Scripture: Matthew 3:13-17
At the beginning of this morning’s service, two individuals publicly committed their lives to Jesus Christ through baptism. Being baptized basically means that a person has accepted Jesus as his/her Savior from sin, and is publicly committing to begin following him. It is something the Lord Jesus commands. It doesn’t mean that from this point forward, the person will do no wrong. Baptism is not some kind of spiritual award for a life well-lived, or a promise that you will give your absolute best to God. Baptism is simply an outward demonstration of an inward process that has begun in a person’s life. That person has met Jesus Christ, and now is following him in a process of learning and spiritual growth. It is not any kind of crowning event for spirituality, it symbolizes a starting point. Each of these individuals baptized this morning will struggle with sin. At times they will fail in their attempts to follow after God. They will be far from perfect. What they are experiencing however, is the power of God working in their lives to strengthen them, and to continue to transform them. I’ve seen spiritual growth in their lives already. They are moving forward for Christ.
In short, being baptized does not symbolize what we are going to do for God, it symbolizes what God already has done for us in Jesus Christ.
When someone is baptized, often it is with the words, “buried with him in baptism, raised to walk in newness of life.” So baptism is all about what God does, and has done in Jesus. A good illustration of that truth is the baptism of Jesus that is described in the passage for this morning. There are three things about it that provide a better understanding of what God does for you.
First of all, in his baptism, Jesus stands with you in your sin. There is a common misunderstanding that in order to be more of the person God wants you to be, you have to start moving toward God and keep moving toward God. Eventually he will respond to you and recognize the good that you’ve done. That isn’t how the Bible says it works. God doesn’t wait for you to take the initiative with him, he takes the initiative with you. The Apostle Paul says,
When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. (Romans 5:6-8 NLT)
Jesus had no need to baptized. He had no sins of which to repent. He didn’t need a relationship with God the Father – he had it. His baptism represents his meeting us where we are in our sin.
Then in his baptism, Jesus stands for you as your substitute. Jesus approached John the Baptist to be baptized. Verses 14-15 describe how John responded to him,
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?” But Jesus said, “It should be done, for we must carry out all that God requires.” So John agreed to baptize him.
The unthinkable was taking place with the ministry of John the Baptist. Jews in the hundreds were taking the unprecedented step of following John into the waters of the Jordan, confessing national and personal sins, and calling on God to cleanse them and make them fit for his kingdom. There had never been a greater national turning to God. Despite this baptism however, the sin of the people still remained. Only Jesus could truly display righteousness in baptism. No one then or now can be perfectly baptized, but Jesus can. Jesus did it perfectly here. So for you have been baptized today, he has gone ahead of you. There is a symbolism here of Jesus being your substitute. Jesus identified with all that John the Baptist was teaching. He was prepared to go into the waters of judgment in that river, and he did. Anything that is needed to fulfill a person’s relationship with God through baptism was done by Jesus. You don’t need to worry about doing your baptism perfectly – Jesus has gone ahead of you. You are simply following him. Jesus is your substitute in every way necessary.
Then, in the baptism of Jesus, Jesus stands over you as your Savior. Verses 16-17 say,
“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. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.”
There are three confirmations in this passage that the baptism of Jesus is unique. The heavens opened. The Spirit descended. A voice spoke. With this act, the service of Jesus to God his Father officially begins. When you are baptized, Jesus stands over you as your Savior, having met you where you are and having offered his life as your substitute. Hebrews 4:16-17 says,
“So then, since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we believe. This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.”
After the baptism, God does not leave you alone to prove your own worth in his eyes. He rules over you, and lives through you, to make you more and more into the person he would have you to be. Paul says to the Christians at the church in Philippi,
“And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns” (Philippians 1:6 NLT).
Who began the good work in you that led to your baptism? God did. Who will continue the work that needs to be done after your baptism? God will. Following Jesus is not about your performance, it is about God’s power and promise.
So how do you know if you are ready to be baptized? You simply have to understand the spiritual ABCs:
Admit you are a sinner.
Believe Jesus died for you.
Call upon Jesus as your Savior.