Message: A Prelude To Righteousness | Scripture: Matthew 3:13-17 | Speaker: Stephen Choy
- Take some time to reflect on and summarize the sermon in your own words. What did you like about it? What did you not like about it? If you had some questions about it to ask one another (or Pastor Stephen) what would those questions be and try to answer them together.
- Be gracious, supportive and receptive to one another and to your group facilitators in this because they/you may not have all the answers!
- Call Pastor Stephen if you get stuck!
- Discuss one way God’s used this past sermon (or one of the previous few sermons) to grow you and/or challenge you.
- Perhaps in how your testimony by word does not always accord with the way you live your life?
- Perhaps in your willingness (or unwillingness) to spread and live out the gospel?
- Perhaps in how little (or much) you live in anticipation for the glory and world to come in seeing God (and how this affects the way you combat sin, look forward to the day, treat your relationships, etc.)?
- What is baptism, and why is it important? Is it important? Does baptism save us? If not, why do we receive it?
- How is John’s baptism different than circumcision? Is baptism today’s version of circumcision? Why/why not?
- Why was it necessary that Jesus be baptized?
- Walking through Matthew 1 to 3, who/what, in particular, is Matthew trying to draw a comparison of Jesus to? Why is it necessary that Matthew draws this comparison (think audience of the book, purpose/theme of the book, etc.)?
- What part of our church/service to our church do you feel you should contribute more to but don’t because of fear, time, comfortability, etc.? How might you dedicate yourself to that part/service more intentionally over the coming weeks/months?
- When you serve, what do you normally fix your gaze (this can mean your hope) upon? Is it on the glory of God/knowing God, on the fear of man, on the fear of self (i.e. letting yourself down or feeling like a failure)? Why does the gospel help us in tackling our fears? Why does this story of Christ’s baptism help us/counsel us in how to approach our service if it is not oriented towards God?
- Has our time in Matthew so far changed the way that you approach the rest of your reading in Scripture? If it has, how has it?
- Do you have any other questions from this text that you want to bring up to the group and that the group might be able to help you answer?
- Discuss one way that we can pray for you as a group.
- Provide/encourage us with an update of something that God is doing to apply his gospel in your life/how the beauty and preciousness of Jesus is being freshly applied to your current situation.
I was once in a conversation with a gentleman that I didn’t know too well, and we began talking about marriage. Now, compared to him, I had been married for a much shorter time, so he took it upon himself to preach to me about all the things I need to do with my wife—all the ways to wine and dine her, all the ways to make her happy—really all the ways to have a successful marriage. And the thing is, not all of his “sermon” was bad. In fact, there are many things, had they been said to me by my own father, I would have not only listened intently, but I would have made every effort to put into practice those words in my life.
But then, we went to this person’s home to eat with him and his family, and what I saw was a man who cared more about his ego than his wife. He cared more about being heard than hearing. He yelled at his wife condescendingly. He angered his children relentlessly. He spoke mindlessly. He sought attention frivolously. And in those few moments, everything that he had told me about himself—all the things he pridefully boasted about as reasons he felt blessed by God in his marriage—things that he said I should emulate—was forgotten.
Now, you would be right to think that what I’m describing to you is hypocrisy, but I hope you see that it’s actually more than just about hypocrisy because hypocrisy is the very thing that gives way to an unbelievable testimony. And that is what I want to talk about today. Today, isn’t just a discussion about how we shouldn’t be hypocrites—it’s a discussion about how to value true righteousness—that is to possess an integrity of character, inside and out, that is pleasing to God—not only for our own sake but also, and more importantly, for the sake of our testimony—for our witness to the world.
This morning, we get a glimpse of that—a prelude, if you will, to a true righteousness that grounds one’s testimony—in the life of Christ as we come to Matthew 3:13-17. So, I invite you now to follow along as I read it to you. TWoL: 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.”
The question I’m asking today—or that is being asked of us today from this text—is what is a testimony that is worth hearing, believing, and following? It is a testimony that fulfills all righteousness, and as the new, glorified, covenant people of God, we ought to be the ones fulfilling it—that is our proposition. Now, if you’ve read the text with me, you’ll probably say, immediately, that we aren’t the ones who fulfill it—Jesus is. And to that, I say, you’re correct, but allow me to explain myself as we wade through the passage starting with my first point: fulfill all righteousness as the new, glorified, covenant people of God . . .
1) By Participating in Jesus’ Service
One of the important points of context that I kind of left out intentionally last week, as it also relates to our passage today, is that John’s ministry of baptism is something completely new to the Jews that are being baptized. What is not immediately obvious in our text is that John’s requirement not only for repentance but for baptism would have been extremely offensive to Israel’s religion because of the particular claim that was being made by the Pharisees and Sadducees.
These men were going around and making claims that their salvation was secure due to the fact that they were children of Abraham. And, in that day, what was proof for that claim? It was the fact that they had been circumcised.
So, John, here, is telling these Pharisees and Sadducees, in a radical way, that their security as the covenant, circumcised people of God is a false security. It’s radical because he’s risking everything—his livelihood, his ministry—on telling Jews, people under the thumb of the Pharisees and Sadducees, that they needed, in essence, to renounce their dependency on the sign of the covenant, which they received as infants. And in exchange, they would have to step out, having renounced their covenant membership via circumcision—turning their back on their entire Jewish tradition and belief system, including their families—and receive a different sign—a different seal to show that they were not resting on their Jewishness.
If I might clarify, this was not a continuation, of any sort, of circumcision. John is creating a distinction here between the sign of circumcision and the sign of baptism because of the ways the Jews had misinterpreted what circumcision was and mishandled how it was to be received, namely, that they believed it to be their assurance of God’s favour while living in unrepentant sin. John Piper puts it this way, “[John the Baptist was proclaiming that] Circumcision was a sign of ethnic continuity; [whereas] baptism was a sign of spiritual reality.” What John started was a new people under a new covenant brought in by a heart-transforming repentance and faith in the coming Messiah, which is then publicly proclaimed and validated through the visible act of baptism.
Gone was the false institution of affirming covenant membership based upon your external representations, such as the colour of your skin, circumcision, or your outward observance of the law. One’s true inclusion into the family of God—to be called his son our daughter—was now predicated on what one believed not by your outward appearance but by how the outward accorded with the inward—with a repentant heart.
It is within this context that Jesus comes to John in verse 13 from Galilee—some 70 miles away. He walks into the midst of this spiritual war between the religion of the Jews—of the Pharisees and Sadducees—and John’s call for repentance and the administration of a new covenant sign. What’s more is that Jesus comes to receive that sign to what must have been the disdain of all Israel’s leaders. And while we’re glad that Jesus distinguishes himself this way from the Pharisees and Sadducees, his desire to be baptized ought to baffle us, as it does John, because, as verse 14 reveals to us, John does not think he’s worthy to baptize Jesus. He knows who Jesus is. Jesus is the reason for these Jews being baptized. He is the Messiah who ought to be worshipped and followed. He is without sin and need for repentance.
But, not only does he know who Jesus is, but John, knowing his own ministry—living in the wilderness, wearing rags, eating an unsatisfying diet, not to mention that he’s the first man who’s been gifted with the prophetic understanding of who the Messiah is in over 400 years—John is a humble man. He knows, as he stands before Jesus, his own sin. He knows that his ministry is meaningless without what Jesus comes to provide, that is, a greater baptism. So, why does Jesus insist on being baptized by one who is lesser? Why does he insist on baptism at all as one who has no need to repent?
And I believe the answer to our questions is in the first part of Jesus’ answer in verse 15, “Let it be so now . . .” In other words, the time for Jesus’ ministry is not yet at hand. Jesus is looking at John and saying, “this is still your hour.” What does he mean by that? Well, who is John? He’s a prophet—a forerunner—someone who shares the lineage of those who have come before, namely, Old Testament prophets. His ministry belongs, like all of them, under the Old Covenant. And if John comes under the Old Covenant, then Jesus who comes to fulfill the Old Covenant must submit himself to John’s ministry.
This is why the text follows with the ground—the reason—for why Jesus submits to John now. It’s because in his being baptized by John—in his willing and total submission of his person under the ministry of the prophets—both Jesus and John, together, fulfill all righteousness. John is fulfilling all righteousness by preparing the way for the Messiah—by preaching that true citizenship in the kingdom of heaven is through repentance and not circumcision. Jesus is fulfilling all righteousness by obeying all the precepts and requirements of the covenant facilitated by the prophets—all of them—including John’s requirement for a new sign of the covenant that follows repentance.
By his baptism—along with his obedience to the law—along with his wondrous works—Jesus fulfills, prior to the cross, the entirety of the law as the only righteous one of God. Since John is the current, forerunning voice of God, Jesus obeys God by listening to John.
But we cannot stop there. Because if that was all that Jesus meant by fulfilling all righteousness, then Jesus would only be a credible judge for our rebellion and our sin as those who, in contrast to him, are unrighteous. See, by saying that “it is fitting for us—that is John and Jesus—to fulfill all righteousness,” Christ is not speaking merely of obedience, but he’s also speaking in terms of identification, namely, that John’s ministry is a call for all the true people of God to repent and be baptized. Jesus is not fulfilling his own righteousness. He is fulfilling all righteousness in his baptism.
He is identifying with his people in their sinfulness. He knows that the whole nation—all those who belong to the kingdom of heaven—they need to repent, and Jesus is the forerunner of that nation. He has come to serve them. So, Jesus presents himself as one who is repentant under the Old Covenant prophets, so that through him, as the true Israel, those who belong to him might have a lasting confession and sign.
This is what we learn in Matthew 1 to 3. Jesus is the new creation, the new exodus out of Egypt, the new faithful wanderer in the wilderness, and the new means of crossing the spiritual river that separates God from his people. By his baptism and what it signifies—one’s death to sin and rebirth to the newness of a God-pleasing life—he fulfills and satisfies the entirety of the righteous requirement of the Old Covenant Tradition in contrast to the previous Israel who could not. He is the true Israel. Let me say this another way, Jesus humbles and condescends himself as a sacrificial servant to John’s ministry and baptism, just as he does to the rest of the law, and then, ultimately, to the cross, so that by his obedience, he might make his disobedient people acceptable to God.
The glory of God’s plan of salvation in history is revealed in this act of Christ’s humble baptism. His reign is not one that comes by force and supplants earthly authorities by magnificent displays of power. Rather, it comes like a whisper to Elijah on Mount Horeb, or a stone in the bed of a river to David, or a mustard seed that no one expects to blossom into overwhelming beauty and power. Jesus comes not to overthrow the rulers and principalities, but to submit himself unassumingly to his own rules and his own prophets so that, in his righteousness, he might be the head of the eternal, true people of God—the Church.
Do you see, now, church, why the imperative is fitting for us—that we fulfill all righteousness? It is because if we proclaim to be believers of Jesus Christ—if we claim that we identify with him in his death and his resurrection—if we have received his baptism of the Holy Spirit in our regeneration, a greater sign and seal than the one delivered by John—then we will not be a people who only look the part externally, but who follow the one who has gone before. See, Israel followed its leaders in their hypocrisy. So, Jesus comes to set a new example, giving us a testimony that we can follow as those who have a heart to give of ourselves entirely to others—forsaking ourselves—knowing that this accomplishes the will of God.
Ours must be a testimony that is set apart from the world. Not as those who boast in the assumption that because we’ve said certain words, done certain good deeds, or even been baptized, (that) we can be certain of God’s favour. No, our lives must be more transformed than that. Fulfilling all righteousness for us means identifying ourselves in Christ as he went out to sinners and bore the weight of their cross.
Let me put it more bluntly, if you cannot lower yourself to get outside of your own comfortable lives to love the brother or sister you dislike or cannot stand, if you do not think it worth your time or attention to consider the need to serve all—and I mean all—whom God has given you, even if it’s difficult to do, while also simultaneously expecting Christ to do these things for you, then, perhaps, you have not truly understood what it means to believe in Jesus. Because in order to fulfill all righteousness, he had to abandon all his divine rights. How can we, then, assert our own and still say Jesus is my Lord?
Our testimony to ourselves, to our church, to our community, to the world must be grounded in how Christ, through his baptism, and even more wonderfully, through his shed blood upon that cross, has given us a way to participate with him in a ceaseless, radical, life-changing love displayed in our willing sacrifice of ourselves for sinners.
The beauty of this is that even when we fall short, Christ has not. In the cross, his fulfillment of righteousness on our behalf is complete. But we ought not dismiss the weight of the words that come at the end of verse 15, in reference to John, when it says, “Then he consented,” because John gets it. Jesus is the one fulfilling the law. He is the one identifying with and establishing his people. But Christ brings us in to be a part of that, when he says, “it is fitting—not only for him—but for us to fulfill all righteousness.”
We have a part to play, and when we’ve seen Jesus, when we humbly admit that he should not have taken that cross on for us, but has done so anyway, paying for the wrath of our guilt, shame, and sin, as he calls us to partner with him in fulfilling all righteousness, how can we do anything but give our consent—willingly, urgently, and fervently? It is my belief that there is nothing else we can do, nor should there be anything else that we want to do. Fulfill all righteousness as the new, glorified, covenant people of God by participating in and being imitators of Jesus’ service to us.
2) By Anticipating Jesus’ Glory
Allow me to address one possible concern that you might have with what I’ve just said. Perhaps, some of you are sitting there wondering, “to what limit are we required to display Christ sacrificially to all whom God has placed in our midst?” And to that I say cautiously, “the limit is to the extent that you have been enabled by the Spirit.” But let me emphasize the caution of the answer more than the answer itself because what we often don’t realize is the immensity to which each of us have been enabled.
Take just a moment to consider verse 16. That Christ—who is the second person of the Trinity, God himself, Maker of heaven and earth, upholder of the cosmos, eternally begotten, come to dwell in human flesh, to live in our form, to suffer our vulnerabilities, to be surrounded by our wickedness, to smell our decay, to walk with those who were not even worthy to share the air with him—he identified with us to the point of bearing the image of a sinner and partaking in the necessary ceremonies required of sinners for their cleansing. Outside of his crucifixion and atonement for sin, to which this event foreshadows, there is nothing lower, humanly speaking, than that the God-Man might be baptized.
This, brothers and sisters, is the highest form of offense. This is our shame on full display—that the Son of Man, God himself, Lord over all might condescend to the point not only of being like us in our humanity, but that he might identify as the least of us. And yet, even more surprising than all of this, our text tells us that immediately, after rising from those murky waters of the Jordan, what happens? Do his eyes turn to the leaders of Israel or to those in the crowd who have not yet repented in judgment? Does he look at the Pharisees and Sadducees and lash out at them, saying, “look how far I had to go for your sake.”? No, the text says his eyes looked immediately to God.
See, true righteousness forsakes the audacity to ask, “what is my limit, or to what extent am I obligated to give up my rights, my convenience, and my comfort for the sake of my fellow man?” and, instead, it looks to heaven. True righteousness thirsts for the opportunity to see God and be immersed in his pleasure, whatever the cost may be. True righteousness is having a heart that desires the love of God more than the approval of man. True righteousness is setting our gaze upon the glory of God more than the praise of self.
This is what we see in Jesus. By all accounts, he could have said to John, “Yes, you need to be baptized by me.” He is the “I AM” come to dwell “with us.” Nothing could stop him from taking or enforcing what was rightfully his. But he does not do that. Instead, he remains in this rotting flesh, he breathes the air that we breathe, he lives the life that we ought to have lived, and still, when all is said and done, he chooses to love us, even to the point of death upon a cross.
And how is it that he, a man constrained by the humanness of his own flesh, do this? He can do this because his focus isn’t upon himself, and it isn’t upon what those in the crowd think of him. His focus is upon his fellowship with God the Father and on the coming indwelt presence and power of the Holy Spirit. Here, in Christ’s incomparable humility, the fullness of the Godhead is pleased to act and dwell.
And I believe this passage serves as a precedent for all of us—that the man or woman who sets his or her gaze upon God is a man or woman who receives the fullness of the pleasure of God. The one who seeks out the glory of God over the glory of self is one who shall forever be called the beloved son or daughter of God. He who seeks to fulfill the will of God shall be made able to accomplish it in the Spirit of God. Why? Because in so doing we imitate Christ. We find union with Christ. We become participants with Christ.
Where our righteousness is motivated by a desire to make much of God, as Christ did, God, himself, shall superintend through us to be made much of, while, at the same time, making much of himself in us so that our joy—our happiness—our blessedness in him might be made complete. In our participation in the service and sacrifice of Christ, we also ensure the promise of our future inheritance with him in glory. That is where Christ fixed his gaze. This is the opportunity that we have as the new covenant people of God—that we might see his will fulfilled through us and in us, and in so doing, that we might behold the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ who was, who is, and who is still to come.
Let the wonder of Christ and the reward of God’s eternal pleasure be sufficient motivation for you to live righteous lives because both of those things were bought for you at great cost. It is in the thing that Christ’s baptism points us towards—in his cross that we find the means to persevere. But even greater than that, it is in the condescension of Christ upon that cross that we find our hope of glory. Set your eyes there more than on the world or on yourself and, in so doing, fulfill all righteousness as the new covenant people of God.