here was the Christ asking John to baptize him. No wonder John could hardly have imagined a more shocking turn of events.
As we listen to Jesus’ reply to John’s argument, we hear him tell John that it was OK and gave an explanation why he should do this. He begins by saying, “Let it be so now.” These words express a greater power. It would be like an officer giving his men an order. This is what they are supposed to do. With these words, Jesus tells John that he wasn’t exaggerating when he said that the one coming after him would be greater. The Messiah was still in charge.
By way of explanation, Jesus said, “It is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” This was to be done to fulfill all righteousness. Note that Jesus didn’t disagree with John about the fact that Jesus didn’t need to be baptized. However, Jesus told John to do so anyway. Again, the reason was to “fulfill all righteousness.” This is not to say that this baptism was a legal requirement of the 10 Commandments, because baptism is gospel, not law. However, this is something the Father wanted the Son to do. Jesus, in perfect obedience to his Father, did as his Father wished. When John heard this, he consented. Since this is what God wanted done, he would do it.
As soon as Jesus was baptized and stepped out of the Jordan River, a wondrous sight met the eyes of those present. We read in verse 16, “At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him.” The Holy Spirit came upon Jesus, giving him the special gifts that he would need to carry out the responsibilities of his office as the Messiah. The word “Messiah” or the Greek equivalent “Christ” means “Anointed One.” In Old Testament times a person was set aside for the offices of prophet, priest or king by having a sweet-smelling oil poured upon them. Jesus is The Christ, but he didn’t enter that office by means of sweet-smelling oil pouring down on his head. Rather, as Peter said in Acts 10:38, “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power.” When Jesus received this anointing, he took on his offices of prophet, priest and king. He served as a prophet by telling the people God’s Word. He continues to fulfill that office as he makes sure that his Word is spread to the four corners of the earth. He served as a priest in offering up a sacrifice. The sacrifice he offered up was nothing less than his own life, so that you and I would be set free. He served and serves as king as he rules in our hearts through his Word. Jesus is the Christ, the Anointed One, the one promised to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.
In addition, those present also heard something. “[A] voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” The Father lends his voice in testimony to whom Jesus was. This man coming out of the water was no one less than God’s own Son. The world was to know that Jesus of Nazareth has divine authority to carry out his office.
We take special note of the words, “whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” We might be tempted to dismiss these words as being obvious. Of course a father would love his son. However, these words go deeper than that. This is the holy God who is speaking. Since he is holy, he cannot stand anything that is not perfect. So, for him to say that he loves his Son, that he was well pleased with him, assures us of the fact that Jesus was holy, that he was perfect. The reason that we take note of this is the fact that the years between Jesus’ birth and his baptism are practically silent. We know of the visit of the wise men and the flight to Egypt. From Luke’s Gospel we find an isolated event as the twelve-year-old Jesus went with Mary and Joseph to the Passover in Jerusalem. Beyond that, however, there is nothing. With the words of the Father here, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased,” we learn that what exactly happened during those thirty years was not important. All we need to know is that Jesus was perfect, sinless during that time.
Because of that, we can be assured that Jesus is our Savior. God demands perfection. He demands that of all people. He says very clearly, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” God tells that to you and me. However, the truth of the matter is that we are anything but perfect. Any little angry word that escapes from our lips, and vengeful thought that we entertain, if only for a moment, means that we are not perfect. Even if we were able to keep God’s demands perfectly and only mess up once, that’s not good enough. We read in the book of James 2:10, “whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.” 99% is still not perfect. Yet, that is what God demands of us, if we are to enter eternal life. Where that perfection is not found, God has threatened to throw them into the fires of hell for all eternity. God does not make idle threats.
That is why we want to take special note of the events of our text. Where God demanded perfection and we could not provide it, Jesus stepped into human history. He provided the perfection that God demands. Everything he did was “to fulfill all righteousness.” All of God’s demands were fulfilled in him. We know that the Father accepted his Son’s work on our behalf. “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” were the words spoken at Jesus’ baptism. God further showed his approval of Christ’s work in the resurrection. That was God’s seal of approval on everything Jesus had done. The Son accepted the work of atonement. The Father accepted the worker of atonement.
We benefit from hearing events like this, as the Father spoke of his approval of his Son. Just a few weeks ago, we celebrated our Savior’s birth. Sometimes we may become guilty of over sentimentalizing what happened on that day. We focus too much attention on the lowly circumstances of his birth. Today we are reminded who that little baby was. He was nothing less than the Son of God. As we begin this Epiphany season, we will be reminded again and again of the fact that Jesus was the Son of God. We will see this in the things that were written about him and by the things that he did. We do this in preparation of Lent, where we will see the Son of God suffer and die as our Savior. We keep that as our central thought this Epiphany season. Jesus Christ, Son of God and son of Mary, came to the earth so that I might be saved. He came to bring peace between God and man. May we be moved to live lives that give glory to him. Amen.
St. John's & Zion Lutheran Churches ©2023 All rights reserved.