Posts Tagged With: christianity

Baptism of Jesus, pt. 3 (Fulfill All Righteousness)


Matthew 3:13-15  “Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John.  But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”  Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.”  Then John consented.


Why is Jesus so adamant about being baptized and exactly what did he mean when he said his reason was “to fulfill all righteousness”?

ImageAdditionally, this interaction during this baptism scene is only recorded by Matthew; the other gospel authors don’t even mention it. Why not?

The answer to this, simply put, was that Matthew was writing to a Jewish audience and they, unlike the Gentile audience being addressed by the other two synoptic writers (Mark and Luke) would be very confused as to why this Messiah would need to undergo baptism; a cleansing rite. Therefore Matthew goes into the details for their comprehension and he quotes Jesus’ stated reason as needing to be baptized “to fulfill all righteousness”.

Those Jewish readers, having the extensive background in Old Testament history and symbolism that they did, would then be able to make connections that Jesus’ life and ministry was to fulfill the Old Testament predictions, prophecies, and foreshadows they’d known and heard since childhood.

Very often Jesus spoke of these concepts related to himself and his arriving kingdom. The definitive example of this occurred on the Road to Emmaus (Lk.24) when the newly risen (and mysteriously unrecognized) Christ walked along with two down-trodden disciples, giving them a startling and concentrated Master’s level “survey class” on the Christological focus of the Old Testament culminating in his death and resurrection.

Let’s not mistake this, for the Jewish readers would have been confused indeed.

So while John the Baptist’s message to the teeming crowds was to repent and be baptized, the Messiah Jesus did not need to repent, and therefore his act of participating in this signifying rite of cleansing was for a different reason altogether: It was “to fulfill all righteousness”.

And, as it turned out, all the previous sacrifices and attempts at achieving righteousness for God were only effective in that they pointed towards Jesus’ sacrifice, and his application of his righteousness on our behalf.

Matthew gets to the heart of this in his gospel. The word translated fulfill, the Greek word “pleroo”, is the same word used by Matthew sixteen times in his gospel biography, mostly related to messianic fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies.  This word is most interesting as it appears in 5:17 where Jesus explains he did not come to abolish the Law and Prophets but rather to fulfill them.

Retrospectively, we’ve come to understand that this term “Law and Prophets” is a synecdoche; a part representing the whole.  Of the whole Old Testament, in this instance, as it all related to Jesus and his embodiment and fulfillment of all prophecies, symbols, and foreshadows that pointed towards the future purification and righteousness that would only come from him by way of his death on our behalf.

This is why Jesus insisted on being baptized! It was for those lost and helpless crowds, for you, for me; for all of us who need Christ to make us righteous in God’s sight since we cannot do any of it ourselves.


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Baptism of Jesus pt.2 (Declaration of Approval and Delight)


Luke 3:22 “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased”


This Luke 3 baptism passage gives us a glimpse into the true richness of the Father’s love for His beloved Son. As Jesus arises from the water, he audibly hears these striking words of affirmation: “You are my son, whom I love, with you I am well pleased” (vs.22). This phrase is spring-loaded with implications and applications. Notice the following:

baptism-affirmationFIRST, the most obvious is the eternal loving relationship of the Father and Son, and how they interact with one another in unity to accomplish their eternal purposes for the universe, the created order, and even mankind’s redemption. Certainly one of the purposes of this declaration of approval was to motivate and stimulate our Lord to faithful perseverance, as he was propelled directly into his forty days of testing in the desert immediately afterwards.

Imagine the loneliness and disconnection he might have felt otherwise without the timely reminder of that deep Fatherly love.

Can it be any accident that these very same words are spoken to Jesus up at the Mount of Transfiguration (Mt 17:5, etc, also 2Pet 1:17) at the tail end of his public ministry, right before his final journey towards the cross?

SECOND, implicit in these words of affirmation are ramifications for we who are “in Christ” (2 Cor 5) as well. Due to the application of the work of our Lord Jesus on our behalf (on the cross), we too become the recipients of the extensiveness of this adoring love and delight of God. In a sense, indeed all mankind, due to common grace, are loved. But those “in Christ” do experience the new life in all its fullness which includes the application of this Fatherly love towards his adopted sons/daughters; you and me.

THIRD, less noticeable, and quite surprising, is the timing of God’s declaration of approval here in these gospel baptism narratives. What is shocking, then, is not the CONTENT of The Father’s words but rather the TIMING.

Consider this: When the Father broke open the sky and pronounced to the universe (in our hearing) those words of approval and delight, Jesus had not even begun his public ministry. No public miracles or healings yet. Nope, Jesus hadn’t even begun his public ministry. Let’s permit this thought to sink in deeply!

The ramifications of this concept to our understanding of God’s grace as well as to our relationship and position “in Christ” are really enormous:

Unfortunately, our fallen human nature does not comprehend this on our own.  People across time have become very used to trying to earn other people’s approval and respect, and we therefore erroneously superimpose that view onto God. Subsequently, so much of religion throughout all millennia, across all continents and cultures, and deeply embedded into the flawed human heart is a false notion that we can only get God’s approval and love by our good works; our behavior as well as our religious traditions and rituals. But this is not accurate at all, and we can see why here in this passage.

The timing of the words of delight and approval come before the works have even begun. Wow!

How amazing the riches of God’s love and delight on His Son Jesus and on his sons/daughters adopted by grace, above and beyond (and often in spite of) our feeble efforts in trying to please God due to our own merits and attempts.


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Baptism Of Jesus pt.1 (The Trinity)


Matthew 3:16-17  After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water ; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him, and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.”   (read also cf. Mk 1:9-11, Lk 3:21-22, Jn 1:31-34)


Trinity-560x560The foundational concept of the Trinity, which wasn’t specifically named until many years later, is very clearly, though mysteriously, in glorious display here at Jesus’ Baptism.  Our God, the God of the Bible, is not to be simplistically identified in any modalistic or any other (subsequently discredited) reductionistic framework.  Instead, in this Matthew 3 passage, and echoed across all four gospel narratives, the Trinity is evident:  God is one, there are three distinct persons of the godhead, and they work together in unity to accomplish God’s good purposes throughout eternity.

In the baptismic scene captured in these gospel narratives, each individual person of the Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) has a distinctly separate and yet simultaneous activity.  Packed into this dynamic narrative is a great deal of concise theological information, for at the moment Jesus comes up from the water, there is…

  • The Father– speaking words of affirmation and approval to the Son (more on this  in part 2).
  • The Son– willingly fulfilling all righteousness by being baptized (more on this in part 3).
  • The Holy Spirit– descending from the sky/heaven in bodily form, lighting upon Jesus, and signifying to John Baptist (by “remaining on him”) that Jesus is indeed the One whom history has been desperately waiting for; the Messiah.

In this baptismal scene at the Jordan River, the Holy Spirit took on the form of a dove.  This dove image is packed with important concepts for us to discover.  First, the dove is symbolic in biblical imagery referring to peace.  Second, the dove was the very poorest Jewish family’s sacrifice for sin (as they could not afford any other animal for sacrifice).  Third, the dove was the very item being sold in the Temple Courts by the moneychangers which infuriated our Lord so much upon arriving in Jerusalem.

In the Mark account of our Lord’s Baptism (1:9-11), Mark describes heaven as being “TORN open”; Mark writes using the Greek word “schizo” which means to be split into two and this was the very same word used later in Mk 15:38 of the veil of the Temple being violently ripped in half at the precise moment of Christ’s death on the cross … as he cried out, “It is finished”.

All three persons of the Trinity are at play here to launch Jesus’ public ministry, and all three persons of the Trinity always act in unity to accomplish God’s good purposes throughout eternity.

There is a lot that’s mysterious and unknown about all this, but the bit that we do know, much of it we get from these passages on our Lord’s Baptism.


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Epiphany #2: The Great Equalizer

Luke 2:22-24  2 When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord” ), 24 and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”


The gospel is the great equalizer: No matter one’s racial, cultural, or socioeconomic background, regardless of gender, geographical or religious heritage, Jesus Christ completely levels the playing field by his grace.

Adoration of the Magi and Shepherds (Canterbury)

Adoration of the Magi and Shepherds (Canterbury)

Not one of us can brag of our fame, prominence, attractiveness, talent, church affiliation, economic independence, self-acclaimed righteousness. No, each comes equally to the one who both humbles and then elevates us to glory by his compelling grace.  Notice the three completely distinct groups within the birth narratives.

In the Matthew 2 account, we read of the first group, the visiting Magi who’ve traveled a long distance to come and worship the Christ. These distinguished leaders were very rich, powerful, prominent; most likely they were upper-level leaders of a religious priestly caste from Persia.  Many would be impressed with their lavish gifts and splendor.

In the Luke 2 account, we read of a second group, lower class shepherds who were tending the fields by night.  But unlike the Magi, these men weren’t wealthy or notable; instead they were working-class poor, likely disheveled and dusty; not quite dressed for church. Many wouldn’t want to be bothered by their presence.

And of course we must remember the third group, the young and unwed couple, Joseph and Mary.  They who were most likely publicly shamed (at least initially) by their offensive situation obviously didn’t have any social clout or connections: They couldn’t even line up a room for the birth; no room in the inn!  Nor did they possess any financial means: They were so poor that when they came to present the baby Jesus at the Temple for the rite of consecration/circumcision (Luke 2:22-24), they were only able to give the lowest gift possible; the poverty offering. Two small birds.

Such a wide array of people in these three groups, but they had so much in common. All three groups saw, heard, and believed the angelic message of glorious redemption: That God on earth in human form came to bring salvation and deliverance. So the Magi, the shepherds, Joseph and Mary, and so many more, worshiped the Christ.

The gospel is the great equalizer.


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The Manifestation of Glory: The Epiphany and the Magi

Matthew 2:10-11 “When they say that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.  On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they knelt down and paid him homage.  Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”


When God manifests himself incarnated in Jesus Christ, the only appropriate response is a deep soul-shaking life-altering worship!

[Epiphany means “manifestation“. In the historic Church, it is a recognition of the divine manifestation of God in Jesus Christ as witnessed by the Magi. The Western Church celebrates this Epiphany with a yearly feast on January 6.]

epiphany the magi mt2jpgThese Magi from the East (likely Persia) were distinguished leaders from outside nations. Quite obviously they were experts in astronomy and (interestingly) were also aware of God’s covenantal promise of the coming Messiah. So they cleared their calendars, dropped their existing plans, and allowed this disruption to commandeer their current circumstances.

More importantly, these Magi came to worship the Christ-child; the “king of the Jews” (vs.2). And upon arriving, they worshiped emphatically. The text tells us in vs.10 literally that they “rejoiced exceedingly-exceedingly with mega great joy!” (double emphasis intended).

Not only that, but the gifts that the Magi presented to Christ (the Greek word “doron” translated gifts is also used in Mt 5 – the offering placed on an altar and later in Heb 5 and 8 – the gifts/sacrifices performed by a priest) have strong symbolic significance as well.

Gold represents kingship. Frankincense (incense) represents priesthood. Myrrh, an embalming ointment, represents death. Within these gifts, we recognize the multi-faceted work of our Lord Jesus: He is our KING, he is also our Priest who performed sacrifice on our behalf, and he himself IS the Sacrifice who gave his own life on the cross in our place.

And let’s not miss the surprising aspect of this Epiphany visit of the Magi for they were “outsiders” to the Jewish religious system and were from other nations.

But this too was God’s design for from the beginning of the covenant promise (seed form Gen 3, more clearly in Gen 12, 15, 17, 22, etc.) we read of God’s promise to bless ALL peoples/nations/tribes through Abraham -> David -> Jesus, who is the ultimate fulfillment of the promise.

So now, in Christ, none are outsiders, none are excluded due to background, race, national or geographical heritage. God has appeared in Christ to fulfill these promises to all! And at the end of time, the vision of John in Rev 5:9 will indeed come to ultimate fulfillment where Jesus Christ, our Lamb, slain on our behalf will have “purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.

Worship him! For in Epiphany, we remember God manifested himself to us in Christ, our Lord.


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Advent #6: The Glorious Replacement

Luke 2:14  “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”


The glorious arrival of Christ signals the necessary departure of self. The kingship of HE must replace the kingship of me (and of we).

luke 2 angelic host gloryThe kingly glory of Jesus Christ, this glorious majesty of God, shined brightly in indescribable splendor and brilliance, and it trumpeted his arrival by birth at Bethlehem to those unsuspecting shepherds that day. “Glory to God in the highest”, the angelic host proclaimed.

The Greek word “doxa”, translated glory, has a definition that of the “kingly majesty of the Messiah”, and this is also the root of our liturgical term “doxology” (literally glory-sayings) regarding Christ.

This word “doxa” is also used in many places of note in scripture: For instance, this glory is the same astounding and transformative kingly glory that the apostles Peter, James, and John witnessed at Jesus’ transfiguration (all 3 synoptic gospels), as well as the same glory of Christ, our lamb slain on our behalf, later witnessed in vision by the Apostle John in Revelation.

And today, Dec. 26th, St. Stephen’s Day, we’re reminded from the book of Acts that after Stephen preached to the religious leadership (Sanhredrin) on the death of Jesus, the people responded by angrily roaring out to stone him to death. But before being killed, filled with the Holy Spirit, Stephen looked up to Heaven and saw this same “doxa” glory of God with Jesus at his Father’s right hand (Acts 7:55) giving Stephen the peace and inspiration to let go and forgive his murderers, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them”.

Sound familiar?

Glory creates a paradigm shift towards mercy and grace.


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Not Alone

Isaiah 7:14  Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.


The name Immanuel means “God with us”.

Implied in this is that there was a time (and still seems to be many times) when it feels like God was not (and is not) with us. That we’re all alone.

immanuel-isa-7-14But this is not true. Even when we “feel” alone, experientially, we can know that we are not alone at all.

There was that moment in time, prophecied here in Isaiah 7 (and then reiterated years later in the gospel of Matthew 1:23), when God would indeed prove this to all creation.  When God the Son willingly came to our earth to incarnationally live among us and to sacrificially give his life for us; on our behalf.

And Jesus remains with us. He continues to teach, lead, comfort, convict, and love us by and with his Holy Spirit.

So maybe you’re a college freshman away from home for the very first time, or maybe a stressed-out middle-aged dad or mom, or maybe you’ve recently been torn by a painful divorce; maybe you’re one struggling to overcome cancer or another terrifying disease, maybe a senior who has lost a spouse, who misses children who live miles away, or one who is simply afraid of dying, possibly even afraid of living!  And maybe you feel all alone in your struggle or pain.

So to each and every one of us, remember this good word:  Immanuel. It is to remind us that we are not alone.  …

God with US!


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Advent #4: From Humble Beginnings

Micah 5:2  2 “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times. “


Since we get so enthralled with the newest/biggest/loudest (and this spills over into our spiritual lives), we find it intensely difficult to wait, to settle for less, or to find beauty in the small, slow, or seemingly insignificant things, places, or people.

But here in Micah’s prophecy, we read a clue that this is exactly what people were to expect in the coming Messiah. And later in the gospels, we learn that Jesus was indeed born into the most humble of parents and circumstances. Not what people expected.

And so, while his deeds and words revealed truth and power, many rejected him outright; while others, eventually.

bethlehem micah 5-2The Christmas hymn/carol ‘O Little town of Bethlehem’, along with the “kenosis” (self-emptying) passage in Paul’s letter to the Philippians (2:5-11) should remind us that beauty, majesty, and royalty can and does indeed come from something small and unexpected.

From the bumble podunk village of Bethlehem (which literally translates from the Hebrew as “house of bread”) bursts forth the royal one himself; Jesus the Messiah, the ruler, the eternal one from everlasting.

And our Jesus, who self-identifies himself as THE “bread of life” (Jn 6:35), who was born in that Bethlehem (that “house of bread”), offers you and me not a small morsel of bread crumb, but instead offers himself fully; broken on the cross, and then resurrected as our glorious ruler and king.

Not what anyone expected, but exactly what everyone needs and, deep down, longs for.


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Advent #3: From The Darkness, Light!

Isaiah 9:2  The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.


deep-darkness-light-isa9-2Not just any darkness but DEEP darkness; even a “tsalmaveth” darkness which translates from the Hebrew as a “death shadow”. And both of the Hebrew words for darkness here in Isaiah 9:2 are used most of all in the book of Job.

In the familiar Psalm 23, David says confidently and peacefully that “even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil”. David is comforted in the midst of his extreme personal and societal darkness. Also, the Prophet Amos (5:8) used that word “tsalmaveth” when referring to God creating light out of darkness at the very point of creation.

So we do indeed have hope; great hope. In our darkest days, and even in our darkest sins, we (individually and as a community of faith) have the creative life-bringing light of our Lord Jesus who brings us dazzlingly alive by his grace and love.


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Advent #2: Painful Prep Work

Malachi 3:1-3  1 “See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lordyou are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the LORD Almighty. 2 But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can standwhen he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. 3 He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the LORD will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness


refiners fire jpgThe prep work necessary for an upcoming celebration can be exhausting and overwhelming, but it’s necessary.

Same with the Spirit’s sanctifying work in our hearts. We don’t always welcome it and often, in our lack of humility, rail against it in anger and frustration. Why me? Why us? Why now?

May we receive with repentance and open hearts the coming of our Lord and let Him refine, wash, and shape us to His glory.


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