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An Unforgettable Baptism

Published: 1 year ago- 12 March 2023
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I imagine, it was much like any other day for John the Baptist. It was probably hot. Locusts were probably buzzing around, landing close enough for him to eat. The Jordan river, which he was camped by, would have been gently flowing. And crowds of Israelites would have been flocking to him, like ants to food. He probably even had to scare off a Pharisee or two… For John, it was probably just a day like any other.


Until Matthew tells us, in verse 13, that this ‘Jesus’ character (who, a chapter ago, was just called ‘the kid’):

“… [coming] from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. (Matthew 3:13)

John’s day has now become a little bit more interesting. To his shock and horror, John sees Jesus coming to be baptised as if he were some sort of ‘sinner’, as if he were in need of ‘repentance’, as if he needed to ‘confess’ sin. John knows who is coming… This ‘Jesus’ is the one who is ‘more powerful than [John]’ (3:11a), ‘whose sandals [John] is not worthy to carry’ (3:11b), and ‘who will baptise with the Holy Spirit’ (3:12). But John sees ‘Jesus’ walking along the path of sinners to be baptised.


And as Jesus’ walks toward John, Matthew tells us in verse 14, that John is protesting. He is:

“… [trying] to deter [Jesus], saying, I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?“” (Matthew 3:14)

The baptist is refusing to baptise-but for good reason!

John knew that he himself was ‘the Elijah’ who would prepare Israel to meet their Lord. John knew that he was to baptise first (with water), and that Another would come with a more superior baptism (of the Holy Spirit and fire). John knew that he and Jesus were meant to be a one-two punch… He knew that he was like Bonnie’s Clyde, or Doc’s Marty, or Han’s Chewy… John knew his role. John knew his rank. John knew his place. But clearly John thinks that this ‘Jesus’ has completely forgotten his… Because look! Jesus appears to be going down the path of sinners to be baptised.


But, despite John’s protest, Jesus’ keeps stepping toward the water. And for the very first time, Matthew lets this ‘Jesus’ character speak. In verse 15, Jesus insists, saying:

“… Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfil all righteousness. (Matthew 3:15)

The ‘kid’ finally speaks. And, what’s his reasoning? Why does he want to be baptised by John? Well, it’s to fulfil all righteousness.1

Now, the fact that Jesus says ‘Let it be so now’ is most likely suggesting that John’s objections are in fact valid.2 On the one hand, John is right… Jesus doesn’t need to be baptised, he’s the sin-less one. But, on the other hand, Jesus argues that it is ‘fitting’ for he himself, and John, to perform the baptism in order to fulfil all righteousness.

But what’s this phrase mean? Well, ‘to fulfil all righteousness’ most likely has a double meaning. On the one hand, ‘fulfilling all righteousness’ is about Jesus’ whole-hearted obedience to God. Jesus will do everything which God commands. On the other hand, ‘fulfilling all righteousness’ is also about God’s plan to save through Jesus. Jesus is the righteous servant who will lead the unrighteous into righteousness through his speech (i.e. Sermon on the Mount) and his sacrifice (i.e. the Cross).3

So, here, as Jesus’ submits to John’s baptism, Jesus is basically saying and declaring: “I will whole-heartedly follow God and his plans”.4 Jesus is declaring that he will be the better Adam, the better David, the better Israel… who will follow God throughout his life and ministry.

Now, even if you don’t understand Jesus’ logic for being baptised here, John apparently does. At the end of verse 15, John permits it and baptises Jesus.


But what John witnesses next is down right extraordinary. This is an unforgettable baptism… As soon as Jesus is baptized, verse 16 says that:

“… [Jesus] went up out of the water. [And behold] At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. (Matthew 3:16)

What began like an ordinary day for John has become absolutely extraordinary, hasn’t it? The heavens are tearing open, the cosmos is shifting, and “John sees beyond the stars”.5 And what’s he see? Well, much like the Prophet in Ezekiel 1:1, he sees visions of God. The Spirit of God, in fact, coming down upon Jesus, descending like a fluttering dove. Much like Genesis 1:2, God the Spirit is ‘hovering’ over the waters and now resting upon Jesus. I mean, this is extraordinary.


But that’s not all that John sees. Matthew tells us, in verse 17, that John hears the very voice of God:

And a voice from heaven said, This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.“” (Matthew 3:17)

I mean this is astonishing, isn’t it? God speaks. God breaks his silence. John is hearing the very voice of God. And what does he hear? He hears “This is my Son” “And I love him” “And I delight in him”. For John this is astonishing…
John most likely knew that there had been many ‘sons’ in the Scriptures: Adam, David, and Israel were considered to be God’s ‘son’. And John most likely knew that each of these sons was disobedient, led astray, sinful, and un-righteous. But here, John sees an obedient ‘Son’! An obedient ‘Son’, anointed with the Spirit, and delighted in by the Father. For John this would have been astonishing… Before the whole cosmos, God the Father declares: This [one] is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased..

Just last night, Bek and I were at a wedding reception and we got to hear a whole wave of speeches. And out of all the speeches, I really enjoyed the ‘Parents of the Bride/Groom’ speeches. Maybe you’ve witnessed this before as well… that beautiful moment when Mum/Dad say “We love you” or “We’re so proud of you” or “Son, you’re a real gentleman… ” or “Daughter, you give so much joy”. Maybe you’ve even been on the receiving end of that… You see, in those speeches, the parents are giving the audience an insight into who this person really is and what they’ll be like for their new spouse.

That’s kinda what God the Father is doing here for us. The Father is giving us a clear glimpse of who this Son really is and what he’ll be like.
You see, the Father’s heavenly proclamation here isn’t an entirely new one. In fact, God’s words here are an allusion back to Isaiah 42:1 (a passage about the servant who would suffer for his people). But it’s an allusion which is also slightly modified by the inclusion of Psalm 2:7 (a passage about God’s Son, the Davidic King). The majority of the phrase comes from Isaiah, take a listen:

Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will bring justice to the nations. (Isaiah 42:1)

And then, here is Psalm 2:7:

I will proclaim the LORDS decree: He said to me, You are my son; today I have become your father. (Psalm 2:7)

This utterance from God is giving us all the final verdict on who this ‘Jesus’ character actually is. He is actually the divine Son and Servant. On the one hand, Jesus is the divine Son of Psalm 2 whom God has “installed as King” (Psalm 2:6) and “whose wrath can flare up on a moment” (Psalm 2:12b) and “yet blessed are all who take refuge in him” (Psalm 2:12c). And on the other hand, Jesus is also the divine servant of Isaiah 42 whom “will not shout or cry out” (Isaiah 42:2) and “a bruised reed he will not break” (Isaiah 42:3) “until he brings justice to the earth” (Isaiah 42:4).

God the Father is testifying about his Son (This is him!). He is approving of his Son (I love him!). He is delighting in his Son (I am so pleased by him!). And the Father’s also showing us that this divine Son is also the Servant who will obey his Father until he finally and fully brings righteousness to his people.

This is an unforgettable baptism: where John sees God the Father affirming and delighting in his Spirit-filled Son.


So, how might this extraordinary story be relevant to our ordinary lives?

Well, first, we need to appreciate the direction of the Father’s delight.

What I notice when we speak of God’s affections, often we speak about them being entirely directed toward ourselves. The starting point of our gospel is typically that God loves human beings, that he loves us. And, in Christ, God does love you and I, but we can often put all the emphasis on the us

But notice that the starting point of Matthew’s gospel is a little different… God’s affections are not only directed toward us, but they are especially directed toward his own Son, Jesus. Matthew teaches us that the Father loves the Son, finds joy in the Son, approves of the Son, and is happy with the Son. Matthew is showing us that, and to quote one person:

“God’s pleasure is first and foremost a pleasure in his Son”.6

In our individualistic culture, it’s easy to forget that. It’s easy to forget that the gospel we believe and proclaim is about God sending “his beloved Son” (Luke 20:13); the gospel is God transferring us “into the kingdom of his much-loved Son” (Col. 1:13); the gospel is God giving us grace “in the One he loves” (Eph. 1:6).

We need to appreciate the direction of the Father’s delight. The Father’s delight is in the Son.


And this leads us to the second thing. We need to redirect our own delight. We need to join in with God the Father by delighting in his Son.

Throughout the book of Matthew, the identity of ‘Jesus’ as ‘God the Son, comes under serious question (we’ll begin to see some of that next week). Some will test the Son (Matt. 4:3-6), many will question the Son (Matt. 22:41-46), mock the Son (Matt. 27:39-40), disown the Son (Matt. 26:70), deny the Son, and even kill the Son (Matt. 27:50).

But here, in verse 17, Matthew portrays God as one who is putting the world on notice: “This is my Son, whom I love, whom I delight in”… And the obvious next question is: “Do you?” “Will you?” “Are you?”

Brothers and sisters how good would it be if our hearts reflected our heavenly Father’s own? Imagine, if we delighted more and more in the Son? How good would it be if, even just a little bit, our hearts stopped delighting in worldly things, evil things, sinful things, selfish things-and redirected its delight to God the Son. How good if our hearts loved and delighted in Christ, even if just a little bit more. It would be so good, wouldn’t?

Imagine a youth ministry where everyone delighted in the Son, just a bit more! Imagine countless growth groups filled with people who love the Son, just a bit more! Imagine a whole church who speaks well of the Son, just a bit more! Parents, imagine if we were just a bit more thrilled about the Son? Young adults, imagine if you were just a bit more in love with the Son?

If the God of heaven would delight in his Son, we must do the same. It doesn’t necessarily mean that we are ‘happy’ in every moment, it doesn’t mean that we are ‘energetic’ all the time, it doesn’t mean that we won’t experience hard days of ‘sadness’ and ‘pain’… it doesn’t mean that we’re ‘perfect’. But delighting in the Son does mean a redirected heart which is increasingly tender yet passionate for Jesus and is slowly but surely bearing righteous fruit for him.

We need to redirect our own delight.


And here’s the final thing. We need to remember that we are ‘in’ the baptised Son. All of us, who are trusting in Jesus’, have been baptised ‘into’ the baptised Son. And that has a significant implication…

In commentating on verse 17, the Reformer John Calvin, so helpfully says:

[These words]… imply, that the love of God rests on Christ in such a manner, as to [spread] from him to us all.7

Calvin’s point about Matthew 3:17 is that the Father’s delight in the Son eventually makes it’s way to us all.

And he’s not wrong. Through being united with Christ by faith-by being baptised into him-we enter into this love, joy, and delight which the Father has for the Son. Brothers and sisters, you are loved because you are united to, baptised in, joined with this Son whom the Father so desperately loves.
I think it’s no coincidence that the Scriptures frequently name/address believers in a similar way as the Father does his Son. Throughout the New Testament, believers are known as the “Beloved” (2 Peter 3:1); the “Beloved in the Lord” (Romans 16:8); “Beloved children” (Ephesians 5:1); and “Beloved in God” (Jude 1).

Through the Son, we have been baptised by the Spirit. And through the Son, we enter into the love and delight of God. Through our union with Christ, the Father’s delight in the Son makes it’s way to us all, even to you.

The Father’s love for the Son is like a river, and we bathe in its streams. It’s like a tree, and we receive all it’s nutrients and health. It’s like the Sun, and we receive it’s warmth and rays.


MPC, by the power of the Spirit, delight in the Son. Because in this unforgettable baptism: we see God the Father affirming and delighting in his obedient and Spirit-filled Son.

1 Carson, Matthew, 283-284., Ferguson, Baptism in the Early Church, Chapter 6.

2 Carson, Matthew, 284.

3 Wilson, The Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 8.


5 Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries, Paragraph 68113.

6 Piper, The Pleasures of God: Meditations on God’s delight in being God, 13.

7 Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries, Paragraph 68114.