Summary of the Text
Defined by Action and Accessibility
Action defines us. We either play the game or we sit on the sidelines. We either get our hands dirty and by doing so gain credibility or we sit aloft our pulpit and pontificate.
Okay, while it may not be that cut and dried, it can certainly be said that jumping into the fray goes a lot further than standing aloof and apart.
Action equals accessibility.
Many of you may have had a favorite uncle or aunt growing up. My hunch is that he or she was your favorite because they actively got down on your level and made themselves accessible to you. It is the same movement of the Gospel.
Jim Rayburn, the founder of YoungLife, decided that instead of having kids come to his church and conform to a certain structure, he’d go to their turf. It is the way of God in Christ.
Action and accessibility.
Jesus was defined by action and accessibility. If humans were playing the game, he was in it, not those games of seduction, deception, and manipulation that so many people play, but the game of life in its strife and striving for meaning.
He entered into the human experience in all its gore and glory. He occupied the same space in which his fellow human beings sought security amidst the uncertainty and vulnerability of sin and sorrow. He did so precisely because he desired to be accessible to the ones he came to save.
Did he need to enter the game? Would he have any benefit from its plays? Only so far as he would aid us in entering into the life that he offered.
Active in Muddy Waters
It is in the action where we find him in Matthew 3:13-17. Like the common stable of Bethlehem, the muddy waters of the Jordan seem less than befitting of someone of Jesus’ position. He shows up at the Jordan alongside the masses of people to be baptized by John, to be washed in the waters of the Jordan. Waters that Namaan the Aramean general once scoffed at as being less than the rivers of Damascus (2 Kings 5), but in which he found cleansing from his leprosy. Waters that the people of Israel passed through tribe by tribe to occupy the land after forty years of fruitless wandering (Joshua 3).
Jesus enters these storied waters.
Jesus Defies Expectations
The World Cup just ended with a roar, the Argentinian team winning a third star for its nation.
The who’s who on the “football” landscape accompanied by the international celebrity caste were in attendance in Qatar 2022. It was an occasion for royalty and riches.
As many of you may know, though, the prior decade of erecting the infrastructure for the event was fraught with great difficulty and an inordinate amount of human tragedy. Guest workers from mostly the Far East risked life and limb to erect the stadiums that would house the global elite. The poor from Nepal, India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and other nations came to work.
It was not a place one would have expected to see the British Royal family or the sons and daughters of the leaders of business, industry, government, and economy and certainly not the sons and daughters of the ruling class of Qatar. If one of these elite ones had shown up on the scene other than in a role of oversight, authority, or investment it would have created some stir.
This is precisely what we find at the Jordan River, though. God’s Son, out of place, prepared for the halls of princes and kings, perfectly refined in every way, suited to sit in the finest box seat and not build it, clocks in with the crew from Kathmandu to climb the skeletal structure of the Khalifa International Stadium, to share in their labor and their loss. Why? Not from need, but from a desire to identify with the people whom he came to save.
In the three Synoptic accounts of the baptism of Jesus, only Matthew records John’s objection to Jesus’ baptism. Jesus doesn’t belong in the common throng awaiting the muddy mikvah of repentance for the forgiveness of sin. John balks, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” (Matthew 3:14).
Jesus replies in Matthew 3:15, “It is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.”
The baptism of Jesus holds great significance within it.
First, it is the symbolic dedication of Jesus’ mission when the heavens are opened up, the Spirit of the Lord descends upon him like a dove, and God expresses pleasure in his beloved Son. It is this moment in particular that John the Baptist describes in John 1:29 that God gave him as a sign indicative of the One who would baptize with the Holy Spirit.
Second, it is preparatory to Jesus’ being thrust into his wilderness temptation. The dedication and the declaration prepare him for the trial which he will face on behalf of humanity that merely begins in the Judean wilderness but culminates on the hill of the skull.
Third and perhaps most important to our focus on this day is its identification with humanity. Jesus’ baptism is an extension of the work of the incarnate God who enters into the most intimate of human depravity. Unlike us, he does not find a symbolic cleansing from sinfulness in the depths of the river, (he has no need to) but on that day he enters into the despair of human frailty in order to bring humanity through its morbid and murky mess.
This identification with humanity will cause the apostle Paul to later proclaim in Romans 6:4, “We are therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new ife.”
Scott Bullock is a Board Member and Contributor with The Pastors Workshop. He is an ordained Presbyterian minister who has served churches in Illinois, New Jersey, and California.
He holds an MA in New Testament Studies from Wheaton College, an MDiv from Fuller Theological Seminary, and a ThM in New Testament from Princeton Theological Seminary. Scott is married with three teen-aged children.
The heavens were opened to show us that our baptism will open the heavens for us. God is made accessible to us. We can know the Unknowable. We can be changed. A good work is done in us, and we have the means to have the promise fulfilled in us.
Baptism Gives us Assurance in Our Faith
For us, Jesus instituted two ongoing signs to confirm our confidence in the gospel of his grace, the first of which is baptism. Though simpler and less obviously supernatural than the ten plagues on Egypt or bodily resurrection from the dead, baptism is a strong tool of the Spirit to refashion us in the image of the Son. Baptism was given by Jesus to display and assure believers of the washing away of our sin, our union with Christ in his death, and our new resurrection life.
The feel of the water on our skin and the observance of others being washed in this way remind and assure us that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was for us personally . In it we are promised that “as surely as water washes away dirt from the body, so certainly his blood and his Spirit wash away my soul’s impurity, in other words, all my sins.” Through baptism we are assured that we are washed with Christ’s blood and, therefore, by grace, he has forgiven all our sins (Zech. 13:1; Eph. 1:7–8).