Behold the King | Matthew 3.13-17
Topic: New Testament Passage: Matthew 3:13–3:17
If you have your Bibles, and I really hope you do, I invite you to turn to our text today in Matthew 3:13-17.
When we last heard about Jesus in Matthew 2 weeks ago, he was a toddler. We’ve fast forwarded some 27 years of his life, which Matthew says nothing about and the other gospels say very little, and we find ourselves in the 2nd half of chapter 3. Last week, in the first part of chapter 3, Chris preached on John the Baptist’s calling sinful Israel to repent and be baptized in preparation for the coming King. That’s where our text picks up today:
Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16 And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; 17 and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
BACKGROUND – SETTING
Here in Matthew 3, we’re reading about the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. As we’ll see in the weeks to follow, this event right here sets the tone and trajectory for the whole rest of Matthew’s gospel and foreshadows the kind of person we can expect Jesus to be. We already saw in the previous 2 chapters the stunningly unregal, undignified, poor, treacherous conditions Jesus was born into. There were hints in those accounts of the kind of life Jesus was to lead. But he was barely a child and those were circumstances out of his control. What would he be like when he grew up and became a man and exercised his own will and made his own decisions? Would he be loud and ostentatious--the center of attention? Would he expect others to wait on him, the Son of God?
Carly and I have 2 sons right now and are trying to adopt a 3 or 4th. Ethan and Caleb are 8 and 6 respectively. I’m amazed every week as they grow up before my eyes and I see more and more of their character and personality come out. With the way that God has wired them and knowing what my prayers are for them, I have a vague sense of what kind of men and husbands and fathers they’ll be, but there’s plenty that’s still a mystery. The road of life is very much open before them.
As Matthew turns the narrative away from John and back to Jesus who’s now an adult, he uses a couple of details to make it clear to the reader and hearer this God-man is a person of unmatched humility and grace.
That first detail is that Jesus came to John from the region of Galilee. Mark 1:9 explicitly says not just anywhere in Galilee, but Nazareth, the tiny town that his parents settled in when he was a toddler. Nathanial wryly remarks in chapter 1 of Johns gospel “can anything good come out of Nazareth”. It’s a backwater, off the beaten path sort of place. Kings on their path to ascend to the throne don’t come from places like Nazareth.
But it’s not just where Jesus has come FROM that marks his humility, it’s where he’s come TO. Jesus is taking a lot of risk with how the public will perceive him being baptized by John with all these other sinful people around. It looks like he’s there to confess sin like everyone else. What if he’s misunderstood? What if they think he’s just as broken and warped as they are? If He wants to gain their trust as Messiah and the Son of God, this isn’t a wise way to start off.
And it’s not just his identification with the people of Israel in this baptism of repentance that shows us this is no ordinary king, it’s where he’s about to get baptized – the Jordan River. Not only is this a fairly dirty river, not the sort of place you’d want to take a dip in. But what’s more, it’s also the river that feeds the lowest spot on the face of the earth - the Dead Sea, which is roughly 1300 ft below sea level. In God’s comical and cosmic providence, his Son whose life is already marked by lowliness, has come to be baptized in a river named the Jordan, which means “The Descender”. How else do you describe the life of King Jesus, from His incarnation to his crucifixion other than one long descent into our broken, sinful world.
BAPTISM OF JESUS - 1 EXPLICIT REASON
John’s baptism, as Chris preached last week was one of calling sinners to repent in preparation for the coming King. So why is Jesus coming to be baptized? He has no sin to repent. Let’s unpack this.
In the prior verses John just spent a lengthy amount of time railing against the Pharisees and Saducees, basically telling them that they weren’t worthy of his baptism. But here he rightly tries to stop Jesus, his cousin, from receiving his baptism because he knows of Jesus’ sinlessness, essentially saying that his baptism isn’t worthy of Jesus
“Let it be so now,” Jesus says in verse 15,essentially telling John that he’s correct in principal – Jesus has no sin to repent of and really should, in many respects, be the one baptizing John. Jesus continues and says, ‘for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.’ That’s a curious phrase. When we think of righteousness we often think of the perfect fulfillment of the law. Jesus is going to tell us in Matthew 5 that He didn’t come to abolish the law but to fulfill it. But there wasn’t any specific, God-given command recorded in the Old Testament for the Jewish people to be baptized.
Scholars are somewhat divided on what exactly Jesus meant by this. The most plausible explanation to me seems to be that it was the will of God the Father for Jesus to be baptized in this manner, and as an obedient Son and the 2nd Adam, our substitute, it was incumbent upon Jesus to obey and fulfill all righteousness, even when it doesn’t make sense on the face of it.
Church, don’t miss the importance and glory of Christ fulfilling all righteousness. How many times, weekly if not daily, do you and I think we know better than God, when He’s impelling us to do something or not do something. We are expert lawyers and therapists and will find ways to weasel out of something He’s leading us to do or justify something we ought not do.
Jesus could have said, “this whole baptism isn’t in the Hebrew Bible. It’s just a bunch of made up garbage the jewish people created, not my Father. I don’t need to fulfill this.” Instead, he recognized that the greatest prophet of God to walk the face of the earth was commanding even Israelites, which Jesus was, not just unclean Gentiles, to be baptized. As our substitute, Jesus needed to obey God’s prophet—yes, and obey God, on our behalf.
This is what I don’t want you to miss. It wasn’t enough for Jesus just to die for us. God didn’t wait till he was 33 so that his baby arms were long enough to stretch out on the cross all the way. We don’t just need cleansing from our sin. Contrary to the that bumper sticker, “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven”, you’re so much more than forgiven. You’re justified, which means not only was God’s wrath over our sin absorbed and the debt erased, but the perfect, righteous life that Christ lived is counted as our own – as if we lived that way our selves. His righteousness is imputed, or laid upon us and that’s good news! He’s done everything perfectly that we’ve marred with sin.
SEVERAL BROADER IMPLICIT REASONS
That’s the explicit reason why sinless Jesus was baptized, but there are so many other implicit reasons as well.
Jesus’ credibility: Given that people were flocking to John in mass, it seems very reasonable that they had a high regard for him. They’d experienced a 400 year drought of hearing the voice and Word of God in their land and finally, a prophet of God with the spirit of Elijah comes on the scene proclaiming that the Kingdom of God is it hand. So the people hold John in high esteem. Therefore, the fact that John says he needs to be baptized by the Nazarene underscores Jesus’ greatness for the crowd and the reader. It was a way for John to lift up and magnify Jesus. His locust and honey street cred was being leveraged to make much of the King.
Validates John: Conversely, Jesus being baptized by John validates his ministry. And it deserved validation because John was completely in the will of God, on mission for the King. It’d be easy to look at John and think he’s a self-righteous nut job. That he’s wearing camels hair and eating bugs so that he can prove to himself and to everyone else how morally perfect he is. And we’ve been around those people before. And we’ve been, NO, we often are those people ourselves. But that’s not John. When our hearts are filled with self-righteousness and pride over how well we follow God, we’re so much more concerned with pointing out the sin in others’ and quick to gloss over or minimize in ourselves.
But you say, “Nate, isn’t that what John is doing—pointing out the sin in others?” Yes, but not in that way or with that heart. When Jesus shows up, John doesn’t ask Jesus to bring down fire on the self-righteous Pharisees. No, he’s acutely aware that, for all his good work of faithfully preparing the way for the coming King, he’s a broken sinner just as much in need of forgiveness and righteousness as the next person. Verse 14 records John declaring his great need in relation to Jesus. And it’s that heart and ministry that Jesus dignifies and commends and blesses by inviting John, a repentant sinner, to baptize him, the Sinless One.
Perform His First Miracle-Humble Identification: “I consider this incident Jesus’ first miracle: the miracle of his humility. The first thing Jesus does for the human race is go down with it into the deep waters of repentance and baptism. Jesus’ whole life will be like this. It is well known that Jesus ends his ministry on a cross between thieves; it deserves to be as well known that he BEGINS his ministry in a river among sinners. From his baptism to his execution, Jesus stays low, at our level, identifying with us at every point, becoming completely one with us in our humanity…” Frederick Dale Bruner
There’s at least 1 other significant thing that God accomplishes through Jesus’ baptism that we’ll come back to toward later. But before we talk more broadly about what baptism is, I wanted to point out to you something in the text that is so applicable to all of us. What does John confess to Jesus? – his NEED. He hasn’t arrived. He isn’t perfect. He still a sinner. But John doesn’t wait till all his ducks are in a row and he’s conquered every sin before he engages in the ministry of trying to reconcile people to the King. That’s exactly what we see and read in the life of Paul the Apostle too, another person that we as Christians are apt to divinize and set on an unattainable pedestal of perfection. But listen to what Paul says in Phil 3:12-16:
Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained.
If you are in Christ you have attained A LOT. You’re sin is washed away and Christ’s righteousness has been given to you. More than that you’ve been grafted into a body and given gifts for the upbuilding of Christ’s bride to the glory of God. Let us live up to what we’ve already attained. Don’t wait to engage in service and ministry until you’ve grown more or arrived. Much of your growth will come NOT BEFORE but through the very acts of serving and ministering to others.
WHAT IS BAPTISM?
So this passage somewhat begs the question: “What is baptism”? Several sermons could be preached about how it’s a sign of the new covenant, of our cleansing from sin, of our new birth, of being engrafted into Christ and joined to a family and body, but I’m going to keep it short since we’ll get to explore that in greater detail when we come to the Great Commission. I will, however make 2 brief comments, the first of which is that it’s NOT necessary for salvation. We know that because Jesus promised the thief on the cross whom he was crucified next to that in view of his saving faith he would be with Christ that very day in paradise. No need for him to ask the Roman refs for a 2 minute time out so he could hop down and get baptized.
But if it’s not necessary for salvation, what’s the point? If we’re merely trying to avoid going to hell there’d be very little. But if we’re in pursuit of giving our lives over more and more of to our Creator and Redeemer, to maximize his glory and to increase our joy, then it’s hugely important, first and foremost because our King Jesus commanded it when he gave us the Great Commission in Matthew 28: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them…”. If anyone didn’t need to be baptized it’s Jesus. And if anyone had reason not to associate himself with sinners, it’s Jesus. But if Jesus, who didn’t need baptism and risked infinitely greater shame through association was baptized, what’s our excuse not to?
So it’s not at all necessary for salvation but it is absolutely necessary for obedience.
Picking the text back up in verse 16, we read what happened immediately after Jesus’ baptism:
16 And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; 17 and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
One of the amazing things about the incarnation of Jesus, is that while only the son took on flesh and lived among us, his condescension to our level rips open the heavens and provides us a greater revelation of our the triune God, that He’s one God made up of 3 Persons. Here in these 2 short verses we see all 3 members of the God-head represented: Father God proclaims His delight in the Son as the Spirit of God descends to anoint Him. The Trinity was present at the beginning of creation as we see in Genesis 1:26 when God says, “ Let US make man in OUR image, after OUR likeness.” Here we see trinity again, much more clearly and explicitly, this time moving from saying, “let us MAKE man, to essentially saying, “Let us SAVE man.”
It gets even richer. Underscoring that mission of salvation further, the 3rd member of the trinity, the Holy Spirit, is pictured as a dove. If you know your Bible or even some children’s Bible stories, when you read that your mind might think of the flood Noah experienced. God poured his righteous judgment out on the whole earth through the flood. After the rains ceased and the waters began to recede, Noah sent a dove out that returned with an olive branch in its beak, not only a symbol of peace that God’s judgment had passed BUT also a sign of the new world bursting forth and awaiting Noah and his family to enter into.
While we’re on the topic of the Holy Spirit can I make a request? In 2014, can we all work together to stop referring to the Holy Spirit as an “it”. He isn’t a member of the Adams Family-that weird hairball of a creature they called Cousin It. He’s a HE, not an IT! Deal?
VOICE OF GOD
Not only do we see the Spirit of God descending as a dove but those gathered at the Jordan hear something that all Israel hasn’t heard for over 400 years – the Voice of God. Now, at the launch of Jesus’ public ministry, the Father speaks monumental words over His Son that make it clear to all Israel who this Nazarene man is. Here, on the cusp of His public ministry, I think you see the ecstasy of a parent who’s always known His son was destined for greatness. But not greatness as the world defines greatness. This is the greatness of a Suffering Servant whose constant ambition was to obey the will of the Father and give his life as a ransom for many. Turn with me to Isaiah 42: 1-7
Behold my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my Spirit upon him;
he will bring forth justice to the nations.
2 He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice,
or make it heard in the street;
3 a bruised reed he will not break,
and a faintly burning wick he will not quench;
he will faithfully bring forth justice.
4 He will not grow faint or be discouraged
till he has established justice in the earth;
and the coastlands wait for his law.
5Thus says God, the Lord,
who created the heavens and stretched them out,
who spread out the earth and what comes from it,
who gives breath to the people on it
and spirit to those who walk in it:
6 “I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness;
I will take you by the hand and keep you;
I will give you as a covenant for the people,
a light for the nations,
7 to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
from the prison those who sit in darkness.
So the Father’s words spoken over Jesus at his baptism aren’t just the generic remarks of a proud parent. God makes it abundantly clear that this is no ordinary Man. He is the long awaited Messiah who has come in all humility and lowliness to be a covenant for the people and a light to the nations. He is a King like we’ve never seen before in that he restrains his power and comes in meekness as a Suffering Servant.
THE CALL TO BEHOLD
Leading up to both these remarkable events – the Spirit descending and the Father speaking, Matthew uses the same word twice that at first blush seems like a throw away word, easy to overlook, a filler. Ironically, that word is “Behold”. Matthew uses it 40 times in his gospel, more than any other book in the New Testament. With it, he’s trying to rivet the reader’s attention on the events that are unfolding. This is his way of doing bold, underline, italics, exclamation point so that we the reader don’t just read on without pausing.
He’s commanding you and me to look, stare, marvel, be awestruck and dumbfounded at the fact that our God is a triune God. He’s 1 God existing in 3 persons. That’s mind blowing but oh so amazing because we have a much richer understanding of who God is based on the relationships He has with Himself in the trinity. We see here that there’s perfect harmony and synchronicity in their mission. The Son and the Spirit yield to the will of the Father. The Father beams and rejoices and is deeply satisfied in the son. Church, if our God wasn’t satisfied and complete and sufficient in himself, if He created us because of some lack or loneliness on His part he would not be a God worth worshipping.
So we should BEHOLD first and foremost as an act of worship. To simply reflect back and celebrate the perfections of God. But we also need to regularly behold and stare at the completeness of the trinity because it’s a source of strength and security for us. Think about it.
Did your parents ever fight when you were a kid? Mine had a couple heated arguments, or “discussions” as they’d reassure me. I can remember 2 times growing up – 1 when my mom left for a drive to cool off and 1 when my dad left. Both times terrified me because I didn’t know if they were coming back. My security was stripped out from under me for a few hours.
Beholding not only gives us security and stability, it gives us motivation to change and grow. Put simply, we become what we behold. Do you ever watch how a particularly solid, loving married couple interacts together and find yourself resolving to be that kind of spouse to your current or future mate?
EXAMPLE – STR BROADCAST AND WANTING TO BE BETTER FATHER
GOD’S GOOD PLEASURE
So we’re exhorted to behold our triune God. And there’s one other amazing thing to look at and behold, but not so much with our eyes as with our ears. Hear again the words of the Father:
17 and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
Behold the good pleasure, the delight, the joy that the Father takes in His Son. But don’t just look and nod your head. Tremble and be amazed. This isn’t the kind of pleasure that you or I would take in our own sons or daughters. We read -in Isaiah 53:7-11
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.
8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people?
9 And they made his grave with the wicked
and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.
Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.
Again, verse 10 says that it was the will of the Lord to crush him. That word “will” in Hebrew means to desire, to delight in, take pleasure in, to be pleased with. See the gospel here in this Old Testament prophecy about the future Suffering Servant. The Father takes immense pleasure in His servant Son. And completely counter to what you or I would do in our flesh, that pleasure doesn’t lead Him to protect his Son at all costs, but rather to crush Him and put him to grief.
How mysterious and beyond understanding is the good pleasure of God! Know though, that this wasn’t the fiendish, sadistic pleasure of a gradeschool kid with an ant and a magnifying glass. This was the intentional, all-wise, sovereign pleasure of a good God who brings triumph out of tragedy and life out of death, who saw long before the foundation of the world that as Isaiah says, many would be accounted righteous through the crushing of the Son, ultimately resulting in the praise of His glory.
Church, don’t miss this. You need to know this deep down in your gut. If you’ve put your trust in Jesus, the Father’s disposition of deep delight and pleasure for Jesus is yours as well because you’ve been reconciled to God and sealed with His Spirit. Romans 8:14-17 says:
For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
Growing up I was the white sheep and my brother was the black sheep. I had and have a very loving family, but I was a moralist. I knew God loved me because I was outwardly compliant and had the approval of my parents and peers. While things looked great on the outside, I was a mess on the inside in high school. I didn’t know who I was or whose I was.
I dated a girl for two and a half years in high school and it was a rocky relationship to say the least, as many teenage relationships are. I could not keep her happy and as a result I frequently had serious suicidal thoughts my junior year of high school. I had a knife and would carve her initials and the word “WHY” into my ankles. I often thought of driving my car onto the train tracks down by the beach right before the train passed by since the world would be better off without me.
My view of God was that He was scowling at me for being such a failure, for not being able to be the support and help my girlfriend needed. It wasn’t until my freshman year of college that I read a book written by a recovering alcoholic called Abba’s Child that I came to see the Father had adopted me through Christ’s life and death and that He views me with the same joy and delight as He does Jesus.
So that’s my question for you. When you have a moment of quiet in your car or bed or house and your thoughts turn to God, what’s the look on His face as He sees you coming or as He thinks about you? Is He scowling and murmuring? Is He shaking His head in disbelief at how you’ve messed up again and taken advantage of His grace?
If that’s the image you have and you’re in Christ, it’s a lie. That’s not the gospel. Those are thoughts that need to be taken captive and thrown down and replaced with the confident knowledge that you are His beloved son or daughter with whom He is well pleased.
I don’t know where you’re are at this morning, whether you’re a son or daughter of God or still alienated from Him. Matthew calls all of us, saved or unsaved, to BEHOLD the Suffering Servant in the majesty of His humility of yielding to the Father and identifying with sinful man in the waters of repentance. If you haven’t put your trust in Jesus of Nazareth to be reconciled to God, today is the day of salvation- BELIEVE on Him and you’ll be saved!
If you’ve been walking with Christ for a week, a year or a lifetime and you’ve put off obedience to identify with Him and His church through Baptism – be BAPTIZED! See one of us elders and we’ll figure out how to make that happen.
Finally, for all of you who are in Christ and are striving to shake this nagging sense that God is disappointed or disgusted with you and you’re striving to earn is favor, BE STILL and know that you already have it because of the one whose not ashamed, Hebrews says, to call us His brother.
More in The King Has Come | Matthew
May 11, 2014Jesus the Rock | Matthew 7:24-29 (Mville)
May 11, 2014Jesus is (Scary) Gracious | Matthew 7.15-23 (Snoh)
May 4, 2014Kingdom Admission | Matthew 7:13-23 (Mville)