Baptism of Jesus: Matthew 3:13-17 (Sermon)


I am not much of a tv or movie guy. However, over a decade ago, I watched the show Undercover Boss. How many of you have seen it? I remember watching the first episode of the first season. The President of Waste Management secretly trained as an entry-level employee. Seeing an executive stoop to that level, learn a job, and get to know his people and company from the bottom up was interesting. The employees were told various stories like he was a new trainee or making a training video hence why they needed a cameraman following them around. At each end, there would be a dramatic reveal, with some neat blessing. For example, a struggling single mom might get a car so she could get to work, the faithful worker might receive a promotion, a student might get a scholarship to continue her education, and rarely but it happened an employee gets fired. In the episode with Waste Management, the boss humbled himself, saw what it was like cleaning porta-potties, and blessed his employees. 


I bring this up because, in Matthew chapter 3, Jesus appeared, and the reader learns who he was and what he was about. If you were here last week, you would remember that John the Baptist castigated the Pharisees and Sadducees for their pride, calling them a brood of vipers. They came to see what people all around were doing in the wilderness with John. He told them they needed to repent and bear good fruit. He was preaching that the kingdom of heaven was at hand. John was a signpost marking the coming of the Messiah, the Christ. Then, Jesus showed up at the river. From the rest of the book of Matthew, we can see that this revelation of who he was didn’t answer all their questions. Years had passed since anyone had heard from him. Decades had gone by since King Herod slaughtered innocent children to try to kill Jesus. Time had flown since Jesus, and his family ran to Egypt for safety and then back again. Finally, in our passage this morning, we come to a grand reveal like the end of Undercover Boss. Jesus humbled himself, experienced baptism, and revealed part of his mission. Then, a sign from God identifying who Jesus was. We and John, and the other readers of Matthew learn some things. Let’s see it for ourselves. 


I have asked J.M. to read for us this morning. If you can, would you stand with me in honor of God’s Word?

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:13–17)


Thank you. Let’s pray. Dear God, thank you for your help. Thank you for sending your one and only Son to live, die, and rise on our behalf. We love you and need you. Show us yourself and your purposes, in Jesus’s name, amen. You may be seated. 


Remember, Matthew began his gospel with a genealogy. What was that about? Matthew documented that Jesus was an ancestor of Abraham and David. That meant he had a royal lineage. Next, Matthew told us that he was Christ, the Messiah. Being the Messiah meant he had to descend from David and Abraham. Most of Israel had a biological relationship with Abraham. However, they didn’t have the fulfillment of God’s promise to all nations. Jesus would. The promise to David was that from his descendants, one would rise to be a king who would reign over a kingdom that would last forever. The time for these prophecies to be fulfilled was at hand. Jesus would fulfill them. In the next part of chapter 1, a messenger of the Lord, an angel, told Joseph that his wife Mary was miraculously pregnant. She would have a son, Jesus, conceived by the Spirit. Joseph would name him Jesus, meaning God saves. People would also know him as the fulfillment of Isaiah chapter 7. 

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14).

In chapter 2, we learn that this son had an enemy, King Herod. The king didn’t want the competition. He sought to kill baby Jesus before it was too late. But according to five prophecies, what he meant for evil, God meant for good. Jesus would live. God knew the end from the beginning. God, by a dream, led Jesus’s family to safety. Then, when Herod died, God led them back. We get to chapter 3, and decades have gone by. John the Baptist, Jesus’s cousin, gathered people from all over. He was a sight, like a Civil War reenactor bred with a sidewalk protester. John wore dated clothing of camel’s hair, ate bugs, and told people to repent for their sins. He said that God was angry and would clean the house with people who didn’t change their ways. He also preached that a person who was categorically more significant than him would come after him, leading us to Matthew chapter 3, verse 13. There Jesus arrives, and we learn about his identity and mission. 


I see three sections in these five verses. Verse 13 is the overview of the event. Verses 14 and 15 deal with John the Baptist and Jesus. And verses 16 and 17 deal with the Trinity. 

13 - Overview 

14 &15 - Jesus and John the Baptist

16 & 17 - Jesus, the Father, and the Spirit

These verses move the biography of Jesus along, sharing his identity and mission. These details fit the book's overall theme: follow the promised king into his kingdom. We will learn more about this king in these few verses. 


Let’s dig. Look at verse 13. 

“Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him” (Matthew 3:13). 

In chapter 3, Jesus went public in his adulthood for the first time. This was a momentous occasion. People had anticipated the coming of the Messiah and traveled far to hear more about the message of the Kingdom of Heaven. The commentary I read described the general location as twenty-five miles from Jerusalem. If that were the case, then Nazareth, where Jesus would have resided, would be about seventy-five miles away. Both were far. 


Suppose the distance from Jerusalem to the Jordan river was about twenty-five miles. In that case, we could say it is about the length of a marathon. A few weeks back, I ran a marathon with some friends. It was a trail route. We trained for months. I finished in about four and a half hours. If I had to walk, it would have taken much longer. Thinking about seeing John the Baptist twenty-five to seventy-five miles away means he must have been remarkable. It would be like a concert of concerts or a sporting event of sporting events. Imagine traveling that span at the close of our service without cars, trains, planes, or speed boats. Most people didn’t have chariots or even horses back then. People traveled by foot, up and down, to get where they wanted to go. Perhaps they had a donkey, but that was not fast. Why did Jesus travel all that way? Verse 13 tells us that he wanted John to baptize him. Then what happened? 


Look at verse 14. 

“John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’” (Matthew 3:14).

John tried to stop Jesus. He was not against him, but he didn’t think it was appropriate for Jesus to be baptized, and he had a point. Go back a few verses to verse 11. John said, 

“I baptize you with water for repentance” (Matthew 3:11). 

Repentance means turning. It was symbolic of a realignment. People were confessing their sins and adjusting their lives to God. Yet, Jesus never sinned. Hebrews teaches, 

“For we do not have a high priest [Jesus is that High Priest]who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). 

Jesus was pure. He was always righteous and still is 2000 years later. He didn’t need to be baptized to clean himself up. On top of that, John told people that after him would come one whom he was not worthy to carry his sandal. (In this culture, feet were dirty. Feet still are.) Washing feet was a slave’s job in John’s day. It was a way to offer hospitality when someone comes to one’s home. Yet, John thought he was below even that role compared to the one who would go after him. Jesus was that guy to go after him. John said the one who would come after him would bring a different baptism. His baptism would be one with the Holy Spirit and fire. So, Jesus should baptize John. But in verse 13, Jesus wants the opposite, and John responds like we probably would. He tried to prevent this. He said, 

“I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” (Matthew 3:14). 

John recognized that Jesus was greater than him. So why should Jesus submit himself to this ritual? Jesus was not like the Pharisees or Sadducees, or masses. Jesus had no sin. Instead, he came to take away his people’s sin (Matthew 1:21). He was Immanuel (Matthew 1:23), God with us. He was perfect. Thus, John tried to prevent him from going through this ritual. 


How did Jesus respond? Look at verse 15.  

“But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then he consented” (Matthew 3:15). 

Jesus said he needed to be baptized. Why? It was, “To fulfill all righteousness.” What did that mean? Logically, fulfilling righteousness couldn’t be to purify Jesus or make him righteous. I think it relates to Jesus’s mission. Elsewhere in the Bible, God tells his mission. What was that? He came to make people right before God. He was the one greater than Moses. He fled to Egypt like Abraham’s family. God, the Father, spared him from an evil king and the slaughter of children. He would pass through the water before he headed to the wilderness. The act of baptism was an introduction to Jesus’s adult ministry. I think it relates to his being the son of Abraham, the prophet greater than Moses, and the son of David. Isaiah predicted 700 years before in chapter 53, verse 11,  

By his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, 

      make many to be accounted righteous, 

      and he shall bear their iniquities. (Isaiah 53:11)

The apostle Paul wrote to the church about Jesus’s mission. 

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, [How?] through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, [How?] whom God put forward as a propitiation [How?] by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance [Patience] he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:21–26) 

Jesus would, by his blood, through our faith in his work, give us a right to stand before God. So, brothers and sisters, we are righteous. That was God the Father’s plan and Jesus’s mission all along. 


How? How is God able to make this happen? Again, Paul wrote to another church, 

“For our sake he [God the Father] made him [Jesus Christ] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him [Jesus] we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Friends, Jesus became our substitute. He became one of us in his incarnation, baptism, life, and death. And, in some mysterious way, this act of baptism placed Jesus in our stead.


School is starting soon for a number of you. How many of you are going to school? What happens when your teacher can’t make it? Likely, you will have a substitute. I got a text last week that a Sunday school teacher was sick. So, what did I do? I got a replacement. A substitute stands in the place of another. 


Similarly, the Bible tells us that Jesus is our substitute. The truth of our stance before God is that we are born spiritually sick. You might feel healthy. You might look healthy. Your neighbor might look healthy. Your classmate might look like he can bench 200 pounds, or she can run a mile faster than anyone you know. Your co-worker, aunt, uncle, or mailman might look happy, but we all have a severe problem. We were born terminally ill. Our status was worse than that. We were stillborn. Then, we were like zombies: smiling and playing in the dirt, telling each other everything was okay or, if it wasn’t, blaming everyone but ourselves as we put hope in bankrupt solutions. Sadly, some of us in this room are still like the walking dead. Jesus goes on to teach in Matthew, 

Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. (Matthew 7:13–14)

The majority of the world was and is headed to destruction. Friends, we can’t stand before the holy God on our merit. He is pure, spotless, and blameless while we are not. Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount your righteousness had to surpass the Pharisees and the teachers of the law cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. That is why Jesus must be baptized. That is why Jesus will fulfill righteousness that we could never attain on our own. Only through his substitution are we clean. If we don’t repent and believe in Jesus as our Savior before we die, we will face God’s just judgment and fiery fury. John knew this in part. Jesus knew this in full. Thus, the good news about Jesus’s mission is that he took our place, was born, baptized, ministered, died, and rose. He became our righteousness and saved his people from their selfish pride. How? It was through his death. How? He was the only suitable replacement. He took our curse, bled, and suffered God’s anger so we could be forgiven and seen as his brothers and sisters. That is astounding. That is the good news. Thus in some way, I am not quite sure; Jesus tells John that baptism was necessary. The king had come. He stepped into the water. He submitted himself to the initiation rite acknowledging sin and the need for change and God. He passed through the water, pointing us to the Promised Land of hope: a Heavenly kingdom, his kingdom which was fast approaching. 

VERSE 16 & 17

And then the kingdom of heaven explodes with a voice, and the Spirit of God comes to rest on Jesus like a bird. Look at verses 16 and 17 of chapter 3.

And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:16–17)

This is the fourth time we heard about the Spirit in Matthew. You may recall that the Spirit came upon Mary, and she conceived. John talked about the Holy Spirit. John had said Jesus would baptize in the Holy Spirit. Now, the Trinity was on full display: God, the Father, God, the Son, and God the Spirit. 


For the Old Testament buffs and the Pharisees and Sadducees checking up on this curiosity, they may have recalled Isaiah 42 verse 1. 

Behold my servant, whom I uphold, 

      my chosen, in whom my soul delights; 

                  I have put my Spirit upon him; 

      he will bring forth justice to the nations. 

       (Isaiah 42:1)

This prophecy from Isaiah talks about a future kingdom rule and reign that will be spectacular. Many longed for justice. In America, we care about justice. We care about nations, to some extent. God cares about them way more than we do. His justice is perfect. Jesus will bring untainted justice. Justice will roll down like a mighty river and righteousness flow like a never-failing stream (Amos 5:24). For some, it will be terrifying; for others, it will be a praise-worthy event more fantastic than a Super Bowl, World Series, or Championship battle. 


The Spirit came and rested on Jesus as proof of the distinct personhood of each of the Trinity. As a side note, God demonstrates here and elsewhere this Triune identity. Here in Matthew, these two verses offer a clear picture helping us to understand God’s nature. The Father is God. The Spirit is God. Jesus is God. The Father is not the Son or Spirit. The Spirit is not the Son or the Father. The Son is not the Spirit or the Father. They are all separate as in these verses, but they are God. We will see this divine quality again when Jesus spoke his last message to his disciples in Matthew 28. He said, 

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:18–20)

Who is Jesus? What is his mission? Here we see in a fuller way that Jesus is part of the Triune God with a mission to bring the righteousness of God to the unrighteous. 


What else do we learn? First, the Holy Spirit will have an intimate relationship with the Son. That may strike you as odd, like John baptizing Jesus. You might ask yourself, “Doesn’t God’s Spirit already relate to Jesus?” The Spirit God conceived him. The Psalmist prays, acknowledging that we cannot hide from his presence (Psalm 139:7–12). God is not limited. He is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-present. However, there is a sense that he can be visibly and palpably present in ways for his determined purposes. Therefore, we learn that the Spirit rests on Jesus in chapter 3. 


That is not all we learn. We also discover God the Father’s heart. The Son is the object of his delight and affection. So what is the big deal? I was thinking about this. What would be a reasonable date idea if we were trying to date a person and learn they like the Beatles, Disney, and Italian food? Perhaps going out to eat, watching a Disney flick, and driving in the car with some Beatles music might be wise. Why? Well, we want to win his or her heart. We want to pay attention to what they pay attention to. We care about what they care about because we care about them.


God wants our attention. I think that is what Sunday morning is about. It is not about you or me, it is about God. We worship him, sing to him, listen to him, learn from him, and pray to him. God invites us into a personal, spiritual relationship with him on Sunday morning. This is a time where we can try to fight the distractions and barriers that would obstruct us from this spiritual reality. One way to move toward God is to pursue his love and affection. 


John the Baptist, the Spirit, and the Father’s response to Jesus are examples. We want to follow the promised king into his kingdom. Let us consider. 

  • Who Jesus is. 

  • What his mission is. 

  • And if we know who he is and what he was about, then let us think about what difference it should make in our lives today and tomorrow. 

What did we see John do? He followed Jesus. 

What did we see the Spirit do? He went to Jesus. 

What did we see the Father do? He loved and delighted in Jesus. 

What about you? Will you follow Jesus? Will you move towards Jesus, and will you love Jesus? St. Augustine wrote in his own biography, “Our hearts are restless until they find rest in God.” God has us on a journey with him. It is long and can be difficult. There are ups and downs. It is much like a marathon. 

They told us to follow the orange flags when I ran this route. They will be on the right. We ran a circle on the island north of Munising in the Upper Peninsula. There was one out and back turn around. It was at about mile six. They told us that there were fallen logs we would have jumped or climbed over. We got to the turnaround with an orange flag and a sign that said turn around. My brother said let’s touch the tree and turn around. We did. I nicked the sign that said turn around and kept running. Just in case, I looked back and saw that I knocked over the sign. I ran back to stick the sign in the ground. Had I not done that, people would be without a marker and may have gotten lost. I bring that up because the Bible is our guide along the way. The Holy Spirit speaks through it. He is here with his believers. He will speak through you too. Will you listen to him? He will guide and direct your path, so you don’t get lost. You may not be ready for a 26.2-mile run, but you can take one step. Consider:

Who makes you happy?

Who do you love?  

Who are you moving toward? 

Who are you following? 

We can answer those questions in many ways. God wants us ultimately to move toward him. He invites us to seek him in our brokenness. Our failure only brings us back to Jesus’s mission and identity. That is why he is our substitute. He is our righteousness because we need it. So scrap the thought that you aren’t good enough. You aren’t. But he is. Trust in him today. And seek to find happiness in him, your love in him, and follow him. How? Let’s pray the Spirit shows us through his Word. We are in this community together. We are not alone or islands. God will use his Word in our local church to help you and guide and direct your path because he loves you. 


Let us pray. Dear God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we need you. Help us to obey you. Help us to be filled with you. Help us to love you and delight in you. We pray this in Jesus’s name, amen. 

*Use by permission. All rights reserved.


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