Intro – Randy Pausch was a renowned computer design expert, but that did not carry much weight with his mother. After he got his PhD, she introduced him to friends by saying, "This is my son. He’s a doctor -- but not the kind who helps people." Well – the Son we will meet today got amazing affirmation from His Father – and models how the same can be true for us.
Our subject is Jesus’ baptism. Mentioned in all 4 gospels, Luke gives it less space, probably aware of other versions already around. This is a milestone in the life of Christ -- His official initiation into public ministry. And the whole Trinity is involved. Amazingly, Father, Son and HS all invade our material world at the same time. This is a crowning event of great import.
Numbers 8:5-20 tells how Levites were set apart for ministry at age 30 thru a ceremony of cleansing and sacrifice. This is remarkably like the anointing of Christ. Luke 3:21-23, “Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” 23 Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age, being the son (as was supposed) of Joseph.” For 30 years Jesus has labored as a carpenter preparing for this moment. Now, it’s time for the work of atonement. Jesus’ preparation is seen in 4 ways.
I. Identifies With Sinners
Big question -- why was Jesus baptized? Lu 3:3 clarifies that John was “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” But Jesus has nothing to repent! John himself was perplexed. Mt 3:13-15, “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.” To fulfill all righteousness. What does that mean? Well, there are two steps – and Jesus’ mention of righteousness points us to the OT law. Hang tight as we wrestle thru this.
God gave the law to Moses on Mt. Sinai after the Israelites came out of captivity in Egypt – written in stone by God’s own hand. But when Moses descends the mount in Exod 32, he finds a full-blown orgy around a golden Egyptian calf. The people have broken every commandment in the code before they even see it. Every one! Moses throws the stone tablets down, breaking them, and calls Aaron for explanation. Exodus 3 tells us that Moses had a speech impediement, stuttering. But I think Aaron was the one stuttering here! I love Aaron’s comment. “Well, Moses. Don’t look at me. You know these people. They thought you had deserted, and they insisted on having some other gods. Exod 32:24, “So I said to them, ‘Let any who have gold take it off.’ So they gave it to me, and I threw it into the fire -- and out came this calf.” Wow! Do you believe in magic, Moses? I admit I put gold in the fire – but voila! Out came this calf. Who knew? Seldom has the sinfulness of man and holiness of God been seen in such contrast. There lies the law, broken on the ground, symbolizing graphically what has happened in orgiastic reality that greeted Moses. Listen, if you thought God brought Israel out of Egypt because they were better than the Egyptians, think again. They were not better, just chosen.
But we are no different, are we? “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” And because the wages of sin is death, we are all condemned unless there can be cleansing from sin. Which is exactly why the law didn’t just have commandments – it had sacrifices! On the annual Day of Atonement, two goats were brought. One was killed symbolically giving its life for the people. The other, the scapegoat, symbolically bore the sins of the people away into the wilderness never to be seen again. It took 2 goats to perfectly picture one truth -- substitutionary atonement. The payment for and removal of the sins of the people. Lev 16:21, “And Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins. And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness. 22 The goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area, and he shall let the goat go free in the wilderness.” Before the goat goes, all the sins of the people must symbolically be placed on it – do you see? It bears all their iniquities. That was the law.
Of course, everyone realized this was symbolic. No goat or lamb could take away sins in actual fact. God says emphatically in Heb 10:4, “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” OT sacrifices were only symbols looking forward to some greater reality. Thus even in OT times, Isaiah predicted an ultimate sacrifice in Isa 53:4) Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. 5) But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. 6) All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Isaiah was seeing the Messiah in his priestly role as the one who would bear the sin of the world in reality.
Now, Jesus comes to John for baptism of repentance by which Jesus is saying, “I’ll do it. I who have no sin of my own, will identify with those who do. I will take their sin as my own.” In the words of Paul in Gal 3:13, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.” II Cor 5:21 says God made him to be sin who knew no sin." Jesus starts His ministry saying, “I’ll do it. I’ll become the curse. I will be sin for them. Lay it all on me. I’ve identified with them by taking a human nature. Now I take their sin, too. Put it all on me.” If that doesn’t touch your heart, you can’t be His. So, step one – He identifies with us in our sin. He takes our sin.
Now, step 2 that many people miss. In bearing sin, Jesus fulfills half the law, gets us back to neutral. Now, we don’t have sin. But, something else is required. Jesus said it this way in Matt 5:20, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” It is not just the absence of sin; it is the presence of righteousness that is required. Adam and Eve in the Garden were without sin – but they were also without righteousness, right? That would come by obedience. That was the test. And of course, they failed. And, of course, we will also fail. So, even with sins forgiven we are without righteousness.
But Jesus at his baptism did not say, “It becomes us to fulfill half of righteousness – half the law” did He? He said “for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” By that He meant, “Not only will I die for you to pay the penalty for your sin. I will also live for you to provide the righteousness you are powerless to provide. The law that you cannot keep, I will keep for you. Where you fail; I will not fail. I will obey for you! Give me your sin; I’ll give you my righteousness. Thus, when the Father looks at you, He will not see your failure; He will see my success. He will not see your depravity; He will see my righteousness.” II Cor 5:21, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” That is what He was pledging Himself to in His baptism. That is why the heavens opened, the Holy Spirit came upon Him and the Father said, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” Let me give you a phrase to remember. In His baptism Jesus said to the whole human race, “I am willing to become what you are so that you can become what I am.” And the Father was pleased. It doesn’t get any more profound than that.
When we repent, every sin is gone – past, present, future! What sin is it that you hope no one will ever discover? What sin is it that keeps coming to your mind and stopping your service? Did He bear it? Yes. Have you given it to Him? Then it’s gone. Rom 5:20, “but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.” Don’t insult God further. Believe it, and move on.
II. Submissive to the Father
Lu 3:21, “Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying.” Isn’t this something? Even while He was being baptized, Jesus was praying. What was He praying? He was praying as always that He would do the Father’s will. The work of atonement was underway, and He was seeking the Father’s help to see it through.
This was not an easy prayer. Jesus well knew Isa 53:10, “Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt.” The will of the Father is hard. It requires death. But note the last phrase – the will of the Father will prosper in His hand. He follows the Father’s will all the way to death. But the result is prosperity! And guess who is right in the middle of it all? You and me. “he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring (that’s us)” Substitute your own name for offspring, and you have the picture. Jesus is going to pay for our sin at God’s request. Father and Son do this willingly – to make us children of God. This is what Jesus was praying about.
Now, if He would die for us – how could we reject His plans for us? How could we? Will it hurt? Yes, at times. But what reward in the end. Prolonged days. Life with Him forever. Beloved, let’s get in the game with our Lord. Prayer is not asking God to submit to my will; prayer is expressing my submission to His will. That may mean short-term pain. But it always results in long-term gain. So what has God asked that we are refusing? Where is our rebellion thwarting His best for us?
During the Civil War someone asked Abraham Lincoln, “Mr. President, do you think God is on our side?” He replied something like this, “My concern is whether or not we are on His side.” Jesus never tried to get the Father on His side; He was driven to be on the Father’s side. Are we? Abraham begged God to accept Ishmael – his son in the flesh. God told him, “Abraham – get on my side. Better is coming.” And Better came. Let’s quit manipulating God and submit to His greater plans – like Jesus did.
III. Filled with the Spirit
The Trinity was invested in the ministry about to be undertaken by Christ. Lu 3:22, “and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove.” Heaven opens and the Holy Spirit descends like a dove – emphasizing dove like qualities, gentleness, the bringing of peace that will attach to Jesus’ ministry. It descends upon him bodily, depicting that Jesus’ ministry will be under the control of the HS. On earth, His divine nature is in time-out. He has emptied Himself of its use. His power comes through the same Holy Spirit who is available to us. He specializes in getting spiritual things done.
He empowers, He regenerates, He transforms; He motivates; He resists the enemy. His descent at Jesus’ baptism emphasizes Jesus dependence on Him. Let’s face it, if Jesus needed to be Spirit-filled, how much more we, right?
God commands in Eph 5:18: “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit.” Every Christian has the Spirit of God within. I Cor 12:13 tells us that all – even the carnal Corinthians, were baptized in the Spirit. Rom 8:9 is unequivocal: “Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.” The Holy Spirit indwells every believer equally. We need not wait, tarry, beg or plead for this gift. He is ours without reserve. But the question is, how much of us does He have? That is the question. As believers we must confess sin; yield to His guidance; do as He asks. Be absorbed by Him. All ministry is predicated on that.
A. J. Gordon, one of the founders of Gordon Conwell Seminary, told of being out walking one day and seeing in the distance a man pumping water. It was an ordinary sight in those days, but this guy never slowed, let alone stopped. Gordon was impressed until he got close enough to realize it was not a man at all. It was a wooden figure shaped like a man. His hand was wired to the pump handle, but the flowing water was coming from an artesian well. The water was pumping the man, not vice versa. That’s the way it works, Beloved, when the Holy Spirit is truly in control our lives. We are active – but any positive results are from the Spirit alone. Zerubbabel was having trouble getting a temple rebuilt in Jerusalem when God told him in Zechariah 4:6, “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts.” The moment we think we can do it ourselves – whether it is building a church, a family, a career or just dinner – the minute we think we can do it, we have failed. Spirit-filled people submit every act to Him. That’s exactly what Jesus modeled for us, and it is the only thing that makes our lives worth anything beyond the grave. Be continually being filled with the Spirit.
IV. Affirmed by the Father
Now we come to this precious statement at the end of Lu 3:22: “and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” It is hard to imagine how these words would have fallen on the ears of Jesus. This was not an everyday occurrence even for Him. He had been 30 years living a pretty mundane, common life. He certainly had unprecedented communion with the Father by the same avenues available to us – Bible study and prayer. But we have no record of any verbal response from the Father. Jesus was living life through His human nature, and through His study He has become aware of who He is. John’s ministry triggers His own. He has followed the guidance of the Spirit to this place of initiation and baptism – symbolically identifying Himself with those He came to save. He is even now committing Himself to the Father’s will in prayer, knowing full well the pain He will endure. But now – out of the blue, literally, comes these unbelievably welcoming and encouraging words “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” How affirming! He is on the right track, doing the right things, right on schedule. And most of all – the Father is pleased.
Jesus would have recognized immediately that the first phrase – you are my beloved Son, is a reference to His kingly role. We don’t have time to detail it, but the phrase is from Psa 2:6) “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.” 7) I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you.” This affirms to Him that He is indeed the one. He is the king whom the Father will ultimately set in Jerusalem. He further recognized that the second phrase came from Isa 42:1) Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.” Jesus knew that this section was all about the suffering Messiah, culminating in the verse we’ve already seen – Isa 53:10) Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt.” The word “will” is not quite right. It is the Hebrew חפצ (chaphatz) which means to take pleasure or delight. The NASB translates, “But the LORD was pleased to crush Him.” The Father’s pleasure was going to be infinitely painful for both of them – and all for the sake of the “offspring” that would result – you and me! From the Father’s affirmation Jesus would have perceived that He was indeed the chosen King of kings – but He was also the suffering Messiah. The way to the crown would be by way of the cross. But it all pleased the Father and so it pleased the Son as well.
Beloved, this should drive us to our knees in humility. Here are God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit portraying symbolically the plan of redemption they are about to execute on our behalf. Do you see how much we are loved and how much we owe? Mostly, I think when Jesus heard those words, He was reassured how much the Father loved Him. But He put us front and center with that love as well when He prayed the night before He was crucified in John 17:22-23, “The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” The amazing love demonstrated in Jesus’s baptism is now in our keeping. And the way we show the world that God loves us just like He loved Jesus is by our unity, our oneness. That can only happen if we follow this example – if we identify with the Son by accepting His gift of life by repenting our sins, if we live in submission to the Father and if we are filled with the Spirit. That’s living life in the Trinity – reflecting God to a world desperate to know Him.
Will Rogers once said, “You know, Congress is a strange place. A man gets up to speak and says nothing. Nobody listens. And then everybody disagrees.” Unfortunately the same could be said of a lot of churches. Here is our challenge, Beloved. God has given the world the right to see the glory of His person and to judge the deity of Christ based on our unity. That puts a huge onus us, does it not? In the book, The Pursuit of God, A.W. Tozer gives this interesting illustration: "Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other?” His point is, don’t strive for your own agenda; don’t even strive for unity. Strive to identify with the Christ who identified with you, to be filled with the Spirit as He was filled with the Spirit and to submit to the will of the Father as He submitted to the will of the Father. To hear God say, “You are my beloved son or daughter and I am well pleased with you” would be worth more than winning any personal battle will ever be, right? Let’s reflect the Trinity – together. Let’s pray