Decision on the Bank of a Muddy River


It must have been quite a moment in that carpenter shop in Nazareth. I wish I could have watched the scene when Jesus placed the tools of His trade, the tools of Joseph, back into their places for the final time. He would trade the familiarity of His home in Nazareth for a life as a homeless man – He would not have a permanent place to lay His head. He would go from being the local carpenter to being the most loved and then the most hated man in the nation. He went from building ploughs and yokes to establishing a Kingdom that would last eternally.

Jesus’ first destination was south to a region of the Jordan where His cousin, John, was baptizing those he had called to repentance. There was a fresh consciousness of sin and need that followed John’s preaching. He was preparing the way for the Messiah. He was the new Elijah right down to his camel’s hair sport coat and his lunch of fresh locusts in honey sauce. John prepared the way of the Lord and laid a straight path to him. Jesus was moving from the years of privacy to the years of publicity. He was about to assume the office He was sent to fill. John was the chosen ambassador to lay the groundwork. Now the King was on His way to Jordan to be declared.

Matthew 3:13-17:

13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. 14 But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented. 16 As soon as Jesus was baptized, He went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (NIV)

Eighteen years had passed since a 12-year old boy had astounded the legal experts in the Temple. He had told His parents that He must be “about his Father’s business.” Now, on the banks of the Jordan River, the compelling force of His mission moved him to John. The prophet had been preaching: “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Later he would look upon Jesus and cry, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Long before Peter’s famous confession in Matthew 16, John had declared the Messiahship of Christ. There were no teachings or miracles to convince John. Rather, this is a prophetic, Holy Spirit-inspired proclamation. This may have been actually the first time the two cousins had met.

When Jesus stepped into the waters of Jordan, it was not a baptism of repentance. Jesus was sinless. If that is not true His death is meaningless, the Gospel is a farce and we are all lost. John had baptized multitudes of people. He turned no one away who had repented for every person He met needed to repent. Yet when Jesus stood before him to be immersed in Jordan, John balked. What a moment this was. The age of the prophets was about give way to the age of the Messiah. The Kingdom had come. What every prophet had longed for and predicted was now a reality.

When John looked into the eyes of His King, he realized this Person had no need of baptism. This had never happened before. In fact John’s own thoughts were for his personal unworthiness. This man, of whom Jesus said “there is none greater born of women than John the Baptist,” a man “filled with the Spirit from the womb” felt the acute sting of conviction. He stated that Jesus should baptize him.

Have you ever experienced what John did at that moment? Whenever we enter the presence of God, we cannot help but feel the awe and the majesty. The realization of who God is tends to create a distance. No flesh can glory in the presence of God. This rough prophet who rebuked the religious leaders became instantly reverent in the presence of Jesus. The Spirit of God was at work in this scene. He was testifying to John of the perfection and holiness of Christ. John knew He was sinless. This was the first person who had ever come for baptism who didn’t need to.

Jesus put aside John’s protests and told His cousin that this baptism must take place to ‘‘fulfill all righteousness.” But if the baptism of Jesus was not a baptism of repentance, what kind of baptism was it? What transpired in the Jordan River that day was the Sinless identifying with the sinner. Isaiah presents the best prophetic illustration of this when he writes in chapter 53, “He was numbered with the transgressors.” Long before Jesus hung on the cross between two thieves He identified with sinful humanity. In Jesus’ baptism, as with His life and His death, we see the King identifying with the deepest needs of His subjects. We could not stand in God’s presence because of unrighteousness. Jesus came to open up a way so that our sin could be removed. With that barrier gone we could be clothed in the righteousness of Christ and stand justified, guiltless, in the presence of God. That is the “fulfillment of righteousness” Jesus spoke about. That is the beginning of what Isaiah 53 calls, “The travail of his soul.”

Jesus’ baptism was a prophetic picture of His death. His baptism speaks of His consent to the task that lay ahead of him. When the days of His public ministry were ended a greater baptism awaited him. When a couple of power-hungry disciples approached Jesus for appointment to a high office in His Kingdom, Jesus responded: “Are ye ... able to be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with? He was not talking about water baptism, He was speaking of His Passion - His atoning death. Ahead of Jesus is the cause of lost humanity.

There have always been sinners on the banks of the Jordan. The world today is full of sin and sinners. In this scene Jesus gives His solemn consent. It is pictured in His baptism. He accepts the mission: He will die and be buried so that He might rescue the transgressors He was numbered among. Today, when the candidates are immersed they are reaping the benefits of Jesus’ consent to a baptism of suffering and death. Again, the words of Isaiah ring true, “My righteous servant shall justify many.”

Some and perhaps all of the candidates have family members in this service. Parents are thrilled to watch their children take their stand. Pastors are excited to watch converts declare their intentions to follow Christ. Friends will rejoice with you tonight. The baptism of Jesus was just not recorded by the writers of the four Gospels. Sometimes I feel that heaven was stilled as Jesus stepped into the waters. Here was a public declaration that would change the course of history. Jesus served notice to earth and to heaven that He would totally and perfectly fulfill “the Father’s business.” When the act was accomplished and a dripping wet Christ arose from the Jordan there were three recorded manifestations of heavenly origin. Another act in the drama of redemption was underway. In the days ahead Jesus would announce the Kingdom, teach its principles, show the benefits of the kingdom through His miracles and illustrate His majestic kingship. But teachings could not change hearts. Miracles could not redeem man. Only His atoning death could do that and His baptism expresses His intent to go all the way to the cross.

Matthew, Mark, Luke and John speak of the heavens being opened and the Spirit descending like a dove upon Jesus. They record that God spoke on this occasion and confirmed Jesus as His “beloved son.” God announced His pleasure at Jesus willingness to give His life.

Folks, this is the reality that is symbolized in water baptism for us. We declare by stepping into the water that we are dead to what we used to be. At the moment we asked Jesus Christ to become our Savior and Lord of our lives, Jesus’ blood washed away our sins. Going down into the water is a graphic, physical expression of our death and burial with him. Paul asked the Romans (6:3), “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?”

If the symbolism ended there, baptism would not be all that exciting. It would be like a farmer planting seed in the ground and nothing ever growing up. The act of planting shows a confidence there will be a harvest. Here is where water baptism takes on a glory all of its own. John baptized Jesus. He put him under the water and He also brought him up again. And in that rising from the water comes the assurance that as surely as we die with Christ we shall be raised like Him.

Let’s make one fact sure. The bruised and broken body that the two disciples, Joseph and Nicodemus, placed in the tomb was not the same body that came out of the tomb. Jesus was raised with a glorified body. He was raised with an eternal, incorruptible body.

That means two things for us. First, when we arise out of the water we walk in newness of life. When we meet Christ, He changes us. Baptism in water gives a portrait of that change. I have never net a person genuinely saved by the power of God who was not a changed person. And when I meet someone who shows no change whatsoever, I seriously doubt the depth of their commitment. Paul again said to the Romans (6:4), “Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” Jesus changes us into new people when we accept him and water baptism is my public statement to the world that I am no longer the man, woman or child I used to be. It is, as so often it is said, “the outward symbol of an inward reality.”

Secondly, as surely as Jesus suffered a baptism of death, He was raised by the power of God. The promise goes out to every believer today that “because I live you shall live also.” The resurrection of Jesus Christ is God’s vindication of the fact that He is the Son of God and the eternal Savior of the world. It is also my guarantee that I shall be raised from the dead if I die before His coming. Or, if I am here when He returns, my body is going to be changed and made like His so that I can enjoy His presence for eternity.

Paul spoke at length of this change that will take place at the coming of the Lord. Today those who are baptized will arise to walk in newness of life in this world. At the coming of Christ we will experience the consummation of our salvation. The limitations will be removed and we shall be like Him. Water baptism points us forward to that glorious day. Hear what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:51-55:

51 Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. 53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. 54 So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. 55 0 death, where is thy sting? 0 grave, where is thy victory? (KJV)

When Jesus stepped into the waters of Jordan He committed Himself to a day when the waters of death would close over His head. He committed himself to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. But death was not able to hold Him. He was raised incorruptible by the power of God and ever lives to make intercession for us. When the baptism of Jesus was over He was committed to redeem us. What He committed himself to He accomplished and we are the beneficiaries of it today. The reality of being baptized in water is exciting, but a greater reality awaits us at His coming. Be encouraged to hold fast the profession made today.

One thought by the Apostle Paul to conclude today: Ephesians 4:4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.