Free Reformed Church of Kelmscott
(Sermon held prior to the celebration of the Lord's Supper)
Singing: (Psalms and Hymns are from the "Book of Praise"
Anglo Genevan Psalter)
Beloved Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ!
Johnís baptism, we heard last week, revolved around the notion of repentance. According to Is 40, the One who was coming was none less than the Lord God Himself, but the people were unclean on account of their sins. They had to repent, be sorry for sin, and, by Old Testament ordinance, they needed washing to be cleansed of sin. Hence Johnís baptism; it was a symbol that the sins they confessed were washed away. For that baptism of repentance they came to him in droves.
Jesus of Nazareth appeared one day too amongst the crowds congregating before John for his baptism. John knew who his second cousin was, just as we know who He was. He knew it from Old Testament Scripture; Is 40, for example. And the words the angel had spoken to Joseph before Jesusí birth Ėitís recorded in Mt 1- confirmed it: He was "conceived of the Holy Spirit" (vs 20) Ė and therefore true God! He is "Immanuel" (vs 23) Ė God with us. This was material John knew, and thatís why heíd told the crowds that "the kingdom of heaven is at hand" and therefore they had to repent. And that wasnít all; John knew also that the Coming One "will save His people from their sins" (vs 21); hence His name ĎJesusí.
Surely, beloved, this means that Jesusí rightful place is not with the people seeking washing; His rightful place is surely beside John, repeating, stressing the Baptistís preaching, calling on the people to repent. But see: Jesus does not join John on his pulpit demanding repentance from the crowds; Jesus instead joins the crowds and seeks Johnís baptism-of-repentance for Himself! We puzzle, and we share Johnís displeasure at Jesusí request for baptism. We share Johnís confusion in vs 14: "I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?"
See now Jesusí response, brothers and sisters. "Permit it now," He says, and adds the ground for His insistence on Johnís baptism: "for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness." Notice first of all that Jesus does not say that He alone has to fulfill all righteousness Ė as if Jesus is here thinking first of all of the cross of Calvary. No, the two of them together have to fulfill all righteousness. Thatís what Jesus says: "thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness." In other words: at this point in the history of salvation Jesus needs Johnís cooperation. That is: Jesus seeks Johnís baptism, and John may not hinder it; Jesus needs that baptism "to fulfill all righteousness."
But how, we wonder, does Johnís baptism help Jesus to fulfill all righteousness? The point here is, congregation, that God in heaven has a program as to how fallen sinners can be made righteous again before Him. That program has been outlined in the Old Testament. Jesus of Nazareth must follow that program. That is the point of the phrase "fulfill all righteousness." As to which Old Testament passages detail the program requiring Jesusí baptism, we can think of Isaiah 53. That prophecy mentions, for example, that the Coming One would be "numbered with the transgressors" (vs 12). Thatís exactly what Jesus does in Mt 3. He doesnít stand beside John and call the people to repentance; no, He stands among the people, is one of them Ė like unto His brethren in every respect (cf Heb 2:17). Thatís His point in demanding the baptism: Jesus is one of the crowd.
Was Jesus saying, then, that He was a sinner like the rest of the people? No, He did not say that. Vs 16 says that when Jesus was baptized He "came up immediately from the water." Thatís different from other the baptisms John administered. The others were baptized and in the process mentioned their sins (cf vs 6). But Jesus had no sins to confess, and therefore came directly out of the water. And that lack-of-confession did not upset heaven; else the Holy Spirit would not have come upon Jesus nor heaven declare Godís pleasure in Him (vss 16f).
Yes, Jesus was like His brethren, just one of the people. He didnít place Himself above the people, nor did He hob-knob with the goody-goodies. He rather numbered Himself with those who needed cleansing from sin, numbered Himself with sinners! That is why, on Calvaryís cross three years later, the wrath of God on sinners could be poured out on Him. But No, a sinner who had to pay for His own sins He was not. Thatís why He could give His life as a ransom for the salvation of others.
This is the One who says today: My brothers, My sisters, sit with Me at My table! This is the One who says: I numbered Myself with the transgressors, one of the crowd, so that I might lay down My life for you. So I fulfilled all righteousness, accomplished Godís program of salvation for your benefit.
How marvelous the gospel! Amen.