Two Philadelphia Eagles players were in Lancaster yesterday for an autograph signing event at the Park City Mall. Imagine you’re coaching a local high school football team, and through the grapevine you find out the Eagles players want to come meet with local high school football players. They want to do some community outreach, invest in the next generation, talk with players. It works out that they can come to your school, so you set it up, and after school the Eagles players meet with your team. You’re excited to hear what these stars have to say, what it’s like to be in the NFL, whether the Eagles can keep winning, behind-the-scenes stories, and especially what advice they have for your student athletes. The Eagles players walk in the room, and everyone claps and cheers. When the noise finally settles down, you introduce them, and they say, “We’re actually here because we’d like you to coach us. How can we do better? Does anyone have any advice?” You can hear a pin drop.
I think something like that happened when Jesus came to be baptized by John. We’ve been studying John’s preaching in Matthew 3 during Advent 2022, and in the previous post, John got a big surprise. Jesus, whom John called The Spirit and Fire Baptizer, showed up to be baptized by John.
John’s conclusion as theologically correct, “The Messiah is here! And I don’t need to baptize the Messiah! He needs to baptize me!”
Except for this. John is actually wrong. He is surprisingly and shockingly wrong. Look at what Jesus says in verse 15.
“Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.”
Proper to fulfill all righteousness? What is Jesus talking about? In the Gospel of Matthew, these are the first recorded words out of Jesus’ mouth. I don’t know if that lends any gravity or importance to them. But whatever they mean, they changed John’s mind. Look how fast John goes from saying, “No way, Jesus, you need to baptize me,” to “Okay, I’ll baptize you.” All it took was a sentence, and a short sentence at that. John should baptize Jesus, Jesus says, because it is proper to do this to fulfill all righteousness.
This is totally unexpected in John’s view. That’s not the way this is supposed to work. John is not supposed to baptize Jesus, but Jesus says, “Yes, you are supposed to baptize me, John, and in fact it is proper that you do so to fulfill all righteousness.” What in the world is Jesus talking about?
First of all, it seems Jesus is practicing humility. Given that our third week of Advent is about joy, what we learn from Jesus is that the pathway to joy is humility. Jesus did not need to be baptized, but he did so anyway. He humbled himself, identifying with humanity. He did not need to confess his sins because he didn’t have any sins to confess. Instead, for Jesus, the act of getting baptized is a humble act of identification with the people he loves and for whom he will give his life. This humility is a central part of who Jesus is.
Consider how Paul describes Jesus’ humility in Philippians 2:5-8,
“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!”
The entire mission of Jesus is marked by humility. Baptism is just one step along that pathway. Notice how Paul suggests that this is a pathway to joy. As we keep reading in Philippians 2, though humility took Jesus to the depths of despair in his death, what happens next?
“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.”
Glory! Joy! Jesus rose again, conquering sin, death and the devil, and therefore there will be great joy across the world. In fact, that’s exactly what the angels said to the shepherds when Jesus was born. Notice how similar the angels’ message is to what I just read in Philippians 2,
“But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’ Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests’.”
Jesus’ humility to be baptized shows us that humility is the pathway to joy. It’s the opposite of pride, which tends to be very self-focused. That means we strive to practice humility in our lives as well. We strive to deny ourselves, to sacrifice, to empty ourselves, just as Jesus did. Surprisingly, when we humble ourselves, though it might feel difficult, we will learn in time that we are on the pathway to joy. This world is about so much more than ourselves. We will find joy when our hearts bend toward Jesus and his ways. When we strive to follow the way of Jesus, that doesn’t mean we will no longer experience difficult or painful circumstances. But we will be to experience his joy in the midst of the pain.
Photo by Casey Murphy on Unsplash
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