Summary: Jesus identified himself with sinful humanity through his baptism. We must learn to identify with our culture if we are going to represent Christ to them.
Introduction: Have you ever tried to identify with someone that you just had nothing in common with? I find that it’s sometimes hard to identify with people you do know have commonalities with, but it’s especially hard to identify with someone who is radically different.
Cultural barriers have caused more than one embarrassing mistake. And often those barriers make it difficult for us to relate. But if we are going to take the truth of Christ to our world then we must learn to identify with the culture that God has placed us in as his ambassadors to the world.
We’re continuing our series of studies called “A Compelling Portrait.” Through this series we are walking through the Bible and revealing a compelling portrait of Christ, one that we can hold up as a model for our own lives. We can look at this compelling portrait of Christ and then compare it to our lives to see where we are hitting the mark and where we are missing the mark.
A part of what makes the portrait of Christ so compelling is his ability and desire to relate with those who were so far from him and the ideal that his father had for them. His willingness to relate to and identify with sinful man is a piece of the portrait that we must understand and model if we are going to truly be Christ-like.
Jesus, more than anyone else, was able to identify with those who radically different from him. He knew the culture of heaven. He knew the glory of his father, but he chose to come to earth and identify with us. He chose to become one of us. Paul describes Christ’s identification with us beautifully in Philippians chapter 2
Though he was God,
he did not think of equality with God
as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
he took the humble position of a slave
and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
he humbled himself in obedience to God
and died a criminal’s death on a cross.
Philippians 2:5-8 (NLT)
He gave up his divine privileges so that he could identify himself with fallen humanity. It’s this ability to identify with us that we’re going to explore today as we examine what took place with His Baptism.
Baptism is not a new concept originating with Christianity. Rather it’s and ancient and essential element in the Jewish faith as well. Immersion in water for ritual purification was established for restoration to a condition of "ritual purity" in specific circumstances. For example, Jews who (according to the Law of Moses) became ritually "defiled" by contact with a corpse had to use the mikvah before being allowed to participate in the Holy Temple. Immersion is required for converts to Judaism as part of their conversion. Through practices such as these, immersion in the mikvah represents purification and restoration, and qualification for full religious participation in the life of the community.
In ancient Jewish culture, even before Christ comes on the scene, baptism is very important. The Jews were set apart by God. They were God’s holy people. When a gentile…someone who wasn’t a Jew…wished to convert to Judaism and become one with the Jewish people he/she was baptized to signify a transition had taken place. They were no longer what they used to be, but they were a new person…they were now identified with the Jews.
So along with ritual purity, the baptism practiced by the Jews was for the purpose of identifying people with the Jewish faith and people.
Enter John the Baptist. John was Jesus’ cousin and was the fulfillment of the scripture that a prophet in the style of Elijah would appear and preach repentance when the Messiah was to come.
John was preaching a call to repentance…a returning to God and God’s original destiny for the Jews…that they would be his chosen people RE-PRESENTING him to the world/nations around them.
John called for people to repent (turn around and change directions) of their sins and to be symbolically purified through baptism.
In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea and saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near."
"I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.
Matthew 3:1-2, 11 (NIV)
John was preaching at a time when the people of Israel were ready to hear the message. Israel had been under the thumb of their oppressors for about 400 years now. They were crying out to God to rescue them and as they cried out to God there was a great number of people returning to God. As John preached repentance, people were repenting and coming to him to be baptized, symbolizing their new purity before God.