While born in Bethlehem where He’d remain for approximately the first 18-months — and following a short stay in Egypt as a tot, Jesus would spend the lion’s share of His life in the poor, blue-collar town of Nazareth located about 18 miles southeast of the Sea of Galilee.
Aside from generally being a tough place to grow up, because Nazareth was the hometown of Mary and Joseph, life was uniquely difficult for Jesus. As you would rightly imagine, He could never escape the cynicism and gossip with regards to the origins of His birth.
You see everyone in town knew the story. Mary’s pregnancy had been a massive scandal that had rocked such a small, tight-knit community. I’m sure those closest to Mary and Joseph had all kinds of theories as to who the real “baby daddy” had been. Sadly, the majority believed Jesus was a bastard, a reputation that would remain His entire life.
With regards to Jesus’ life prior to the official start of His public earthly ministry at the age of 30, we only know a few things for sure. First, according to a story recorded in Luke 2, by the time Jesus was 12 years old He not only had a brilliant understanding of the Scriptures, but He possessed a working understanding as to His real identity. Jesus knew Joseph was not His real father and that He was the Son of God.
Aside from this, in Luke 4:16, we read, “So Jesus came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read.” This phrase “as His custom was” tells us that growing up Jesus was religiously devout. Additionally, the detail that He “stood up to read” during the service indicates over time Jesus had come to possess some standing in His local synagogue.
Lastly, while the Bible doesn’t specifically tell us, most scholars believe at some point in Jesus’ late teens Joseph passes away. We know this for two reasons… First, following that one scene recorded in Luke 2, Joseph completely disappears from the narrative. Since it’s highly unlikely he would have run out on his family, death makes the most sense.
Secondly, Jesus was known as the “Carpenter from Nazareth.” Though He was brilliant, religious, and devout, as was the custom in that day, with Joseph’s passing it would be incumbent on the firstborn son to provide for the family. As such, we can reason a young Jesus was forced to grow up quickly in order to carry the responsibilities of supporting His mother Mary and at least six younger siblings by working as a carpenter.
One of the things you should consider when studying the life of Jesus is how truly little we have documented. The reality is the overwhelming majority of His life was lived in total anonymity. Aside from this, even of His roughly 3-year public ministry, the Gospels only account for bits and pieces of roughly 52 days! It’s why John closes his Gospel admitting, “There are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.”
I bring this up to emphasize how incredibly relatable this makes Jesus. Yes, without question His purpose in living was to ultimately lay down His life as our Savior. A cross was always His destiny. And yet, before fulfilling this mission, it was important to Jesus to have a full human experience. Jesus really knew what life on this fallen rock was like.
Jesus spent 90% of His life in a difficult town that had the stain of disfunction. Jesus experienced what life was like on the other side of the tracks — poor. Jesus also knew firsthand how it felt to be gossiped about, to receive glancing stares, to have the worst assumed, to be called terrible names. Jesus even experienced the sting of death. He understood the pain and loss it caused. He understood the human struggle to cope.
Forced to grow up much earlier than most, Jesus knew what it was like to carry the responsibility of providing for a family, to be the man of a home, to prefer the needs of His siblings by making sacrifices. Jesus was a son and He was an older brother. He knew what it was like to be in a family and to even be misunderstood by those you loved.
As a young man filling the sandals of his hero, from the rising of the sun on Sunday to its setting on Friday, Jesus used His hands to make a living. He knew the trials of labor, running a business, and dealing with clients. But He also knew the joy found in a hard day's work.
Friend, if Jesus found it important to make it His custom to take every Sabbath Day off in order to rest and attend His synagogue, shouldn’t we also set aside a day of rest and make it our family custom to prioritize attending church on Sunday? Regarding His relatability, the author of Hebrews writes (4:15), “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.”
Before we get to our text this morning and look at the launch of Jesus’ public ministry, I do want to unpack an interesting question rarely discussed… If Jesus knew at the age of 12 who He was and had a working understanding as to what His mission would be, why did He wait until He was 30 years old to leave Nazareth and get started?
Now obviously, the short end of the answer is that Jesus lived His life until His heavenly Father told Him it was time to act at which point He was obedient. In John 5:30, Jesus said, “I can of Myself do nothing… I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me.” And yet, beyond this, I believe there were likely two other considerations at play.
First, in the Law of Moses and specifically Numbers 4, the priests were not allowed to begin their public ministry in the Temple until they turned 30. In Jesus’ day, the principle of a minimum age was also carried over and applied to the rabbis. I should add that within Judaism a rabbi was a religious scholar ordained by others to act as a spiritual teacher.
Whether God intended public service to function within age parameters or not, there is no question the Jewish people in Jesus’ day had come to see 30 as the age in which a man had finally attained the spiritual and moral maturity necessary to teach and lead others.
While we understand it’s silly to suppose age was a factor when it came to Jesus’ maturity and spiritual acumen, it may be that He found it prudent to honor this custom by waiting until 30 as opposed to starting His ministry at a younger age and creating an unneeded stir.
Secondly, I have to imagine as the man of the home and primary provider for His family in Joseph’s absence, Jesus stayed at home only until He was confident His four brothers were old enough to care for themselves as well as His mother and sisters.
Think about it… Jesus was content to wait to begin a public ministry unto the world until His private ministry to His family was finished. To me, the idea Jesus Christ spent vastly more time on this earth ministering at home in a private setting than He did in the public arena is not only inspiring but challenges the way we evaluate ministry. Christian, never underestimate the importance Jesus places on your private service to your family.
Matthew 3:13-17, “Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. And John tried to prevent Him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?’ But Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then he allowed Him.
When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.’”
“Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him.” As John was preaching repentance and baptizing the masses in order to prepare them for the coming of the King, from Nazareth, Jesus set out to walk 18-miles east through the Valley of the Doves, into Galilee, before heading south using the Jordan Valley to get to Bethabara. The purpose in Jesus making this journey was to start His ministry by being baptized by John.
Imagine the moment when John sees Jesus approaching… In all likelihood, since the two were cousins and only six months apart, they already knew each other. Additionally, our text indicates John even had a good idea who Jesus really was which explains his response to His request. Matthew says, “John tried to prevent Him.” This is the only time in the Bible we have the Greek word “prevent” meaning he actively forbid Him! “Jesus, no way!”
In light of his insight into Jesus’ identity, from John’s estimation, it made no sense why He’d even want to be baptized in the first place. It’s why his objection begins, “Jesus, I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?” It’s as though John was pleading, “Jesus, I don’t understand why You are coming to me when it’s I who needs to be baptized by You.”
Before we get into the reason Jesus wanted John to publicly baptize Him in the Jordan, I should explain one component that didn’t play any role at all. While in John’s ministry baptism was the outward manifestation of an inward decision to repent of sin in order to prepare oneself for the ministry of the Messiah, this could not possibly have been Jesus’ motivation for two simple reasons: (1) He had no sin in which to confess, and (2) Jesus was the Messiah! In fact, these two points are consistent with John’s objections.
So if Jesus came to be baptized for none of the reasons John was actually baptizing, why was it so important to Jesus that He be baptized by John in the Jordan?
Sadly, most expositions on the baptism of Jesus postulate the entire exercise was a way for Jesus to identify with sinners so that sinners could later identify with Him when they realized their need for a Savior. My problem with this position is that I don’t see how Jesus’ baptism identified with anyone other than Himself or how this fits with Jesus’ own explanation.
Look again at Jesus’ response to John’s objections in verse 15… “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Please notice the words “it to be so” are italicized meaning they’re not in the original text. The more accurate translation would be, “Permit now!” Understand, Jesus was not asking John to relent or concede the point. He was issuing John a directive… “John, we’re doing this and we’re doing this now.”
Why? Jesus adds, “For thus it is fitting (it is the right thing) for us to fulfill (or to render complete) all righteousness.” Don’t miss this… Jesus is saying to John His baptism in the Jordan was relevant to the “fulfillment of all righteousness.” Clearly, the implications of this scene are much weightier than Jesus attempting to identify Himself with sinners!
While I’m not sure John understood what Jesus meant, I’m confident things gained some clarity with what immediately followed… Verses 16-17, “When Jesus had been baptized, He came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and Jesus saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove (an illustration of what the Spirit and the descent looked like) and alighting upon Him (the Spirit rested upon Jesus). And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.’”
What an amazing statement made by God the Father for what it tells us of Jesus and their relationship. First, these two words “this is My beloved Son” affirm the reality Jesus had always been God’s Son! I hope you know it wasn’t as though at this point in Jesus’ life He transitions from being the son of Mary and Joseph to now being the “Son of God.”
Instead from His birth, Jesus had always been divine and therefore remained sinless. As the “Son of God,” Jesus was of the same nature as God — in turn, making Jesus God.
Secondly, the three words that follow “this is My beloved Son” affirm the fact God deeply loved His Son, Jesus! While Jesus was not actually a son and God a father, these two members of the holy trinity deliberately chose to illustrate to humanity the nature of their relationship using this Father/Son dynamic specifically because the roles never change like it naturally does between a father/daughter or a mother/son.
Regarding this point, I never fully grasped the love a father has for a son until I became a father. I’ll never forget that first night in the hospital with Quincy. What really blew me away about the experience and what I wasn’t prepared for was the incredible amount of love I would instantly have for another human being I had known for only a matter of seconds! I loved that little guy for no other reason than he was my son! I needed no other reason.
After the first night, the doctor came in to inform us he had to take Q to the NICU for observation. It was brutal. I was upset and then the thought hit me (and keep in mind it was Christmas morning)… “I’m having a hard time entrusting my only begotten son to a group of highly educated, trained professions. What must it have taken for God to entrust His beloved Son to two teenagers who had no clue what they were doing?”
Friend, it’s important you first know Jesus’ difficult life in Nazareth wasn’t evidence God didn’t love Him. And yet, beyond this, it should humble us all to consider the only reason the Father would send His “beloved Son” into this world was the great love He has for you and me. John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son.”
Finally, don’t miss this line “in whom I am well pleased” for it affirms God was already pleased with Jesus before He even began His public ministry! The phrase “well pleased” can be translated as “brings joy.” Jesus’ life in Nazareth brought God great joy!
Please don’t forget the context… When the Father uttered these words, Jesus was already 30 years old and hadn’t started His public ministry. Instead, Jesus had spent His time in obscurity. At this juncture, Jesus’ had a very simple resume! He’d been a faithful son. He’d been a good big brother. I’m sure He’d been a solid friend to those who knew Him.
Aside from this, you can imagine Jesus had been a stellar student and later became an accomplished carpenter. Jesus attend church every week and went to Jerusalem for the seasonal Feasts. He paid His taxes and I’m sure was involved in His local community.
Understand, when Jesus came to the Jordan to be baptized by John, He hadn’t performed a single miracle nor had He done anything to garner the adoration of the masses. Truthfully, Jesus had done nothing noteworthy. He wasn’t an accomplished preacher filling the sanctuary with multiple services. He wasn’t leading an international, global ministry.
He wasn’t hosting massive crusades or writing bestsellers. Jesus wasn’t on TV nor did He have a podcast. He hadn’t even died for the sins of the world. To say Jesus came out of nowhere would have been an understatement! When Jesus came to John His social network was numbered by the tens of people not thousands. Jesus was not an influencer!
But this is what’s so amazing... Even with such a humble, nondescript, simple life of obedience, the God of heaven testifies that the way in which Jesus had lived brought Him incredible joy. Friend, never ever forget God takes greater joy in the person you are and not necessarily the things you’re doing!
Though our text is clear the “sudden voice from heaven” introducing Jesus as “My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” was audibly heard by everyone, Matthew, Mark, and Luke’s accounts of this scene seem to suggest “the heavens being opened” and “the Spirit of God descending” were things only Jesus saw. That said, the testimony provided by John the Baptist of this event recorded for us in the Gospel of John challenges this notion.
In John 1:33-34, John testified, “I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, 'Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.' And I have seen and testified that this (speaking of Jesus) is the Son of God.” Even though Matthew indicates John believed Jesus was the Messiah before the baptism which is why he initially objected, God had revealed to John that this event of the “Spirit descending” would serve as the definitive confirmation.
Without getting into the semantics, my point is that if John could see the Spirit descend, he could have easily seen the heavens open. And if John could see those things, it stands to reason everyone else could as well. Sure, the Gospels record the event from Jesus’ perspective, but that doesn’t exclude the experiences of the by-standards also present.
There is no arguing the fact Jesus’ baptism and what followed marked a significant moment in His life. Not only did Jesus receive an anointing by the Holy Spirit with God the Father confirming His pleasure in the life He’d lived beforehand (it’s worth pointing out this is one of the few instances you have the three members of the Trinity working in concert), but the moment itself indicate a dramatic change from a private to public existence.
In much the same way the act of water baptism in our lives represents the laying aside of an old life in order to emerge as a brand new person, the baptism of Jesus intended to reflect a similar change was occurring. In going down into the water Jesus was laying aside His former life only to reemerge possessing an entirely new focus and set of priorities. In fact, from that moment forward even Jesus’ relational roles with His family were totally redefined.
And yet, it’s important we understand there was a much larger reason that what could have been a private moment for Jesus and by extension John was done in a public setting. Again, history tells us thousands of people were turning out daily to the Jordan to be baptized. So much so, John’s popularity had drawn the attention of the religious leaders who’d sent a delegation to investigate. The crowd witnessing this scene was massive.
When Jesus explains how being baptized by John in this specific place was “fitting to fulfill all righteousness” He’s implying the entire scene and what would happen had been specifically orchestrated by God in order to articulate a very important message to everyone who happened to be standing on the banks of the Jordan witnessing this display.
In order to gain some clarity, don’t miss what’s really happening… Starting with the promise made to Abraham in Genesis 12, a promise that was reiterated on numerous occasions to the patriarchs and one that was spoken of by the prophets down through the many centuries, for more than 1700 years the Jewish people held fast to an expectation that one day their Messiah (the promised King of Kings) would reveal Himself to Israel!
With that in mind, aside from what this baptism meant for Jesus personally or for John the Baptizer practically, when He came out of the water, received this anointing by the Holy Spirit, with the voice of God coming from heaven making this public introduction, the moment the people had spent generations longing and looking for had finally arrived!
You see the King whose presence had been concealed for 30 years was being revealed! In this act of being baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan, God was announcing to Israel the King had finally come! And yet, while that would have been astonishing in and of itself, it’s the way in which God revealed Jesus through a baptism that’s equally radical!
As a general rule for studying the Bible, I don’t find coincidences in Scripture to be accidental and instead often intentional. As such, when I’m digging into a story like this one I take a moment to ask myself if there are any other significant events that took place in the Jordan River specifically in this area called Bethabara. And guess what? There is!
In the first few chapters of the book of Joshua, we have the story of the Children of Israel finally entering the Promised Land after years and years of wandering the wilderness on account of their unbelief. And yet, the final obstacle standing between God’s people and the life God had promised was the Jordan River which at the time was at flood stage.
The challenge before them was not only daunting but seemingly insurmountable. And yet, God had a plan! Under the directives of Joshua, the priest were instructed to carry the Ark of the Covenant 1000 yards upstream and enter the river. Miraculously, the instant the first priest’s food hit the water the wild torrents of the Jordan were instantly held back allowing a safe and easy passage for the Israelites to cross over into the land of Canaan.
In fact, in his conversation with the religious leaders recorded in the previous chapter, John made mention of the stones Joshua then instructed leaders from the 12 Tribes to pile up as a memorial for this incredible moment — stones that still remained in Bethabara.
When you consider the Ark of the Covenant represented the presence of God on earth and the Promised Land was always representative of heaven, an interesting picture emerges. Practically, the only way God’s people were able to enter the Land God had promised was through a work of God’s presence giving them safe passage through the Jordan River.
You see it’s not an accident that Jesus (the physical presence of God on earth) initiates His public ministry by being baptized in the Jordan River in the exact same location. Here’s why I say it’s not an accident… While the longing of our hearts is heaven (the Promised Land), the mighty Jordan River stands in our way (sin and the penalty of death it demands). The difficult truth is none of us can cross these waters on our own. The divide is insurmountable.
And yet, we know that Jesus came to accomplish the same miracle the story in Joshua illustrated. Like the Ark of old, Jesus entered the stormy waters of sin and death (the Jordan) in order to provide us safe passage through to the other side (the Land of Promise).
Practically, consider how our safe passage comes to fruition? First, Jesus lived a sinless life in order to die a sinner’s death. At which point, He was then buried under death only to rise victoriously to resurrection life three days later. We’re saved by identifying with this work.
I want you to notice how Paul describes this work… In Romans 6:3-4, he writes, “Do you not know that as many as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we also should walk in newness of life.”
In Colossians 2:12, Paul says of Christians that we were “buried with Jesus in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.” In Ephesians 4:5, Paul affirms only “one Lord, one faith, one baptism.”
Again… Why was it so important John baptize Jesus in the Jordan at Bethabara? In His providential wisdom, right at the inception of His public ministry, God not only wanted to introduce Jesus to the people but He wanted to illustrate the mission of the King!
You see Jesus had not only come to provide safe passage through the Jordan (sin and death) so that we might enter the Promised Land, but His baptism illustrated how this passage would actually occur — we’d be baptized into Jesus’ death to experience His resurrection! The baptism of Jesus truly signified the “fulfillment of all righteousness!”
This is why following Jesus’ baptism two things immediately happen… The Holy Spirit descends upon Him and God declares His good pleasure! How amazing the Gospel is illustrated in this one-act for the moment you identify yourself with the baptism of Jesus the same two things occur in your life. You are filled with the Holy Spirit and Your heavenly Father declares you to be one of His righteous sons or daughters.
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