And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
Matt 3:16-17 +INPFSS+
1. Jesus' baptism
Does a brand new car need washing? Does a silent hinge need greasing?
Does the Son of God need baptizing?
John the Baptist himself didn't think so! As we have recorded in this morning's Gospel, when Jesus presents himself to be baptized, John tries to stop him – Matt 3:14: John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”.
Like as a new car doesn't need washing, Jesus, as God didn't need baptizing. He was already, since before the world began, sinless, perfect and holy. The baptism of John was for sins, of which Jesus had none, and for repentance, which Jesus didn't need to do.
This is the holy one himself we are talking about! Why is he coming to be baptized?
It's a good question to ask. And the answer, as we shall see, like so many things in Jesus' life, is: for our sake. He was baptized for our sake.
This is simple enough on the surface, but the layers of meaning within this simple statement are fascinating. So let's look at those:
Christ was baptized for our sake, in that – like a good leader – he himself does what he commanded us to do: To have the humility to be washed in the waters of baptism.
Christ was baptized for our sake, in that his own baptism set apart and sanctified the element of water to be the visible means of the sacrament of baptism. When the Holy Son of God incarnate and water come into contact, it's not the Son of God that needs cleansing, it's the water. In the Icons that commemorate the event of Jesus being baptized, you will often see small sea-monsters being speared in the water, signifying that water itself, as an element, has now been cleansed of its dark danger, and elevated to be the material means through which humans are re-born into the Kingdom of God.
Christ was baptized for our sake, in that he took the human nature that belonged to him through his incarnation, and cleansed it and anointed it with the Holy Spirit. And this cleansing was no outward spot-cleaning. Baptism is always a death. As Paul says in Romans Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death.
Jesus himself, when talking about his own death, would speak of it as his baptism. And so we have here, today, in his actual baptism – a looking forward to his atoning death that was to come, when he put death itself to death in his own mortal body.
The cross of Christ stands at the center of all things. Our baptisms take us back to it. Jesus' own baptism was looking ahead to it. But make no mistake: To be baptized is always to be united to the death of Christ. Even for Christ.
The stain of our sin is so deep, that a spot-cleaning will not do the job, our flesh actually has to go through the furnace of death, baptismal and actual, to be purified, and raised on the other side, to live with God. Jesus begins this work of cleansing our humanity by starting first then, in his own body, which, though free from actual sin, was nevertheless in the likeness of Sinful flesh (Romans 8:3), and so was still in need of purification, and so he was baptized, for our sake.
Christ was baptized for our sake, in that he made it clear when his public ministry was beginning. He effected a hand-off, if you will, from the ministry of John the Baptist, revealing that the Old Era had come to an end, and the new was here. Continuous, and yet different. For the last twenty years he had been a carpenter working in quietness and obscurity. Now he was beginning to take off the veil. No longer working with wood, but with men's hearts. His ministry – that would culminate in his death and resurrection – was afoot. It was about to go down.
Deaf people were about to start hearing. The true righteousness of God was about to be revealed in preaching. The dead were about to be raised to life. And his baptism was also his ordination ceremony, if you will. Becoming sealed outwardly with the grace of the Holy Spirit to confirm what was already true inwardly, in the nature of his person, but had “lain dormant” so to speak, until this great day. That he was the Son of God, come in power. Not merely a Gallilean carpenter.
That's then the first point I wish to drive home this morning: Christ was baptized for our sake.
And the second point to be taken from the baptism of Christ, is what it means for us. Namely:
We are baptized into Christ.
Christ was baptized for our sake. And we are baptized into Christ.
We are baptized into Christ, in that through our baptisms we are united to him, in his death and resurrection. Our flesh is crucified with him, and the life we live after our baptisms we live for God, and by God's own power. And this is accomplished by the same Holy Spirit that descended on Jesus at his baptism.
When we are baptized, the Holy Spirit descends on us, enters the mansion of our souls, and indwells us with the life of Jesus Christ.
This is substantially different from how some folk speak about Christian baptism, but it is nothing more than what Scripture tells us.
It is common in this country to hear about baptism being a profession of faith, and perhaps even a baptism of repentance, and of course baptism IS these things, but it is also so much more!
John the Baptist himself said, in the Gospel we heard last Sunday, from earlier in the same chapter – Matthew 3 – John said, verse 11: “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I... He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
He – Jesus – will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.
When you are baptized with water in Jesus' name, it is he himself who baptizes you, through his human minister.
Many Christians today – perhaps some of you – think that when you were baptized, you received only the baptism of John – the baptism of repentance. But you received so much more. You not only manifested repentance, but you were baptized with the Holy Spirit, sent by God himself, through the element of water, in the great sacrament of baptism.
Just like how the dove descended on Christ at his baptism.
When we are baptized into Christ – we receive the same Holy Spirit.
We are baptized into Christ, through the Holy Spirit, and in that act our sins are washed away forever. We are made clean, and pure and holy. Christ cleansed the waters, so that through the waters, we can now be cleansed.
We are in fact, given the righteousness and the holiness that Jesus has in himself. We come into his own life, and are given his own merits, counted to us as our own.
This is another way of talking about that great theme of the New Testament: Putting on Christ. We don't put him on in such a way as to take him off the next day. We put him on for keeps, in our baptism. Our life is now hid within his (Col 3).
Because we are baptized into Christ, we become as he is: a son of God. He is a son by nature. We become sons by adoption – by stepping into his life, across the threshold of baptism.
We become – to use a marvelous phrase coined by Thomas Aquinas – we become sons in the son.
Sons...in the Son
And so when we are found in Christ Jesus, having been baptized into him, the words that God the Father proclaims over Jesus become true of us as well:
“This is my Son, the beloved.”
You are God's beloved. Men and Women, you have become children of God.
And not just 'children' but beloved Children.
YOU are God's beloved ones. He loves you.
Do you believe that?
He delights in you as a beloved Child. And as his child whom he loves, he cares for you: He is attending to your every cry, your every developmental step, your every need. Like the Good Father that he is.
And even more, he likes you. Did you know that? As his beloved, God likes you. He delights in you, as he delights in the Lord Jesus, because now we are found in him.
Christ was baptized for our sake. And we are baptized into Christ.
And with these two great truths, there remains just one more thing to be said – my third and final point this morning:
Having been adopted as Sons and daughters through our baptisms, what kind of children will we be? Will we be good sons? Or bad sons? Good daughters? Or bad daughters?
We know what kind of son the Son was – as the voice from heaven declared, “with him I am well pleased”.
Will those words be true of us also? Will the Lord be well pleased with our lives?
With God's help, that's the task that lies before us: To live lives in keeping with the station we have been given. To be good sons, and so to please the Lord.
To please the Lord, by obeying his commandments. Even when it hurts, and when we lose out because of it. This, first and foremost.
On top of this, to please the Lord by giving him our lives, and our time, and our things, and offering to be his servant, just as his Son did.
And on top of this: To please the Lord by finding out what would please him, through prayer and reflection. As Paul says in Ephesians 5:10 – try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.
That when our life is over, the Lord, having said, at our baptism, 'this is my Son, the beloved', would then add, 'with whom I am well pleased'.