Article of the Month
While Mary, the Mother of our Lord, was espoused, according to the practice of the times, or legally recognized as the wife of Joseph, but before their marriage was actually consummated, she was found with child — as we are told in the first chapter of Matthew’s Gospel — a child that had been miraculously conceived. Joseph, of course, could not believe this, and had just about made up his mind to divorce her, when the angel of the Lord, Jehovah, appeared to him in a dream and said. Do not be afraid to take your wife, Mary, home with you (for he feared to transgress the law which forbade a righteous Israelite from marrying and “immoral” person, as he had assumed her to be.) And the angel confirmed the report of the miraculous conception, as Mary had apparently given it to her husband, and then spoke these famous words: “and she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus (which means “Savior”): for he shall save his people from their sins.”
We hear no more of this specific purpose of God until some thirty years later when John the Baptist, the forerunner of our Lord, appears with the announcement that heaven’s kingdom is at hand, and that One is coming after him who is mightier than he and who will baptize men with the Holy Ghost and with fire, and who “will throughly purge his threshing floor,” a term implying judgment and separation. Then, at the end of chapter 3 of Matthew, Jesus Christ Himself appears, at the Jordan where John was baptizing and requests to be himself baptized of the prophet. And in the circumstance of His baptism we see “God’s Wonderful Plan of Salvation” appearing again, and this time, more fully declared than before, and if we look closely at this incident we shall see it as a joint work of the Triune God, the Father being the Author of it all, the Son bringing it to Actuality, and the Spirit effecting its Application to the hearts and lives of men!
1. Give your attention, first of all, then, to the Author of salvation’s plan: God the Father Almighty, the Maker of heaven and earth!
The text tells us that John at first refused to baptize Jesus, acknowledging Him at once to be the “mightier One” of whom he had been speaking, and saying, “I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?”
But Jesus insists. “Suffer it to be so now,” he says, or in more modern English, “Let it be so now,” give in to my request, “for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness,” a word that indicates, quite clearly I believe, that Jesus Himself is under higher orders, the orders of the righteous Father, and this is confirmed later on in the incident (isn’t it?) when, the baptism actually accomplished, the heavenly voice is heard, the same voice that once thundered from Sinai’s mountain, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
Do you not see in this the Father’s part in our salvation? Do you not see that He is in fact the Author of it all? Because we so often speak of Jesus as our Savior and rightly so; and because we so naturally thank and praise Him for our redemption, and rightly so; we sometimes fail to recognize the Father’s part in all of this. We may even think of Him as somewhat removed from it — or even, as the Judge of all the world opposed to it and needing to be won over to the very idea of our salvation by the work of His Son: but this would be entirely wrong.
It is the Father who is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to the knowledge of truth. It is the Father who, in eternity, proposed the covenant or council of redemption and who had been working up to the time when that redemption would be fully secured by His Son, the eternal Word!
Our redemption requires that God the Father should be its Author!
It is He that created the heavens and the earth in the beginning. The Son was indeed His agent, and without Him was not anything made that was made. The Spirit was His Counselor, but the Father was the Author, the almighty Author of the created universe, and He was the One that made man to dwell upon the face of the earth. And He was the One that laid down the rules for man’s life, the so-called covenant of Life or of works, by which man through obedience to the revealed will of God might have obtained life everlasting for himself and for his posterity. Yes, and He was the One that pronounced the punishment of death — physical, spiritual and eternal death — against the transgression of His commandment and implemented that punishment against the whole human race when Adam, our father, fell. Who is it, then, that can remit that punishment but the Father who first pronounced it?
Who is so wise as He? Who is so just? Who is so merciful? Who is so loving? Who, then, is better fitted to be the Author of man’s salvation than the Father Himself? This is the testimony of all scripture and of this place in particular! “For so it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness,” Jesus said to John, his cousin and forerunner. You are under His authority, He implies, and so am I. The righteous God is working Out His purpose through us. We must do all things in strictest accord with His holy will, and this is His will at this moment: that I, the mightier, should be baptized by you, the lesser. That’s the will of the Author of man’s salvation!
2. But this brings us to our second consideration today, namely, the Actualization of God’s Plan in and through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, and this is seen in part in His baptism and in part in the divine declaration that He is well pleased with Him!
Christ’s baptism by John presents certain problems, and they were obvious even to John himself! He had preached repentance, as you know, and those who were baptized by him were baptized, as we read in v. 6, “confessing their sins.” His baptism, therefore, had its roots in the cleansing ceremonies of the Old Testament which had also by this time become a regular part of the reception of a non-Jew into the fellowship of the covenant people. They had been Gentile sinners, these non-Jews, but now they were breaking with that former sinful way of life. They were coming in faith to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They were accepting His holy covenant, and they were washed in clean water to symbolize this great change in their lives.
John, by his baptism, was treating Abraham’s seed as if they were strangers! That’s why he warns them (v. 9) not to say to themselves, Abraham is our father, when God can of these stones raise up children to Abraham! They are not to stand on their heritage. They are to realize that they are by nature as hateful to God as the Gentiles and when they sin as Gentiles, worshipping God perhaps with their lips while their hearts are far from Him, they are no better off than Gentiles. They must confess their sins. They must figuratively take on the status of Gentile sinners and seek forgiveness, or God will not receive them! That was his message.
But now comes Jesus whom he freely recognized as Messiah, whom he probably knew to be the virgin-born son of God, for their mothers were cousins and Mary had visited Elizabeth, his mother, before either of the children were born and they shared the wonderful things that God had done for them: yes, Jesus, the sinless One, the Lamb without blemish, comes and requires this baptism at his hand! John will not hear of it — it’s a natural reaction! “I have need to be baptized of Thee, and comest Thou to me?”
Why did Jesus seek this baptism? Did He feel unworthy? Did He feel some need for cleansing? There’s not a shred of evidence in all that we know of Him that He ever had a sense of sin! And in the temptation, which follows hard upon His baptism, we see that the devil could find no occasion of evil in Him. He was the sinless One — so why baptism?
There can be only one reason (and He Himself says as much), it’s part of the Father’s righteous plan; and in that baptism the Father’s method is, in part, revealed! The Son, who had already condescended to be called a “country boy”, a Nazarene, must go further still, much further. He must take the poor sinner’s place! Like the publicans, the sinners, the soldiers and the rest who went from Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region round about who went out to John and were baptized by him, confessing their sins, Jesus must go, the just for the unjust, and be baptized.
Incidentally, there is no evidence in this or in any of the parallel passages of how Jesus was baptized, and the idea that He was baptized by total immersion here has come to us from pictures in part, and from propaganda in part. The likelihood of that He was simply sprinkled with water. The congregation was sanctified by the sprinkling of blood. The sacred ministers of the temple were dedicated by sprinkling with water, and similarly its furnishings. Israel’s renewal was thus described by the prophet Ezekiel, chapter 36, “Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean,” etc. These were symbolic washings — that’s all. The water did not convey grace; nor the quantity of it. It was but the symbol of God’s work!
As Jesus returned from the river, however, the heavens were opened to Him and He saw the Spirit descending upon Him like a dove, of which we shall have more to say in a moment, and lo, a voice from heaven saying, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased!”
The phrases are almost identical with some in Isaiah, and that is surely not accidental, for the Father is willing to show the continuity of the Son’s commission with that of the suffering servant there — but the sense of them is more important still.
The Father’s plan is being carried out. The Son’s identification with sinners was not an act of self-will, but an act of obedience and the beginning of that obedience of His which eventually would bring Satan himself tumbling down out of heaven where he had been so loudly accusing God’s children of sin, and would therefore deal him that fatal blow of which he is even now a-dying and from which he must sink down at last into eternal fire that has been prepared for him, his angels and his servants!
Redemption for sinners — salvation for God’s own dear children whom He foreknew and foreordained to everlasting life out of grace and mercy — was being brought to actuality! It existed before in promise! The believers of the Old Testament era were truly saved, and had found their place in heaven, and would inherit the kingdom, but they were saved by a redemption yet to be accomplished: but in Christ, the suffering Savior, there is fulfillment, actuality, perfection. How thankful we must be for His willing part in this great work!
3. But there is more — the Authorship of salvation is the Father’s. The Actualization of it is the Son’s great work. And the Application of It, ah, that is the Spirit’s work, and He is not absent from this scene either! He saw, it says, the Spirit of God like a dove descending and lighting upon Him! And there is every reason to believe, from St. Luke especially, that this was not a private vision but like the voice from heaven yet another public testimony of God to the identity and glory of His Son on earth!
But what did it mean? Had He not been conceived by the Holy Ghost? Did not the fullness of the Godhead dwell in Him bodily from that moment? Had He not been God when He was born, and as He grew up and during all those silent years in Nazareth? Yes, indeed He was, God and man perfectly united in one, wonderful Person, but the Spirit’s anointing at this point in His life meant something special, namely, that His humanity would be so thoroughly filled with Deity that He would possess at every point that Spiritual fullness which produces that blessed fruit described in Galatians 5:22-23, “Love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and temperance,” yes, and flowing forth from Him would give power and authority to His ministry, and eventually, being poured out upon His church, would give blessing to all who believe in Him.
There is no possibility, you see, of any plan for man’s salvation though authored in heaven above and actualized through the Son Whom the father sent to succeed unless it can be received among men who cannot and will not receive it without a change of heart! And changing hearts is the Holy Spirit’s most characteristic and blessed work! “A new heart also will I give you,” is the promise of God in Ezekiel, “and a new spirit will I put within you!” And what spirit is that nut His blessed Spirit Who is one with Himself and with His Son from all eternity?
The Spirit is the One who opens the ears of the spiritually deaf and enables them to hear the glorious word of the Gospel.
The Spirit is the One who opens the mouths of the spiritually dumb and enables them to tell the wondrous story of Jesus and His love.
The Spirit applies the plan of which God the Father was the Author from eternity, and which Jesus by His identification with sinners was now bringing to fullest actuality, and this is the blessed work that He still does!
Consider this wonderful and divine plan for sinner’s salvation, my friends!
Do you know what it is? Do you know what God’s way of salvation is, a salvation that you cannot earn, that must be given to you and will be given to you through Jesus Christ our Lord and only through Him? Do you know that plan? Many, even churchgoers, do not! Many are still under the delusion that they are saved by their lives, or by a form of godliness, and do not know the simple truth of the Scriptures: that salvation is only by the grace of God the Father through the work of Christ the Son received by the Spirit — given faith!
If you know the way of salvation, are you walking in it?
Have you come to the place in your life where you realize that if Jesus took the poor sinner’s place in His baptism and eventually on the cross, as the gospel tells us, that you are that poor sinner? Do you acknowledge it with penitence? Have you turned to God for forgiveness?
Do you believe that Jesus, by becoming sin for us, as His baptism testifies that He did, has willingly and freely and completely paid the price of our redemption? Do you believe that He satisfied, once for all, for your sins so that not a one of them need ever rise up against you in the day of judgment? Do you believe that there is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after flesh but after the Spirit?
Have you by faith received Jesus, whom God sent to save, as your personal Savior and Lord?
That means more, much more, than simply acknowledging that the Bible’s testimony to Him must be true, although it includes that. It means actually trusting Him — and nothing and no one else — for your eternal salvation, and putting Him on the throne in your heart. Have you received Him?
And are you living for Him now as the indwelling Spirit who worked this work of grace in you gives you guidance and power?
And are you confident that He who has begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ (Phil. 1:6)? That’s one of the greatest benefits of knowing the divine plan of salvation! What God the Father has authored can never fail for He is the almighty God with whom nothing shall be called impossible.
If men had constructed this plan, even good men, it would have no ultimate power. It might comfort you for a time here below, but how could you ever know that it would avail in eternity?
If you had worked it out, the mature fruits of your meditation and consecrated thought, it might seem very reasonable to you, but how could you know that it would hold in that world towards which we are all hastening so rapidly year after year — yes hour after hour?
But here we see that God the Father made the plan, God the Son was working it out and God the Spirit was and is present to apply it to hearts. Can it fail, if you or I or any man will receive it, live by it and hope in it for all eternity? Amen.
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