There are many frustrations involved in being an Australian cricket fan in this country. Many more in recent years! But one of the biggest frustrations is the fact that in the middle of an international test series to decide the number one team in the world, the sports news in this country seems more concerned about the off-season exploits of club football. Why? Transfer deals. Every club wants to find a man who will turn their fortunes around. They scour the world trying to find the man who will bring them glory, who will lift the trophies, who will win them the silverware. And they pay millions of pounds to secure this man.
But of course it’s a myth. There isn’t one footballer who can really do all that. But football fans pretend and hope against hope and spend ludicrous amounts of money, and take up all the column inches in the newspapers.
It’s a myth that one man can turn it all around, but imagine it works. Imagine they discover the man who will raise the club to fresh heights. He scores in every game, he takes them to the FA Cup final, he scores the winning goal in the dying seconds of the match. And you’re there in the crowd. And all season – even pre-season – he’s been your man, you’ve always trusted in him, you’ve always believed that he would be the one. And you’re there in the crowd and everyone is going crazy, and he runs to the sideline, right where you are, and lifts his arms and makes a gesture like “This is for you.” And you’re bellowing you celebrations to him, and you’re hugging total strangers, but you’re all on the same team, you’re all united IN the one man. You are united TO your champion. His victory is your victory, and you celebrate as though you had scored the winning goal. You haven’t scored the winning goal. You haven’t expended a calorie of effort in the victory, but your man has done it and you share in his glory.
That’s how Christians feel about Jesus. He is the one man, the one man who comes to reverse our fortunes, the one man who steps forward to defeat all the powers we could never defeat. The one man who wins victory and then shares His victory with we who believe in Him. He is our Champion, and we need to understand that about Jesus.
That’s what tonight is about. Tonight we’re thinking about Jesus our Champion.
And we’re going to do that by thinking about the baptism of Jesus. It’s right at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. It’s pre-season if you like. But here is the first event in Jesus’ public life. Here is the thing that launches Jesus onto the world stage. And every element of His baptism screams “Jesus is our Champion.” He comes into a hopeless situation and turns everything around.
First let’s think of our hopeless situation.
Here are Our Problems. First, we’re unsettled.
I don’t just mean we’ve got an upset stomach, I’m talking about the problem of exile.
Matthew’s Gospel begins with the genealogy of Jesus. And if you flip back to Matthew chapter 1 and verse 17:
17 Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Christ.
The exile was when the people were booted out of the promised land as a judgement from God. It was a physical representation of a spiritual truth. Spiritually the people were far from God, and God expelled them from the land as a picture of that truth.
But here in Matthew 1, the people are in back in the land. Physically speaking they’re home. But Matthew tells us, spiritually – they’re still in exile. The exile has been continuing right up until Christ. Christ is the one who truly ends the exile. He’s the One who truly leads people back to the Father.
And now in Matthew 3, there’s a movement of people who are aware of that. And that movement is lead by John the Baptist. Read verses 1-3:
In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea 2 and saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near." 3 This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: "A voice of one calling in the desert,`Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.'"
John was prophesied in the Old Testament. And the quotation from Isaiah here is taken from Isaiah 40, in which the prophet speaks of the time when the exile would truly end. The exile would truly end when a Voice calls out in the desert and prepares the way for the LORD. John is the Voice. Who then is the LORD?
Jesus! Jesus is the LORD. He is the One who ends the exile.
And so lots of people gathered around John excited that the LORD was coming. And what do they do to prepare for the coming of Christ? They get baptised in the Jordan River.
Now the Jordan River was the border you crossed if you wanted to enter Israel. So essentially what are these Israelites saying? They’re saying, we’re not properly Israel. We may be back in the land, but we haven’t really returned to God. We want to come home spiritually to God because we know we’re spiritually exiled.
And if that’s them, what about us? We are exiled from God in an even deeper sense than Israelites in Babylon. We are far from God. And very often we feel it, we feel spiritually unsettled. We are not at home with God. But that’s a terrifying thing, because this IS God’s home. How can we not be at home with God, when we live in God’s world.
We are like Adam and Eve driven East of Eden, we are estranged from God. Spiritually uprooted and unsettled.
We’re also unclean. Here’s what people did as they came to John:
Verse 6: Confessing their sins they are washed.
That’s what baptism means, it’s a washing. And these people were saying, I need to wash my life clean. I feel dirty on the inside.
Do you ever feel dirty on the inside? I’ve mentioned before a guy who had made some terrible choices in life saying “I wish I could put my whole life in a washing machine and get it all clean.”
Do you identify with that? I do. These guys did. But this water baptism could only wash them on the outside. John told them, v11 – it’s the coming LORD who will wash you with the Holy Spirit. But without Him we are left feeling very unclean. And unfruitful too.
Here’s a shock. In verse 7, Pharisees and Saducees come to get baptised. These are the best, most morally upright people anybody knows, and John says your goodness is not good enough. And, verse 9, your religious pedigree is not good enough. So what if you’re known as a do-gooder, so what if you’re descended from Abraham – you’re still unfruitful. Notice all the fruit language from v8:
8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. 9 And do not think you can say to yourselves,`We have Abraham as our father.' I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 10 The axe is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
Make no mistake about it – these Pharisees and Saducees were doing lots of good things. But they weren’t producing fruit in keeping with repentance. John is speaking of a counter-intuitive thing. There are people who are really repentant – contrite, humble in heart, who know that they’ve done a million things wrong –counter-intuitively, these people produce really good fruit. On the other hand there are people who think that they are good, and they produce only bad fruit. “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance” says John. But these people weren’t. They were manufacturing a whole pile of dead works. John says, no matter how religious you might be, you have no life in you. Verse 12, you produce only chaff – that’s the husk around the wheat. Insubstantial, worthless, chaff. There’s no spiritual life source in them. There’s no life coming out of them. They’re like a tree that’s only good for firewood.
And when you know that, v7, there IS a coming wrath, it should make you think! Verse 12 the LORD will come with a winnowing fork to test us all. There IS a coming day of judgement. And this should make us sober up.
I am spiritually unsettled, spiritually exiled. By nature I’m not at home with God.
I am spiritually unclean, morally dirty. And I can’t clean myself.
I am spiritually unfruitful. What comes out of me is not life but death.
And John wants us to be in no doubt that we stand under divine condemnation. That’s our problem.
It’s a big problem, wouldn’t you agree?
But once we’ve seen the problem, step forward Our Champion Jesus.
Read verse 13:
Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan...
And you think – uh-oh! Here comes the LORD. Here comes the One John has been preparing for. Here is the LORD who will judge with the winnowing fork in His hand and all that.
And what’s more – they’re all admitting to be sinners. That’s the whole point of the baptism, they’re confessing that they are sinners. And here comes the Judge of the world. What would you do? I’d probably run for the hills. Yikes, He’s here, scarper.
But look how verse 13 continues:
Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptised by John.
I hope you agree, that is stunning! We’ve had this big build up all about the LORD judging sinners and what does He do? He joins the sinners. He gets “numbered among the transgressors” as the old prophecy from Isaiah said (53:12). He joins the queue of sinners and the Jordan River. He jumps to the head of the queue and He gets baptised.
What’s going on? The LORD sees us perishing in our unsettledness, our uncleanness, our unfruitfulness, and He doesn’t zap us with judgements. And He doesn’t lecture us from the river bank. He joins us. And He goes through the waters at our Head. Isn’t that stunning?
It stuns John.
14 But John tried to deter him, saying, "I need to be baptised by you, and do you come to me?"
That’s right. Jesus needs to wash us. Why is John washing Jesus? It seems upside down. Verse 15:
15 Jesus replied, "Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfil all righteousness."
Jesus has been fulfilling Old Testament laws and prophecies throughout Matthew’s Gospel. And now Jesus says, there’s an opportunity to fulfil some more of the Old Testament practices. In particular there are five things to be fulfilled.
First of all, Jesus is Israel. Matthew’s Gospel has been showing us this already. You can study chapter 2 and particularly verse 15 later where you’ll see that Jesus is retracing the life and times of Israel and doing it right. He is the true people of God. As King, He represents His people and just as Israel needs to pass through the Jordan River, so Jesus does it as the true Israel.
Secondly, Jesus is 30 years old and Priests are ordained aged 30 (Numbers 4:3). And in the ceremony of ordination they are washed (Leviticus 8:6). So Jesus is being washed as our Priest. He’s being ordained as our Representative before God.
Thirdly, there’s something else that was ritually washed in the Old Testament – sacrifices. In particular it’s the burnt offering – the sacrifice of atonement – that is washed according to Leviticus 1. So here is Jesus our Lamb without blemish, being ceremonially washed and prepared to be our Sacrifice. Jesus is our Substitute before God.
Fourthly, Jesus is, in a sense, crossing the Jordan River at the head of His people. He’s being like Joshua who crossed the Jordan River. Remember Joshua – he took over from Moses and brought the Israelites out of the wilderness, across the Jordan and into the promised land. He brought them rest. So Jesus is being Joshua here – the true Rest-Giver. The One who brings the people into their true home.
Finally, Jesus is like David. David was anointed to be King by Samuel in a ceremony very much like the baptism. And back in 1 Samuel 16 the next thing we read after David was anointed King, he was the people’s champion who felled Goliath for them. And David’s victory was their victory. So that’s the final thing Jesus is fulfilling, He is – like David – the Champion for His people who will go and fight their battles for them, and win.
So that’s Jesus – He HIMSELF is the true people of God, He is our Priest, which makes Him our Representative; He is our Lamb, which makes Him our Substitute; He is our Joshua, which makes Him our Rest-giver; and He is our David, which makes Him our Champion.
And in Matthew 3 we are at the beginning of His ministry. Jesus is about to stride out and do His thing and what does the baptism tell us? It tells us that EVERYTHING we’re about to read is JESUS DOING IT FOR US. Everything Jesus does, He does as our Champion. He does it as the one Man who turns our fortunes around. He is the one Man who fights our battles and wins them for us. Whatever you see Him doing in the Gospels, He’s doing it as our Representative, our Substitute, our Rest-Giver, our Champion. Jesus comes to do life for us.
He comes to the sinners’ convention. He cuts to the head of the queue and He identifies with us in complete solidarity. He steps into our shoes and lives the perfect life FOR US.
And that transforms how we read the Gospels. As we go to Matthew 4 and we see Jesus resisting the temptations of the devil – why is that there in Scripture? Is it there as a Model for how we can defeat the prince of darkness ourselves if we’re as hard-core obedient as Jesus?? Or is this Jesus our Champion, defeating our enemy for us? Of course there are things we can learn from Jesus as He resists the devil. But why is it here in Scripture? Is Jesus basically our Example or basically our Substitute? Is Jesus basically saying “Do it like me.” Or is He basically saying “I’m doing it for you!” The baptism tells you – the whole bible tells you – Jesus is doing it for you. And before you ever think of copying Jesus, FIRST of all you need to know HE’S doing what you don’t do, what you won’t do, what you can’t do and He’s doing it FOR YOU.
It’s not just His death, His whole LIFE is for you. Everything about Jesus is for you. He was baptised FOR YOU, He went into the wilderness FOR YOU, He went into the garden of Gethsemane FOR YOU, He went to the cross FOR YOU, everything He did He did for you.
Here’s how Martin Luther put it. He wrote a tiny little booklet called “A Brief Instruction on What to Look For and Expect in the Gospels”
“The chief article and foundation of the gospel is that before you take Christ as an example, you accept and recognize him as a gift, as a present that God has given you and that is your own. This means that when you see or hear of Christ doing or suffering something, you do not doubt that Christ himself, with his deeds and suffering, belongs to you. On this you may depend as surely as if you had done it yourself; indeed as if you were Christ himself. See, this is what it means to have a proper grasp of the gospel.”
Do you have a proper grasp of the gospel? The gospel is not “Do it like Jesus.” It’s not even “Do it like Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit.” The gospel is Jesus did it for you – sinner that you are. Unsettled, unclean, unfruitful sinner that you are, Jesus did it for you.
How do we benefit from that? Well that’s verse 11. Verse 11 tells us that we have a baptism to undergo. Jesus has offers His own baptism to us. Not just water baptism – baptism of the Holy Spirit.
Here’s how it works – Jesus was baptised into our situation. We can be baptised into His situation. Jesus joined us in solidarity in His baptism. We join Jesus in solidarity in our baptism. He was baptised into our name to walk through life in our shoes. We get baptised into His name to walk through life in His shoes.
And so we really are united to our Champion. We really are connected. His victory really is our victory. His defeat of the devil and of sin and judgement and death itself is our victory. And like the football fans who rejoice in the victory of their champion, a thousand times more, we rejoice in the victory of Jesus.
Look again at the Luther quote. The middle two sentences: “This means that when you see or hear of Christ doing or suffering something, you do not doubt that Christ himself, with his deeds and suffering, belongs to you. On this you may depend as surely as if you had done it yourself; indeed as if you were Christ himself.”
Do you trust Jesus? Do you say to yourself, I can’t take on life, sin gets the better of me, temptation gets the better of me, the devil gets the better of me, and death will certainly get the better of me. But, nevertheless I look to Jesus, He’s the One Man who turns it around, He’s my Champion, I’m banking on Him. Then you have the Holy Spirit. You don’t just have the Holy Spirit – you are baptised in the Holy Spirit. And you belong to Jesus and Jesus belongs to you.
So then, look at verses 16 and 17:
16 As soon as Jesus was baptised, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased."
Who is the Father so pleased with? Who is the Father so pleased with?
Me! Because I belong to Christ and Christ belongs to me. I am IN Jesus and Jesus is IN me. And whatever is said to my Champion applies to me too.
In John 17:23 Jesus is praying to the Father about His followers and He says:
You have loved them even as you have loved me.
If you belong to Jesus, what is the Father’s verdict on you – sinner that you are? “You are my son, you are my daughter, whom I love. With you I am well pleased.” Sinner that you are. But Jesus came for sinners, identified with sinners, stood in our shoes as our Substitute. He lived our life and died our death, to be our Champion.
Feeling unsettled? Until we’re physically with Jesus we will be to an extent. But Jesus walked under an open heaven and so do we. There is NOTHING that excludes us from heaven. The barriers are completely gone. And spiritually we have found our home with God. United to Jesus, the believer is at the Father’s right hand right now. And we’re welcome there.
Feeling unclean? Well we’ll keep sinning till the day we die, and we’ll hate to do it too. But if we belong to Christ, then His verdict belongs to us. He has made satisfaction for our sins. His sacrifice is better than any penance we could do, better than any spiritual sulk we could descend into – there’s no need for that. His Perfect Life is mine and His Perfect Death as a Sacrifice is mine too. Now we God’s verdict: “With YOU I am well pleased.”
Feeling unfruitful? We’re a very mixed bag aren’t we – one minute we say helpful lovely things, the next we’re speaking terrible gossip or hatred. But if we’re Christians, we are branches in the only fruitful Vine there is, Jesus Himself. And as we enjoy our union more and more, we will produce His fruit. We will.
Is Jesus YOUR Champion? If He’s not, you face a cosmic unsettling, cosmic uncleanness, cosmic unfruitfulness and a cosmic judgement to come. I urge you – You are not bigger than sin, or death or judgement. You need a Champion. And tonight Jesus offers Himself to you. Do you trust Him? Call out to Him now, and say “Jesus, I can’t do it myself, I need you. I want to belong to you now and forever, send me your Holy Spirit and bring me IN to the love of the Father.”
If Jesus is your Champion, will you stop treating Him like He’s mainly your example. Come to the bible, come to growth group, come to church seeking to receive JESUS. Don’t first seek what you need to do FOR Jesus, that will come. Seek Jesus Himself – HE IS God’s gift to you – not first and foremost to be copied, but to be trusted, to be received, to be rejoiced in. As Luther says:
“Before you take Christ as an example, accept and recognize him as a gift, as a present that God has given you... Christ Himself belongs to you.” And in Him the Father says “You are my child whom I love, with you I am well pleased.”