Matthew 3:13-17 (ESV)
The Baptism of Jesus
13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16 And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; 17 and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
Typically, the more time you spend with someone, the better you know them. If you spend enough time with a person, you start to know them well enough that you know how they’ll react to different things. Friends sometimes are able to finish each other’s thoughts or sentences. Spouses know exactly what buttons they can push if they want a specific kind of reaction. They also know how many times they can push that button before they cross that invisible line of too many times. Over time, you have a good idea of how different friends, family, and even co-workers will react in certain situations. There are people you know who keep a calm composure on the outside in all circumstances, but inside … inside, that person is a hot mess. “Still waters run deep,” we could say of that kind of person. “Rough waters run shallow” would be something we could say of someone who wears their emotions on their sleeve for there is no guessing what that person is thinking or feeling.
In our Gospel lesson, in the story of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River by John the Baptist, it is pretty easy to see which person is which. Let me explain.
As the six-month older cousin of Jesus, John the Baptist is one who knew Jesus pretty well. Extended families then are not like how most extended families are now. Back in Jesus’ day, extended families were close knit families. They did things together, they worked with each other, they spent time with each other. So John would have probably known Jesus pretty well.
John also had a pretty good understanding of Jesus’s mission as well. John knew that he was prophetically preparing the way. John himself knows that he is the voice calling out in the desert, “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him” (Matthew 3:3). John is the one who tells the crowd gathered on the banks of the Jordan River, “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” (3:11).
On the river bank, John preaches and calls out the Pharisees and Sadducees who seem to only be following the crowd to see what all the commotion is about. John says to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee the coming wrath?” (3:7). You see, John didn’t hold anything back. The water with John was shallow and rough as he wore his emotions on his sleeves. John knew very well that the Pharisees and Sadducees, they weren’t coming out to him to profess the repentance of their sins, for they didn’t think they had anything to repent of. And this is exactly why John is out in the wilderness. He knew people were sinful and he knew they needed to repent. So in his preaching, John was preaching about the coming Day of the Lord, he was urging people to repent of their sins, be washed of them, and then as forgiven people to bear good fruit to God’s glory (3:8). In the gospel of John, a different John, John the Baptist identifies Jesus as the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).
So knowing Jesus so well, it would be hard to imagine anything about Jesus which would surprise John. But then as John is talking to the crowd who wants to be baptized, who does he see walk toward him and into the water but his very own cousin. Jesus, the one who John is not worthy to carry his sandals comes to him to be baptized. John says, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” (Matthew 3:14). John didn’t understand, but John would learn very soon that “still waters run deep.”
You see, the baptism of Jesus was the act which would be the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. Jesus came to John to be baptized because he wanted John and as well as all of us to put the specifics of our religious knowledge into clear focus of Jesus’ saving mission. Jesus said to John, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness” (3:15). John consented and baptized Jesus in the running waters of the Jordan River.
Of all the different people you know in your life … the most important one for any of us to know is Jesus. We should know Jesus the best. But even if you are a strong or a life-long Christian … that’s not the easiest thing to do since we don’t see him like we see our friends and family members. What do we know about Jesus? What do we know about Jesus especially in light of our gospel lesson, in light of his own baptism? From his own mouth, we know that Jesus wanted to be baptized to “fulfill all righteousness.” Let’s ask the question our confirmation students dread to hear … “what does this mean?” What does Jesus mean by “fulfill all righteousness?” Isn’t Jesus already righteous? John was preaching about the people’s lack of righteousness. Remember what he said to the Pharisees and Sadducees as they came out to him? “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee the coming wrath?” (3:7).
You know your sins and I know my sins. The Bible promises judgment for our sins. “The wages of sins is death” (Romans 6:23a). So in all of John’s preaching, he was right. He was right that the people on that river bank, that you and I need to repent. But … but he was also right in that Jesus didn’t need baptism for the repentance of his sins because Jesus doesn’t have any sins. He is sinless! He is perfect! Or is he?
Before you judge me, hear me out. Didn’t Jesus come to carry your sins and mine? Yeah, he did. As part of his humiliation, as part of his leaving the glorious realm of heaven and humbling himself to be like you and me, Jesus literally takes all of your sins and mine and absorbs them. By being baptized, Jesus began his public ministry, showing that he steps into our unrighteousness, our ungodliness, our sinfulness in order to bring us God’s righteousness, God’s holiness. Instead of just ushering in the end time and the final judgment, Jesus gives us an advance look at how God’s righteousness comes to us.
All of the things which Jesus did in being obedient to his parents, all the things he did in his public ministry, all the things which he did in his life, they were done perfectly and without sin. Because of that they fulfilled God’s requirement for gaining access into heaven. But here’s the thing … we can’t do that. We failed the moment were we conceived. Jesus knew that, Jesus knew that you and I couldn’t meet those requirements, so he stepped in. He stepped into your shoes, my shoes and he carried on his shoulders, within his very being your sins. He carried them all the way to the cross. His work of forgiveness and life is validated by his resurrection and the benefits given to you by the Holy Spirit in your baptism. “God made him, Jesus, who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).
“Still waters run deep.” That is very true of Jesus, and it can be true of you too. It can be true of you the more you get to know your Savior. As a Christian, it is very easy to think that you know Jesus pretty well. You may not know him as well as John the Baptist did, but you still know who Jesus is. But here’s the thing … Jesus is deeper, far deeper than any of us know.
Troubles come our way in this sinful world. That is a given. Sometimes these troubles are troubles that our own sin have brought upon us. Other times, these troubles of ours come from the unrighteousness of other people. To prepare you for those times, to prepare you for those troubles … tuck today’s gospel lesson of Jesus’ baptism into your mind. Jesus’ ministry steps into our unrighteous world, our dark and sinful world, in order to give us God’s righteousness, God’s love, grace, and peace. Please, don’t confuse Jesus’ silence for his lack of caring. Don’t draw the conclusion that your prayer for help is not being answered. Jesus was baptized to assure you and me that he hears those prayers as he is standing there with you. Trust the promise! His care for you runs deep. In all the unrighteousness of our lives, Jesus brings you God’s righteousness. He brought that to you in the waters of your very own baptism. Jesus’ presence gives you a calm composure to face daily life. And one day, one day he will bring you to the still waters of the Lord’s eternal house. Until then … your spiritual waters can run deep because the most important person of all stands with you. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, now and forever. Amen.