The Dawn Of A New Day
The word seems so simple, straight-forward, and matter-of-fact: “At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.” But when you take the time to think about those simple words, you confront a surprising question. Why was Jesus baptized at all? I mean, baptism was, and is, for sinners. Why then would the sinless Son of God deliberately submit to a baptism for sinners? He had no guilt for sin. He had no shadowed past. He had no skeletons in his closet. He had nothing of which to be ashamed. Why would he allow himself to be baptized? Well, I think it was because Jesus was shattering the pattern. The people of Israel were looking for a Messiah who would come on clouds of glory with bands of angels—a Messiah who would rule in earthly might and power. But Jesus was saying, right here at the very beginning of His ministry, “I am not going to be the Messiah the way you think. I am not going to save people the way you expect.” So Jesus at His baptism was hammering out a revolutionary new approach to what it means to be the Messiah, and the fact of the matter is if He is going to be our Messiah, then we need to understand what He is doing. So let’s drop back a moment and look a little more closely at what happened that day when Jesus “was baptized by John in the Jordan.”
Jesus’ baptism was, first of all, a declaration.
The baptism of Jesus declares that Jesus brings us to God. That was a radically new idea upon the human stage. You see by submitting to baptism, Jesus was identifying himself with our human condition. He was making the point that we are loved by God even in our sin. We are not simply functioning units who need repairing either psychologically or physically. We are not simply individuals who contribute to the welfare of the state or the corporate social structure, and who, therefore, can be lost in the masses. We are rather persons who have been made and loved by God. To be sure, in our independence and waywardness, we have rebelled against our loving God. We are sinners, but Jesus Christ absorbs our guilt and judgment as He identifies himself with us, even in our sin. That’s the message He was delivering that day when He stepped into the muddy waters of the Jordan River.
Understand please, that was something brand new in the world. There are those who say that Christianity is the custodian of the past, the maintainer of the status quo. Not so. The baptism of Jesus was a complete break with the past. Before Jesus, God was inaccessible. Before Jesus, God was bound up with a thousand little regulations which only a handful of technical scribes could decipher. Before Jesus, God was concealed in an elaborate temple, a sacrificial system, and a priestly hierarchy that the average person could never penetrate. God was always by proxy. God was second-hand. God was behind the veil. But with Jesus there dawned a new day in the human experience. No more hocus pocus. No more playing games with a distant deity. The baptism of Jesus declares that Jesus brings us directly into the presence of God.
And, of course, that’s exactly what happens here. When we come into this room, there are no veils; there is no gauntlet to run; there is no obstacle course; there are no railings to keep people away; there is no hocus pocus where I disappear into some holy of holies, and you don’t know where I’ve gone. None of that here. No, here there is just a man—a plain ordinary man standing here wide open to you, sharing my thoughts and my heart, bearing my testimony, delivering my voice to your ears. Between us there is nothing but the possibility of meeting God in Jesus Christ right here, right now. We don’t have a secret ritual of initiation. We don’t lead people through degrees, steps, or anything like that. We don’t whisper any mumbo jumbo into anybody’s ear. We simply say: “God is here, and God is available to you in Jesus Christ.” That is good news designed to meet our deepest needs in life. So when Jesus offered Himself to be baptized by John, that was a new day for us and for our world. For He was declaring that He was identifying Himself with us even to the point of taking our sin upon himself, and by so doing, He brought us to God.
But Jesus’ baptism was also a designation.
You cannot read what happened during the baptism without realizing that Jesus also brings God to us. In fact, God himself spoke during the baptism, and the voice of the Father bore testimony to the divinity of the Son. Do you know that there are only three times when the New Testament tells us that God spoke audibly? The first was at the baptism when God said, “You are my Son, whom I love. With you, I am well pleased.” The second time was on the Mount of Transfiguration when God said to the disciples, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased. Listen to Him.” The third time was when Jesus was within hours of the cross, a crowd was gathered about Him, and suddenly a voice from Heaven said, “I have glorified Your Name, and I will glorify it again.” Each time, God spoke so clearly that all could hear and each time He spoke to identify Jesus Christ as His only begotten Son and to designate Him as the Savior of the world.
No where is that more obvious than at the baptism. There the voice of God said two things, “You are my beloved Son” and “with you I am well pleased.” Now in case you are not aware of it, both of those phrases are direct quotations from Scripture, and when we look at those quotes, we discover something quite remarkable. The first phrase -“You are my beloved Son”—is from Psalm 2 verse 7. It reads, “I will tell you of the decrees of the Lord. He said to me, ‘You are my Son. Today I have begotten you.’” Now what is that? It is in fact, the formula which was spoken whenever Israel crowned its kings. And so at His baptism, Jesus heard the voice of God saying, “You are going to be the Messianic King. You are going to be the royal Viceroy of Heaven on the streets of the earth.” But wait, the other phrase — “with you I am well pleased”—is an exact quotation of Isaiah 42 verse 1. It reads, “Behold my servant whom I uphold, my chosen in whom I am well pleased.” And what is that? Well, it is the phrase that speaks of the Messiah as one who will suffer and serve. And so, at His baptism, Jesus heard God say, “You will be both king and servant combined, and out of your suffering and your sacrifice will come the salvation of the world.”
The message is plain: Jesus does not save us by ruling from a throne. Jesus does not save us by waving a magic wand or wielding enormous power. No, Jesus saves us by going down into the muddy waters of the Jordan thus identifying himself with us and then by climbing up onto a hideous, blood-stained, cross thus to take our sins away. That means that when we are wicked and need forgiving, when we are sinful and need a fresh start, when we are in the pits surrounded by darkness and despair and we say, “Lord, I’ve hit rock bottom” then we shall discover that right there beside us is the “Rock of Ages.” Right there beside us to lift us up is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, God’s beloved Son in whom he is well pleased.
Once in a sermon, the great E. Stanley Jones told of an interview he had with Mahatma Gandhi. As the conservation drew to a close, Gandhi demanded, “Tell me in one sentence what Jesus Christ means to you.” At first Jones was shocked under the impact of the question, but after a moment’s pause, he then said, “All I want and need of God, that Jesus Christ, my Lord, is to me.”
Dear friends, I could never say it better.