LET'S ALL GO DOWN TO THE RIVER
Today, we will continue looking at the Gospel of Matthew. While only two of the Gospels (Matthew and Luke) tell us about the birth of Jesus, all four tell us about a man known as John the Baptist who is baptizing. Each Gospel has the ministry of Jesus beginning at the Jordan River. Saint Cyril of Jerusalem was quoted as saying: "Water is at the origin of the world, the Jordan is at the origin of the Gospels." When I traveled to Israel a few years ago I got to see the Jordan River. The group I was with was taken to "the baptismal site." Once we were there we were told that this was not the site in which Jesus was baptized. We were not allowed to travel to the real site. Guess what the "baptismal site" really is? Yes, it is a tourist trap.
O.K., since each of the four gospels tell us about John the Baptist I will not say everything about him that needs to be said here in our look at Matthew. I'll say more about him in our studies of Mark and Luke. What I really want to look at this morning is the baptism of Jesus.
"Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John." (Matthew 3:13) Through the years I have been asked the question: "Why was Jesus baptized?" Folks can not fathom why Jesus should have been baptized since he was without sin. We are told that John the Baptist is at the Jordan baptizing. Even though I have a lot to say about John later, I have to say at this point that John is perhaps the last of the prophets. He comes to us looking very similar to the prophet Isaiah. John, in Matthew's account, tries to prevent Jesus from being baptized. Why? Because he was baptizing with "water for repentance." (Matthew 3:11) People were coming to John "from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins..." (Mat. 3:5-6a) So, according to John, and according to many today, Jesus did not need to be baptized.
Jesus replies to John: "Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness." (Matthew 3:15) We will discover something amazing in each account of the baptism of Jesus. Each author wants us to see something. And, again, they were not giving four variations of the same account because just like if you have four witnesses to a car accident they will each give a different account. NOOOOOO!!! That is not how we got four Gospels! No, Matthew wants us to understand the messiah in a certain way. Just as Mark, Luke and John want us to see the Messiah in a certain way. In the end we get a very complex view of the messiah, reminding us that Jesus is far more than we can ever make him to be. So why was Jesus baptized according to Matthew? According to Jesus, it was to "fulfill all righteousness."
What did Jesus mean? Well, it was enough for John, as he consented. We are going to discover that in each gospel there is a favorite term or word used by each author. Each word says something about what they are trying to say. Matthew's favorite word is the word "righteous" or "righteousness." This word appears over and over in Matthew, much more than in any other gospel. What does "righteousness" mean for Mathew? For Matthew, behavior matters. According to Matthew, one must do the right thing. Righteousness for Matthew means right conduct, correct observance in accordance to God's will as revealed in scripture. So, for Matthew baptism is obedience to God. But, wait, there's more.
Long ago we read where God made covenants with Abraham. At first God made the covenant and Abraham just stood back and said, "Thank You God, for all that you do." Then God said, "O.K., Abraham, you're turn." (I'm paraphrasing badly) God called for Abraham to be a participant in the covenant. You may remember what it was...yes, it pains me to say the word...circumcision. Abraham was to circumcise all the males. This was to be done from generation to generation. We discovered that some generations failed to keep the covenant. I would propose that one of the things Jesus is doing here is establishing a new covenant in which baptism enters us into the covenant relationship.
Oh, but wait...there's even more! (and more and more and...) I have already said that Matthew was written to a Jewish-Christian community. What would have been important to them? Well, the law...yes, and it will be an important topic for Matthew. Moses...yes, and he will be an important figure for Matthew. What about the Exodus? Oh, yes...The crossing of the Jordan into the Promised Land? Oh, yes...Do you remember back in Joshua where the people crossed the Jordan? Then they were to place rocks in the middle of the Jordan to commemorate their crossing. Do you want to guess where archeologists and historians believe Jesus was baptized? Oh, yes...right there in that spot. Hmm...could it have been that Jesus was acting out the exodus and entrance into the Promised Land? I believe so. But, yes...you guessed it...there's more. But, we'll wait until Monday. You will not want to miss it!
Speaking of baptism, this Sunday immediately following our worship service (with holy communion) we will have a baptism...and at the river. I invite you to join us. Have a great day! -Pastor Rick