Matthew 3:13-15 And The Importance Of Righteous Living Through Jesus Christ
Posted by Job on January 26, 2010
The issue of Jesus Christ’s baptism at times provokes some debate. For example, why was Jesus Christ, God in the flesh with all that entails, baptized in the first place? Many good theories are proposed, among them the idea that Jesus Christ was announcing to the world His identity and the beginning of His earthly ministry. However, the simple explanation given in Matthew 3:15 by Jesus Christ Himself: “And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer [it to be so] now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness.” This means that Jesus Christ regarded participating in John’s baptism to be a good act, and it was His duty to do everything that is good. And please note that Jesus Christ did not only put this requirement upon Himself. This is not something to be performed by Jesus Christ on our behalf as our substitute, as was Jesus Christ’s death on the cross. Instead, when Jesus Christ stated “it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness”, He was including John the Baptist and every other believer. Therefore, there is no such thing as a partial Christian or a mostly Christian. Instead, to be a Christian, one must do all that God instructs and requires us, what is called “the whole counsel of God” (see Acts 20).
But what is particularly interesting about the baptism of Jesus Christ as it is recorded by Matthew is that John the Baptist initially refused to baptize Jesus Christ! It was not because John the Baptist regarded Jesus Christ as some grotesque, unworthy sinner, or that He was coming insincerely out of curiosity or as some show of false piety. Quite the contrary, the grotesque unworthy sinners were precisely whom John the Baptist (and Jesus Christ after Him) were calling to repentance, and John the Baptist did not address Jesus Christ after the manner of the Pharisees and Sadducees who came (o generation of vipers, and demanding that their repentance be sincere). Instead, John the Baptist objected to baptizing Jesus Christ because he saw himself as unworthy to baptize Jesus Christ! Instead, John the Baptist stated that Jesus Christ should be baptizing HIM!
Of course, looking back on this incident, we see this as a logical conclusion of John the Baptist, with Jesus Christ being God in the flesh. However, John the Baptist did not have the benefit of our hindsight! For the gospel of John, verses 1:29-34, states that John did not know that Jesus Christ was the Messiah until AFTER he baptized Him, for it was at that point that John saw the Holy Spirit descending upon Jesus Christ. We also surmise from Matthew 11:1-6 that John, upon his being cast into prison, seemed to doubt Jesus Christ’s identity as the Messiah and challenged Jesus Christ to prove Himself. So it is safe to propose that John the Baptist’s reasons for not wanting to baptize Jesus Christ had nothing to do with his having any idea that his younger cousin Jesus was in fact the Christ, and with that John the Baptist’s statement that he himself needed to be baptized by his cousin!
So then, what was the reason? It is the difference between the baptism of John and the baptism of Jesus Christ, which John himself stated was a greater baptism. The baptism of John was a sinner’s baptism. By contrast, the baptism of Jesus Christ is a BELIEVER’S baptism. Thus, the reason why John attempted to restrain Jesus Christ from being baptized was because John was performing a baptism for penitent sinners, a baptism for the righteous, AND HE HAD NEVER OBSERVED OR HEARD OF JESUS CHRIST SINNING AT ANY TIME! So why did John state that Jesus Christ should baptize him? BECAUSE HE KNEW THAT JESUS CHRIST’S RIGHTEOUSNESS EXCEEDED HIS OWN!
Of course, Jesus Christ’s submission to the baptism should not be taken as a denial of the doctrine that Jesus Christ was sinless (for Jesus Christ declared Himself to be sinless in a very direct and challenging manner in John 8:46) or that he was lesser than John the Baptist (for Jesus Christ publicly declared Himself to be greater in Matthew 11:11), but again according to His own words, Jesus Christ submitted to John’s baptism because it was His duty to do all that was righteous. Please recall: just as Jesus Christ did not need to be baptized for His own sake because of His sinlessness, He also did not need to go to the cross for His own sake for that same reason. So, just as Jesus Christ went to the cross for our sakes, it can be surmised that He was baptized for that reason also.
But let us not lose sight of the fact that John the Baptist initially attempted to prevent Jesus Christ from partcipating in his baptism – saying that it was a thing not suitable for Him (just as Simon Peter later claimed that Jesus Christ was not meant to be crucified in Matthew 16:21-23!) – because John the Baptist knew that there was something different about Jesus Christ. John knew that Jesus Christ was different, even from himself! And how did John know this? Again, not from revelation, for the revelation of Jesus Christ’s identity to John did not come until the baptism itself. And it wasn’t because of Jesus Christ’s station or position in life. Rather than being born in Herod’s palace as a member of his family (and Herod was the legally recognized king of the Jews by the Roman empire and the Jewish province), Jesus Christ was born in a manger. Rather than being in the religious or political elite, Jesus Christ was a member of the Jewish underclass, a common laborer with no formal religious training or position. Thus, Jesus Christ in terms of his human socioeconomic state was no different from John the Baptist himself, and also lower than some of the people (Pharisees and Saducees) that John stated were most in need of baptizing! Instead, John knew that there was something different, something special about his cousin, this Jesus of Nazareth, that separated Him from everyone else that he had baptized, and indeed from the Baptist himself!
What was it? From the context and evidence given, it had to have been the life that Jesus Christ lived. Before John the Baptist and before the world, Jesus Christ lived a righteous, exemplary life, blameless before God and man. THAT is why John the Baptist initially refused to baptize Jesus Christ. THAT is why John the Baptist stated that Jesus Christ should instead baptize him! And perhaps that is even why John the Baptist abandoned his refusal to baptize Jesus Christ upon Jesus Christ’s request! After all, this man is more righteous than me? What right do I have to deny his request? If I follow this man in his righteousness, I might become more righteous also! And so John the Baptist did what Jesus Christ requested of him, and as a result the identity of Jesus Christ to John and the world was confirmed by a visible manifestation of the Holy Spirit.
And Christian, this is the important of being righteous. This is the importance of being blameless, Christian. This is the importance of being holy, Christian. Of course, we cannot achieve Jesus Christ’s standard of perfection, for we are not God. However, let us not in our desire to avoid what is commonly termed legalism, Phariseeism, self-righteousness, holier than thou, etc. cause us to veer into antinomianism and worldliness. Instead, just as there was a difference in Jesus Christ such that not only John the Baptist but Jesus Christ’s false accusers (note that none of them took him up on His challenge in John 8:46!) and the very people who sent Him to the cross (i.e. Judas Iscariot the betrayer and Pontius Pilate), there needs to be a difference in Christians so that we are easily, readily distinguishable from those who are not Christians.
Now this is where the “legalism” or “Phariseeism” becomes relevant. It is not supposed to be a difference that is outward. It is not supposed to be a superficial difference, a difference “of the flesh.” For the Judaizers, the difference of the flesh was the circumcision and the law of Moses. Perhaps a more contemporary issue is a certain artificial or affected attitude or behavior, maybe of rote adherence to rules, affiliations, religiosities, or standards of men of how Christians ought to conduct themselves. That is legalism. Instead, this difference should be inward, a change of the heart that comes from being born again of water and of Spirit. As those who are born again of water and of Spirit love Jesus Christ by keeping His commandments (John 14:21) as they are contained within scripture and taught to us by those who precede us in the faith (pastors, evangelists, teachers, prophets, deacons, Godly parents etc.) that produces a sincere – not affected or legalistic and self serving – change in behavior.
When this change of heart and behavior that comes by virtue of living faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ comes about, that is how we become living stones, living witnesses, living examples that reveal Jesus Christ and His gospel to others. Of course, such living witnesses must also verbally share the gospel, for how can the lost sheep hear the gospel without a preacher (Romans 10:14)? However, if you are a living witness of Jesus Christ through your sincere and consistent (save the fact that all sin 1 John 1:7-9) then the living witness of Jesus Christ to the lost makes your verbal witness of Jesus Christ all the more effective, all the more powerful.
There is also the effect on the found. We are not to be islands, lone wolves in the faith. Instead, we are to assemble together and strengthen each other with joyful fellowship, praying for one another, provoking one another to good works, and confessing our sins to one another so that the brothers and sisters may pray for us and we be healed. If we Christians give ourselves over to lukewarm worldliness and carnality, how can such a thing happen? And what examples are we setting for those who follow after us in the faith? Shall the old women teach the young women to be silly and vain? Shall the elder men teach the young men to be brutish and greedy? God forbid! Such behavior causes little ones to stumble, and we know from Jesus Christ Himself that whoever does that to one of His little ones (whether children or those new in faith), it would be better for them were a millstone tied around their necks and they be cast into the sea!
So, this day I encourage you. Follow the example of Jesus Christ by seeking to fulfill all righteousness. Some say that the secret of doing this is more about the “do’s” than the “don’ts”. Others say that while the “do’s” are vital, the “don’ts” cannot be neglected. Of such things, I am not qualified to be the arbiter. However, I can say that if you seek the Lord in this matter through prayer, Bible study, and good works of obedience to His Word that the Holy Spirit will take you where He wants you to go! For it is a core principle of Christian living that it is not what you can do, but what God Himself does for and through you. You are not righteous in and of yourself, but instead you are made righteous through your identification with the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, your being part of Jesus Christ’s own Body, your being washed clean with His blood, your being cleansed and healed by and with His stripes, and your being indwelled by Jesus Christ’s Spirit. Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, and if you sincerely rely and trust completely on God, then God will make sure that the temple of His Spirit is undefiled!