Mark 1:9-13 “At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptised by John in the Jordan. As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.'”
John the Baptist was a prophet sent from God, and he urged the Jewish community to be baptized with repentance for their sins, and his impact on the life of the nation during the six months of his ministry was shattering. He was courageous as a preacher of righteousness, and he spoke of the coming Messiah more fully and gloriously than any of his predecessors. John told them that the coming one would be the Lord, the Son of God, and that he would baptize with the Holy Spirit. And then Jesus himself leaves his home in Nazareth and comes to the desert. Jesus is utterly indistinguishable from all the rest. He was found in fashion as a man; that is, he looked like an ordinary man. He has come there that he might be baptized by John. Let us consider two things by way of introduction:
i] That immersion seems to have been the mode John employed in baptizing people. We know that he was baptizing in one particular part of the desert, and in fact John had chosen a district called Aenon near Salim, “because there was plenty of water, and people were constantly coming to be baptized” (John 3:23). That has its own significance. Then there is the meaning of the word ‘baptize.’ Dr Tom Wright makes this definition, “‘baptism’: literally, ‘plunging’ people into water” (Tom Wright, “Mark for Everyone,” SPCK, London, 2001, p.227). Of course Tom Wright is not right in everything he says, but one is struck by his assertion that baptism means ‘plunging’ because he is an Anglican, the Canon Theologian at Westminster Abbey, and so has no particular Baptist axe to grind. But our understanding of the correct mode of baptism doesn’t hang on the outcome of an examination of one Greek word. When William Tyndale came to translate the Greek word ‘baptizo’ he didn’t take the plunge and translate it by ‘immerse’, he simply transliterated it, inventing a new English word ‘baptize.’ So we are no further forward in our understanding of the mode of baptism from that. What are we told in our text? That Jesus came up out of the water (v.10). He had been into it, and then he came up out of it. We know that when Philip baptized the Ethiopian eunuch, “Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him” (Acts 8:38). There are also plenty of images of plunging into water in the Old Testament – the Flood, the Red Sea and its destruction of Pharaoh and his hosts, Naaman the leper plunging himself seven times under the Jordan, Jonah going deep under the waters of the sea but delivered by the great fish, and the psalmist speaking of all God’s waves and billows passing over him. But we must acknowledge that there is also the image of pouring: “I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh” and in that way Christ baptizing his people with the Spirit on the day of Pentecost is introduced. Every Christian has to acknowledge that plunging or immersion is a proper biblical administration of Christian baptism, and if the Lord Jesus were immersed in the Jordan at the beginning of his ministry, and plunged into the lake of fire on Golgotha at the end of his ministry, then many converts instinctively will desire that their mode of baptism also be plunging.
ii] There are significant ways in which Jesus’ baptism was different from the others being baptized. They were all sinners while he was holy, harmless, undefiled and separate from sin. He loved God constantly and with all his heart. He loved people as he loved himself. He never ceased to honour his father and his mother. His conduct at home within his family circle was beyond reproach. The Lord Jesus had no sins to confess. There was not a day at whose end he had to say, “I’m sorry Father for my vile imaginations today.” Every day he was tempted to sin, but he never received those sins into his life. Throughout his life the Lord Jesus had no experience of a defiled conscience, of guilt and shame, of godly sorrow for his failings, or of repentance. This world has seen a man as consistently holy as God is holy. He never needed to be justified and adopted into the family of God. Throughout his life on earth he could look into God’s face and say, ‘Father!’ So he had no sins that needed to be confessed and forgiven. Yet the Lord Jesus, the Son of God, was baptized by John in a sinners’ baptism. Why was this?
1] JESUS WAS BAPTIZED TO INAUGURATE PUBLICLY HIS MINISTRY.
The official commencement of the Lord Jesus’ public ministry was this baptism, and the official ending was the ascension. It is interesting to observe the way the apostles were to choose a replacement for the dead betrayer, Judas. Peter says, “It is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us” (Acts 1:21 & 22). The Lord Jesus didn’t drift into his ministry. There was a start, a public induction performed by John, confirmed by God speaking from heaven and the coming of the Holy Spirit. This signified the arrival of Christ on the world stage. None of the life of Christ and his apostles was done secretly or furtively in a dark corner somewhere. Christianity was not a mystery religion. The door of our meetings are always open to you all. If you want to attend our business meetings you can ask and will be welcomed. If you want to see our accounts books and know how we spend the money collected on Sundays then you can have a copy. If you want to see what my salary is then it is printed to the penny in the annual report.
Baptism was the most suitable beginning to Jesus’ life. The key question is this: what is going to be Jesus’ ministry? John the Baptist tells people: “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (Jn. 1:29). That is what he had come to do. So the inauguration of that ministry must be in keeping with all that’s to follow. This King did not ride out to Aenon in a chariot pulled by six white horses, preceded by heralds crying, “Bow the knee!” and accompanied by a cohort of soldiers brushing people aside making way for him. That was not going to be the style of his ministry and so it could not be the style of his appearing. He did not come in pomp to lord it over men. He came in meekness, poor in spirit, to save us. He is coming not to be served but to serve and to give his life a ransom for many. So it is perfectly fitting that the conception of his ministry is to stand with his penitent fellow countrymen and be plunged into the Jordan.
When the Lord Jesus walked out into the Jordan river where John was standing we are told by Matthew that John was overwhelmed by the arrival of Jesus in the water alongside him. John was a few months older than Jesus: their mothers were cousins. They had grown up in the same extended family and the same generation. Had his mother never told John that just a few months before he was born, when the pregnant Mary entered the room, that he the unborn baby John had moved violently – and she knew that it was with ecstasy – in her womb, and she knew why crying to Mary, “You are bearing my Lord”? Certainly John knows much of who this man is, that Jesus at thirty years of age would have had an awesome reputation certainly in his family circle as a blameless lover of the Lord.
There may well have been an opportunity for the people before they were baptized to have said a few words to John as to who they were, and their grief for their sins, and that they truly repented of them before the Baptist plunged them into the river. John had heard everything that is distasteful. When he saw Jesus we are told, “John tried to deter him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?'” (Matt. 3:14). John is holding the Light of the world in his arms, and he is going to immerse that light beneath the waters of the Jordan? Imagine having authority over the sun in the sky and plunging that globe of fire down and down into a great cosmic sea and momentary sizzling extinction. What a fearful action! But that is how John sees his baptizing the Light of the World. What a responsibility, and yet also what a privilege, and how unworthy felt John! But, though “John never shirked a duty,” Spurgeon says, “he would decline an honour. He wouldn’t even seem to be of any consequence as compared with his Lord” (C.H.Spurgeon, “The Gospel of the Kingdom,” Passmore and Alabaster, London, 1893, p.13). John knew that Jesus didn’t need to be baptized as a symbol of being cleansed from his sin. But, be baptized the Lord must, because he came for this purpose, to deliver his fellow countrymen from their sins and bring them salvation. Jesus’ Jordan baptism inaugurated him into a ministry whose climax would be a baptism in a fountain filled with his own blood. He had come to stand where sinners stand, receive what they deserve and give them life and adoption into the family of God.
The Jews were expecting a Messianic King in the tradition of David, their greatest general and inspirational hero. They imagined that he’d be the one who’d rally the nation and throw out the Romans and restore the glory of Israel that he prophets had written about. Throughout his ministry Jesus is confronted with that mistaken view of his Messiahship, so that there are times when he tells people not to disclose that he is the Messiah because to the ignorant it will raise false expectations. Jesus even silences demons when they say that they know he is the Christ. “The crown which Jesus was called to wear was a crown of thorns, his throne would be the cross of Calvary, and his kingdom would be the society of believers who were prepared to forsake everything and follow him in expectation of their heavenly reward. This wasn’t at all what the Jews had in mind, but however deep their misunderstanding may have been, the ministry of Jesus was set on its course right from the start” (Gerald Bray, “Steps of Understanding: Key Events in Jesus’ Life”, Christian Focus, Ross-shire, 1998, pp. 41 & 42). Jesus was baptized and so he identified himself publicly with what he tells us is the central problem of humanity, this colossal problem of man’s individual sins, and man’s need for personal cleansing by repentance. That is how Jesus started and that is how he was to go on. Not by military conquest and nationalism but by serving sinners and the greatest of all services was laying down his life. His death wasn’t the unfortunate result of a failed rebellion. He came in order to die as the sin-bearer, and his baptism launched him on that very course. So his baptism was the fitting inauguration of his ministry.
2. JESUS WAS BAPTIZED TO FULFIL ALL RIGHTEOUSNESS.
When John protested, “I need to be baptized by you,” Jesus answered, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfil all righteousness” (Matt. 3:15). The Son of God was being baptized to fulfil a life of active obedience. He had not come simply to meet the opposition of sinners and the temptations of the devil and the betrayal of Judas and the forsaking by friends. He came positively and faithfully to fulfil all righteousness. That means that Jesus came to be placed under the law, to be scrutinised by the righteousness of God, to be tried by the great standard of Sinai, and of Leviticus, and Jesus will deliberately fulfil every jot and tittle, every precept and principle of God’s law. He will fulfil the moral law found in the ten commandments. He will have no other gods but the Lord. He will not make an idol of anything. He will not take God’s name in vain. He will remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. He will honour both Joseph and Mary as his loving parents. He will not murder, nor commit sexual sin, nor steal, nor give false testimony against a neighbour, nor will he covet anything that is his neighbour’s. He will honour the moral law. Jesus will also honour the ceremonial law. On the eighth day Jesus was circumcised, and at twelve he was presented in the Temple in Jerusalem. He submits his whole manhood to the whole Old Testament ritual as it was imposed upon all his Jewish contemporaries. Jesus will also submit to the civil law and to every ordinance of man, for example, when Caesar demands tribute then Jesus will pay tribute. That is why he has come.
Now he is in the river Jordan with John and that is because the baptism of John was, in the estimation of Jesus, a divine ordinance. John lived at a time when there was a lot of religious interest and activity. Greek philosophy had spread throughout Israel and there were many collaborators who adapted their Old Testament faith to fit into Greek thinking. This is what the Sadducees had done joining together elements of Judaism and Hellenism. But Jesus didn’t act as if he thought all this were part of the marvellous quest of man after God so that he went running after this or that, or smiled benignly at it all. He would not become a Sadducee. He did not join the Zealot party, the Jewish version of the I.R.A., because that was not a divine requirement. He did not join the Essenes, a kind of monastic community, living in a commune near the Dead Sea. He completely ignored all those because they were movements orchestrated by man, but John the Baptist had been sent from God and being baptized was a divine requirement, something imposed on everyone whose God was the Lord. Jesus stood before his critics and he asked them, “The baptism of John, was it from heaven, or from men?” Was it John’s idea, and a human invention, or had God told him to preach this message and initiate that ordinance? “This is all from God,” said Jesus, and so he submitted to John and was baptized. He had to fulfil every single requirement of the divine righteousness.
We too are to follow the Lord in being baptized. Can we be baptized with the baptism that he was baptised with? No, certainly not. His was the bottomless pit baptism. His was the unquenchable fires baptism. He was plunged into all of that as a sinless man, deserving none of it, but as the substitute for his people. Whereas we are sinners and deserve all of that. He was baptised with the wrath of a sin-hating God, whereas we are baptised in water. But we must also be baptized in water because it is an ordinance which the Lord has given. We are to be baptised because it is from heaven and not from man. The Saviour said on the hill of Ascension, “Make disciples and baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” When we are baptized we are following the example of the Christ who went before us keeping God’s ordinances, because God required this of him. John’s rite was one of divine authority and institution. So to establish the meaning of his own unique ministry he must work at weaving a robe of righteousness that will be imputed to everyone of his people. He came to the law of God to be tested by it, and when he finally passed through the ordeal of the baptisms of Gethsemane and of Golgotha and cries, “It is finished!” then we are the righteousness of God in him. I was talking to a woman this week and I asked her, “When you appear before God what reason should he let you into his heaven?” She said to me immediately, “Because I have the righteousness of Jesus Christ.”
“When I shall launch in worlds unseen,
O may I then be found in Him!
Dressed in His righteousness alone
Faultless to stand before the throne.
On Christ, the solid Rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand.” (Edward Mote, 1797-1874)
So Jesus was baptized to inaugurate his ministry as Saviour, and to fulfil all righteousness.
3] JESUS WAS BAPTIZED TO VALIDATE THE MINISTRY OF JOHN.
When he puts himself in the hands of John and is plunged into the Jordan by him he is setting his seal on the ministry of John. He is attesting to it as to its absolute integrity and total credibility. When John said to the Pharisees, “You brood of vipers! Who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” Jesus was saying Amen to that. When John warned the people that the ax was already at the root of the tree then Jesus was saying Amen to that. The prophet Daniel had seen a river of fire flowing from the throne of God. It was a barrier set there by God himself burning with the fires of the King’s justice and rectitude. It lies before all who would enter the Kingdom. Men must enter it to get to God, but they can’t by themselves. A fiery flood lies before them. It carries away all the things that offend God. No Canute can command those waves to recede. No dictator can force his way through. No Pharaoh can drive his chariot through those tides and billows. There is a terrible fury to that tributary of the lake of fire, and only the Messiah can open the way for the rest of us to cross. He must enter that flood first and destroy its power to destroy us,
Noah in the century before the flood preached just like John, that those who repented and fled to the refuge would survive the baptism of judgment. They would become heirs of the world to come. Those who despised the warning and wouldn’t flee to the refuge would pass under the flood of judgment. Again, at the Red Sea in the exodus there would be a baptism which would vindicate God’s chosen people Israel and condemn Pharaoh’s army to destruction. All baptized into Moses, that is all who believed his testimony and were united to him, would pass through the waters alive, but not the rest. So the Lord Jesus comes to endorse the ministry of John attesting to its absolute integrity and total credibility.
Jesus is affirming that John was standing in that whole Old Testament prophetic tradition which denounced the religious life of the church of God urging the remnant to escape from the coming judgment. John stood in that line of men called by God to bring the sternest criticisms and speak with intense moral stringency and uncompromising theological statement to the backsliding people of God. It proved to be a ministry that provoked intense hostility. John the Baptist was scorned by scribes and Pharisees and at last executed by Herod. Our Lord, standing in the moment of his baptism with John in the river, is aware of the significance of John’s ministry and the people’s resentment, but Jesus deliberately endorses it. In his actions he submits to John insisting that he must baptize him. In his words he submits to John saying amongst those born of woman none was greater than John the Baptist.
But we must go further, not only is he validating John personally but Jesus is endorsing the whole Old Testament prophetic testimony of which God says, “They are my servants the prophets,” and of whom John is the culmination, and in Jesus’ words the greatest and most outstanding figure. John’s was the very same divine message Isaiah had brought when he prophesied to this nation, “Your hands are full of blood; wash you; make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes.” John’s was the same message the prophet Jeremiah had brought when he said to this same nation, “O Jerusalem wash thine heart from wickedness that thou mayest be saved.” John’s was the same message Zechariah had brought to this same people when he had prophesied, “In that day there will be a fountain opened up to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and uncleanness.” John’s was the same message as the prophet Joel had brought to this nation when he had said to them, “The Lord will pour out his Spirit on all people.”
All the prophets had declared the sin of the people in God’s sight. All had spoken of his wrath revealed against them from heaven. All had summoned them to repentance. All had pointed the people to the acts of God as their only hope. Our Lord was endorsing all that Old Testament prophecy. Our Lord was saying, “There is nothing in it that I condemn. There is nothing in its letter or spirit which is ever to be deemed by my followers a contradiction of what I am, or think or do.” The Lord Jesus, and so all his followers, support the whole of the Old Testament prophecy. His apostle Peter speaks on behalf of us all when he says, “Prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 1:21). Elijah prophesied in the valley of the Jordan and now Elijah in the form of John, that is, John consumed and filled by the same Spirit and power that was in Elijah, also preaches in the same place with the same message about the sins of the same nation.
But we must go further, not only is he endorsing the Old Testament prophets, Jesus is validating the whole Old Testament dispensation. Not a jot, and not a tittle of it will pass away from those Scriptures, Genesis to Malachi, until all of it is fulfilled. Those Scriptures cannot be broken. Soon Jesus will meet Satan and will answer him with Scripture: “It is written,” and if it is written then God said it. Many people are concerned to drive a wedge between the whole position of the Old Testament and the stance of God the Son. “Not the Old Testament,” they say, “not its moral stringency, and its righteousness, and its awesomeness, and the fearfulness of Jehovah God found there. It is Jesus we want,” they say. “Give us the living Christ not a dead book.” “They have no right to do that,” Jesus says. He speaks no word of disavowal of the Old Testament, and no word of criticism of those Scriptures. Jesus is saying from Jordan’s river, “That kind of disdain can never plead my support. What Scripture says, I say. I believe and obey the Old Testament.
So when Jesus put himself in John’s hands, under the authority of John’s words, and was baptized by him he was endorsing the whole ministry of John the Baptist and all that he stood for as the last and greatest of the Old Testament prophets.
4. JESUS WAS BAPTIZED THAT HIS RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD BE MADE KNOWN.
It was not that at this moment Mary’s boy was adopted by God as his Son, but that at his baptism the eternal Sonship of our Lord was made known. What happened was this, that as Jesus came up out of the water, “he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased” (vv. 10&11). But Luke adds one more fact and it is this, that when he had come up out of the water “he was praying” (Lk. 3:21). These sights was not something that Jesus alone ‘saw.’ In other words, this was not something that happened inside the mind and vision of Jesus as he was in prayer. It happened out in the great objective world. It occurred in space and time history and there were witnesses to it. There is the fascinating testimony of John the Baptist who was alongside Jesus when he had baptized him. “John gave this testimony: ‘I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, “The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.” I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God.'” (John 1:32-34). That the divine Sonship of Jesus Christ might be made known to Israel was another reason Jesus went to the Jordan and was baptized by John. John himself says this: “The reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.” (Jn. 1:31). So the fact that Jesus was the Son of God was made known from the very beginning of his ministry. Three things confirmed that:
i] ‘Jesus saw heaven being torn open.’ You all realise that this was not the sight of a little door in the sky opening and a blaze of light coming out and the sounds of praise from inside. Rather, you must think of it like this, that you are standing on the promenade looking out to sea, and there before you is the whole vault of heaven and the sea stretching out to the distant horizon, and suddenly that whole heaven, like a vast curtain has been grasped by the hands of God and torn apart. You are seeing through the prospect that was there a moment before – of the Irish Sea and the sky and Bardsey Island and the mountains of North Wales – and suddenly you are looking into heaven in all its glory. You are seeing the presence of God and all his holy angels and the spirits of just men made perfect. You are standing in the bright joyful presence of that reality. That is what Jesus saw, and there are times in our own lives when it seems to us that the curtain is drawn back for a moment and our sight of the celestial city is very clear. Our assurance of the end of our pilgrimage is very surpassing strong. We see beyond our shadowlands into what is real life. It can happen to us especially when we are young in the faith, but not only then. Remember what happened to Paul when he was caught up and given a sight of the third heaven. John Flavel, the author of “The Mystery of Providence” had an experience of God’s blessing of which we are told, “He many years after called that day one of the days of heaven, and he professed that he understood more of the life of heaven by it than by all the books he ever read or discourses he ever entertained.”
We have to live our lives by faith, and then once in a while there may be ‘a sunset touch’, a decisive moment which God gives to us when ‘heaven comes down and glory fills our souls.’ It can happen as we worship. It can happen as we hear God speaking in the word. The congregation remain sitting in their seats after the benediction, silent, considering all that has come to them. One of the things that Mark is telling us in the very manner he has chosen to write his gospel is that we are to look at the life of Jesus as one who ever lived coram deo, before the face of God, the one who set God at his right hand every day, who knew that heaven was just a thin veil away. This heaven comes to us as we draw near to Jesus. He brings us to heaven and he brings heaven to us. As you see his life, and hear his voice you are changed, and they sanctify you making you a citizen of heaven, setting your affections above. In the life of Christ we discover the heavenly dimension of life, and without it we never see it, and we are world-bound men, limited by this world’s horizons alone, living within these poor restrictions, poor world-bound creatures.
ii] ‘Jesus saw the Spirit descending like a dove.’ Now we know that the Lord Jesus was begotten by the Holy Ghost. He was overshadowed by the Spirit. His birth was from above, and he was filled with the Spirit from that time. There was no area of his life which was a no-go area to the Spirit. You say, “But if he were full of the Spirit then what is the significance of the coming of the Spirit upon him now?” That can be answered in a number of ways:
The Spirit’s coming in the form of a dove signifies the certainty of the new creation that Jesus is to bring in. After God had immersed the earth with the flood of his judgment at the time of Noah, those alone who were in the ark were saved. When would the judgment on the earth end? Many months went by, eight, nine, ten, until finally Noah opened the window of the ark and sent out a dove twice, and the second time the dove returned it was with a fleshly plucked olive leaf in its beak. Noah knew that the waters had abated, and the full judgment of the Lord on that generation had been exhausted. So it was that after Jesus emerges from the waters of the Jordan the Spirit in the form of a dove appears and settled on Christ. God’s new creation was going to be inaugurated and it is going to be through the work of Christ. “I will begin again by my Son,” God was saying.
Again, the Holy Spirit came to bear witness to the significance of Jesus. “He shall testify of me,” Jesus was to say. And he did it by coming down on Jesus and remaining on Jesus. The Spirit found no sin there to ever be driven away. Throughout his ministry as prophet, priest and king the Spirit was there.
Again, the Holy Spirit came to anoint Jesus for his ministry. Immediately Jesus is led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan. Then the Lord sets to and works day and night for three years. The demands on him for teaching and healing and saving are enormous. He can become so weary that he will fall asleep on a pillow in a little boat. He will be exhausted, and yet has to get up in the night to pray. Here in all the frailty of his human flesh he is baptized and he needs a fresh and greater endowment of the Spirit. He comes without measure upon Jesus. He is one day to pour out the Spirit upon all the church so he must receive unmeasured possession of the Spirit. Isn’t the need of the church today that the Spirit of God be outpoured upon God’s servants for their ministries? What a dismal future would lie before us if I said to you, “Well, we have the Spirit in all his fulness, and there is no theological or biblical reason to ask for him to be outpoured upon us again. Let us simply plod on and be faithful.” What wretched counsels! I believe that Christ outpours the Spirit in abundance on the church and that there are times when he makes lukewarm preachers and congregations burning and shining lights, so reviving his work. I believe it is possible for a man to go to bed like a lamb and get up like a lion and for extraordinary things to be achieved in the name of Christ with many coming under great conviction of sin and thousands being converted in a very short time. Let us pray for the Holy Spirit to come upon God’s servants, upon me, in a new way, as he came upon Christ at the beginning of the most extraordinary three years this world has ever seen.
iii] “A voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased’.” (v.11). What a wonderful Trinitarian scene we see here, the Son of God rising from the waters of baptism, the Spirit of God descending on him like a dove, and the Father’s voice from heaven bearing witness of his love. It would be impossible for Jesus to be revealed in all his glory without the Father and the Spirit being there. How the Father encourages Jesus for the ministry that lies ahead. “For thirty years you have lived with your mother Mary and Joseph and their children in Nazareth. You have taken the path of service in obscurity. You have been content to honour me there, loving me with all your heart and loving your neighbours as yourself. Son, I have been well pleased with that. I do love you.”
God says that to everyone of his faithful children. “The way has often been hard, and you have been misunderstood, but I want to tell you that you are my dear, dear child, and I am delighted with you.” That is what the Lord is saying to all his children today. You say, “To all his other children, but not to me.” But I am insisting that he says these words to you especially, because the Good Shepherd tenderly deals with those who limp, and he carries them in his bosom. We are in Christ are we not? And if he said those words to Christ then we also are the beneficiaries of his divine affection for Christ’s sake. Loved with everlasting love; led by grace that love to know. So God sends Jesus forth to work and to resist temptation assured that he was loved by God: “Son I really love you.”
5. CHRIST WAS BAPTIZED TO IDENTIFY WITH HIS PEOPLE.
There is a great line of repentant sinners standing soberly and sorrowing on the bank of the Jordan waiting to go down into the waters to John to be baptized. Survey them there in your mind with me, standing in that long guilty line. There’s a thief, a drunkard, an adulterer, a liar, a bully, a wife-beater, an idol-worshiper, a torturer, Jesus, a murderer, a forger, a troublemaker, a braggart, a terrorist, a blasphemer, an abuser of children, a spendthrift . . . and hundreds more, every one a sinner, and there is Jesus made in the likeness of sinful flesh standing in line between the torturer and the murderer, indistinguishable outwardly, but inwardly he is wholly without sin. As the prophet said, Messiah would be numbered with the transgressors. He stands with sinners in solidarity; he stands for sinners in substitution. He will hang on a tree as the Lamb of God and bear the sins of the world. At the last he will do more than stand with them in their sin, he will be made sin for them. That is why he stands here in this sinner’s baptism because one day he will climb Golgotha in love and stand in the closest possible contact with sinners, taking responsibility for their sin and answering for it before the throne of God.
The Lord Jesus has taken the sinner’s nature, and his low condition, and his religion too – he has been circumcised on the eighth day. Throughout his childhood he sat in the synagogue, surrounded by sinners, and he went up to Jerusalem to the Temple and the feasts three times a year, and he was surrounded by sinners. He made his own a sinner’s religion of confession and imploring the mercy of God. He sang the psalms of sinners. Now he takes a sinner’s baptism, and he is pre-enacting the actual baptism into the wrath and curse of God which would soon take place on Golgotha when all the waves of judgment which our sins merit would fall on him, not us.
In his baptism Jesus proclaims his unspeakable closeness with sinners. He abhors not standing with them, identifying with them, because for this reason he has come into the world, to save them from their sin. He is saying to us, “Don’t be afraid of me. There is no reason to be afraid. When I come to you in the Word, then receive me and all I have to offer you. Confess you need of me. Repent of your sins and be baptized every one of you for the remission of sins. You too shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit and the inward witness of the Father’s love.”
“Jesus says, let each believer be baptized in My name;
Thus Himself in Jordan’s river was immersed beneath the stream.
Plainly here His footsteps tracing, follow Him without delay,
Gladly His command embracing, Lo! Your captain leads the way.” (John Fawcett,1740-1817).
When the Moravian missionaries were working in Greenland they contacted one family and one of the older daughters was converted and baptized. Her father was not, and he had considerable possessions. The daughter went to work near the Moravian meeting place. One day when the father was at the capelin fishery (capelin are small fish abundant in the waters of Newfoundland and Greenland) he bumped into his daughter quite unexpectedly and his resentment that she had left home and become an evangelical Christian burst out. She listened quietly and then modestly told him again her reasons for following Christ, and the joy she now knew. She said, “You could be as happy as I am if you knew the Lord. But if you refuse . . . I can’t stay with you and perish.” Her words really touched him, and he found himself in tears, and much to her surprise he said to her, “I will come with you.” When he met the Moravian preacher he said to him, “I want all my children to follow Christ and be baptized as she has. As for myself, I dare not think of baptism, as I am very bad, and old too, and incapable of learning much more. But yet I will live and die with you, for it is very reviving to me to hear of our Saviour.”
Men and women, the condition for baptism is that you feel as that Greenlander felt, “I am very bad.” That is no prohibition to prevent anyone being baptized, just as long as you repent for being so bad and with new purpose of heart struggle against it by the strength that the Saviour, Jesus, provides. Age is no barrier, however young, or however old, you may be, that does not matter. What matters is that you recognise your sins and place all your hope for their forgiveness in the Lord Christ, in the hearing of whose name your life is revived.
6th October 2002 GEOFF THOMAS