A Brief Update
For those of you who are unable to gather corporately with us this Lord's Day, you are loved and missed! If this is you, we are providing the songs we are singing together this morning and a devotional based on the sermon being preached.
Songs We are Singing Together
Devotional on Matthew 3:13-17
There is a great deal of talk these days about identity. Our culture generally buys into the idea that who you say you are is the most important thing about you. This is what defines you. So, people define themselves—they identify themselves—by who they love, who they cheer for, where they’re from, what they look like, what they feel like, and what they’ve experienced. The world says that who we say we are—how we identify ourselves—is the most important thing about us. We determine the truth about ourselves.
But for the Christian, this is entirely upside-down, because it’s not who we say we are that matters. It is who God says we are that matters. He is the one who determines reality. He is the one who defines truth. Why? Because he is the Creator of all things. He is God and it is he who made us. We are his. If we belong to him, then it is not our place to identify ourselves, rather it is for him to say who we are.
The exact same is true of God. It’s not who we say he is that matters. It is who God says he is that matters, that brings definition to reality. In light of this, whenever we come to God’s Word, we should always be on the lookout for how God defines himself and how God defines humanity. We should be asking, “What does this text say about who God is?” And also, “What does this text say about who we are?”
The text we come to this afternoon is unique in Scripture in that it clearly presents an answer to the question of who Jesus Christ is. There is no hiding who Jesus is as we come to our text this morning. As we look at our text, we will ask this question: Who does God say that Jesus Christ is?
[Read Matthew 3:13-15]
Our first clue of who Jesus says that he is comes before Jesus ever speaks. Matthew writes that Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him.
Matthew says nothing about Jesus’s journey, though it would have taken several days. Instead, he indicates that Jesus travelled some 70 miles from Nazareth to the Jordan for a very specific purpose: to be baptized by John. Jesus has a mission to complete and it begins here at the Jordan river. There is a clear resolve and purpose in this action, in this journey.
Verse 14 then records John’s objection to Jesus coming. Matthew does not tell us how, but John knows that Jesus has nothing to repent of. John, who just told the Pharisees and Sadducees that they were not worthy of being baptized, now encounters Jesus and he acknowledges that he is not worthy to baptize him.
But notice Jesus’s response. Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness. Jesus tells him, I have a mission, a divine mandate, and you are to play a part in it right now, by baptizing me. Jesus has come to the Jordan for this moment. But why? To “fulfill all righteousness.” He comes with a purpose and that purpose is to do the will of him who sent him. By taking this step he is demonstrating his dedication to walk in obedience to the Father.
But what does this have to do with the identity of Jesus? How does this answer the question, “Who does Jesus say that he is?”
While Jesus himself had no need to repent, he came to represent a people who had to repent. And in order to do that he had to be identified with them. Through his resolve to obey the will of God and be baptized by John, Jesus says who he is. He is the obedient One who identifies himself with sinners.
Matthew’s readers would have been well-acquainted with the writing of the prophet Isaiah. They would have known of the coming comfort that God promised and the chosen servant who would come to bring that comfort. We can read about this today in Isaiah 40 and following.
When we come to Isaiah 53, we see the Lord’s chosen servant portrayed as one who comes to suffer. He is the Suffering-Servant. Isaiah 53:11 says this, By his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.
Jesus knows exactly who he is and exactly what he has come to do. He is the righteous one, the sinless Lord of glory, who has come to fulfill all righteousness through his obedience, and by his obedience—in bearing the sins of many—he makes others righteous.
Did Jesus need to come to be baptized? No! Because he had no need to repent—he is the sinless One. But Jesus came to be baptized as our mediator in order to fulfill our righteousness, to satisfy the claims of the law on our behalf. Where Adam disobeyed, Christ came and obeyed completely and perfectly.
And through this act, through his baptism by John, Jesus points forward to exactly how he is going to do that. The accomplishment of salvation for his people will take place in a death, represented by being lowered down into a watery grave, in his resurrection, represented by being lifted out of the water, and in his ascension, the declaration that his work is final, sufficient, and finished. Thanks be to God.
Who does Jesus say that he is? Jesus is the obedient One who identifies himself with sinners.
[Read Matthew 3:16]
Matthew does not narrate Jesus’s actual baptism, but instead his focus is on what takes place immediately afterward. Just as Jesus is lifted out of the water Matthew writes that the heavens were opened to him. One commentator describes how at this moment for a short time the barrier between this world and heaven was set aside.”
But why? How should we understand this scene? What did this look like? While there is a certain amount of mystery that we cannot know this side of eternity, this scene unfolds in order to further disclose just who Jesus Christ is. And it is seen through the Spirit of God’s descent and coming to rest on Jesus Christ.
The Spirit is described as descending like a dove. While we might be tempted to make much of this image, there isn’t any reason to assume that the type of bird is significant. A dove would have been a familiar bird to Matthew’s readers and the picture given is one of a bird’s familiar and gentle descent.
Does this mean that Jesus hasn’t had the Spirit up to this point? Absolutely not. From the time of his conception, the Spirit has been the ever-present companion of Jesus Christ. But, here, in this moment, God wants this to be known publicly. Here we must come back to our question: Who does this say that Jesus is?
To answer that question, we once again need to bring out the old. Matthew has been careful to show how Jesus is the fulfillment of all that has come before. In Matthew 2, one of the ways we saw this was with Jesus’s identification as being from Nazareth. The word that Nazareth is derived from is a “branch.” Nazareth might be called “branch-town.” When Matthew writes that Jesus was taken to Nazareth so that he might fulfill the prophets and be called a Nazarene, this was some of what Matthew would have had in mind.
In Isaiah 11:1 we read that “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.” This branch is Jesus Christ. Verse 2 then says, “And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.”
This is exactly what is being put on display for us here in Matthew 3:16. The Spirit of the Lord is coming to rest upon Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus Christ is the anointed One, empowered by the Holy Spirit in his life and ministry. This is who the Spirit testifies that Jesus Christ is.
[Read Matthew 3:17]
As if Jesus coming to be baptized wasn’t enough, we have also seen the heavens open and the Spirit of God descend. But there’s more. In verse 17 Matthew’s readers are given direct access to how God sees Jesus. A voice is heard from heaven, the very voice of God the Father. And he explicitly wants us to know just who Jesus Christ is. The Father says, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
Up to this point, Matthew has clearly communicated that Jesus is the one that prophets told about. He is the true king of Israel, the righteous one amidst all the other kings that failed. But here, Matthew tells us so much more. Jesus is the very Son of God. He is the same in substance and equal in power and glory to the Father and Spirit.
I love the picture of the mystery of the Trinity at work here in our text. We see Jesus Christ, the Spirit descending, the Father’s voice, all right here. J. C. Ryle comments that “It was the whole Trinity, which at the beginning of the creation said, ‘Let us make man’; it was the whole Trinity again, which at the beginning of the Gospel seemed to say, ‘Let us save man.’”
Thanks be to God. The one long foretold to come, the Messiah, the Suffering-Servant, is now here. He is the beloved Son of God. But it’s not only that. This Son of God is the one with whom the Father is well-pleased.
As Isaiah describes the Lord’s chosen servant in Isaiah 42:1 God says, “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him.” Matthew is telling his readers that the One who Isaiah spoke of is right here, present in the God-man, Jesus Christ. Jesus is the beloved Son of God.
When we see who Jesus is, how can we help but to marvel and stand in awe? The revelation of Jesus Christ demands a response from us. We cannot go unmoved. We must respond.
The choice is this: either we continue in our sin and unrighteousness and hopelessness, finding our identity in who we think we are. Or we accept who God says we are as sinners in need of a Savior and we then look to who God says Jesus is as the Messiah and Suffering Servant.
Come and see what he has done for us! This Jesus Christ comes as the very Son of God. There is no one greater than he. Hebrews 1 describes him as the radiance of the glory of God, the one who upholds the universe by the word of his power. As the Son of God Jesus is God, having the same substance and nature as the Father. John Flavel writes, “Our children, are not so much our children, our bodies are not so much our own bodies, as Christ was God’s own Son.”
But though Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the One in whom the Father delights, God did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all. He made him to be sin who knew no sin so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
If you have been united to Christ, there is no fear in life or in death. No dread of judgment. No anxiety over the future. As the Holy Spirit rested on Christ, so the Spirit rests upon all those who are in Christ. As God declares that he is pleased with his Son, so he is well-pleased with all those united to his Son. We have only to trust in Jesus, to have faith that his work on our behalf is all we need. All we have. All we need. All we want is found in Jesus Christ.
Song of Response
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