Let Us Fulfill All Righteousness

Written by Joel on January 9th, 2011

Jan 9, 2011
Baptism of the Lord
Matthew 3:13-17


Baptism of the Lord 2011

Opening: Unfit for horse camp.

Have you ever felt like you weren’t good enough for a particular task or job? Something that was just too big for you to handle. Maybe because you didn’t have the right kind of training or experience. When I was 19 years old, the summer between my second and third years of college I was given such a task. A man from the church I was attending offered me a summer job – to be an instructor and counselor at a Christian horse camp. No, not a camp for Christian horses. It was a Church camp where horseback riding was also involved. There was chapel ever morning, riding practice, and a show at the end of the week. That sounded like alot of fun. The only problem though, I didn’t know anything about horses; and I would be teaching kids how to ride? I was completely inadequately prepared for the job. I started a few weeks before the campers would arrive. The camp director took hours each day teaching me how to care for horses, how to ride, and how to teach others to ride. I also met my lovely wife Katie there (who actually did have a clue about horses) – she filled in the gaps and taught me everything I know about horses. It turned out to be a great summer. I got to play cowboy for about 15 weeks; I worked with a pretty high-enger horse named Shadow and turned him into something great by the end of the season. Where I thought was lacking for this task, simply needed to be filled with the help of another.

Today we remember the baptism of our Lord at the Jordan by John.

John is the voice calling in the wilderness “Prepare ye the way of the Lord.” He was a homeless man who wore clothes made of camel hair; he ate loctus and wild honey. And yet he caught the attention of the people from Jerusalem, all of Judea and the region of the Jordan. He preached a baptism of repentance, and many flocked to him to confess their sins and make paths straight for the Lord. He warned those that came to him under false pretenses that this baptism was serious business. John did not preach for himself, but for the one who would come after him. John declared to all who would listen “I baptize you with water for repentance, but after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”

And then that day came. The one who is greater than him finally came. The one whose sandals John was unworthy to carry. Perhaps John thought Jesus was coming to take over his job. Or perhaps John thought that Jesus would come to make complete the baptism that John was already performing; even to make him complete by finally experiencing the baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire which was the core of his message. And so John is caught off guard who Jesus, the Christ, the source of his preaching would come to him to be baptized. And so he objected. He said that he was not worthy, that he ought to be the one baptized by Jesus; not the other way around!

I have been learning to cook lately. I mean real cooking, not from a box or can. I mean from scratch. Stocks, cream soups, caseroles, pancakes; I turning into a fairly good cook if I do say so myself. I think Katie would agree. But I pale in comparison to the master chefs. Jesus asking John to baptize him would be like Emrile Lagasse coming over to my place for dinner some evening. I would object too: “No way Emrile, you should be cooking for me, BAM!” (for those who don’t follow the chef, it is is famous catch phrase).

What might it mean when scripture tells us that (v.14) John tried to deter him. And how does one deter God? Certainly people have tried over the years. Jonah running to Tarshish when God told him to go to Ninevah; but God was not deterred. John was not trying to deter God in the sense that he was attempting to interupt his plans, or thwart his will. John hesistated because he didn’t think it was right, or proper, or righteous to do this. John had a clear understanding of who Christ was; even when he was in the womb he leapt for joy in the presence of Jesus. And so John did not feel in his right place to perform this act. Put yourself in John’s shoes – how would you feel if someone asked you to baptize them.

By the way, it has been the tradition of the church that anyone can perform a baptism. So long as there is water, the intent to be baptized, and the Trinitarian formula, a baptism is valid. The one performing the baptism doesn’t have to be Christian, doesn’t even have to believe in God. Certainly the honor of performing a baptism is most often given to the pastor of the church, but there is no theological reason that it must be so. Yes in our way of thinking we get caught up in proper roles, and who ought to do what; the same dilema that faced John.

This is the act by which Christ chooses to begin his public ministry, for whatever reason – remaining a mystery of the faith for us to contemplate to this day. In comforting John’s hesitation, Jesus says in verse 15 “Let us do this to fulfill all righteousness.”

Christ says this baptism will fulfill all righteousness. Throughout Matthew’s Gospel that word, fulfill, is used in the sense of fulfilled prophecies. In the old testament prophecies were uttered and yet did not come to pass; they were unfulfilled. They were empty, something was left lacking. We might also think of the word in the sense of completeness – God makes righteousness complete.

And Christ says “let us…fulfill all righteousness.” Baptism is not an individual act, it is an act of the whole church by the whole church. Jesus here invited John to work with him in this act of grace. Jesus uses John to fulfill all righteousness; even though he was unworthy to carry sandals, even though he was the voice the preached the one to come; even though he felt inadequate – here in a profound way Jesus uses John to fulfill righteousness. It is my belief that God continues to use us to fulfill righteousness, and we will not deter God.

We may feel inadquate in our spiritual journey. We may think “I couldn’t tell anyone about the Gospel – I’m not an evangelist.” “I couldn’t possibly bring the good news to a congregation on a Sunday morning – I’m not a preacher.” “I couldn’t go on a mission trip – I’m not a missionary.” “I couldn’t be an elder – am I really all that wise?” “I couldn’t be a deacon – I’m unfit to serve.” “I couldn’t be the solo pastor of a church fresh out of seminary, will I be good enough?” Well, if all these things were solely up to us we might be right to question, we might be right to deter God. But it is God at work in us, fulfilling all righteousness. God will seek and use you to fulfill all righteousness. Don’t try to deter him.


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