The Son affirms the cross: at his baptism
Roger Ellsworth

B. Childress
Dec 17 2010 08:00 A.M.

Matthew 3:13-17

The third chapter of Matthew brings before us a remarkable sight.  Here we have Jesus of Nazareth standing alongside
John the Baptist in the water of the Jordan River.  At first we might not see anything so remarkable in that.  After all,
many Jewish men were coming for John's baptism in those days.  But Jesus, while he was a real man, was no ordinary
man.  He was nothing less than
God in human flesh.

John the Baptist knew this.  He had hailed Jesus as 'the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world' (John 1:29).  
That phrase was no accident, nor was it a mere flight of poetic imagination.  By calling Jesus 'the Lamb of God', John
was quite clearly and explicitly affirming that Jesus was the fulfilment of the promise God had given centuries before.  In
particular, John was linking Jesus to the Passover lamb that the children of Israel had to slay.  That lamb had to be
without spot or blemish.

In declaring Jesus to be the Lamb of God, John was not only saying that this was the one who had come to lay down his
life as the payment for the sins of his people, but that he was also spotless and without blemish (a truth repeated by the
apostle Peter in I Peter 1:19.

The necessity of Jesus' Baptism

Now John the Baptist had a problem on his hands.  Standing here beside him in the Jordan River was the sinless one,
and the baptism that he, John, was practising was one of repentance.  In other words, those who submitted to it was
indicating that they recognized their sinful condition and were truly repenting.  But Jesus had no sin and would not seem,
therefore, to have any need of baptism.

John, realizing all this said to Jesus, 'I have need to be baptized by you, and are you coming to me?' (verse 14).  It is
interesting to note that Jesus in no way disagreed with John. We look in vain for a single instance of Jesus ever
acknowledging any personal sin.  But while he accepted John's conclusion, he still insisted on being baptized.  Why?

Jesus explained by simply saying, 'Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfil all righteousness' (verse 15).  
What was he saying?  Essentially this: 'John, you must yield to me on this matter because baptism is one of the Father's
righteous requirements for my mission.'

Baptism was, then, part of the plan that God the Father and God the Son had worked out before time begun.  That plan
consisted of the Father's giving the Son a people, and the Son's agreeing to redeem them from sin by coming as their
substitute and bearing the punishment due to their sin.

Jesus had no sin of his own, but he had to take the sins of his people.  By standing there in those baptismal waters with
John, he was publicly identifying himself with his people in their sin.  

I suggest that Jesus, by taking his place there with John, was for all practical purposes saying to the Father, 'I have
come to stand in the place of those people you have given me.  I freely and gladly identify with them in their sin so I can
serve as their substitute and pay their penalty.'  

The Father's response

It therefore comes as no surprise to read that the Father responded from heaven with these words: 'This is my beloved
Son, in whom I am well pleased' (verse 17).  That was an expression of the Father's satisfaction with his Son's
identification of himself with sinners.

We can easily fall into the trap of thinking salvation has to satisfy us.  Many hear the historic Christian gospel preached
and begin to pronounce judgment on various aspects of it.  They hear one doctrine and say they cannot accept it.  They
hear another and complain that it does not seem fair.  On and on they go, believing themselves to be competent arbiters
of what is right about this old gospel and what is wrong.  The consumer mentality has come to church these days, and
the consumers feel as much at ease in choosing one doctrine and dispensing with another as they would if they were
standing before a loaded buffet.

Many churches have decided the course of wisdom is not to swim against the tide, but to go with it.  This was illustrated
by a national advertising campaign undertaken by a denomination in the United States which featured a parishioner
saying, 'Instead of trying to fit a religion, I found one to fit me.'

Against all this stands the unwavering testimony of Holy Scripture that it is God who has to be satisfied before any of us
can ever hope to stand in his presence.  He is the one who created us for himself.  He is the sovereign Lord who has the
right to require his creatures to obey his commands.  He is the holy and righteous one who is insulted by the stubborn
refusal of his creatures to obey his commands.  And for those creatures to assume that salvation must somehow or
other satisfy them is rather like asking the fox to guard the chicken, or the inmates to run the prison.

The thing that ought to amaze and astonish us is that this holy God whom we have so grievously insulted with our sins
can ever be satisfied at all.  The good news of the Christian message is not only that he can be satisfied, but that he
actually has been satisfied through that man who stood there alongside John the Baptist in the water of the Jordan
River.  By identifying with sinners there and going to Calvary's cross and bearing the punishment that was due to them,
Jesus has indeed satisfied the just claims of the holy, sovereign God.

The point we need to feel keenly is this: if God is satisfied with Jesus, you and I had better be satisfied with him too!

The Spirit's anointing

Another dimension of Jesus' baptism must not escape our notice.  Just before the Father spoke his words of approval of
his Son, the Spirit of God descended upon the Lord Jesus in the form of a dove.

The Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Trinity, was at one with the Father and the Son in the plan of redemption.  The
Father gave a love-gift to the Son.  The Son purchased this love-gift through his atoning death.  And the Holy spirit
anointed the Son for the task and applies his atoning death to those whom the Father gave to the Son.

The emphasis at this point is on the anointing the Holy Spirit bestowed upon Jesus for the work God the Father had
given him to do.  That work can be divided into three parts or offices: Prophet, Priest and King.

As Prophet Jesus was to represent God to men, faithfully proclaiming his truth to them.  As priest he offered to God the
perfect sacrifice for the sins of his people - himself!  As King he rules over his people, provides for them and protects

This threefold office of the Lord Jesus Christ is an essential part of the redemptive work assigned to him by the Father.  
There can be no salvation for anyone apart from these three offices.  The sinner is ignorant of God's truth and,
therefore, needs someone to instruct him.  The Lord Jesus, as Prophet, provides this.  The sinner is also alienated from
God and needs reconciliation.  By his death on Calvary's cross, Jesus took the penalty of our sin and thereby removed
the barrier between us and God.  The sinner is possessed of a nature that is stubborn and rebellious and also weak and
foolish in the business of living.   As King, the Lord Jesus subdues and rules the sinful nature of his people as well as
protecting and guiding them.  

Jesus identifies with sinners, the Father approves and the Spirit anoints.  Our redemption is the result of the triune God
at work.  It is the completed product of a united Godhead.


JOURNEY TO THE CROSS, by Roger Ellsworth, Copyright 1997, EVANGELICAL PRESS.