Matthew 3:13-17

This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on January 12, 2014.

There have been two consistent themes from the beginning of the gospel of Matthew.  The first is the theme of fulfillment.  The second is the theme of royalty. Both are present in this scene.  Jesus was recognized as the fulfillment of God’s plan on earth.  His birth was predicted (Matthew 1:21).  His survival was predicted (Matthew 2:13).  His herald was predicted (Matthew 3:3).  And finally, in the climactic baptismal scene, God himself spoke a word of affirmation, as he revealed Jesus to be his own beloved son.

Jesus was also introduced as the royal king.  Jewish kings had to be anointed by a prophet before they could assume the powers and responsibilities of the throne (1 Samuel 10:1; 15:1; 16:1; 2 Kings 9:6).  Matthew described an evil king who sought to usurp that process and kill the righteous king.  The righteous king prevailed only through divine intervention.  And in the baptism of Jesus, the righteous king was cleansed in water, and anointed by the presence of the Holy Spirit.  In the Old Testament the anointing was thought to be a symbol of the presence and empowering of the Holy Spirit (1 Samuel 16:13).  Jesus voluntarily submitted to the rite of purification, was publicly anointed by the Holy Spirit, and was proclaimed to be God’s royal Son.

There are two parts to the scene: the encounter between Jesus and John the Baptist; and, the baptism. Jesus voluntarily came to John to express his desire to be baptized. Jesus travelled to the wilderness of Judea with the specific intention of being baptized by John in the Jordan River.  There was again a sense of fulfillment.  Matthew had to deal with the obvious incongruence of the sinless Jesus needing to embrace a baptism of repentance of sin.  He handled it nicely in two ways. First, he noted that Jesus’ baptism was unique in that he had no need of repentance, but rather was being baptized in order to model obedience to God. In this sense Jesus’ baptism was a fulfillment of God’s will. Jesus would fulfill everything that was expected of him, whether it was foretold in the Scriptures or not. Second, he emphasized anew the superiority of Jesus over John.  Again, this was accomplished through the words of John himself, who admitted that it was Jesus who should be baptizing him, not vice-versa.  Jesus wanted to model righteousness for his own disciples, and in so doing, fulfill God’s will for his life.

John baptized Jesus. As Jesus was coming up out of the water he saw the heavens open up, the Spirit came upon him, and he heard the voice of God proclaiming Jesus to be his beloved son.  This scene is rife with theological implications.

For instance, here is the first allusion to the divine trinity.  It is a rarity to find the Son, Spirit, and Father together in one scene. Jesus was “from the Holy Spirit,” from his conception (Matthew 1:20). However, the Spirit’s presence at the baptism of Jesus signaled the formal inauguration of his ministry, and was based on the king’s coronation.  The era that began with Jesus was the age of the Spirit (Isaiah 61:1). The Spirit was being set loose upon the world. In the Old Testament, the Spirit was thought to be present in certain important leaders, like Moses, David, Elijah, and Daniel. The Spirit could come upon a person to empower them for some critical task. However, the Spirit could also leave them if they failed in obedience to God (1 Samuel 16:14).  All of that changed with Jesus.  The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit work in concert in the life of every Christian.

Here we also find the vital and yet mysterious role of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit was involved in the birth (Luke 1:35), baptism (John 1:32-33), temptation (Matthew 4:1), ministry (Matthew 12:1), death (Luke 23:46), and resurrection of Jesus (Romans 1:4; 8:11). The Holy Spirit was the force by which Jesus was commissioned (Luke 4:18), and by which the disciples are able to do their work (Mark 13:11).  Ultimately, it was the Holy Spirit that gave birth to the church (Acts 2:4) in fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies about the age of the Spirit (Joel 2:28-32; Acts 2:16-21). The Holy Spirit was intimately involved in the salvation of souls and the work of the church (John 3:5; Matthew 28:19-20).

Here also is the emphasis on Jesus’ willingness to take part in a rite reserved for sinners, first signaling his identification as one who came to take on the sins of the world (Romans 4:25; 1 Corinthians 15:3; 2 Corinthians 5:21).  Jesus descended into our world and took on our flesh becoming obedient to God, even in death, in order that we might have life (Romans 6:23; Philippians 2:5-8).  In Jesus’ baptism we find the first symbolic clue, not only to Jesus’ identity as divine Son, but also to his divine purpose.  In Jesus, baptism became a symbol of descending into sin and death and rising again a new person (Romans 6:4; Colossians 2:12).

And finally, there is the relationship between divine Father, and beloved Son.  The rending of the heavens, and pronouncement of the Father seemed to have apocalyptic overtones.  John’s announcement that the “Kingdom of God is near” (Matthew 3:2), became the “Kingdom of God has arrived” in Jesus (Matthew 12:28) and everything that Jesus brought to earth came directly from God, the Father (John 17:1-10).

Before Jesus began his dynamic and controversial ministry, the Father gave him everything he needed to fulfill the divine plan.  In the baptismal scene, the divine Father told his Son the three things every child needs to hear from their father or mother: (1) You are mine; (2) I love you; and (3) I am proud of you. Jesus had the Holy Spirit with him and the Father above him.  He was now ready to take on the forces of hell itself.

There are several possible preaching themes in this passage. The most obvious is that of fulfillment.  God is faithful to fulfill his promises.  The second is that of Jesus as King.  Jesus came, not only to save us from our sin, but also to be the ruler of our lives.  He is a good king in contrast to the evil kings of this world.  There are three preaching points in the baptism scene. First one could focus on Jesus’ obedience to his heavenly father. Picture Jesus standing in line, waiting to get baptized by John.  In return the heavenly Father pronounced his blessing on Jesus.   Secondly, one could focus on the role of the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ life, and the image of the Holy Spirit remaining on Jesus.  What role does the Holy Spirit play in your life?  Thirdly, one could focus on God’s blessing.  Those we love need to hear us verbalize the same blessing over them: You are mine, I love you, and I am proud of you.  These words, spoken often to each other, would make the world a much better place.

 

Dr. Ellis Orozco
Senior Pastor
First Baptist Church, Richardson, TX
eorozco@fbcr.org

 

 

One comment

  1. Matthew Hanzelka

    As I’ve been studying these verses in preparation for preaching on them this week at http://www.GraceWilCo.com, I’ve found myself going back to the simplicity of being baptized in a muddy river with the rest of us, and the humility of Jesus making the multi-day trip to John for this. I also keep going back to those words about water in Gilead by Robinson, i.e., that water was given to us not just to wash clothes or vegetables, but for blessing.

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