Summary: By following Jesus to the river’s edge we witness the picture, purpose and power of his baptism.
If this sermon is helpful to you look for my latest book, “The Greatest Commands: Learning To Love Like Jesus.” Each chapter is sermon length, alliterated, and focuses on the life and love of Jesus. This sermon is taken from chapter two. You can find it here:
by Scott Bayles
Following Jesus part 1:
Following Jesus to the River
There was nothing extraordinary about the Jordan River. It was a common place—a place for watering livestock, filling pails and jars, and washing clothes or dishes. It was an ordinary place; there was nothing majestic or magnificent about it. That is, until Jesus stepped onto it’s shores.
Before Jesus arrived, however, there was another man sent by God; his name was John. John was a simple man. He wore camel’s hair for clothes and ate honey and insects for dinner—he had been living apart from society in the arid wilderness along the Jordan. And he traveled all along the river banks preaching to anyone who would listen. He preached “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4 NASB), and everyone came to hear him.
The Bible says, “All the people from Judea and Jerusalem were going out to him. They confessed their sins and were baptized by him in the Jordan River” (Mark 1:5 NCV). Fierce and wildly charismatic, the people flocked to the wilderness to hear John speak and to be baptized by him. Among the multitude stood a thirty-year-old carpenter—Jesus of Nazareth.
Stepping down into the rust-colored river that was the lifeblood of his people, Jesus waded through the muddy stream as it churned around his waist; the cool mud squishing up between his toes with each step.
They had come to hear John preach, but the crowed gathered along the banks of the river that day became witnesses to something far grander. This is how the Bible describes it:
At that time Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan River and wanted John to baptize him. But John tried to stop him, saying, “Why do you come to me to be baptized? I need to be baptized by you!”
Jesus answered, “Let it be this way for now. We should do all things that are God’s will.” So John agreed to baptize Jesus.
As soon as Jesus was baptized, he came up out of the water. Then heaven opened, and he saw God’s Spirit coming down on him like a dove. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love, and I am very pleased with him.” (Matthew 3:13-17 NCV)
It’s easy to understand why John was hesitant to baptize Jesus. After all, John had been “preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins,” and Jesus was the spotless Lamb of God. So, why did Jesus come to John in the first place?
Repentance means “turning.” The prophet Ezekiel, explained what God wants his people to turn from: “Repent... and turn away your faces from all your abominations” (Ezekiel 14:6 ESV). Another prophet, Isaiah, revealed what God wants us to turn toward: “Turn to me and be saved... for I am God, and there is no other” (Isaiah 45:22 NIV).
All through the Bible God pleads with people to turn away from our sins, failures, and mistakes, and to turn toward him—trusting in God alone to save us. That is what repentance means, and John’s baptism—like Christian baptism—was intimately connected to repentance. Baptism marked the “turning point” for those who chose to turn toward God.
Even though Jesus, himself, had no sins to turn from, his baptism still marked a turning point in his life and ministry. Before coming down to the river to meet John, Jesus was a carpenter for the small town of Nazareth. From that day on, he began his mission as the Savior of the world. Jesus’ baptism marked the beginning of his public work; he went from a life of obscurity to being the light of the world.
But Jesus’ baptism meant something even more wonderful. As Jesus descended into the water, he was coming down to our level. John MacArthur explains, “Christ was here identifying Himself with sinners.” Baptism was for the immoral, the impure, the liars, adulterers and thieves, and yet Jesus willingly plunged into the water as if to say, “I’m with them!”
Listen again to Jesus’ explanation, “This is the way it has to be now. This is the proper way to do everything that God requires of us” (vs. 15 GW). Jesus’ great love for you and me caused him to cast his lot with humanity. He came to the river because we are sinners. He was washed because we were not clean. He did what was right because we, so often, do what is wrong. He became like us so that we could become like him.