Fitting to Fulfill All Righteousness

"The Baptism of Christ" by Leonardo Da Vinci
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“Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented Him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?’ But Jesus answered Him, ‘Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness’ (Matthew 3:13-14).
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
It all started at the Jordan. Clothed in camel hair and leather, eating locusts and wild honey, John was the very picture of the prophet Elijah, who had called Israel to repentance in the days of King Ahab. The people who flocked out into the wilderness believed he was the forerunner of the Messiah, as Malachi had foretold. John identified himself as the “voice of one crying in the wilderness.” Centuries before, Isaiah had predicted such a messenger would appear to “prepare the way for the Lord” (40:3). And so, John preached his message of repentance, and many people, confessing their sins, were baptized by John in the river.
When Jesus stepped up for Baptism, John objected. “I need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?” It’s no great mystery why. John’s been baptizing tax collectors, prostitutes, and notorious sinners with a Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And here comes Jesus, the holy Son of God, asking for the same treatment. Imagine a completely healthy, cancer-free adult going to a hospital and asking for radiation treatment. The doctors would refuse, because he doesn’t need it. It would do him no good, only harm. John looks to bar Jesus from his Baptism for the same reason. Jesus doesn’t need it because He’s sinless and needs neither repentance nor forgiveness. It won’t do Him any good. If anything, it will harm His reputation. There are some people you want to be seen with in life, and other people whose presence would hurt your standing. If Jesus is baptized, He’s identifying Himself with all those dirty sinners who are doing the same.
That’s exactly what Jesus is doing. Though He is the eternal Judge of these people on the Last Day, He is intentionally stepping in to get splashed with all their iniquity and dirt. That’s why Jesus says, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” He doesn’t tell John to let it go, but commands John to permit it. He has come to be baptized just like all those unholy, shameful people around Him. This isn’t just a noble gesture; it is fitting to fulfill all righteousness.
And how, pray tell, does Jesus’ getting baptized with all those sinners fulfill all righteousness? This is how: He’s taking their place—literally, taking their place. He’s not just saying that He’s a friend of sinners or on their side. By His Baptism, He’s becoming the Sinner. Let’s be clear: Jesus remains the sinless Son of God. But remember how He comes to save us from sin: He becomes flesh to go to the cross in our place. On the cross, God will judge Him, condemn Him for our sins. During the crucifixion, the Father will literally give His Son hell in our place.
In the Kirk Douglas movie “Spartacus,” there is an iconic scene where the Roman soldiers have captured the rebels and announced they will be spared crucifixion if they only identify their leader, Spartacus. When Spartacus is about to identify himself, every other man stands up one-by-one and shouts, “I’m Spartacus!” The many are ready to take the punishment for the one.
At Jesus’ Baptism, the opposite happens. According to His holy Law, God declares, “I must judge and condemn the sinner.” By His Baptism, Jesus declares, “Here I am! I’m the Sinner! Judge Me!” There, at the Jordan, the One declares Himself ready to take the punishment for the many. For all. For you. That is His—and His Father’s—plan for your salvation, to fulfill all righteousness.
Though Jesus’ Baptism marks Him as the One to be judged on the cross, His Father doesn’t forsake Him at the Jordan. Quite the contrary! When Jesus is baptized, the heavens are opened to Him. The Holy Spirit descends, and the Father declares, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
That, my friends, is a statement worthy of more examination.
The Father has required a sacrifice for sin. The Son identifies Himself as the Sacrifice for sin. At the cross, the Son will be forsaken by the Father as the Father condemns the Son. All of this is in motion when Jesus is baptized. Yet Jesus stays the course in perfect obedience to His Father; and when the Son identifies Himself as the Sinner to be judged, the Father says that He is well pleased with His beloved Son. Why? Because they are working together in service to you. The Father sacrifices His beloved Son. The Son sacrifices Himself.
Jesus wanted to take on our sin. He insisted on bearing our guilt. For He was intent on dying our death. And die, He did. Ultimately, He breathed His last after hours of excruciating shame on a cross. “He was wounded for our transgressions,” Isaiah prophesied (53:5). “He was crushed for our iniquities.” It was a borrowed death Jesus died. It was our death. But it brought life to us.
And Jesus’ Baptism was not His own. It was ours. By His Baptism in the Jordan, Jesus took upon Himself the obligation of the sins of the world. There He took up His cross as realistically as when Pilate’s soldiers laid a crossbeam on His shoulder. At the Jordan, the sinless Son of God was made to be sin for us. For since the wages of sin is death, Jesus’ Baptism pointed to His cross and death.
Jesus assumed our sins by His Baptism by John. There He was given over into death just as surely as the day He took up our cross and headed for Calvary. The Baptism of Jesus, in other words, was a seal and affirmation of His saving work. That Baptism was His consignment into our death.
And it works the other way around, too. As Jesus was baptized into our death, so we are baptized into His death. Consigned into His death by Baptism, we are partners with Him in His risen life. Our epistle affirms: “We were buried therefore with Him by Baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”
In your Baptism, Jesus has joined you to His death and resurrection. It’s there He says, “I was born in Bethlehem for you—to be your Savior; and your Baptism is where I have given salvation to you.” By that water and Word, Jesus says, “Remember how I became the Sinner for you when I was baptized. At your Baptism, your sins were washed off of you. At My Baptism in the Jordan, all of your sins were washed onto Me.” At the font, Jesus says, “I’ve already died your death for sin on the cross, and in Baptism I join you to that death. I share it with you, so that you don’t have to die for your sin.” And it’s at the font that Jesus says, “I also rose again! And if I’ve joined you to My death, I’ve also joined you to My resurrection. You walk in newness of life, life that will never end.”
All of that connects your Baptism to His Baptism: Christ, who made your sin to be His own and died with it, makes you His own that you might live forever.
Here’s another connection between you and Jesus, Your Baptism and His. When He was baptized, remember: the heavens opened, the Holy Spirit descended, and God the Father spoke from heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” The triune God was present at the Jordan for your salvation. So also when you were baptized in the name of the triune God, the triune God was there for you. When you were baptized, the Son was there to join you to His death and resurrection. The Holy Spirit descended upon you to give you forgiveness and faith and salvation. And for the sake of Jesus, the Father declared to you, “You are My beloved son. You are not My only-begotten Son from eternity; but for His sake, You are now My beloved son—an heir of heaven. Once you were a lost sinner, My enemy who I had to condemn. But My Son suffered that condemnation in your place. He took your sin away. So now you are My beloved son—and I am well pleased with you!”
It’s truly Good News: at His Baptism, Jesus fulfilled all righteousness for you. Jesus became the Sinner so that you might become a son.
This is huge for your life as a Christian. The devil seizes on those things that trouble your conscience and says, “Look at those sins—there’s no way you can be a holy child of God!” But you remember the Baptism of Jesus—and that by it He says, “No! I’m the Sinner. I’m the One who is to suffer God’s judgment, not you.” And you know this to be true because He’s baptized you, made you His own.”
The world comes along and roughs you up and then mocks you: “Ha! What sort of benefit is there to being a child of God?” But you see Jesus in the Jordan, having come into this world for your salvation. You see Him take up the burden not just of your sin, but also your infirmities and afflictions. He goes to the cross and dies—and then He rises again victorious. So you know that the world is a liar, too: even as Christ suffered afflictions in this world, so will you. He joined you to His death and resurrection in your Baptism. He will not forsake you in the world. Even better, He will raise you up from it to everlasting life in heaven.
And of course, death continues to stalk you like the bully it is. It’s an enormous foe who wins again and again, dragging everyone into the tomb and giving no ground. Well, almost everyone. It couldn’t hold onto Christ, and Christ only submitted to death and grave in order to break its grip and rise again. In Christ, you see that death can be beaten. But it gets better than that! The One who conquered death did it for you! He died your death for you and rose again for you! He’s joined you to His death and resurrection—where? In Baptism!
Do you see what great gifts God has given you in Baptism? He’s made you His holy child, because Jesus became the Sinner in your place. He promises that He will not forsake you in death, because Jesus has joined you to His death and is risen again. He promises to deliver you from every affliction in His time, because He’s joined you to His resurrection and given you newness of life. Christ has done this to fulfill all righteousness. For His sake, you are forgiven for all of your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


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