Baptism of Our Lord

by Bear Wade

Matthew 3:13-17
Baptism of Our Lord
Analysis by Lori A. Cornell

13Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

DIAGNOSIS: Prevention

Step 1: Initial Diagnosis (External Problem) : Doing the Right Thing
John seems to have a clear sense of propriety when he meets Jesus at the Jordan; John’s place is to be subservient to the Messiah, and allowing Jesus to be baptized by John doesn’t fit into that plan. Jesus, it seems to John, shouldn’t even be coming to him for baptism (v. 14). But Jesus has a different sense of what is right; so he insists that John baptize him on the spot–for the sake of propriety (“for it is proper,” v. 15).

Step 2: Advanced Diagnosis (Internal Problem) : When the Right Thing Is Wrong
So what’s a forerunner to do? What should John do when Jesus, who has no repenting to do (3:8), asks to be baptized in a baptism of repentance? It just doesn’t seem right. So John is faced with a dilemma: either he chooses to do the right thing–and disobeys the Messiah, or he does the wrong thing and is faithful to a Messiah whose nature he couldn’t possibly have anticipated.

Step 3: Final Diagnosis (Eternal Problem) : Getting in God’s Way
Despite John’s reputation as one who bucks the status quo (how many others had the nerve to call the religious elite a “brood of vipers,” v. 7?), John has a difficult time accepting that any messiah he would announce would be stooping into the Jordan in his hands. But to disobey the authority of this Messiah is to get in the way of a God who fulfills “all righteousness” (v. 15) by exercising a humility that is incomprehensible (and ultimately deadly to the Messiah himself). And who among us, isn’t sorely tempted to cover over God’s illogical way of entering into our human existence? But such impulses–to get in God’s way (however ridiculous it may seem to us)–expose the problem: We, like John, think we have God figured out; we may even need to correct his course (v. 14). Such presumptions will be the death of us.


Step 4: Initial Prognosis (Eternal Solution) : God Gets in, Our Way
Good thing for us that we have a God who, while we are bent on getting in his way, gets in our way. In Jesus, God steps into the fray of our existence (our presumptions about God, our blind acting without God, our highly disciplined practices of propriety and piety) and takes the brunt of it. When Jesus insists on having John plunge him into the mucky waters of the Jordan it is only the beginning. For while we are hell bent on getting in God’s way, in Jesus, God gets in (to human existence and its various messes) our way. This “getting in, our way” culminates not at the Jordan River when he takes a baptismal dip, but at Calvary; there, lifted on the cross, Jesus gets into the thick of our sin, our lack of repentance, takes on the ultimate humiliation of death as judgment; he accepts it willingly, and with his death “fulfills all r ighteousness,” so that even a Roman centurion is forced to admit “truly this man was God’s Son” (27:54). The cross is not where God’s Messiah belongs, but it is where God has chosen to meet us.

Step 5: Advanced Prognosis (Internal Solution) : When the Right Thing Is God’s Way
If God has chosen to meet us on the cross, then in faith the cross is where we expect to meet God. No more do we (as John was so tempted to do), argue with Jesus about propriety, and where and how we should expect to meet God. Instead, first and foremost we expect to meet God where God will be found–in the cross of Jesus the Christ. So, when we are trying to figure out God’s ways, we don’t look to the proper religious authorities (in stadiums, worship centers, or even pristine cathedrals), we look to the One who is stooped in mercy for us, and we stoop before him in praise and thanksgiving.

Step 6: Final Prognosis (External Solution) : Doing the Righteous Thing
John never expected to find the Messiah among a bunch of sinners, and he never expected to treat that Messiah in the same way he treated other sinners. That just wouldn’t have been proper. But, since we follow a Messiah who “fulfills all righteousness” in unanticipated ways, we might venture to guess that “doing the right thing” may mean doing the unexpected thing–like looking for the Messiah in the least and the lost. Imagine looking into the eyes of a single mother, the homeless man in worship, the congregation’s resident bipolar teenager, and anticipating that in her, in him, you will see your Messiah (25:40); imagine stooping before their sloped shoulders, and inviting them to sit, eat, rest, be heard. It may not seem like the natural thing to do, bu t then our ways are not God’s ways, and despite ourselves (and because of Christ) we are committed to a God who gets in our way, that we might walk his way, mercifully.


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