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The Baptism of Jesus: “To Fulfill All Righteousness”


Psalm 2:7-9; Matthew 3:13-17; Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 31 & 32
January 28, 2018 • Download this sermon (PDF)

Beloved Congregation of Christ: Did you know that Christianity shares the belief in water baptism with many other religions such as Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Baha’i, and Shintoism? For example, in the ancient Babylonian religion, water was important as a spiritual cleansing agent. In ancient Egyptian religion, initiation was preceded by a normal bathing in the public baths and a ceremonial sprinkling by the priest of Isis.

Almost all Christian churches perform water baptism, but there are at least two that don’t because they don’t believe in the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper: Quakers and Salvation Army.

Today, we will consider the baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ by John the Baptizer. Last Sunday, he was introduced in Matthew 3:1-12, as the one who came preaching, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” John was the last of the Old Testament prophets. And he was also the herald that was prophesied in Isaiah 40:3 and Malachi 3:1. He was the one who came to “prepare the way of the Lord,” to prepare the Jews for the coming Messiah. He preached repentance, faith, and good works.

Again, we must remember that the baptism by John was part of an Old Testament purification or cleansing rite. The people, even the priests, had to wash their body and clothes before they could enter the temple to worship God. But John also preached that he baptized with water, but the coming Messiah will baptize with the Spirit and with fire.

John baptized for the forgiveness of sins. So when Jesus came to him to be baptized, John protested, saying in verse 14, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” John knew Jesus was the sinless Messiah, so why would he, a sinner, baptize someone much greater than him? The baptism with the Spirit by Jesus is greater than his baptism with water. And Jesus, being the Son of God, is able to forgive sins, and he cannot. But Jesus answered his protest, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (verse 15).

Since water baptism performed by John is an Old Testament purification rite, why would Jesus have to undergo a purification rite? Jesus had no sin, so he had no uncleannesses. Only those who sinned had to be ceremonially cleansed with water by the priests before they could come into God’s presence in the temple. John’s baptism was also for the forgiveness of sins, so it doesn’t make sense that he asked John to baptize him.

What then did Jesus mean by, “to fulfill all righteousness”? What he meant was that he came down from heaven as the Messiah who would obey all of God’s law in all his life. And not only that, he would obey his Father in heaven all the way to his death on the cross. All of this he would do as the Second and Last Adam, because the First Adam failed to obey God’s one commandment in the Garden of Eden. This is his Father’s requirement of him in order for him to save all his people from their sins. This is why Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matt 5:17).

From his birth to his death, Jesus mirrored Israel, except in Israel’s sins and unbelief. He was born as the Son of Abraham and the Son of David. After he was born, his family fled to Egypt to save him from being murdered by King Herod. After Herod died, they returned to Nazareth, and Matthew affirmed that this was to fulfill the prophecy in Hosea 11:1, “Out of Egypt I called my Son.” In our text today, Jesus mirrored Israel’s crossing the waters of the Red Sea and the Jordan River at his baptism. And next Sunday, we will consider the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness for 40 days, fulfilling Israel’s temptation in the wilderness for 40 years.

But his baptism was not only to fulfill God’s law about ceremonial purification for sins. His baptism also fulfilled the law’s requirement for the ordination of three of Israel’s leaders: prophets, priests and kings. We see this when after Jesus was baptized, the witnesses heard God’s voice from heaven saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” These words are the fulfillment of our text in Psalm 2:6–7, where God says, “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill . . . “You are my Son; today I have begotten you.” At his baptism, God publicly declared that Jesus is his Son, and this Son will please him with his perfect obedience to fulfill his mission to save his people from their sins.

So at his baptism, God publicly declared that Jesus the Anointed One, the Messiah, the Christ, who would fulfill all three of Israel’s offices of prophet, priest and king.

Of a Prophet Who Proclaimed God’s Law

First, what are the duties of a prophet? A prophet proclaims God’s word to the people, so they know what God’s will is for their life. He also warns people of impending judgment if they do not repent of their sins. And he reveals what God has told them about the future of a person or a nation. Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel and other prophets did all these duties.

How were Old Testament prophets ordained for their ministry? They were anointed on their head with oil, as when Elijah anointed Elisha as the next prophet after him (1 Kgs 19:16).

How did Jesus fulfill the functions of a prophet? Moses foretold a coming Prophet to whom the people must listen (Deut 18:15). After Jesus’ baptism and temptation in the wilderness, he proclaimed God’s Word on the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7). He declared that the whole Law will not pass away until he has fulfilled all its requirements (Matt 5:18). He taught the people how to live in the kingdom of heaven which he was inaugurating.

In Matthew 23, he pronounced seven “woes” against the Jews because of their rejection of Jesus and rebellion against God. He cried over the hypocritical teaching and practices of the Pharisees, scribes and priests of Israel. This is why he earlier declared the expansion of God’s kingdom from the nation of Israel to all the nations (Matt 21:43).

And in Matthew 24-25, he foretells events in Israel in the next 40 years, and in the world until he returns from heaven. There will be many false prophets, wars, famines and earthquakes. Jerusalem will be surrounded by its enemies, and the temple will be totally destroyed. All of these signs will be present during the last days between his first and second comings. But on the last day, the cosmic powers will be shaken, he will come down from heaven with power and great glory, and gather all his elect from all the nations.

Moses is considered by Jews as their greatest prophet. But the writer of Hebrews proves that Jesus is the Greater Prophet, “counted worthy of more glory than Moses.” Moses was a servant in God’s house, “but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a Son” (Heb 3:1-3).

Of a Priest Who Mediated for His People

Second, what are the duties of a priest? A priest mediates between God and the people. He offered gifts and sacrifices on behalf of the people at the temple, for atonement of sin, thanksgiving and communion with God. He sends their prayers of adoration, confession, thanksgiving and supplications to God.

Priests were ordained to their office in the same way as prophets: they were anointed by pouring oil over their head. When Aaron was chosen by God to be Israel’s high priest, God commanded Moses in Exodus 30:30, “You shall anoint Aaron and his sons, and consecrate them, that they may serve me as priests.” This was to be performed on all of Aaron’s descendants who became high priests.

How did Jesus fulfill the duties of a priest? First, he mediated between God and the people by offering prayers on their behalf. In John 17, on the night he was betrayed, Jesus performed his high priestly duty when he prayed for his Jewish disciples and all those in other nations who would later believe in him. He knew that the world will hate them, so he asked his Father to preserve them from Satan the evil one. He prayed that they would continue in his Word, so they may live holy lives in the midst of a hostile world.

Second, he did not offer animal sacrifices, but offered his own body and blood as a sacrifice to God for the forgiveness of the sins of his people. His sacrifice was a pleasing aroma to his Father in heaven (Eph 5:2), because he fulfilled all the requirements of the law all his life. The Father rewarded him by raising him from the dead, thereby conquering sin and death. While the high priests offered sacrifices repeatedly because no animal sacrifices can blot out sin completely and permanently, Jesus offered his own body and bloody as a once-for-all sacrifice.

So Hebrews 10:14 says, “For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” Jesus was anointed by a woman who poured precious oil on Jesus’ head. He then explained to his disciples what this anointing meant, “In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial” (Matt 26:12). This was also a fulfillment of his duty as our Great High Priest who would offer his own body as a sacrifice on the cross.

Aaron was the first old covenant high priest, and the Jews regarded him with high honor. But Jesus is now a Great High Priest of a new and better covenant (Heb 8:6). And he intercedes for a better temple: the church of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is the greatest and last High Priest, because he lives forever, becoming a “priest forever . . . by the power of an indestructible life” (Heb 7:16-17).

Of a King Who Served God and Man

Third, what are the duties of a king? A king reigns over all the people in his kingdom (1 Sam 10:1). Israel’s king was God’s vice-regent, because God himself was the King of Israel. The king’s throne is “the throne of the LORD” (1 Chr 28:5; 29:23). He makes life and death judgments (2 Sam 15:2; 1 Kgs 3:16-28). He approves laws for peace and prosperity of his kingdom. He defends and preserves his people from his kingdom’s enemies (1 Sam 8:20; 10:1).

How is a king installed? In the Old Testament, God chose Saul as Israel’s first king and commanded Samuel to anoint him as king with oil on his head (1 Samuel 9:16; 10:1-2). But Saul disobeyed God’s law that only the high priest could offer sacrifices to God, so God removed his throne. After him, God anointed David as king (1 Sam 16:13), and established his dynasty forever (2 Sam 7:12-14).

How did Jesus fulfill the duties of a king? Jesus reigns now as King of kings, ruling over all creation (Col 1:16). But his reign is primarily over his people, the church (Col 1:18). He is the church’s “eternal King who governs us by His word and Spirit, and who defends and preserves us in the enjoyment of that salvation he has purchased for us” (Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 31). He fights for us and defends us against the fiery darts of Satan, the enemy (Eph 6:16). So our warfare against our enemies is spiritual, not physical (Eph 6:12). Through the pastors and elders of the church, he enforces God’s law and judges his people (Eph 4:11-14). Through his Word and Spirit, he pronounces guilt, but forgives sin through his death and resurrection. In this way, he maintains the unity, peace and order of the church (Eph 4:3-7).

Dear friends: In his baptism by John for the forgiveness of sins, Jesus identified with you, but he himself had no sin. In his life, death and resurrection, he perfectly obeyed all of God’s law and therefore “fulfilled all righteousness.”

As believers, you are united to Christ and share in the anointing as prophet, priest and king. As prophets, you “confess his name” and preach his good news of salvation to others. As priests, you present yourself to him as “a living sacrifice of thankfulness to him,” and offer prayers for one another. And as kings, you continuously “fight against sin and the devil in this life,” and “in eternity reign with Him over all creation.”

These then are the reasons why Jesus was baptized. It was for the forgiveness of your sins and for our anointing as God’s prophets, priests and kings. May you continue in his Word and Spirit to faithfully and joyfully discharge your duties as Christians in this age and in the age to come.

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