Stepping Into the Fray
Jesus' Baptism, servanthood, humility
Some of you may have heard the story of a Christian missionary named Jim Elliot. He was a normal Christian guy, but was confident that God had called him to do foreign missions. He learned how to translate the Bible into unknown languages (much like the work of Wycliffe Bible Translators today), and went to the South American nation of Ecuador to serve as a missionary. He and several other missionaries began making plans to reach the Huaorani tribe in Ecuador. After only a few contacts with the members of this tribe, the tribesmen decided that Elliot and the others intended to harm them. As a result, the Huaorani people set an ambush for the missionaries, and killed all five of them.
It is a tragic story, but the amazing part of this story is what happened afterward. Elisabeth Elliot picked up where her husband had left off, going to the Huaorani people to help them understand the good news contained in the Bible. The son of Nate Saint, another of the missionaries who was killed, also went back to this tribe in an effort to teach them the Bible.
The result of their sacrifice was that many within the Huaorani tribe became Christians, including a man named Mincaye, who actually became a pastor and a good friend and father figure to Nate Saint’s son. What is remarkable is that Mincaye was one of the men who had participated in the ambush, and was the one who had killed Nate Saint.
As we hear tales of such love and sacrifice, we are often moved deeply. Most of us can’t fathom having the ability to go into a situation like that. We can’t imagine going to try to help people who had hurt our family so deeply, and who might even kill us for our efforts.
This morning, we’re going to look at how Jesus was willing to do exactly that. Like these heroes of the faith, Jesus came to earth and entered into our existence, even though he knew that the cost would be great. Jesus showed such great love for us that he was willing to come to where we were—because he knew that’s what it would take to save us.
This morning we are looking at the account of Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist. When we understand what was going on in this story, we see glimpses of the love that Jesus shows for us. In Luke’s gospel, the account of Jesus’ baptism only spans two verses, but for such a small amount of text, it raises a big question.
John preached that people needed to repent of their sins, and he baptized them as a symbol of that repentance. If Jesus was a sinless individual (which he was), then why did he come to be baptized? John the Baptist posed the same question to Jesus. In the Gospel of Matthew, we see a parallel account of this same story.
Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” Jesus replied,
“Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented. As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. (Matthew 3:13-16, NIV)
John was incredulous when Jesus asked to be baptized. John apparently recognized that Jesus was the one for whom he had been preparing the way. He didn’t think it made much sense for him to baptize Jesus—he thought it made more sense for Jesus to baptize him! I can almost picture the two men standing in the water having an impassioned discussion about the issue. In my mind it’s somewhat comical, as the two go back and forth, “You baptize me!” “No, you baptize me!” That’s probably not really what happened, but we do know that when John protested Jesus told him that he needed to be baptized “to fulfill all righteousness.” That was good enough for John. Frankly, it still leaves us a little confused.
What does it mean that Jesus needed to be baptized to fulfill all righteousness? Before I answer that, I want to take a moment to tell you what wasn’t happening.
Some have said that Jesus was just a man at this point, and when he was baptized, he received his divine attributes as well as the power of the Holy Spirit. That’s not what happened. Jesus was God from the moment he was born and the Holy Spirit was with him from the very beginning.
Some point to this passage as the reason we should be baptized. Jesus did it, they reason, so we should too. I don’t think this is the whole story. Christian baptism is not the same as John’s baptism. Later on, after the Church had been established, those who had received John’s baptism were re-baptized with a Christian baptism (cf. the story of Apollos in Acts 18). So, while in some sense, Jesus was setting an example for us, I think there’s more to it than just that.
So, what was the point of Jesus’ baptism? By submitting to a baptism for repentance from sin Jesus was identifying himself with us.
Consider how humbling this must have been for the Son of Man. He was the perfect Son of God yet He was willingly undergoing the baptism of repentance even though He had nothing of which to repent. He did it out of obedience to the Father and out of love for us. He humbled Himself in order to be the sacrifice that we would need.
This was a turning point in Jesus’ life. The gospel writers point to this event as the official beginning of Jesus’ ministry. As he began his ministry, Jesus was showing that he had become like us in order to save us.
After he was baptized, Jesus apparently got out of the water and immediately began to pray. God the Father opened the heavens and spoke out loud a word of affirmation to him. He said, “You are my son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” As this was happening, the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus. Jesus’ baptism was an act of obedience to the Father—and both the Father and the Holy Spirit responded with approval.
Our goal in studying the book of Luke is to walk with Jesus. We want to learn how we can live lives that will garner this kind of approval from our Heavenly Father. Even though this was before the time when Jesus had any disciples we are able to walk with him and learn. What is it that we should learn from this event? How should our lives be different from what we have witnessed?
First, we learn that obedience pleases God. Jesus had no practical need for baptism. He did not need cleansing, so it wasn’t necessary for him to go to John. But he did. Jesus knew that God’s will was for him to participate in this baptism—maybe for a lot of different reasons. But the reasons were irrelevant. What was relevant was that Jesus did what God commanded him to do.
This level of obedience was not a new thing for Jesus. As Luke tells us, he was around 30 years old when this event occurred. That means that Jesus had been living for 30 years in absolute obedience to his Father!
Luke chapter 2 gives us the only information that we have about that 30 year period—the time between his birth and the beginning of his ministry. When he was twelve, his parents lost him on a visit to Jerusalem. When they realized that Jesus was not with them, they went back to look for him. They found him in the temple, sitting with the teachers of the law and asking them questions. When his parents complained that they were “worried sick”, Jesus replied, “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” Of course, he was‘nt talking about Joseph—and his parents knew that. Jesus wanted to be studying God’s Word.
Immediately after this account, Luke basically sums up Jesus’ life until the time of his baptism.
Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to [his parents]. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men. (Luke 2:51-52, NIV)
Jesus’ life was marked by obedience, both to his parents and to God. The result was that as he grew up he also grew wiser. Not only that, but those around him began to take notice of his obedience.
I think we learn something very important here: living in obedience is a discipline we must develop. It is not something you just begin doing one day. We understand that in other areas of our life. If you’ve tried to learn to play the guitar, you know that for the first several days, you can’t make a pleasant sound from the thing and that your fingers hurt. The only way to get better at it is to discipline yourself to practice. Soldiers don’t go through all the training they do just because it’s fun—they do it because it takes lots of practice to develop the instincts they’ll need. Because of all the practicing, they can respond instinctively in an emergency. Jesus began living obediently long before He ever stood before John.
So, how do you develop that kind of obedience? How do you get to the point where you will do what God says no matter what? How do you develop the faith of the missionaries I told you about at the beginning? The answer is that you don’t do it overnight.
If you spend the major part of your life making excuses for not doing what God says in the so-called “little things” of life, you will make excuses for why you shouldn’t obey God in the major decisions of life. Obedience is a discipline that must be developed and it is developed in the decisions we make every day. Jesus didn’t bat an eye about submitting to baptism because He had learned to trust the Father in every decision a long time before his baptism.
Practically speaking, we start developing a pattern of obedience for our lives when:
- We choose to tell the truth rather than twist it for our purposes about: things we are returning to stores, things we said about another, or promises on which we failed to deliver.
- When we choose to follow God’s commands and save sex for marriage.
- When we choose to do our best even when we can get by with doing less.
- When we choose to live more simply so we will have more to give to others.
- When we choose to date only those who share our commitment to Christ and trust that God will bring the right person our way . . . at the right time.
We will not . . . we cannot serve God greatly in the big things until we serve Him faithfully in the little things. Living in obedience is a discipline we must develop.
The second thing I think we see here is the Jesus’ baptism is like the first pieces in a bridge. This act of obedience was for the purpose of starting to build a bridge that would only be completed at the cross; with the ribbon cutting ceremony occurring when Jesus rose from the dead. The bridge Jesus was building is designed to give us a way to have a new and restored relationship with God. This bridge provides a way for sinful people to be forgiven, for broken people to be restored, and for lost people to found.
This passage reminds us that Jesus makes it possible for anyone come to him. The attitude that Jesus shows at his baptism gives us a glimpse of the attitude he would have throughout his earthly ministry. It also reflects the attitude that we should have. Look at what Paul says in Philippians chapter 2,
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11, NIV)
Paul points out that there was great humility in Jesus’ coming to earth. He didn’t have to come. He could have remained in heaven, separated from us sinful creatures, but he didn’t.
Think about what that means. While it was difficult for the families of those missionaries to go back to the Huaorani people, it was nothing compared to what Jesus faced. Jesus traded the perfect existence of heaven for the sin-filled earth. He would now spend his time among sinful people, people who opposed God at nearly every opportunity. Jesus took on a human body. As a result he experienced hunger, thirst, sickness, and pain. As a child, he submitted to his parents even though he was God. Jesus didn’t demand the respect he deserved, instead he let it go and became like us.
He also allowed those in power to arrest him, beat him, and eventually kill him in one of the cruelest and humiliating forms of capital punishment ever devised. Jesus allowed himself to be humbled, even though he didn’t have to.
Why would He do such a thing? To demonstrate his love for us, and to give us an example of what it means to truly love. So many people fall into the trap of believing that God could never accept someone like them. They hear the story of Jesus and say that they are not worthy of such sacrifice. If that’s the way you feel, you are absolutely right! None of us is worthy of such a great sacrifice, which is what makes it such good news! We do not deserve the love that Jesus has shown us, but he gives it to us anyway. His humble actions (and his words) say that anyone who comes to him can be forgiven.
Once we grasp Christ’s love for us; once we receive this love it changes us. Paul says that Christ’s love toward us should be the standard by which we love each other. Instead of focusing on our needs, our wants, our expectations, and instead of judging people by their appearances, we should look beyond their scars and be willing to love others sacrificially. We should love like this because we know the difference that kind of love has made in our lives—and if we will love others in the same way, it will make a big difference in their lives too.
The things we learn from Jesus’ baptism are great pieces of information, but unless you do something with them, they are of little value. So, let me make a couple of suggestions for ways that you can apply these lessons to your own life.
First, take advantage of the accessibility of Jesus. Jesus came to the earth to make it possible for you to be forgiven and made new. He came so that our relationship with God could be restored. His baptism was a step toward that goal. Let me challenge you with something. If you have never taken advantage of the forgiveness Jesus offers, take that first step today. It doesn’t matter how inadequate you feel, Jesus came to the earth and endured everything for you. You may feel like you don’t know enough, like you aren’t good enough, or like you don’t deserve to be forgiven—and you’re right. But Jesus offers that forgiveness anyway. Take a step toward Him today. Ask Him to forgive you, and commit yourself to living for Him from this day forward.
Many of you will have already taken advantage of the forgiveness Jesus offers. My challenge to you is to work at developing habits that will help you to grow. Make time for Bible reading, prayer, church, and Sunday School. Honestly look at your life and see if there are some areas of your life where you are compromising in the little things. Start there. Work towards obedience in the little things, and the big things will come more easily.
Finally, don’t be afraid to get dirty. Jesus came to the earth to identify with us—to put himself in our situation so that he could help us out. Look at the people you encounter each week. Is there someone who you can help? Maybe there’s someone that you’ve noticed is struggling. You may have even thought to yourself, “I wish somebody would help them.” You are somebody. You can help. The question is, are you willing to get dirty or not?
In the baptism of Jesus we see a humility that is challenging. Jesus made a commitment to do whatever it took to help us. Like a fireman who sees a person trapped in a burning building, Jesus came to our rescue. The question for you is simple—Jesus came to rescue you…will you hide from Him or run to Him? The choice you make will determine whether you will be embraced by God, or whether you will remain separated from Him.