Today we’re reading Matthew 3.
John the Baptist is one of the most unusual characters we meet in the New Testament. His birth announcement was unusual (see Luke 1), his methods were unusual (Matt 3:1), his outfit was unusual (v. 4a), and so was his diet (v. 4b). And yet God used him! Although he preached in the desert, out away from the population center, “People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.”
He was also unusually… direct. He commanded people to repent (v. 2) and to the religious elites–the Pharisees and Sadducees–he was downright brutal (vv. 7-10). I wonder what would happen if he showed up in most American churches with this approach and this message? Churches in our land talk about the need to be positive and affirming. They talk about grace–an amazing concept–but say nothing about repentance. “Grace” in the messages of many of our churches sounds more like, “Your sin is not that big of a deal. Yes, God’s offended by it, but he’ll get over it. You know, in Jesus name.” But repentance is a crucial part of grace. You haven’t received God’s unearned favor unless you get that you have sinned against him and that your sin is deeply offensive to him. That kind of change of thinking is the first evidence that God’s grace has come into your life.
The most interesting thing about this passage today is that Jesus felt it was necessary to be baptized (vv. 13-17). John’s baptism was to symbolize a person’s repentance (v. 11a); it identified that person with the group of Jewish people who owned up to their sin and unworthiness to God and wanted Messiah to come and include them in his kingdom despite their sins. So when Jesus arrived with the intention of getting baptized, John the Baptist didn’t want to do it! John accurately recognized that he, John, was the sinner who needed God’s grace, not Jesus. But Jesus answered, “it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness” (v. 15b). This basically meant, “It’s the right thing to do.” The reason it was the right thing to do was that God the Father planned to use this event to identify Christ as his Son, his Messiah (vv. 16-17).
Sometimes it is good to do things that are right even though we may be technically exempt. When I came here to Calvary, I was not required to go through the membership process that everyone else who wanted to become a member went through. That’s because our constitution states that anyone who comes on staff at Calvary automatically becomes a member. But I went through the process anyway because it just seemed like the right thing to do to me. I wanted the same experience of becoming a member that every other adult member in our church experienced. Jesus example of doing what was required of everyone else when he could have been exempt shows what a servant’s heart he had. This is a good thing to remember the next time you could be exempt from something everyone else is doing; joining with those who are doing what is right is encouraging to them and servant-hearted of you. May God give us this kind of attitude in the things we do for him.