Who can tell me the name of the minor prophet that we studied all of last month? That’s right, Malachi. And just to see if you’re on your toes this morning, does anybody remember how many chapters are in the book of Malachi? Very nice, yes, there are four chapters in Malachi. And last week we looked over the last part of Malachi chapter three, and then quickly went over Malachi chapter four. And if you remember, chapter four was a great prophecy about the coming Messiah. Specifically, Malachi described the coming Messiah as the “Sun of Righteousness.” Also, at the beginning of Malachi three, Malachi prophesied that there was going to be a messenger that came and prepared the way of the LORD.
Well, last week was the conclusion of our four-part series called “God’s Message Through Malachi,” and today we are going to begin a twelve-part series entitled “Who is Jesus Christ.” Over the next twelve weeks, we are going to look at the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. The reason I chose to start this series now is because we will have the climax of the series on April 24th, which is Easter morning.
So before we begin to investigate what the Bible says about Jesus, we should take a moment to think about what the world says about Him. Friedrich Nietzsche, who was famous for his quote, “God is dead,” also said this about Christ: “Jesus died too soon. He would have repudiated His doctrine if He had lived to my age.” Nietzsche claims that if Jesus had lived longer on earth, He would have stumbled and fell, just like other people. John Lennon, one of the Beatles, also had strong words against Jesus. He said that “Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn't argue with that; I'm right and I will be proved right. We're more popular than Jesus now; I don't know which will go first - rock and roll or Christianity.” Guess what. Now the Beatles are long gone, and there are more Christians on the planet than at any other point in human history. A lady by the name of Jena Malone said that “A lot of the powerful religious leaders, from Jesus to Buddha to Tibetan monks, they're really talking about the same things: love and acceptance, and the value of friendship, and respecting yourself so you can respect others.” So Jena is not saying that there is anything necessarily wrong with Jesus, she’s just saying that He is no different from all of the other religious leaders throughout history.
But over the next twelve weeks, we are going to take an in-depth look at what the Bible says about Jesus Christ. I hope that it is a journey that will not only be enjoyable, but that will draw us ever closer to the One who set us free. So I ask you now to turn in your Bibles to Matthew 3:11, and we’ll be reading until the end of the chapter.
“I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but He that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire: Whose fan is in his hand, and He will thoroughly purge the floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire. Then cometh Jesus, from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him. But John forbad Him, saying, I have need to be baptized of Thee, and comest Thou to me? And Jesus answering said unto him, ‘Suffer it be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then he suffered Him. And Jesus, when He was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon Him: and lo a voice from heaven, saying, ‘This is my beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased.’”
Let us pray.
The title of my sermon this morning is, “Jesus: The Promised Messiah.” In the course of discussing these verses, we are going to look at how Jesus’ ministry was promised, how Jesus’ ministry was begun, and how Jesus’ ministry was verified.
Point #1: The Ministry is Promised
Let’s look again at verse eleven. “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but He that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire:” The reason I had Bro. Red read verses one through twelve earlier is so that you could hear the context that these verses falls in. Those twelve verses record in a nutshell the preaching of John the Baptist. And if you had to sum up John the Baptist’s message with one word, I think it would have to be “Repent!” Just seeing if you all are awake out there. But then in verse eleven, John changes gears and begins to tell them he is merely the forerunner of the Messiah. In fact, John the Baptist was the fulfillment of the prophecy in Malachi 3:1, where God said that He was going to send a messenger to prepare the way before Him. John in this verse says that he is not even worthy to carry around Jesus’ shoes for Him. Now, in our day of nice paved roads and nice grassy lawns, carrying around another person’s shoes is not that big of a sacrifice. But 2,000 years ago, whenever the roads were nothing but dirt that had been packed down, and whenever people walked everywhere they went, sandals could get mighty dirty. Because of this, it was a common job for slaves to take the shoes of their masters and wash them off. But John here is saying in this verse that he is not even worthy to be a slave of the coming Messiah.
Now if you are paying close attention, you may be wondering what on earth this baptism of John business is all about. I mean, we know that Christians today get baptized because of what Christ did, but why was John baptizing people? What was the baptism of John all about? Did you know that the idea of baptism was not new to John the Baptist? Actually, it was a practice all the way back to the time of Moses. You see, since the law was written, there has been a way for a Gentile to become a Jew. We’ve talked recently about how God is a missionary God, and how even in the Old Testament He desired for the Gentiles to become a part of His people. And in the Old Testament law, God provided a way for these Gentiles to join the camp of the Israelites. It was not an easy process, and to accomplish the different things showed a true zeal for being a part of the people of God. And one step in that process was being dipped in the water. The dipping showed in a symbolic way that the person was dying to their old ways, and was being brought up a Jew. Does that concept ring a bell with anyone?
But if you notice, John wasn’t focusing his ministry on baptizing Gentiles into the Jewish faith. No, John was baptizing Jews. So why was John baptizing Jews who did not technically need this ritual practice? The Bible says in verse eleven that John was baptizing people with a baptism of repentance. John was preaching a message very similar to that of the prophet Malachi. Malachi told the people that they could not merely offer lip service to God, but that true obedience came from the heart. John is telling the people in a symbolic way that it is not enough to simply be born into the Jewish race, but that they need to become a part of the spiritual people of God, by being baptized, just like the Gentiles were being baptized. John was preaching that all of the people who were simply going through the motions needed to repent of their sins, and for John, the Old Testament concept of baptism was the perfect way to show that transformation.
But John said that one day, the Messiah was going to come, and He was going to radically alter baptism, and at that point, people would be baptized with the Holy Spirit and with fire. While I think that John was prophesying the future of baptism, he was also prophesying a future where the Messiah would judge between the righteous and the unrighteous. Why do I say that? Because remember, being dipped in the water was a symbol of death. It was a symbol of dying to one’s old way of life, and being brought up in a new way of life. So I believe that John was saying that one day, every person is either going to die with the Holy Spirit or is going to die with fire. And verse twelve strengthens that point.
Verse twelve reads, “Whose fan is in his hand, and He will thoroughly purge the floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” This verse is an analogy of a farmer who is separating the good harvest from the bad harvest. Long before the days of Round-Up Ready wheat, the farmer’s harvest would be full of both wheat and weeds. And so he would use a sickle to gather up the harvest, he would put both the wheat and the weeds in an area called a threshing floor. And then whenever the wind was blowing hard enough, he would take an instrument similar to a pitchfork, and he would throw the harvest up in the air. The head of wheat was heavy enough that it would fall back to the ground, but the wind would blow the weeds to a different area of the floor. John is saying that the coming Messiah is going to arrive and begin the process of sifting people and seeing who was good and who was evil.
So it’s plain from these two verses that John was very excited about the coming ministry of the Messiah. He knew that one day soon, a Man was going to come that would be so great, that John wasn’t even worthy to carry His sandals for Him. And he also knew that this Man was going to be a perfect judge, and would judge between the righteous and the unrighteous. So John’s entire ministry revolved around preparing people for the Messiah, and telling them to repent of their sins, because Someone is coming who is going to judge sin. So point number one, the ministry of Jesus is promised.
Point #2: The Ministry is Begun
Look at verse thirteen once more. “Then cometh Jesus, from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him.” Do you ever feel like God is never going to answer your prayers? I know that sometimes I just pray and pray, and it seems like God is taking His time. I imagine that that is how the Israelites felt during the 400 years between the prophecy of Malachi and the coming of Jesus. Sometimes God takes His time answering our prayers, because He knows what is best for us, and He knows exactly when the best time for an answer is. But then sometimes, God answers our prayers before we even say “Amen.” This is the kind of answer John the Baptist gets in verse thirteen. Matthew paints the picture that as soon as John finishes his sentence in verse twelve, Jesus walked up on the scene. It seems like there’s a good chance that Jesus was listening to the entire sermon, and walked up to John at just the right time. And Jesus, the very Son of God, asked John to baptize Him in the water.
Now there’s some debate about whether John knew Jesus or not, because if you remember, Jesus and John were related, because Mary was cousins with John’s mother. But on the other hand, their hometowns were a good ways from each other, so it’s possible that they had never met before this day. But whether or not they had met is a moot point, because the Holy Spirit moved within John, and John recognized who Jesus really was. And so John, who knew within himself that Jesus was the promised Messiah, knew that he was not worthy to baptize Jesus. John didn’t think that he should baptize Jesus, because he was telling them to confess their sins before God. But John knew that Jesus was absolutely perfect, and had no need to confess His sin, because He had never sinned.
So since John knew these things in his heart, look at how he responded to Jesus in verse fourteen. “But John forbad Him, saying, I have need to be baptized of Thee, and comest Thou to me?” Do you remember later on in the gospels, that John the Baptist was executed by Herod? And do you remember what Jesus said about John after he was killed? Jesus said that John the Baptist was the absolute best guy that had ever lived. Now if I told Bro. Morris that I think he’s the best deacon in the whole state of Texas, I’m sure he would take that as a compliment, but the fact is, I don’t know very many deacons in Texas. My compliment is severely limited because my knowledge is severely limited. But Jesus, who was God in the flesh, knew everyone who had ever lived on planet Earth. So when Jesus said that John was the best guy that had ever lived, it was extremely high praise. But then here in verse fourteen, John said that Jesus should baptize him, because he wasn’t even worthy to be the Messiah’s slave.
Now look at what Jesus says in verse fifteen. “And Jesus answering said unto him, ‘Suffer it be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then he suffered Him.” What Jesus is saying in verse fifteen is that John needs to go ahead and baptize Jesus, in order to fulfill all righteousness. Now I’m sure that most of you are familiar with the word “righteousness.” It normally means to be “right” with God. But that definition doesn’t really make sense here, because Jesus is already perfectly right with God, because He is God. But righteousness also has connotations that refer to fulfilling religious practices. So when Jesus says that He needs to be baptized, He’s saying that He needs to do this because it is a practice that He thinks is important. And so John accepted this logic, and he baptized his Superior right then and there.
And right here at this moment in history, Jesus of Nazareth began His ministry that would revolutionize the world. This was the moment that the world had anticipated for hundreds of years. I think it’s interesting that Jesus used baptism at the Jordan as the symbolic starting of His public ministry on earth. There’s two reasons I think this symbolism is important. The first reason goes back to the book of Joshua, when the children of Israel had finished wandering in the wilderness, and it was time for them to conquer what we now know as the nation of Israel. Do you remember what river they had to cross to get into the Promised Land? That’s right, they had to cross the Jordan River. So Jesus here is baptized in the Jordan River, and this symbolically begins his “invasion” of Israel. From this point on Jesus would be extremely active in teaching and healing the masses. But the second thing that is symbolic about Jesus starting His ministry through baptism is that we, as Christians, are told to follow in His footsteps and be baptized. That’s what Stacy is going to do this morning. And just as baptism started the official ministry of Jesus, when we are baptized it is kind of like the beginning of our ministry as Christians. So I think that it was extremely deliberate that Jesus began His ministry by being baptized in the Jordan River. But now that we’ve looked at how His ministry was promised, and how it was begun, let’s now look at how it was verified.
Point #3: The Ministry is Verified
Look at verse sixteen and see what happens next. “And Jesus, when He was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon Him.” This verse claims that after Jesus left the water, the Holy Spirit came down in the form of a dove and landed on Him. From very early on, the Jewish people associated the dove with the Holy Spirit, so for those people watching that dove, they would have quickly realized the significance of what was happening. It was as if the Holy Spirit was saying, “Yeah, I’m with this guy.” But if the people watching were astute in Hebrew law, then they would have known something else about the dove. Did you know that the dove was the only bird in the book of Leviticus that was acceptable as a sacrifice in the temple? So perhaps the Holy Spirit was trying to make the point that Jesus was beginning a ministry that would ultimately lead to His sacrificial death. So the dove showed both the Holy Spirit’s approval, and it also pointed to Christ’s death on the cross.
But the Holy Spirit was not the only person to verify Jesus’ ministry. Look what happens in verse seventeen. “And lo a voice from heaven, saying, ‘This is my beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased.’” Just in case the people didn’t get the point that there was something special about Jesus, God the Father speaks up in this verse. He proclaims to the entire audience that Jesus is the Son of God, and that He is very proud of His Son.
And as I said earlier, over the next twelve weeks, we are going to be answering the question: “Who is Jesus Christ?” And this week we can answer that question by saying that He is the promised Messiah. The Israelites had been looking forward to the ministry of the Messiah for hundreds of years, wondering when and where He would make His grand entrance. And Jesus chose this point in human history, right there at the Jordan River, to enter the scene. And even beyond that, that day He set an example that He expects each one of His disciples to follow. That day He began His ministry by being baptized, and throughout the New Testament nearly everyone who chose to follow Him also chose to identify with Him through the act of baptism. And this morning, I am pleased to announce that Stacy Atchison has decided to publicly identify with Christ through the ordinance of baptism. So now I’m going to ask the pianist and song leader to come up and lead the congregation in a few hymns, while those involved in the baptism service prepare themselves. But before we praise the Lord in song, let’s praise Him with our prayers.
Many more sermons online on our church website.