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Please turn your attention to our Gospel lesson for today where we see Jesus anointed with the Spirit and power, and declared to be our perfect substitute.
Last Sunday we learned about the visit of the Wise Men who came to worship Jesus. Since then, Herod has died; Mary, Joseph and Jesus returned from Egypt and settled in Nazareth; Jesus has grown in wisdom and stature and favor with God and men; and his relative John has been baptizing people in the wilderness along the Jordan River. Jesus is now about thirty years old and, we are told, he traveled from Galilee to where John was baptizing so that he could also be baptized by John.
This was a momentous occasion. John had been telling everyone that the coming Messiah was near. Although John was a prophet sent by God who attracted large crowds of people, he pointed out that he was not worthy to stoop down and untie the Messiah’s sandal. So, we can understand why, when Jesus showed up and asked John to baptize him, John would say, I need to be baptized by you, and yet you come to me?
John knew he was a sinner. He knew he was not worthy to even untie Jesus’ sandals. Jesus didn’t deny that was true. Yet he had John baptize him. Remember that when God calls on you to serve him in some way. You may be tempted to react as John did. “Lord, how can I serve you? I’m just a lowly, sinful person.” But so was John, and so was Isaiah, and so was Paul. Everyone that God used to do his work on earth was a lowly, sinful person. What grace God shows us that he would choose to work in and through lowly sinners like us! May this thought humble us, and move us to say with Isaiah, “Here am I, send me. Use me to do your work.”
The fact that Jesus came to John and was baptized by him puts God’s seal of approval on John’s work as a prophet of God. We know that there was discussion among the Jewish leaders about whether John really was a prophet, or just some crazy guy living in the wilderness, because Jesus asked the Jewish leaders about it. They kept asking him where his authority to preach and do miracles came from, so Jesus said, “I won’t answer any more of your questions unless you answer this question for me first. Was John’s baptism from God or from men?” They refused to answer the question, but the answer is obvious to us. If Jesus came to be baptized by John, then his baptism was from God.
In order to persuade John to baptize him Jesus said, it is proper for us to fulfill all righteousness. Jesus was saying, “This is part of God’s plan. I was born. I took on flesh and blood so that I could be under the law, so that I could live under the same requirements every other human being does. It’s true, I have no sins of my own to wash away so, in that sense I don’t need to be baptized. But I am the second Adam. Like Adam I represent the whole human race. I have come to do what the first Adam failed to do, to resist temptation, to live righteously, to live without sin. In addition, the Father is placing on me the weight of the sins of every person who ever has or ever will live. In that sense, I need baptism more than anyone.”
At his baptism Jesus united himself with us. He identified himself with sinners. And Paul says that our baptism unites us with Jesus and gives us the benefit of his death and resurrection. As our substitute Jesus fulfilled all righteousness so that in him, we become righteous in God’s sight.
After he was baptized Jesus stepped on to the bank of the Jordan and, suddenly, the heavens were opened for him! He saw the Spirit of God, descending like a dove and landing on him.
We know that this was a sign that God had given to John so that he would be able to know for sure who the promised Messiah was. John said, I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me,`The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God.
It’s also important to note that the Hebrew word “Messiah” and the Greek word “Christ” both mean anointed one. It’s not so much a name as it is the title of an office. We call him Jesus the Christ, or Jesus the Messiah. In the Old Testament God used anointing the way that we use ordination or installation. It was a ceremony, usually public, that said to everyone present, “This is the one God has chosen.” And, often, in connection with this anointing we are told that the Holy Spirit came upon the one who was anointed to give them the ability to do what they had been chosen to do. The offices to which people were anointed were Prophet, Priest and King. At his baptism the Father designated Jesus as the one he had chosen to be the Messiah, our perfect prophet, priest and king in one person.
We heard Peter say in our second lesson, You know what happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached. God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power.
Just like anyone else, Jesus didn’t take these offices on himself. They were bestowed on him by the Father. The fact that the Holy Spirit descended on him at his baptism shows us that the Father was installing him into his office as Messiah and commissioning him to serve as prophet, priest and king. Only after his baptism did Jesus begin to publicly preach and teach and perform miracles. After his baptism he began to offer himself as the sacrifice for the sins of the world. After his baptism he began to take on Satan and defeat him on our behalf. He was given the right and authority to do these things by the Father.
As the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus in the form of a dove, the Father spoke. He said, “This is my Son, whom I love. I am well pleased with him.”
Jesus told John that they needed to fulfill all righteousness. Did they? Was the righteousness that God demands, that we can’t fulfill, fulfilled for us by Jesus? The Father says, “I am well pleased.” Jesus is doing everything well, he is fulfilling all righteousness as the substitute for all human beings. Then, immediately after his baptism Jesus was led into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil for 40 days. Was the father still well pleased with him? We are told that after the devil’s temptations failed, he left him for a while and the angels came and ministered to him. At his transfiguration, just before his suffering and death, the father spoke from heaven again saying that he was still well pleased with Jesus. And the greatest confirmation that Jesus fulfilled all righteousness is that God raised him from the dead.
There should be no doubt in our mind that Jesus did fulfill all righteousness, that he is our perfect substitute who kept every law in our place and paid for every sin. Whenever Satan comes and tempts you to doubt. Whenever he tries to get you to think that maybe Jesus wasn’t your perfect substitute before God; that maybe he wasn’t perfect, or maybe he didn’t do quite enough and there is something left for you to do; remember what the father said at his baptism and again at his transfiguration. Remember that he rose from the dead. Tell Satan, “like John, I know I’m not perfect. I’m a sinner deserving God’s punishment. But Jesus came to fulfill all righteousness. He came to be righteous in my place. The Father declared that he was well pleased with Jesus and put his stamp of approval on him as my perfect substitute by raising him from the dead. In baptism the Bible says that I have been united with Jesus. His perfect righteousness has become my perfect righteousness. In him it’s as if I have been punished for my sins. His resurrection and new life has become my resurrection and new life. I’ve been adopted by the Father as one of his dear children so that I want to live for him now, and I have been named as an heir with Jesus of eternal life.” That’s how you make the devil, and the doubt he tries to foster in your heart, flee. Jesus fulfilled all righteousness. He is our perfect substitute.