Sermon Matthew 3:13-17
If you remember, in the first seven chapters of Matthew, Jesus relives Israel’s history. Jesus’ history parallels Israel’s history. Pharaoh sought to kill the male babies of Israel; Herod seeks to kill baby Jesus. As God protected the babies of Israel from Pharaoh, God protects Jesus from Herod. As Israel went into Egypt, Jesus goes into Egypt. As Israel was called out of Egypt, Jesus is called out of Egypt. When Israel left Egypt they went through the Red Sea. When Jesus left Egypt he is baptized in the Jordan River. Soon we will see that as Israel went into the desert 40 years, Jesus goes into the desert 40 days.
Matthew is presenting Jesus as the true Israel. Jesus is the true Israel in whom all the OT promises are fulfilled. We will come back to this in a moment, but remember, there is a parallel between Israel going through the Red Sea and Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River.
John was at the Jordan announcing that the king was soon coming to establish his kingdom. John was baptizing the Israelites; his baptism was symbolic of their need for cleansing if they were to be members of God’s kingdom.
When it is time for Jesus to begin establishing this kingdom, the first thing he does is go out to be baptized by John. Jesus’ very first act of his ministry is to receive John’s baptism of repentance.
Now you can understand why John was so dismayed when Jesus requested that John baptize him. John’s baptism was symbolic for the need for cleansing.
When John baptized you, you first confessed your sins. By receiving John’s baptism, you were saying, “I am a sinner who deserves God’s judgment.” Now you can see why John was so horrified when Jesus requested to be baptized.
Jesus, you don’t need this baptism; you are the one who judges sinners, and you came to save sinners. You are not a sinner. You have no need to repent of anything. You are the righteous one. If anything, you should be baptizing me; I am the sinner, not you. I’m the one who needs to repent, not you.
Jesus answers John’s objection; Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting to fulfill all righteousness. Jesus must undergo John’s baptism. But why? What does he mean; he must do this to fulfill all righteousness? There is no command in the Law that said every Israelite must be baptized by John. Jesus didn’t need to be baptized to prove he was righteous.
The answer is; Jesus is not being baptized for himself; he is being baptized for you. This baptism is necessary to fulfill what God requires of you. When the Israelites were baptized, they confessed their sins before they entered the river. Whose sins was Jesus confessing? He was confessing all of your sins.
Jesus was repenting for your sins that would be placed upon him at the cross.
Before Jesus begins to gather his kingdom, he first identifies with his people as a sinner. Before he actively speaks about his kingdom, he passively submits to a symbol that declared him a sinner. It was the only way to fulfill the requirements for you to enter his righteous kingdom.
So at the very beginning of his ministry, Jesus symbolically takes your sins upon himself and repents of them. People of God, here is your Savior, God in the flesh, repenting of every sin you ever have or will commit. Since his heavenly kingdom is a righteous kingdom, he must fulfill all righteousness for his people. He must confess your sins as his own sins, and he must bow before God to receive the judgment sinners deserve.
Yes, Jesus has come to the Jordan to be judged, symbolically for the time being. Now you can see the connection between Jesus’ baptism and Israel in the Red Sea. The Red Sea was a place of judgment. Pharaoh and his armies were judged in the Red Sea. As Egypt went down into the sea of judgment, Jesus goes down into the waters of judgment in our place. When Jesus goes down into the water, the cross is pictured. The water Jesus enters is the water of judgment, just like the Red Sea was the water of judgment for the Egyptians.
And so Jesus begins his earthly ministry by foreshadowing the end of his earthly ministry. If the Lord is going to establish a kingdom of heaven, he must first identify with his people by taking on all their sins, and receiving God’s judgment for them.
But that is not the end of the story, is it? Jesus rises out of the water. The Egyptians did not rise out of the waters. The Egyptians were drowned in God’s judgment. The sinners in Noah’s day did not come out of the flood – they drowned in God’s judgment.
But Jesus rises from the water and is anointed with the Holy Spirit. If going into the water pictured Jesus’ death, what does rising out of the water picture? That’s right, his resurrection. The whole purpose for Jesus’ coming- his death and resurrection, is pictured right here at this baptism.
As Jesus rises from the waters of judgment, we see that our sins that will be placed upon him will be washed away. Your sins that were placed upon him are gone forever.
And what happens when Jesus rises from the water? The heavens open and the Spirit descends upon Jesus like a dove.
I believe we are to see this as a vision that only the Lord and John were privy to. There is no indication that anyone else saw this occur.
Jesus rises from the waters of judgment and immediately the heavens open, and the Spirit descends in the form of a dove. What are we to make of this? Why does the Spirit descend in the form of a dive?
Well, we have to go back to our Old Testaments to find the answer. The Holy Spirit coming in the form of a dove pictures a new creation. Jesus goes into the water as a sinner who dies in judgment, but he rises up as a new creation.
When Jesus rises up, the resurrection is pictured. When Jesus rose from the dead he was glorified in the Spirit. He was declared to be Lord over his new creation. That is what is being pictured here by the Spirit coming upon Christ. Jesus is being declared Lord over his New Kingdom; a kingdom not of this old world.
Think of this declaration in terms of a father handing his kingdom to his son. When a son is crowned as the king, in one sense the son has always been the heir of the kingdom. But at his coronation the father puts the crown on his son’s head and declares him the king.
In the same way, the Father declared at the resurrection that Jesus had finished the work God had given him. As a reward Jesus was given authority over the new creation that he died to secure. At his resurrection Jesus was glorified in the Spirit and appointed as head over his church. “All authority in heaven and earth has been given unto me.”
So the Spirit coming in the form of a dove is a picture of the new creation. Think of the first creation in Genesis 1. In Genesis 1 the Spirit is pictured as a bird hovering over the surface of the waters. The waters were keeping the earth from being habitable for God’s image-bearers. So God separates the waters and dry land appears. The Spirit now can come down and form man from the dust of the ground.
Consider Noah and the flood. After the waters of judgment had closed in over the Old World, Noah sent out a dove to hover over the waters. The dove hovering over the waters in Genesis 8 reminds us of the Spirit hovering over the waters in Genesis 1. Noah’s dove is just like the Spirit at creation, hovering over the waters, looking for dry land for God’s people. So the dove sees signs of land, and as a result Noah and his family make it through the waters of judgment and live in the New World.
Stay with me now. Consider Israel. The waters of the sea rose over Pharaoh and his army, but God came down and led Israel by his Spirit through the judgment waters. The cloud that hovered over Israel was God’s Spirit. Deut. speaks of God coming down as a bird, hovering over his people to lead them through the judgment waters to dry land.
Do you see this theme of new creation? The Holy Spirit hovered as a bird over the first creation until dry land appeared. Noah’s dove hovered over the waters until the dry land of the New World appeared. And the Spirit hovered over Israel, taking her through the waters of judgment to a new land.
Now do you see it? Here at Jesus baptism, as Jesus enters the waters of judgment, the Spirit hovers overhead as a dove. Immediately after Jesus rises from the waters of judgment, the Spirit, in the form of a dove, comes down and rests upon Christ.
Jesus is the way to the new creation. This old creation will pass away in judgment. The only way to be a member of God’s new creation is to be in Christ. Here we see in a vision what Jesus will later say, “I am the resurrection and the life.” Jesus is the only way to the new creation. If you are in Christ you will live in the new creation.
So the baptism of Jesus pictured his death and resurrection. Jesus takes on your sins as his own, and he goes down into the waters of judgment in your place. Because he himself was sinless, your sins that were on him are washed away.
As he rises from judgment he is made a new creation by the Holy Spirit.
Then God speaks. Not only does the Lord give you a picture, he enforces that picture with a declaration from heaven. Both John and the Christ hear a voice from heaven: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” This voice did not come for Jesus’ sake; it came for your sake.
Now we hear with our ears that God the Father was pleased with the death of his son. God’s wrath was fully satisfied in the death of his Son. God is pleased with Christ’s sacrifice on behalf of his people.
Is this not what every man needs to hear, that God is pleased with me? But how can any man hear such words when we are such sinners? Here is the answer. Here is the one who God is pleased with. The Son glorified the Father perfectly on earth, so in heaven God declared of Christ, “this is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.”
Here in this baptismal symbol of Christ’s death and resurrection, you hear the words in advance that you may know that Jesus pleased the Father perfectly as your representative.
These glorious words, therefore, do not only apply to Christ. Christ was not baptized for himself; he was baptized for you. Christ did not go into the waters of judgment for himself; he went for you. Christ did not rise for himself, he rose for you. Christ is your representative before God. The baptism of Jesus is your baptism; it is your story. These words from the Father become words directed to you.
As those who have been united to Christ by faith, when you were justified by faith, the benefits of Christ’s death and resurrection were applied to you. As the waters of the Jordan symbolically washed all those sins off Jesus, God truly washed all your sins away. As Jesus came up as a new creation, you were made members of a new creation. As the Holy Spirit abided on Jesus when he was washed, the Spirit of God came and dwelt inside you when you were washed.
The same words that Jesus heard from the Father now apply to you in Christ. Because of Jesus you are now beloved children of God. When you were justified by faith, it was declared about you; “this is my beloved son, in whom I am well-pleased.”
God was not well pleased because your faith impressed him. He is not well pleased because of the level of your commitment. He is well pleased because he was pleased with the righteousness of your representative; he was pleased with His Son’s death for your sins. That is why God can say about you, “this is my beloved child, in whom I am well pleased.”
As sons of God, we are heirs with Christ of the new creation that will never die. You can never be the same. Your old life was a thing of this old creation. You now have new loyalties, you have new loves, you have new priorities, you have a hope beyond this world, and you have new desires to please the Lord, even as you suffer for God on earth. You can never look at life the way a member of this old creation looks at life.
This is how Jesus chose to begin his ministry. In this first act of his ministry he wanted to demonstrate how he would gather you into his heavenly kingdom. For years he waited in his village of Nazareth. For years he labored quietly with his hands, waiting for just the right time to begin the work his Father sent him to do.
Then he heard that John was baptizing Israelites in a baptism of repentance. Now was the time. My people cannot truly repent of their sins. I must do it for them.
So Jesus leaves his home and seeks John out. He would demonstrate for all his people how he would gather them into his eternal kingdom. He must go and repent of their sins; he must go into the waters of judgment for his people, he must rise to show them that the only way to eternal life is through faith in him.
Jesus told John, permit me to do this, for it is necessary so that my people may be citizens of heaven and sons of God. John understood. John baptized Jesus. John needed Jesus to do this for him. John would live the rest of his days for his Savior, even as his devotion led to his death. As those who have died and risen with Christ, let us now follow Christ no matter how difficult the road, for after we have suffered for a time, we will inherit with Christ the new heavens and earth. Amen