We make a big deal sometimes about arrivals. Have you noticed that?
In January, when the President is about to give the state of the Union address, a big booming voice is heard saying, “Mr. Speaker, the President of the United States.”
When the big names in sports enter the field or step on to the court, we list them out name by name on the loudspeaker. The crowd goes wild as each player comes out.
When Ed Sullivan announced a new pop sensation from England, he had hardly uttered, “and without further ado … the act you’ve all been waiting for …The Beatles” and the screams where so loud it drowned out the music.
And one music legend, and they called him the King, not only got a standing ovation when he was announced when he arrived, but his importance seemed to require the announcement of his departure. “Ladies and Gentlemen, Elvis has left the building.
We really go all out in announcing the arrival and departure of important people.
But how about the King of Kings. His arrival was noticed and noted by some. But only once, when he came into Jerusalem, was there any real fanfare.
Today, in scripture we read of the arrival of Jesus. Not his birth, not his visit to the synagogue as a young boy, but his arrival.
Today we read that in a loud booming voice, his announcer, John the Baptist tells the world the Lord has arrived to dwell among us.
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” For this is the one referred to by Isaiah the prophet, saying,
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness,
‘Make ready the way of the Lord,
Make His paths straight!'”
Here he is, the Lord or Lords, God Almighty incarnate: Jesus Christ.
And the crowd went wild.
No, actually the moment was hardly noticed here on earth. In the upcoming centuries and millennia there would be crowds and auditoriums filled with adoring worshipers.
When the true King arrived it, there was no big earthy welcome. Rather, it happened like this:
Matthew Chapter 3 [From the NLT – New Living Translation]
1 In those days John the Baptist came to the Judean wilderness and began preaching. His message was, 2 “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.” 3 The prophet Isaiah was speaking about John when he said,
“He is a voice shouting in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming!
Clear the road for him!'”
4 John’s clothes were woven from coarse camel hair, and he wore a leather belt around his waist. For food he ate locusts and wild honey. 5 People from Jerusalem and from all of Judea and all over the Jordan Valley went out to see and hear John. 6 And when they confessed their sins, he baptized them in the Jordan River.
7 But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming to watch him baptize, he denounced them. “You brood of snakes!” he exclaimed. “Who warned you to flee God’s coming wrath? 8 Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. 9 Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones. 10 Even now the ax of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire.
11 “I baptize with water those who repent of their sins and turn to God. But someone is coming soon who is greater than I am-so much greater that I’m not worthy even to be his slave and carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 12 He is ready to separate the chaff from the wheat with his winnowing fork. Then he will clean up the threshing area, gathering the wheat into his barn but burning the chaff with never-ending fire.”
13 Then Jesus went from Galilee to the Jordan River to be baptized by John. 14 But John tried to talk him out of it. “I am the one who needs to be baptized by you,” he said, “so why are you coming to me?”
15 But Jesus said, “It should be done, for we must carry out all that God requires.” So John agreed to baptize him.
16 After his baptism, as Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and settling on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.”
Remember, I said earlier that no big fuss was made when Jesus arrived. That’s not altogether true, is it?
No big fuss was made by man, but a mighty big fuss was made by the Father.
” as Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens were opened”
That never happened for a President or a rock star or a basketball player. Never once. At least not in the purely physical sense.
Of course, in baptism, we do come up out of the water and the heavens are opened for believers as well. But this was an baptism of an extraordinary kind.
The baptism of Jesus Christ presents us with an unusual coronation. It is the initiation point of Christ’s public ministry as Prophet, Priest, and King.
When Jesus is baptized, the King has arrived.
But the baptism of Christ is one of the most puzzling acts recorded in Scripture.
As believers, we think of baptism as an act of public declaration and confession after trusting in Christ as one’s Savior and Lord. A washing away of sin and ones old self, and a rebirth in Christ. Jesus didn’t need that.
But here the sinless Son of God appears among the people at the Jordan River, publicly and openly going down into the Jordan River to be baptized.
John himself found it puzzling, and he “tried to prevent Him“ from being baptized.
But Jesus very simply said, “Permit it at this time,” and so John, known as “the Baptizing One” baptized Jesus Christ in the Jordan.
It was the coronation day. It marked the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry. It was the beginning of all the days ahead on His steady path to the cross.
But that, again, still leaves us the mystery of why?
He wasn’t baptized because he was sinful and needed baptism, but because, first of all, he came to fulfill all the points of prophesy regarding Him, one of which was ““to fulfill all righteousness“ or as this translation reads “It should be done, for we must carry out all that God requires”
It’s very clear that Jesus knew what he was doing. He knew why he was here. And no one could accuse Him of not doing what was right. No one could point to scripture and say “this is not the Messiah”.
In his baptism by John, he fulfilled prophesy once again.
And this was very important to the watching world.
But another thing to consider. In this act, mankind would see truly God. Mankind would know of the Father’s glory, see the movement of the Holy Spirit, and witness Christ demonstrating what he required of those who would follow Him. He showed what God was all about. He didn’t just talk the talk, he walked the walk.
He was finally here. The Lord had arrived. But he didn’t arrive like a politician, or a basketball player or a rock star.
Yes, The whole world will hear His voice, and know His name, and witness His mighty wonders, but not from showmanship or grandstanding.
Jesus, as he expects of His followers, was not a show-off. He didn’t submit to John’s baptism to make a big scene of himself. It was quite the opposite.
When Christ arrived, he was baptized in humility.
John quickly discerned the holiness of Jesus Christ. How much he understood at the moment of the nature of Christ as Messiah, we do not know, but there was enough grasp in John’s mind to cause him to object to Christ being baptized.
He saw nothing in Jesus Christ that needed repentance.
But Jesus gladly humbled himself before John and the crowds as though He was a sinner like the rest of us in order to be obedient to the Father’s will.
As the Gospel of John begins, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us”
Now, “Flesh” (from it’s original language) is the crudest, coarsest term for humanity. And the apostle John intentionally uses it to show that Christ was not of another race, not an angel, but one of us. A flesh and blood human being, and God together, incarnate.
And Paul tells us that Jesus Christ “did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.” and “Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross,”
So Jesus’ baptism by John was just the first in a series of many instances of humility on the way to what was seen by people of the world as the ultimate humiliation. Because nothing was lower than crucifixion. Yet, never was the Father more glorified than in that act. In all things, the Father says “this is my only-begotten son, whom I am well pleased.’
Yet another point to consider is that in Jesus’ baptism, the Son of God also fully identifies with the very sinners He came to save.
In other words, Jesus tells us again, “I’ve been there, I get it.”
He didn’t need baptism the way you and I do. But he did it anyway, because he loves us.
It’s like when your at an outdoor event of some sort like rodeo or the fair and a friend tells you they really need to find and use the restroom. Honestly, you don’t have to go, you don’t. There’s really no reason at all for you to go there, but you agree to walk with them.
Frankly, they didn’t need you to go along, either. But you did it and it meant something. If nothing more than to have someone along to talk to along the way. Maybe you provide some sense of security in the crowd. Maybe you know how to get there because you’ve been to this place before.
It’s kind of strange, I think, to use a restroom analogy here, but also somehow very fitting. You’re friend simply wouldn’t invite you to accompany them if you weren’t a good friend and someone they trusted.
Because frankly, heading to find the restroom is a very personal and vulnerable time.
Baptism is a personal and vulnerable time as well. The release of your old life and the taking on of the new can be scary. And it’s something that is traditionally done in public, before witnesses. It’s a public testimony of faith. It a big leap, and it can be a little frightening.
But Jesus, went down into that water too. He didn’t need to, but he went anyway. He went there even if the people pointed and stared and wondered why he would submit himself in this way. He went there with is and heaven came down as he rose from the water.
He tells the people then and now, I am God, but I am also fully man. I’ve been there.
Again, think about it, what must the people have been thinking as they looked at Jesus as He was being baptized? They must have thought that He was a sinner just like them!
Matthew Henry in his commentary wrote that it was “as if he needed to be washed, though perfectly pure; and thus he was made sin for us, though he knew no sin,”
He was no sinner, but he was “made as sin”. Made like us. Jesus submitted to God’s will under John’s baptism to show us the way.
Now you can search the Old Testament to find the commandment, “Thou shalt be baptized” and you won’t find it.
What John’s baptism presented here now is “a new Word from the Lord”
After hundreds of years of silence from the prophets, God had now spoken through John, and He spoke with clarity that men must repent, and believe in the Messiah, and publicly confess this in baptism.
But John’s baptism was incomplete. What was true about John’s baptism is still true. But where John baptized with water, as a outward sign of repentance, Jesus would complete it with the inward filling of the Holy Spirit.
What John did was prepare the people for the arrival of the King. And now the king has arrived. But again no big crowds of believers. Not yet.
Can any of you imagine what this would have been like for a Jew, in those days to recognize Jesus as the Messiah?
It would not have been an easy thing. But it did happen.
If you remember, Simeon was such a man. He was a righteous and devout man of many years. He was very close to death and he was longing for “the consolation of Israel.”
The Holy Spirit revealed to him that he would not die before he saw the Christ. When he saw the child Jesus, he took him into his arms, blessed God and said, “Now Lord, you let your bond-servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light of revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”
That’s what we are to do when we come to accept that the King has arrived.
Simeon, when he saw the king, he accepted him, took him into his arms, took him into his heart and embraced him.
I ask, have you done that?
Do you recognized that The King has truly arrived? That Jesus is the one we have longed for all our lives. That He is risen and right here among us because God himself says so.
Do we know that His reign fulfills all righteousness, that He comes to save, and He alone can be trusted?
Do we really embrace Him?
John the Baptist’s message is even more telling than he maybe even He knew.
“Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is near!”
As in, right here, right now, my friends. See your Lord and Savior and God rising out of the watery grave to be an example of our rebirth in Him.
He’s right here!
As John says, because he’s right here we should repent.
But some think that this repentance is something different than it is.
Repentance does not mean to be sorry for our sins, although that certainly could be a response to repentance. It does not mean to promise to do better.
Many have taught that repentance is a change of direction, or a change of behavior. As such, it would mean that before you can come to Jesus, before you can accept Christ, and receive his salvation you must clean up your act, and stop sinning.
That’s simply is not and cannot be what John means, nor Jesus, nor Paul or Peter. This repentance is not a matter of changing what your doing on the outside, but changing how you think, and feel, and believe on the inside.
Some have also defined this repentance as “to change one’s mind”. You may have heard that, and it’s a good start. That internalizes things, but when we think of the mind, we think of something intellectual, like to have a new idea. Again, that’s the beginning, but still not far enough.
Repentance is a change of heart. It coming to learn to see things as God sees them; calling sin what God calls it; acknowledging our need for a Savior.
That sort of change of heart does often lead to or at least contribute to some behavior change, and new ideas, but it is the change of heart (or a change deep within our very being, withing our soul itself) that is called for in a call to repentance prior to receiving Christ, and that continues as we walk in faith, dependent of His grace, not our sinless perfection.
And most importantly, this change is not something we do working hard on ourselves from the outside, it’s something we release and accept and let God do from the inside.
It’s the dual meaning of the name of the great old hymn “Just as I Am”.
That is how we come to Christ, just as we are. But the repentance comes in the knowing and admitting to our Lord that we truly know “who we are”. “Weak, sinful, and in need of Jesus”.
If you “get yourself all cleaned up” before you are willing to come to Christ, you’ve really not repented at all. Because in that process, you thought you could “do it yourself” on your own.
Repentance is falling to your knees in acceptance of the fact that without Christ’s help, it’s never happening. Nothing substantial will ever change until you admit how powerless you really are and how Christ is your only hope.
John’s call for repentance and baptism, although incomplete at the time, was God’s push in that direction. And Jesus, in humility, submitted to it, and his life, death and resurrection completed it.
He said to people, even I, Christ, the Son, cannot change the will of the Father. Though I am one with Him, I still submit to Him.
I am baptized today, I will suffer tomorrow, I will then die for your sins. I will rise again because I love you that much.
The King has arrived. He is here. Right Now. His eternal love is waiting. So Repent and be born again, the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.
(c)2010 Timothy Henry