Summary: Why did John baptize Jesus? And why so quickly? Granted Jesus said it was to "fulfill all righteousness", but what exactly could that mean?
OPEN: A little girl wanted to get baptized but her mother wanted her to attend some classes to make sure she knew what she was committing herself to. After one of the classes, her mother asked, "Honey, what does baptism mean?"
Thinking hard, the little girl the finally said, "Well, it isn’t the water that makes you clean ..." she began.
The mother thought, “Yes, she understands.”
Then smiling brightly, her daughter quickly added, "...It’s the soap."
(Verna Chambers, Willcox, Ariz. "Kids of the Kingdom," Christian Reader)
APPLY: Obviously, that little girl didn’t understand what baptism meant.
Does anybody here know what baptism means?
(I asked the audience for what they knew of baptism. They cited salvation, forgiveness, gift of the Holy Spirit, clothing ourselves with Christ, death/burial and resurrection)
Now, all those things are true.
And all those things are wonderful things that God does for us when we accept His gift of love by our Faith, Repentance, Confession of Jesus as Lord and Baptism.
But here in Matthew 3, we have this odd story about baptism.
Now John the Baptist had been down at the Jordan river baptizing people for the forgiveness of sins. He was his mission for God.
Isaiah had declared that John was to be "A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’" (Isaiah 40:3)
John was sent to prepare the way for Jesus.
He was to prepare people’s hearts for Christ’s ministry.
And how did he do that?
Well… he was telling people: “Ya’ll sinners.”
He told people they’d all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
In Matthew 3:5-10 we’re told that “People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. CONFESSING THEIR SINS, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.
But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee FROM THE COMING WRATH? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.
THE AX IS ALREADY AT THE ROOT OF THE TREES, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be CUT DOWN AND THROWN INTO THE FIRE.”
John told people a time of judgment was coming.
There was a coming wrath from God.
“The ax had been sharpened” and God was gonna cut down some trees.
John was preparing the way for Jesus.
And the goal in preparing the way was to prepare the people to be ready for Him. They needed to realize they were sinners. They needed to realize they were in need of what Jesus had come to offer. They needed to realize they needed Jesus to be their substitute – they needed Him to die for them.
And so, John preached a fairly bald and straightforward.
He basically told people:
There’s a place called Hell... and you don’t want to go there. But that’s where you’re gonna end up if you don’t realize you’ve sinned and need to change.
And so people came to be baptized by John by the hundreds.
Even the Sadducees and the Pharisees came to be baptized by John.
It seems like everybody showed up.
Then along came Jesus.
Along came “the Lord” John was to prepare the way for - and suddenly John seems confused. Jesus requests to be baptized by John, “But John tried to deter him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’” Matthew 3:14
This wasn’t what John had expected. This wasn’t in accordance with the instructions he thought he’d been given. He’s almost incredulous.
“What do you MEAN baptize you? YOU should be baptizing me!”
But Jesus responds
"Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness." Matthew 3:15
In other words, Jesus is telling John:
“This is what you were sent to do.
This is the fulfillment of your mission.”
You see, there was something inherent in John baptizing Jesus that “prepared the way for Jesus.” But John was confused. His baptism was for the “forgiveness of sins.”
Why wouldn’t John think Jesus needed baptized?
That’s right. Jesus was the Son of God. He had no sin to be repented of!
II. So, why would Jesus need to be baptized by John????
Well… Jesus’ baptism by John was the beginning of Jesus’ ministry
Mark 1:1 starts out: “The BEGINNING of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” and then Mark starts telling us about Jesus’ baptism by John.