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Jesus said to John, “Let it be so now, for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”
᛭ INI ᛭
What’s God to do with with his imprisoned people? It’s not that they’ve been put into prison by some opposing force. (Though Lord speaks that way through the prophets sometimes.) They didn’t imprison themselves either. No, God put them in prison. He doesn’t just do it with His people, but with all people everywhere! “God has consigned all to disobedience.” (Rom 11)
It was fitting for Him to do so! “We are all by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” (Eph 2) “Sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” (Rom 5) “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Rom 3) “And the wages of sin is death.” (Rom 6)
The world says it’s not fitting, that it’s not fair to be judged by God. But the world has no actual measure for what’s right or fair, no evidence, no measurement, no standard of righteousness. It’s all purely cultural. It’s all whatever each individual wants. At the end of the day it’s all opinion. People are only right based on the power enforced by the number of people that hold to that opinion, those whose voices echo the loudest.
Now the loudest voice isn’t one that you might expect. Even though there might be a touch point with current political discourse. The loudest voice says come as you are. It says, “We’re mostly good people.“ It says, “We’re moral people with just a few little insignificant sins hanging on.” ￼It says, “Sure, I’ve got sins, sure I’m a sinner, but is it really all that bad? I’m not as bad as…” “I’m for this cause or I stand with these sorts of people or I voted this way on that issue.“
There’s so many ways to put it, and I can’t possibly put them all in this sermon. Whatever it is, we all do it. We all play this game. ￼￼These are all human attempts to cover up our sin, to papier-mâché together a respectable life story they are just the ravings of imprisoned convicted criminals. (Prisons are full of the self proclaimed innocent.) Every fix for ourselves or others that we come up creates the need for more solutions. A lot of the time for problems we already supposedly already solved!) This is all part of our being imprisoned people, imprisoned in unrighteousness, eternally condemned and guilty under the righteous and unattainable requirement of the Law. Pure, spotless, holy that is God’s objective demand for all people.
But if all our self-justifications were true, if we’re mostly good people, if we could make up for our sins before God, if all we needed was a better rehabilitation program, a better path, a better guide, there would be no need for Christmas. Jesus wouldn’t need to be born. He wouldn’t need to do anything else that He does—like bleed, suffer, and die (But that’s to get ahead of myself.) He certainly didn’t need to do what He did today at the Jordan River…
Today at the Jordan River Jesus does something that’s shocking. It’s something that John the Baptizer himself wanted to prevent. Jesus came to be baptized. He’s doing what was prophesied of Him in Isaiah 42: Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him… He comes to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.
John tries to stop Jesus on that mission! He tries to stop him because of the shocking way Jesus carries out His mission. Jesus “came to the Jordan to John to be baptized by him”…as a sinner! He comes into the prison! Not as warden, not as guard, not as counselor, lawyer, or visitor. He comes as a prisoner Himself, as convict Himself, as sinner Himself!
This is what Jesus means by “fulfilling all righteousness.” Human fulfilling all righteousness has to do with our morality, our progressive programs of improvement. Where pure, holy, and spotless are not required nor the end goal. That sort of righteousness has nothing to do with what Jesus is up to. God in Christ Jesus “chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.” This is also what is promised through Isaiah about Christ: “I will make you as a covenant for the people.”
So, it is that Christ Jesus is “numbered with the transgressors.” He “becomes our sin.” He is sinner standing in the Jordan, receiving “a baptism of repentance unto the forgiveness of sins.” That’s what John’s baptism was for, that’s what it worked, that was its benefit: “repentance unto the forgiveness of sins.” (A benefit received by faith.)
Christ does this not for His own sins or with His own sins or because of His own sins. He Himself had no sins of His own (Heb 4), but He does this with the sins of the whole world—your sins, too. That’s why after Jesus’ Baptism John the Baptizer pointed at Jesus—bony finger and all—and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who is taking away the sin of the world.”
Jesus is “Covenant for you.” In Himself He is pure, spotless, holy, but He claims your sins as His own. He goes into the prison to free the prisoners. He frees you from the inside out. That’s what God does for His imprisoned people. He is imprisoned and in the darkness of your sins. He is washed with them, drenched with them, weighed down with them, bearing them to the place they needed go—Calvary. He dies as condemned, guilty sinner. “That you would become the righteousness of God in Him.”
Something always died to make a covenant, and when the Covenant itself comes, that Covenant is put to death.
Calvary, Cross, Grave was the only place Christ was heading. That journey started today in the Jordan. This is why at the Jordan, the Father’s voice bursts forth, certainly His voice echoes the loudest: “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Christ receives this acclamation, this praise, this blessing of the Father because He is delighted in the work Jesus is doing for you.
And you? You’re free. No longer imprisoned in your sin by faith. There is no righteous requirement, no righteousness for you to fulfill. By faith you are set free into complete Sonship, royal, righteousness and freedom. This is not a freedom and righteousness to live however you want. That’s the slavery to license, not the freedom of forgiveness, of righteousness, of “this is My beloved son with whom I am well pleased.”
All this is gifted to you in the waters of Holy Baptism. Baptism is shocking in what it gives and delivers. It’s not what you’d expect. It’s not a physical washing, some outward sign. It is “the powerful working of God.” (Col 1?) It “saves you.” (1 Pet 1) “It works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this.”
What’s God to do with with his imprisoned people? He sets them free! He sends His Son to accomplish it. “My Beloved Son.” He is well pleased when the Son is standing there as Sin-bearer, receiving “a baptism of repentance unto forgiveness” as sinner, with your sins. All the way to Calvary, death and grave He goes with them. And you now are “beloved Son” in and through Holy Baptism by faith. For there you were claimed by, marked with, baptized into the Name of the God who appeared today at the Jordan River, where John was baptizing. You baptized