A sermon preached on Matthew 3:13-17 by the Rev. Justin Clemente at New Creation Church (Anglican), Hagerstown, MD on January 12, 2020, Baptism of Christ Sunday.
A Moment You Need to Hear About!
Excluding Jesus’ death and resurrection, if you were to list out the “top five” most important moments of Jesus’ life, what would they be? What moments would be so utterly packed with meaning that you would need to come back to them again and again? In its worship, our Church, has wisely recognized that the Baptism of Jesus must be one of those moments. As he steps onto the scene, it literally drips off the page with importance (you like that?), telling us exactly what we need to know about this Jesus. So, when is the last you paused to consider the meaning of Jesus’ Baptism and its meaning for you? As we begin Epiphany 2020, we gather ‘round this great event and pause again to ponder its power and promise. Jesus’ baptism is…
I. His Revealing (v. 13)
This is Jesus’ moment! And with him we move from the obscurity of the Incarnation to the public revealing and manifestation of Jesus in his ministry. Again, this moment is given to us in the Scriptures to define for us who Jesus is and what he has come to do. This sense of revealing is reflected even in very way Matthew writes his Gospel. Verse 13 tells us plainly, “Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan” – literally, “then Jesus did appear from Galilee.” Get this – Jesus’ name hasn’t even been spoken in Matthew’s Gospel since the Magi came to see him. But now, the One whom John prophesied about has arrived on the scene. What will he do?
II. Not Needed by Him (vs. 14-15)
As Jesus “appears,” what’s the first order of business? What’s on his mind? To take on something that doesn’t belong to him. That should a massive clue where things are headed – this is the reason he has come. Jeffrey Gibbs writes,“[John] has proclaimed that Jesus comes in power, bringing end-time salvation and judgment – a Jesus so superior to and mightier than John himself that the Baptizer is not worthy to perform the most menial service for this Jesus (3:11). Yet now Jesus has come to John, not displaying his power or his incomparably higher status, but in lowliness, to be baptized by John. In light of John’s own preaching, his incredulous words to this lowly kind of Christ are reasonable in every sense of that term: “I myself have need to be baptized by you, and you yourself are coming to me?” (Matthew 1:1-11:1 by Jeffrey Gibbs, pg. 178)
Matthew writes and tells us that as the people of Israel were being baptized, they we confessing what? Their sin. Jesus then comes and does what? Get the picture – stands with them in their sin and in their place by receiving John’s baptism. Our lives, who we are in ourselves, in our need, and in our sin are a given. But, “Christ, however,” writes Helmut Thielicke, “…is asked whether he will be who he is. For him humanity is the content of a resolve, namely, of readiness for self-emptying. As the hymn in Philippians 2 puts it: “He emptied himself, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him’ (vv. 7ff.). The depth of his humanity is his dignity. For he was not thrown into it; it was chosen by him.” (Evangelical Theology Vol. 2, pg. 368) Underline, highlight, mark and remember this: the heart of Jesus’ baptism is his resolve to sacrifice himself, revealing the heart of God in his willingness to be enthroned on the Cross for the sins of the world.
III. Witnessed to by the Spirit & Father (the Trinity) for Our Sake (vs. 16-17)
Lastly, Jesus’ baptism is witnessed and accepted by the very Spirit of God and God the Father for our sake. You could say it this way: Jesus, in accepting to do what only he can do, makes it possible for each one who will receive him, to receive the very same Spirit and hear the very same words spoken by God the Father. Let me unpack that a little bit.
First, the Spirit of God rests upon Jesus like a dove. What does that remind you of? Genesis 1! Remember how the Spirit of God hovered over the creation, bringing order out of chaos? Now Jesus seeks to inaugurate a new creation – and by faith in him and the promises of our baptism, we have assurance that we are and will be part of his new creation.
Secondly, God the Father speaks and says, literally, “this one is my beloved Son.” Jesus is the one beloved son who has come to bring back the wayward sons (and daughters). These words, which only Jesus could rightfully have said of him, are now spoken to all his adopted sons and daughters. So not only does Christ exchange his place for ours, through him our place is exchanged for his! This is the Great Exchange of the Gospel. And sometimes it’s the hardest truth to believe in all of Christianity, isn’t it? That’s Christ’s words from the Father are now our own because of him! I come back to J.C. Ryle’s powerful sentiments here: “There is a rich mine of comfort, in those words of the Father, for all Christ’s believing members. In themselves, and in their own doings, they see nothing to please God. They are daily sensible of weakness, shortcoming, and imperfection in all their ways. But let them recollect that the Father regards them as members of His beloved Son Jesus Christ. He sees no spot in them. … He beholds them as “in Christ,” clothed in His righteousness, and invested with His merit. They are “accepted in the Beloved,” and when the holy eye of God looks at them, He is “well pleased.” (Expository Thoughts on the Gospels, Mark 1:9-20)
I’ll finish with Robert Webber’s thoughts on the baptism of Christ for us: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). When we are able to confess these words in our hearts and express them on our lips and in our lives, the baptism of Jesus is no longer a thing outside of our experience but a vital and living expression of an Epiphany spirituality we own. For the Spirit who came upon him and said, “This is my beloved Son” (Matt. 3:17), has come upon us and claims us as a child of God, a member of the community for whom Jesus was baptized.” (Ancient-Future Time-Future Time by Robert Webber, pgs. 82-83)
And so we give all praise, worship, glory, and honor to the God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Amen.