Last week, we picked up our Gospel Wednesday posts continuing in the Gospel According to Matthew, Chapter 3. After some feedback from my extended family and close friends, we’ve cut back on the amount of Scripture we aim to cover in a single post. While these posts are primarily the result of our family Bible studies, we’d love your feedback to see if we might better present our studies and make them available to you, the reader.
In our last post, we looked John the Baptist and how he fulfilled prophecy as the precursor to the arrival of the Messiah. Today, we will look at the Messiah entering the Account of Matthew continuing to fulfill all righteousness.
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.”
This point has always perplexed me a bit. Why did Jesus need to be baptized? Much false christology has been birthed from bad rationalization of this portion of scripture. Firstly, let’s look at Jesus’s response, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness”. If we look for a ceremony of Baptism in the Old Testament that matches what John the Baptist was doing, we won’t find an exact copy. There are ceremonial cleansing laws for going outside the camp, bathing, and washing of garments worn at the time of having become unclean, but these on their own don’t fully define what John was doing. All of Jerusalem were coming out to John the Baptist confessing sins and being baptized for the forgiveness of sins, they weren’t going out there because they had touched a dead body or an unclean animal per se. The baptism for the forgiveness of sins what the ceremonial cleansing laws were pointing forward to, not the other way around. When John was baptizing by water, he also pointed forward to the one who would come after him to baptize by the Holy Spirit and with fire. Now that He has arrived on the scene, He is asking John to baptize Him for the sake of fulfilling all righteousness. At this command, John concedes. Jesus had no sins to confess or need for repentance, He was blameless.
One way to look at this comes from our having been blessed with the complete written Word of God so we can draw from Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth:
2 Corinthians 5:16-21 (ESV) 16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 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.
Christ shed his blood on that cross as the ultimate payment for our sins, and now we join with Christ via Baptism. The Apostle Peter taught of water baptism in this way. Another way of looking at this which comes from a typological view of Scripture is to see that Jesus is Israel in the flesh. We know that Jesus is the very fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. In Him, was the whole of the Scriptures fulfilled. We understand this from the clear teaching in the book of Hebrews. With this view in mind, let us turn to Ezekiel, chapter 36.
Ezekiel 36:22-32 (ESV) | I Will Put My Spirit Within You
22 “Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. 23 And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. 24 I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. 28 You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. 29 And I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses. And I will summon the grain and make it abundant and lay no famine upon you. 30 I will make the fruit of the tree and the increase of the field abundant, that you may never again suffer the disgrace of famine among the nations. 31 Then you will remember your evil ways, and your deeds that were not good, and you will loathe yourselves for your iniquities and your abominations. 32 It is not for your sake that I will act, declares the Lord God; let that be known to you. Be ashamed and confounded for your ways, O house of Israel.
Now this prophecy pointed both to God’s bringing Israel out of the Exile into Babylon, but also points to the greater promise of the Messiah, a promise initially made in the Garden, when God said that the seed of woman would crush the head of the serpent. Jesus bore no uncleaness in His person, for He is the Word, God the Son; however, the Word became flesh to stand in our place. He fulfilled the Law and the Prophets on behalf of Israel, the Children of God. Wonderful stuff. Before we move on, I’d like to point out how Jesus brought up this baptism to the Pharisees when they questioned His authority.
Matthew 21:23-27 (ESV) | The Authority of Jesus Challenged
23 And when he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” 24 Jesus answered them, “I also will ask you one question, and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things. 25 The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” And they discussed it among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 26 But if we say, ‘From man,’ we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet.” 27 So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.
Jesus is clearly placing the Baptism of John as a Divinely inspired act. God is the author of the Baptism, not John. This is why I can say that the cleansing laws pointed forward to this Baptism and not the other way around.
As we continue in the Matthew 3 text, notice that the Spirit of God descends upon Jesus immediately following His baptism. This is why we went to the prophecy in Ezekiel, though we could find other references. God’s promise to send His spirit upon the righteous is being fulfilled here in Matthew 3. This promise is made available to all who believe in Him and are baptized in His name, just as Peter told his audience in Acts 2:36-41. Not only did the witnesses see the Heavens opened up to Jesus, and the Spirit of God descending upon Him, God the Father gave an audible testimony of Jesus as the Christ, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
Next week, we will take a look at the battle fought out in the wilderness where the Holy Spirit of God led Jesus.
Colossians 3:16-17 (ESV) 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
In Christ Jesus,