Now we're reading from our Bibles, from Matthew's Gospel and chapter 3, and as has been announced, we're looking at the subject of the baptism of the Lord Jesus Christ. We have been going through a series concerning the character, the person and the work of the Lord Jesus Himself. And we have learnt, I hope, to appreciate Him a little bit more in His person. We're looking today, not specifically at His person, but something that happened to Him, that describes Him and that shows what was in His soul as the Son of God at this time in scripture. Now we noted last Lord's Day morning that the only cameo that we have of the childhood of the Lord Jesus Christ is that time when He wandered away from His parents and went into the synagogue in Jerusalem. And we see there that there is a silence upon the childhood of the Lord Jesus Christ, and for almost 18 years after He leaves that synagogue with His parents and submits Himself to them, there are almost 18 years of silence where He labours in the carpenter's shop. One of the Jewish historians tells us that he believes that Joseph, His earthly father, died when the Lord Jesus Christ was at this stage in His life. And perhaps for 18 years He laboured as the bread-winner within that carpenter's shop. He learned obedience, He learned it the hard way. But as we take up our reading today, we come as those years of silence -- the curtain falls down -- and the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ begins. Let's read at verse one of chapter 3:
"In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea, and saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. And the same John had his raiment of camel's hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey. Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan, and were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire: Whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire. Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him. But John forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me? And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffered him. And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased."
Let's come before the Lord, and ask His help in a moment's prayer together as we turn to His word: Our Father, we have read how the heavens were opened. Lord, by the eye of faith, we know that our Saviour is there at Thy right-hand, and like one of old we say that there is power in that place. And we ask Thee to dispense a little of that power, to come by Thy Spirit in a mighty sense, to come and speak to our hearts. We have sung: 'We never can prove the delights of His love, until all on the altar we lay. For the favour He shows, and the joy He bestows are for them who will trust and obey'. Fill with Thy Spirit now we pray, and come oh Holy Ghost of God and minister to our hearts. In Jesus name. Amen.
As I've said, for the last time the door is shut on the Nazareth carpenter's shop. Never again would that man return, never again would the children come along each day from school and stand, and watch, and listen to this great carpenter as He told stories about the Old Testament Scriptures. He makes His way toward the river Jordan, and there are multitudes there flocking. They're not flocking around the Christ, but they're flocking around this rustic, gruff, strange, unorthodox preacher. And as he stands there you can almost hear him proclaiming, and then administrating, a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. He is standing there, and no longer is he standing preaching in the wilderness, to dead plants, to dust and to sand. But he stands before all of the city it says, all of them came out to hear this man preach -- and he cried, 'Repent ye: for the kingdom of God is at hand!' This is a prophet like Elijah, indeed he was prophesied to be, in one sense, Elijah - Elijah coming to prepare the way of the Lord. John the Baptist, he looked like Elijah, he walked like Elijah, he talked like him -- he was like Elijah also in his fearlessness. Oh, we're afraid today aren't we? To preach 'Repent ye'. It's 'Come and know the Lord Jesus'. It's 'Come and know this new relationship -- no strings attached, forgiveness of sins and everything in life that you could hope for, an answer for all your problems'. But what about 'Repent ye'? 'Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand'.
Now can you see, I want you to try and picture it in your mind, this humble carpenter of Nazareth as He pushes His way through the throng, and He actually joins the queue for the candidates of baptism! Imagine the astonishment of John as he saw the face of the next person who he was going to baptise -- the righteous, holy face of Jesus Himself. One man, gruff as he was, who was previously baptising sinners, many sinners; women of ill-repute, murderers, thieves, adulterers, all kinds of sinners coming to repentance -- and here stands the sinless, spotless, Son of God wanting to be baptised! We can sympathise with his astonishment and his protests, as he turns to Him and says: 'I have need to be baptized of thee, and you're coming to me to be baptised?' Jesus answers and explains that this strange act is to be permitted for now, verse 15, "Suffer it to be so: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness". And do you know what that's saying? The Lord Jesus Christ had come into the world and it was His job, as we saw last week, to be about His Father's business -- it was His job to do the will of Him who sent Him! And even if God's will for a moment was not applicable to Him, He had to fulfil it, He had to fulfil it. Isn't it amazing? That the one who would be classed as 'Christ our righteousness' fulfilled all righteousness when He was here on the earth. Can you imagine what John would have felt? Martin Luther, who was a bit like John the Baptist, he has a book entitled "Table Talks" -- various writings about various parts of the Scriptures and elements of our daily walk as Christians. And he says within this, I don't know whether he's right or wrong, but I understand what he's saying, he says that our New Testament really begins here at the baptism of Jordan. Now he's not saying that everything else before doesn't matter, but what he is saying is, this is the moment where the Lord Jesus Christ comes to fulfil and to begin His ministry.
Many have wondered how well John the Baptist knew the Lord Jesus, whether he recognised Him physically as He came to be baptised. Where they companions in their childhood? We know from Luke chapter 1 and [verse] 36 that they were related, we know that John's mother, Elizabeth, was informed about the strange virgin birth of the Lord Jesus through Mary. So much so that we read of Elizabeth referring to the foetus in the womb of Mary as 'My Lord'. I wonder had Elizabeth conveyed to John the Baptist her knowledge about who this child was, I don't know, it's all supposition. We know that Nazareth, where Jesus was brought up, and Hebron where John the Baptist was brought up, were quite far from one another -- but they could have come together year by year as they, as we thought about last week, all went to Jerusalem for the Passover to celebrate that feast. I don't know how John knew Him, but I know this: that God had revealed to John, don't ask me how, but God revealed to him that the Messiah, the Christ would be identified, because upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending and remaining on Him, the same is He which baptiseth with the Holy Ghost -- John 1:33.
Some, even this week, have gone out from our own hall and have been witnessing around the streets and have come in contact with Mormons. And they say the Lord Jesus Christ had to be baptised because you need to be baptised to be saved. They infer that He was a sinner like you and me. God help them on the day of judgement, unless they repent for such a blasphemous thing. But what did it mean? I mean, it does confuse us doesn't it? Why the Lord, and remember that this isn't the baptism specifically that we practice, this was John's baptism -- a baptism of repentance, people were coming, repenting of their sins and what it meant here was: they were confessing first of all, and forsaking their old ways of sinful lives. How could the Lord Jesus Christ do that? That's the first thing it represented. The second thing it represented for all those in Judea, Jerusalem and the whole part of Palestine was that John the Baptist was here preparing the ground for the Lord Jesus Christ, for the Messiah to come. Neither of those two things apply to the Lord Jesus. So what was it? Here's the first thing that the baptism of the Lord Jesus Christ means to us, now listen to this: He identified with your sin. Let that sink in. He identified with your sin and my sin, by the act of being baptised into the baptism of repentance, He allied Himself with the whole race that He had come to redeem and to save! He was showing that one day He would be the substitute for sinners!
Do you know that, my friend? I'm very conscious that there are people out here this morning, and they're not saved. Maybe you don't come on a Sunday evening, but you're here today -- and maybe it's safe to be here in the morning because you don't get the Gospel. Oh, you do, and this is the Gospel: Christ died for the ungodly, He died for you! He suffered for you, and by the very act of being baptised long before His death, He was symbolising: I have come, I have dedicated my existence down here on earth to go through the sins of the world for you, to come up again, to rise again and to administer my forgiveness to all who come onto me! The word of God says that the Lord Jesus Christ had to be made like unto his brethren, and one of the ways He had to be made like unto us is this: He had to be numbered with the transgressors. We often say Christ had no sin, and I know what that means, but my friend He did have sin: your sin and mine. Not inherent in His person or character, but He had to bear it, He had to take it, He had to sink under it! All my sin, all my iniquities, all my transgressions, all my indiscretions, all my secret sins, all my open sins were laid upon Him at Calvary. We read, within Exodus 29, that the old priest, in the Old Testament before he went and made the sacrifice, before he engaged in his holy ministry, he had to wash in that laver - that holy basin - in water. And when our great high priest, the Lord Jesus Christ who one day would consummate His ministry in entering into heaven with His own blood, He started it by washing Himself in the waters of baptism to declare: I have come to identify with your sin. I have come to take your place my friend, in physical death, physical burial, to take your sins away as far as the east is from the west and, though sinless Himself, He is able to come and do it, Hallelujah!
Our Lord didn't come to His baptism, blasphemers may say it, to confess His own sins -- not a bit of it! He had no sin! He was holy, separate from sinners, undefiled -- but He came to make Himself one with them who had sin. Let me speak to you believers for a moment. You've seen it before, the saintliest women and sometimes men, who take the Mary Magdalenes off the streets of Northern Ireland and Belfast, out of the red-light districts and they bring them into churches, and they set them down, and they sit beside them to show the love of Christ to them, and they tell them that Christ loves them, and Christ died for them, and they need to have faith in Christ. You've seen it! And you've maybe envied it -- the poor outcast that everybody looks at when they wander into the church building. And every one of them would never have come to Christ if it wasn't for that saintly man or woman. You know what that is? It is the spirit of Christ in them. The spirit of Christ that came and made no difference -- came to the poor, the wine-bibbers, the publicans, the adulterers, the fornicators -- He came to them to bring them into the kingdom of God. Alexander White says, speaking of General Booth - the founder of the Salvation Army, 'The General sits down on the same form himself beside the off-scarrings of the city and thus it is that he gets his penitent form so well filled and his Salvation Army so well recruited. It was something not very unlike that when He who knew no sin came to the Jordan waters along with the Roman soldiers and the Jewish publicans who were there confessing and forsaking their sin'.
You know this, this parable of the Lord Jesus has been burning on my soul, and I mean it! Where he told them to go out and invite all the 'hoity-toity'* people and the rich to come to his marriage feast, and they wouldn't come! What did he do? Persevere? You know my friends, I believe that there are hundreds of people, hundreds of people around this hall, hundreds of people in our city, in our country and they would love to spend an hour in a warm place with a cup of tea. But the problem is, many of them aren't the type of people that we want to do with. Isn't that right? Is that not the fact? Well let me tell you this, they were the people Christ came to save. They were the people that He died for! They were the people that He reached down His holy arms -- rescue the perishing, care for the dying, snatch them from pity, from sin and the grave, weep o'er the erring ones, lift up the fallen, tell them of Jesus the mighty to save. Do you know what Jude tells us to do? 'Others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire'. Some of us have mighty long arms to even reach them, never mind pull them out of the fire. Do you know what Jude infers? He infers that we might even get singed in doing it. Do you know my friend, do you appreciate that Jesus came to identify with your sin?
But secondly, His baptism tells us this: His introduction into the Messianic office. If you go into the Old Testament, you'll find that for 30 years the Levites prepared their priests, and at the age of 30 they were allowed to do the work within the tabernacle. The Lord Jesus Christ here is approximately 30 years of age. And in His baptism here in Jordan, it is His inauguration into His Messianic role, and within it there is the terrible symbolism of the fore-shadowing of the death and resurrection at the cross and at the tomb -- for He Himself said, Luke 12 verse 50, 'Do you want to know what my baptism means? I have a baptism to be baptised with and how I am straightened until it be accomplished'. What did He talk about? Baptism simply means to be overwhelmed, to be immersed. And there at Jordan when He was plunged beneath the waters by John the Baptist, He was saying, 'There is a day coming that I will be plunged under the waters of my Father's wrath for you'. Oh, make me understand it, help me to take it in, what it meant for Thee, the Holy One, to bear away my sin. And here, we have the whole Trinity: the Father speaks from heaven, the Son is in the waters and the Holy Spirit descends. The Trinity who said in the beginning, 'Let us make man in our image', and He speaks again -- the only other time He speaks in the whole of history from heaven -- and He says not 'Let us make man', but 'Let us save man!'
Can I ask you, Christian and unsaved person, or person who professes faith and is wayward, have you surrendered everything to Jesus Christ? For this is what the Lord was doing with His Father here. I'm not suggesting that He had things that He held back. What I am suggesting is this: He was acknowledging in a public way that He was going to do the will of His Father. Are you baptised? Are you? How could God use you, or how could you expect God to use you if you cant even be baptised? Christians, and it baffles me, running around for 40 years after their conversion and they've never seen it, or at least they won't admit it, that they need to be baptised! Maybe it's this: that baptism is a symbol that you've surrendered everything to God, maybe that's why. Maybe we find it hard to do that, and let me commend you if that's the reason why you're not being baptised, because there's a lot of hypocrites that get baptised, and they haven't done that. You know Polycarp, he was the Bishop of Smyrna, and he was a friend and a pupil of John the apostle himself; and it tells us in the history books that when he was in his old age he was urged by the Roman Proconsul to reproach, to blaspheme the name of Christ, and to be set free from prison. Do you know what he said? Listen, 'Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He never did me an injury. How then can I blaspheme my King and my Saviour?'
'He never did me an injury' -- You've clothes on your back, don't you? You've a breakfast in your belly, you've maybe an income coming in every week from a job, you've children, you've parents, you've a home, a roof over your head and some of you forget that it's from God! Every bit of it, every wit of it, every good and perfect gift comes down from God. And you live your life as if you attained it yourself, and you've give God back nothing, nothing. Oh, it grieves me. Do you know what Polycarp did? He turned round to the Roman Proconsul, and the Roman said to him: 'Just say "I denounce these atheists"' -- and when he was talking about atheists he was talking not [about] the people who don't believe in our God, but people who didn't believe in their god, the Roman gods, and he [Polycarp] didn't -- so he was classed as an atheist. Do you know what he did? He turned round to the Roman crowd and he pointed at them, and he said: 'Away with these atheists!' And he went to his death. Can I ask you, now this is serious stuff, you can't get much more serious than this in the Christian life, I believe. Have you pledged your head to the Gospel? Are you like John the Baptist: that you hope at least if it came to the moment that you had to die, that you had to sacrifice all for Christ, have you given it over already? "All to Jesus..." -- oh, we sing a lot of lies, don't we? -- "...I surrender, all to Him I freely give. Fill me with Thy love and power, let Thy blessing fall on me".
But thirdly, His baptism spoke of His Father's approval of the silent years. Now who can understand this? I can't! But for the first time in thousands of years the heavens were torn open, what that must have meant to the Son of God, to hear for the first time, perhaps since He left the splendours of heaven, the audible sound of His Father. It's a fulfilment of Psalm 2:7, 'I will declare the decree: the Lord has said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee'. Now I want you to note that this was no subjective experience that no one else saw or heard or experienced. Everybody standing around there was able to view it -- and the heavens opened! It was the same for Ezekiel, he says in chapter 1 and verse 1 of his prophecy, 'Now it came to pass in the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, in the fifth day of the month, as I was among the captives by the river of Chebar, that the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God'. Did Stephen not see that? And he said, 'Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right-hand God'. Did John not see it when he was on the isle of Patmos, 'After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking to me; which said, Come up hither, and I will show thee things which must be hereafter'.
Don't underestimate the significance of this miracle: no voice had ever been heard from heaven from the giving of the law at Sinai. The law that killed men, the law that pushed them into the dust and showed them that holiness belongs to God and you can't have it, you can't strive your way, you can't live your way to God -- that was the first time God's voice was heard. But now the second time: He declares that Jesus is the Saviour, Jesus has come to save His people. What must that have been, as God's pronouncement upon the silent years of Jesus? Can I say this: God never did this for any pope, He never did it for any priest or any minister that pronounces absolution, because there is one mediator between God and men, there is one man, one person, one being that can forgive sins, none can forgive sins but God! And God, here at this river, publishes to the world that He is satisfied with Him as the propitiation, the substitute, the ransom-payer for the lost family of Adam, the just and yet the justifier of the ungodly. What does He say about those eighteen years behind the carpenter's door? What does He say? 'This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased".
Now listen, what would God's word of approval be on your silent years? Your years from 13, maybe you haven't reached 30 like the Lord here, but what about up to now? What would God say? Would it be, 'Oh, they made a profession in Sunday School and then they got into their teenage years and went wayward, and now they're nowhere now. And they come, and they go, and they come, and they go but they're not really there'. Would God say that one minute you're standing up giving a word or praying in the prayer meeting and the next your eyes are feasting on the filth of the world! That's not total surrender, that's total hypocrisy. Maybe you're here, and you need to do what I needed to do -- you [need to] realise that past is gone, you can't change it but one thing you can do is commit your life to Christ afresh, re-dedicate yourself to Him -- say the old is gone and I must now look forward and press toward the mark. Maybe you're not sure that you ever were saved, you've never taken Christ as your sin-bearer, as your Saviour and trusted Him -- well do it now! My friend, do it now! In ourselves we have nothing, nothing that can please God, nothing that can bring a smile -- we can only be accepted in the Well-Beloved, that means being in Christ and that righteousness that He came to perform, His death at Calvary trusting in it, trusting in the blood, trusting in His righteousness -- what are you trusting in?!?
John the Baptist said to these Pharisees, 'God can bring up from these stones the [children] of Abraham'. And maybe you're trusting in your Christian home, or the fact that you've been brought up in the Iron Hall -- I don't know what is, but listen, for God's sake listen! You need to come to Him yourself. Someone said to me recently, 'You know I don't know what keeps me back'. This was a dying woman, and I asked her, you know, dying, 'What have you got to lose?' She hadn't alcohol to give up, she hadn't the fags* to give up. But then I said, 'Well maybe it's this: relying on yourself'. It's a hard thing to give your whole life up to somebody else, isn't it? But you know what it is? And I'm speaking to both Christians and non-Christians right now, it's this: it is letting the executioner take your arms, clasp them together and lead you up the hill of Golgotha, and take an old hammer and rusty nails and bang them into your hands, and let you hang on a cross -- it means to die to yourself! For Christian friend, unless you die to yourself you'll never know the blessing of God, never. You might know a smittering of it.
Let me say this, I've much more to say to you but I'm not going to go on and on, but let's look at this: the third evangelist, Luke, tells us that when this incident happened it says that Jesus as He was looking to heaven and praying, the heavens opened. I think that's lovely, I'm glad he recorded that: that Jesus was praying. I believe that He was praying that He might receive the Holy Ghost in the way that He needed to for the ministry that was ahead of Him, because His prayer was answered as soon as He came up out of the water -- and every prayer of Jesus was answered. But while he was yet speaking, the heavens opened and the Holy Ghost came down. Do you pray for the Holy Ghost? Do you? Now I know that you were given the Holy Ghost when you were saved -- don't worry, I haven't lost my way you know. But I know this: that some of us are stuck between Calvary and Pentecost. And some of us, God forgive us, think that the rapture has already taken place and the Holy Spirit's gone away -- and perhaps He has from some of us. But He is here, as He was at Pentecost! He has come! Do you pray for Him? Do you pray that you might be filled with Him? I'm talking about the fullness of the Holy Spirit, not some charismatic thing, I'm talking about the biblical fullness of God in your life, for serving Him, for living for Him. For Jesus said, 'If ye then being evil know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Heavenly Father give the Holy Ghost to them that ask Him'. Well, do you? Do you ask Him?
Oh, will nothing teach us to pray, all the examples in the world, all the promises that are ours within the word of God, all our needs, all our cares, all our distresses -- they can't teach us to pray. And in our hopeless depravity, there is such a dearth in our hearts that we can't be brought to God, we can't come to Him in prayer. That's why the prayer meeting is the lowest attended meeting in this fellowship -- it's general, it's all over -- that's why. Because it's the 'Cinderella' of the church, Leonard Ravenhill says this, 'Because it's not dripping with the pearls of intellectualism, nor the glamorous silks of philosophy, neither is she enchanting with the tiara of psychology. She wears the home-spuns of sincerity and humility, and so is not afraid to kneel'. You'll not get your ears tickled at the prayer meeting, that's for sure. You'll not get anything for your reputation by being seen at the prayer meeting. But you'll get God, you'll get God. Who is it that said, and I've quoted this before, 'Come on a Sunday morning and you'll see the popularity of the church. Come on Sunday evening and you'll see the popularity of the preacher, that they'll come back and listen again. Come on a Friday night* and you'll see the popularity of God'.
*to the prayer meeting
My friends, I hope you don't perceive me as beating you with a big stick. But if you want to get somewhere with God in this fellowship, get out to the prayer meeting, get on your knees at home and you know what will happen? If you pray, and you pray for the blessing of God and you pray for the Holy Ghost to come in fire and power upon the Iron Hall and upon your life, it will happen! And the Dove will come, and He will rest upon you. E.M. Bounds -- and I finish with this quote -- 'No erudition, no purity of diction, no wealth of mental outlook, no flowers of elegance, no grace of person can atone for lack of fire. Prayer ascends by fire, flame gives prayer access as well as wings, acceptance as well as energy. There is no incense without fire, no prayer without flame'.
Let's sing our final hymn, 581, and let's not sing it lightly my friends -- for One greater than our brothers and sisters around us can see our hearts. And He knows whether we are singing lies to Him or not. 'All to Jesus I surrender, all to Him I freely give. I will ever love and trust Him, in His presence daily live. All to Jesus I surrender, Lord I give myself to Thee. Fill me with Thy love and power, let Thy blessing fall on me'. Let's sing the first, the fourth and the last verse of 581, standing: [Hymn]
Let us bow our heads, and let me say this: that every meeting where the word of God is preached, there is potential for someone to be saved. And you're maybe here, and God has spoken to you about those years, silent they may be. And God has said, 'Thou fool', and you want to trust Him now, or you want to rededicate your wasted youth to Him again, or Christian -- you want to wise up and you want to quit pushing the plough and looking back, and back, and back; but going all out for Christ. For there's nothing else that will see the blessing of God in your life. And many of you know, like I know -- I'm not speaking like I say, as Paul said 'Not that I have attained' -- but many of you know a dissatisfaction with your Christian life. Well ask God to come in and to fill you, surrender all to Him. Our Father we thank Thee for this time and for the word of God that is so powerful to the dividing of very bone and marrow. And it's cutting us Lord, now, but Lord help us not to resist the sacrificial knife. But help us to lie down and present our bodies a living sacrifice. Lord help anyone who is striving with Thee at this moment in salvation, and bring them to Thee. Part us now with Thy blessing, in Jesus name. Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the fifth tape in his Man Of The Millennium series, titled "The Baptism Of Christ" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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