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THE TWO-FOLD MESSAGE OF CHRIST'S BAPTISM
A SERMON ORIGINALLY DELIVERED AT
THE HIGH HILL UNITED METHODIST CHURCH
THE FEDERATED CHURCH OF ATHENS
8 JANUARY 1989
By Frank L. Hoffman, Pastor
Preparation Verse: (Psalm 29:2)
Give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name;
Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.
As we more and more read our Bibles, and study God's Word, we will find that it
is similar to peeling an onion.
Just as there are layers in the onion, and as we peel it, we find that it brings tears to our eyes, so it is with God's Word; for as we continue to study it, we find many messages contained in single passages and these too, quite often, bring tears to our eyes.
Something else we find out about the writers, and particularly the prophetic writers of the Bible: they speak in the person of God.
And even more, they speak in the specific person of the entire Trinity, or that of the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit. And this is in both the Old and New Testaments.
So, if we are attentive to God's Word, we will see Jesus speaking to us from the pages of the Old Testament.
One such incidence is in our Old Testament Lesson for this morning, Isaiah 48:12-16. Let's take another look at it.
12. "Listen to Me, O Jacob, even Israel whom I called;
I am He, I am the first, I am also the last.
Who is being called?
First He called out for Jacob, the deceiver, the sinner, then He calls out for Israel, Jacob’s new name, the one he received after he wrestled with God (in repentant prayer).
In other words, He first calls the sinner, and then the redeemed former sinner.
Who is it that has been calling?
Surely it is not the prophet Isaiah, for he has not been from the beginning and he will not be the last.
It must be God, for only He exists through all eternity.
But more specifically, which person of God is speaking?
It is Jesus!
And let's verify this, for this passage has a lot to do with our understanding of why Jesus was baptized.
In the Book of Revelation, 22:13, part of a passage where Jesus and John are giving an Epilogue and a comforting message of His return, Jesus speaks in similar words.
13. "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end."
And just in case there is still some question as to who is really speaking, Isaiah goes on.
13. "Surely My hand founded the earth,
And My right hand spread out the heavens;
When I call to them, they stand together.
Listen to what Paul writes about Jesus Christ in his letter to the Colossians in 1:15-17.
15. And He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation.
16. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things have been created by Him and for Him.
17. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.
Jesus Christ is most definitely God, and it is for Him who the prophet Isaiah is
And it is important for us to see a glimpse of why Jesus wanted John to baptize Him: "He is the image of the invisible God."
In Him, we are able to relate to God.
That is why the Lord is pleased when someone proclaims this fact; thus Isaiah expresses it for the Lord.
14. "Assemble, all of you, and listen!
Who among them has declared these things?
The Lord loves him; he shall carry out His good pleasure on Babylon,
And His arm shall be against the Chaldeans.
15. "I, even I, have spoken; indeed I have called him,
I have brought him, and He will make his ways successful.
Thus God did for Cyrus, and he conquered Babylon, who had conquered Judah.
Then the Lord speaks to us with a very important message and call.
16. "Come near to Me, listen to this:
From the first I have not spoken in secret,
From the time it took place, I was there.
And now the Lord God has sent Me, and His Spirit."
We are hearing the voice of the pre-incarnate Christ speaking to the Jewish
people of that day and to everyone else since then.
And in the last part of the last verse we see the presence of the entire Trinity and, most importantly, they are being depicted as individual personalities. The Father is sending forth the Son and the Holy Spirit, exactly as he did at the baptism of Jesus.
Now, let's go back and take another look at those New Testament verses from Matthew 3:1-17.
1. Now in those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of
2. "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."
John the Baptist was proclaiming that the Messiah had come, and that through Him
the powers of heaven would reign upon the earth.
He called for the people to repent, not just in words, but with a repentance that would be evident by their changed lifestyle, just as all of us are being called upon to do today.
3. For this is the one referred to by Isaiah the prophet, saying,
"The voice of one crying in the wilderness,
'Make ready the way of the Lord,
Make His paths straight!' "
Matthew is here reminding us, and the people of his day, that John the Baptist is a prophet, the very prophet proclaimed by Isaiah, who would proclaim the Messiah's coming.
4. Now John himself had a garment of camel's hair, and a leather belt about his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey.
In announcing the coming of the Messiah, and the need for everyone to come to
repentance, John was setting the example; for he had put away all of his own
worldly possessions, had no soft clothing, and even had to scavenge for food; he
took no money for his preaching, so that none could accuse him of doing what he
was doing for monetary gain.
John the Baptist presented himself as a true prophet of God.
Note the results:
5. Then Jerusalem was going out to him, and all Judea, and all the district
around the Jordan;
6. and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, as they confessed their sins.
The lifestyle of John the Baptist spoke to the people of his sincerity as loud,
or louder, than his words.
They believed that he was a man of God, and humbled themselves before the Lord as he was doing.
The people recognized the sin in their own lives and repented, for they wanted to purify themselves for the coming of the Lord.
They recognized the fact that their coming Messiah was Himself also God.
But this was not so with the religious leaders.
7. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he
said to them, "You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to
8. "Therefore bring forth fruit in keeping with repentance;
9. and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham for our father'; for I say to you, that God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.
John was probably able to recognize the leaders, the Pharisees and the
Sadducees, because they came out wearing all of their finery, unlike John and
the other people who came forth in humble attire.
Thus John speaks to them in the manner that he does.
Since they had not been living the lifestyle that God had laid down for them, the intent of the Law and not just the letter of the Law, they had been, in John's words, spreading poison like a venomous snake when it bites someone.
There is also something else taking place here.
The letter of the Law states that there is no forgiveness without an animal sacrifice, at least as far as these religious leaders presented the Law.
But here in the Jordan River the truly repentant people are having their sins symbolically washed away by the water, and no scapegoating of an innocent animal by believing that they could pass off their sins on someone else.
Forgiveness and salvation is a gift of God's grace.
Since these religious leaders came out to John as they had, he could see no sign that they had come in the spirit of true repentance; thus he tells them to ''bring forth fruit in keeping with repentance."
Their attitude was that since they were sons of Abraham, that was all that it took to get them into heaven; and John tells them of the errors of their ways, and even goes so far as to say that the stones that were on the ground were more righteous than they, and were more deserving of being called "sons of Abraham" than they.
And the message is the same for all of us.
Just because we were born into a so-called Christian family, or attend a so-called Christian church, will not qualify us to get into heaven.
Each and every one of us must repent before the Lord and accept Him personally in our own heart. We must truly believe in Him, if we are going to get into heaven.
Then John continues his prophetic chastisement of the leaders, with a message for everyone.
10. "And the axe is already laid at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
The trees are the people of Israel, and by saying that they will be cut off at
the root, he is telling them that the Lord will remove them from their heritage
and send them to hell, unless they bear fruit in accordance with their heritage.
If they are Jews, if they are the chosen people of God, then they should be living like it, and not like the rest of the world that does not know the Lord.
People, do you hear God's message? .....
And John continues:
11. "As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
Now we begin to tie this morning's message together.
John's message is beginning to bring into focus the true magnitude of what the coming of Messiah truly means.
A person’s repentance, and their baptism by John, was just the beginning.
Our repentance does not mean anything, unless we see ourselves in comparison to our holy and righteous God.
John was a chosen vessel of the Lord, even before birth.
John himself had repented.
He was fulfilling the work that God was calling him to do.
He was telling the truth about salvation. He wasn't holding back anything for fear of hurting anyone’s feelings.
He was saying and doing everything that the Lord wanted him to do, yet he knew that he wasn't worthy enough to even remove Jesus' sandals.
But when we recognize that we are truly unworthy of God's grace, then, and only then, is He able to work with us and give us the power we need to do all that He desires us to do.
He will grant us the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, our one true baptism.
We don't just need God, our Messiah Jesus Christ; we also need God, the Holy Spirit; and as we shall shortly see, we also need God the Father. We need the whole Trinity!
Then John goes on with the Lord's message to those who are hard of heart.
12. "And His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire."
God will separate the believers from the nonbelievers; the believers He will
bring into heaven with Him, and the nonbelievers will be cast into hell.
Denying the existence of hell, as an excuse for one’s non-repentant attitude before God, does not change the fact that it exists and that if they remain in that state, they will go there one day and find out how really real it is.
Now with all this in mind, note what happens next:
13. Then Jesus arrived from Galilee at the Jordan coming to John, to be baptized by him.
Jesus knew how John felt, yet in all His grace, He comes to John to be baptized.
Since John felt that he wasn't worthy enough to even untie His shoes, then how could he ever baptize Him?
Furthermore, Jesus is sinless, and didn't need to repent or to be baptized.
14. But John tried to prevent Him, saying, "I have need to be baptized by You,
and do You come to me?"
15. But Jesus answering said to him, "Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness." Then he permitted Him.
Jesus is saying, "It's alright John; I understand how you feel, and I know your
"I have come to take away the sin of the world, thus I will symbolically be cleansed beforehand."
"Righteousness is fulfilled by My grace, through faith, and not by any work you do, or any animal sacrifice."
"Let the people see that even their holy and righteous God can afford to humble Himself before men, as an example to them of how they should be."
"Permit it this time John, so that they may see and hopefully understand."
"I will only do it this one time, for it will only be necessary for Me to take away the sin of the world once for all time."
And John heard the words of the Lord and permitted it.
16. And after being baptized, Jesus went up immediately from the water; and
behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a
dove, and coming upon Him,
17. and behold, a voice out of the heavens, saying, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased."
Each and every one of us needs the same thing.
We need to be cleansed from our sins by our repentance and the cleansing power of Jesus Christ.
We need the power of the Holy Spirit, to help keep us from falling into the traps of the world.
And we need the Father's blessing, to encourage us to continue in our walk.
Have you seen the heavens opened up for you?
Have you heard His voice calling to you?
God loves you very much and wants to give you all that He has.
If you haven't received His gift, won't you do so now? It’s already the third week after Christmas.