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Thematic Statement: Today God the Father testifies that Jesus is His Sinless Son.
One of the great blessings of living in the United States is that we have a police force to protect us, and a judicial system dedicated to defending the innocent and punishing the guilty.
But of all the tools the judicial system has to pronounce just verdicts, a crystal ball is not one of them. Judges and juries have no way of being transported back to the scene of a crime to see what happened for themselves. So, they have to depend on physical evidence, and on the testimony of witnesses who were there.
During the season of Epiphany we seek to learn who Jesus really was. We have no way of being transported back to the time of Christ, so, like a judge or a jury we also must depend on the testimony of witnesses who were there. Today, we hear the testimony of a voice that spoke from heaven when Jesus was baptized.
Matthew 3:13-17 (ESV)
13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16 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; 17 and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
God the Father is the star witness for Jesus today. But before we get to the Father's testimony, we've got a couple other witnesses to hear from. The first of these is John the Baptist.
John the Baptist was sent by God to get the people ready for Jesus. His main message was, "You're all going to hell unless you get some serious help. You're guilty sinners who don't have a chance unless you turn around and come back to God for cleansing."
In addition to preaching, John baptized people in the Jordan river. The Bible says that John's baptism was a "baptism of repentance". In other words, when people came to John to be baptized, they were effectively saying, "I'm a sinner, and I need God to cleanse me. Help me God!"
When people came to John openly, confessing their sins, he baptized them, reassuring them that God forgave them because of the Savior who was to come. But people who were genuinely sorry for their sins were not the only ones who came to John. The Bible says that the Pharisees and Sadducees came also. These people were the hypocritical church goers of the day. John knew they were coming out to the Jordan River just to see what was going on out there in the desert, or perhaps to somehow add to their holy reputations.
John did not welcome these people. This is what John said to them: (Matthew 7)
"...when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. 9 And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. 10 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matthew 3:7-10 ESV).
John had no room for the two-faced Pharisees and Sadducees, and neither did God. Not if they continued to embrace sin. Not if their confidence of heaven continued to rest on their own ethnicity, or on the goodness of their own lives.
But when JESUS stepped into the Jordan River to be baptized by John, John's fiery tone changed completely. John knew Jesus. How much John knew about Jesus is a bit unclear, but from our sermon text alone it's obvious that John considered Jesus much holier than himself. The idea that Jesus would come to John for cleansing seemed all wrong to John. John should be baptized by Jesus, not the other way around!
But what John didn't understand was that Jesus wasn't coming to His baptism as a sinner seeking cleansing. You see, John's baptizing had created a division among the people. There were those who accepted God's prophet and his message and therefore came to be baptized, and there were those who rejected God's prophet and his message and therefore refused to be baptized. Jesus didn't need cleansing from sin because He had never sinned. But He certainly wasn't going to associate Himself with people who rejected God's message, so Jesus came to be baptized anyway, even though He was not a sinner. He would be grouped with God's true followers, and not with the hypocritical Pharisees.
But there was even more to Jesus' baptism than this. In the past, kings and prophets were anointed to show that they were chosen by God for their office. This anointing was done with oil. It was poured on them in a ceremonial way. Today we don't use oil when installing people into the office of president or judge or whatever, but we often observe some sort of ceremony to show they have been chosen.
Jesus' baptism marked the beginning of His public ministry in Israel. But instead of merely being anointed with oil, Jesus was anointed with the Holy Spirit. As He stepped up from the waters of the Jordan River, the sky was split open above, and the Holy Spirit fluttered down in the form of a dove and rested on Jesus. This was to show that what the Old Testament prophet Isaiah had foretold was coming true.
"The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound" (Isaiah 61:1 ESV).
Up to this point Jesus had lived a quiet and unassuming life. He had learned how to be a carpenter. He had quietly attended worship at the synagogue. He had been a model citizen, but one that didn't stick out from the crowd. Now things would change. Now the power of God would shine out from Jesus in everything that He said and did. Now the time to teach and perform miracles had come. Now the world would see who this Jesus really was - the very Son of God and promised Savior of the world. This man would win forgiveness for all people by taking their sins on Himself.
Our sermon text includes a very important word. A word that is used in the Bible to get our attention. In fact, when this word is used, it's like writing "ATTENTION" in all capital letters. The word that I'm talking about is "behold".
We've heard the testimony of John the Baptist, and we've seen the testimony of the Holy Spirit. Now the Gospel writer uses the word "BEHOLD" to introduce the most important testimony our text offers - an audible voice from heaven. After the Holy Spirit was resting on Jesus' shoulder we read…
"…and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased’" (Matthew 3:17 ESV).
In saying this, God the Father made it clear that Jesus was not just one more of His followers, this was the unique Child of God, the beloved, only begotten Son of God. This was the Son who had always existed at the Father's side in eternity, and had now come to earth in true human form to rescue sinners from hell.
Do you remember from Sunday School what God said after each day of creation? After each day God declared that what He had created on that day was "good". And when everything had been finished God put the final seal of approval on His perfect and sinless creation by pronouncing that it was "VERY GOOD".
At Jesus' baptism God the Father put this same seal of approval on the Son. "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am WELL PLEASED."
You know, there's a old proverb that says, "Familiarity breeds contempt". If you spend your days sorting through gorgeous pearls in a factory, pearls because common. I think that we Christians are so familiar with the idea that Jesus was sinless, that we lose perspective on this fact. Jesus was the only human being who EVER met the Father's demanding standards when it came to pure thoughts, right actions and good words. Nobody else even came close.
As the ONLY sinless human being, only Jesus could stand before the Father and offer a sacrifice capable of washing our sins away. And because Jesus was also fully God, His sacrifice was valuable enough to cover the sins of more than one other person. His innocent suffering and death was enough to wash away the sins of ALL people.
When our conscience kicks in and condemns us for our sins, lets remember the Father's testimony: This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased. Through faith in Christ, this becomes our status. Through faith in Christ, God is well pleased with US.
In Romans 10 it says...
"...with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved" (Romans 10:10-13 ESV).
When Jesus was baptized, God the Father testified that Jesus was His Sinless Son. Through faith in Christ we have become the same. God’s children. Sons and daughters of the Holy God. Glory and thanks be to God.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds, in Christ Jesus.