Remember what John’s purpose was? He was the voice crying out in the wilderness, he was the one preparing the way of the Lord. So put yourself in his sandals for a moment. Here you are working away, doing whatever you can to prepare people for the arrival of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. You are preaching a message of repentance so that they might receive life and forgiveness in Christ alone. And one day as you are doing this work, as you are baptizing many in the Jordan River, you look up and walking out into the water to meet you, to be baptized by you, is Jesus. He is the spotless Lamb of God, he is the hope of Israel, he is the Messiah, why is he standing in waters of repentance? Why does he insist one being baptized for repentance, what could he possibly have to repent of? John tries to stop him, but Jesus quiets him insisting that this must be done to fulfill all righteousness.
When our Lord enters into those waters on that day its more than just a surprising turn of events, he reveals something about the depth of our sin. He reveals to you and to me the depravity of mankind’s bondage. When he requires John to baptize him so that righteousness can be fulfilled he puts into sharp focus the reality of our struggle for salvation and the true nature of our relationship with God. In fact I think we could say that this simple act is the moment when the true battle of our eternal life comes to the fore.
We hear John’s message, we hear the call for repentance and it really resounds with us. This word of John seems to give us something to do, something that we can control, something within our power – if we can do anything at all we can at least repent. So we heed John’s warning and we begin in earnest our acts of repentance.
But how far do we have to go? How complete does our repentance need to be? I mean at some point if our receiving of the kingdom of heaven depends on our repentance we need to make sure we get this right. As we dig into our own hearts and minds and begin to clean out our dark secrets and present ourselves as repentant before our Lord will we clean out all of it? What if we miss a spot, what if we choose not to look in some areas? And this of course assumes that we even know what our sins are, I mean of course we know what the big ones are but what about the little ones, the ones that no one really even notices; do we need to repent of those as well? Do we just have to say the words or do we really have to feel it? All of a sudden we aren’t all that sure. And our desire to do just a little bit, to at least just repent isn’t giving us much confidence. Isn’t this the great and haunting worry when we are faced with suicide with those we love? We wonder if they will be saved, and why – why do we wonder that? Because they haven’t been able to repent of this great sin of taking their own life.
So how can we ever be sure? The only assurance we have, the only confidence we find is when our Lord steps into the water. See, he knows that depth of our sinfulness, he doesn’t leave any part of your salvation up to your own working. John hesitates, he knows that Jesus has nothing to repent of, but Jesus knows that for righteousness to be fulfilled, for your righteousness to be made sure he must repent. In fact he is the only one that can truly repent for every sin of thought, word and deed.
He who knew no sin will saturate himself in your sin, he soaks it in in those waters, and with your sin he invites the punishment that is promised to come with them! Here we see the depth of his love for you, here is the length he will go to set you free from bondage to sin. And filled with the Spirit from above embracing your sins the heavens open up and we hear the Father’s voice, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
What a gift, what love, what righteousness fulfilled for you!