Prepare the Way
PREPARING THE WAY
By Mark E. Hardgrove
Text: Matthew 3 (Read: vv. 13-17) NKJV
13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. 14 And John tried to prevent Him, saying, "I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?"
15 But Jesus answered and said to him, "Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness." Then he allowed Him.
16 When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. 17 And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying,"This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased."
I wonder if we ever take time to realize that everything we do in this life is merely something we pass on to the next generation. We buy land and build houses, but usually those things will be here long after we are gone. I look out at this congregation and I see some of you who were a part of this church very early on back in the 70’s when it was stared. In fact, we have a few here who were charter members. The founding pastor is now well into his 60’s and I’ve been here for eleven years and I’m in my early 50’s, and one day another pastor, probably someone much younger than me, will grace this pulpit.
What am I saying? I’m saying that everything we do here, every improvement we’ve made, every significant ministry initiative, everything we do will be passed on to the next generation. Unless the Lord returns before then, many of us will see the day when time will rob us of the vitality we once had and we will hope and pray that the next generation picks up the mantle and keep the church moving forward until Jesus returns.
If our vision or our dreams extend no further than the 70 or so years we have upon this celestial ball we call earth, then our vision is not very big. Abraham saw something much bigger than himself. Though he never saw it with his natural eyes, we are told by the writer of Hebrews that by faith Abraham “looked for a city that has foundations, who builder and maker is God” (11:10). Abraham never built a city in the Promised Land, and the only land he ever owned in the Promised Land was the burial cave for Sarah and himself. But his vision was much bigger than that. He had a vision for his son Isaac, for his grandson Jacob, and for his children’s children. When Abraham purchased a burial cave in the Promised Land it was more than a grave site, it was a down-payment on a promise that he was leaving behind for the generations that would follow him.
We need to be able to see beyond ourselves, beyond what is best for me at this point in my life, and ask the larger question: What is best for the future generations who will follow me? How can I invest in the future of my family, or the future of the church? If it is only about me, then I won’t care about anyone else and I will fight and scratch to have it my way, to benefit me, and to insure my security at the expense of the future.
What does this have to do with our text? I’m glad you asked. Let’s begin by looking at the life and ministry of John the Baptist (or more accurately, John the baptizer).
I) THE BOLD PROPHET JOHN
It is significant that account of the ministry of Jesus begins with the ministry of John the Baptist. Matthew and Luke’s Gospels begin with the Birth Narratives and move quickly to the account of John the Baptist, but the Gospels of Mark and John open with John down at the Jordan River baptizing people unto repentance.
John was a cousin of Jesus through his mother Elizabeth and her cousin Mary. His own birth had been miraculous, in that, an angel appeared to his father Zacharias who was serving in the temple and announced to the elderly man that his barren wife Elizabeth would have a son. The angel said that this son he would go forth in the spirit of the prophet Elijah and prepare the way for the coming Messiah.
Fast forward almost 30 years to John as a man in the wilderness and we see someone who is somewhat eccentric, in that he lives in the wilderness, wears camel’s hair with a leather belt, and has a diet of locusts and wild honey. It is no coincidence that this description is similar to that of Elijah who is described in 2 Kings 1:8 as “a hairy man wearing a leather belt about his waist.” Yet, despite his appearance and eccentricities, John had a prophetic anointing upon his life from birth, and people were drawn to his ministry even though it meant that they had to go out into the wilderness to hear him speak against sin and compromise.
John was a bold man who didn’t pull any punches. He was not afraid to tell it like it is. At one point some Pharisees and Sadducees came out into the wilderness and the Jordon River to be baptized by John. John was preaching “the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins” (Lk. 3:3), and when he saw these religious leaders coming to his baptism, he said to them, in effect
7 . . . “You den of snakes! What do you think you're doing slithering down here to the river? Do you think a little water on your snakeskins is going to make any difference? 8 It's your life that must change, not your skin! 9 And don't think you can pull rank by claiming Abraham as father. Being a descendant of Abraham is neither here nor there. Descendants of Abraham are a dime a dozen. 10 What counts is your life. Is it green and blossoming? Because if it's deadwood, it goes on the fire. (THE MESSAGE)
Luke’s gospel tells us in 3:10-14, that when the people heard this, they asked, “What shall we do then?” John said, “If you have two coats, give one to someone who doesn’t have a coat. If you have food, give food to those who have no food.”
Later the tax collectors came to be baptized by John and they asked him, “Rabbi, what should we do?” John answered, “Collect no more than what is appointed for you.”
Also soldiers came asking, “And what shall we do?” John said, “Don’t intimidate anyone or accuse falsely, and be content with your wages.”
Later in John’s ministry King Herod found out that John was publicly criticizing him for marrying his brother’s wife, Herodias. Because John was so vocal and outspoken against the behavior of the king, Herod had John throw into prison. Ultimately, Herod’s wife (and former sister-in-law) seduced the king through her daughter and convinced Herod to have John beheaded.
I said that to let you know that early in his ministry as a prophet, John was anointed, he was very bold in speaking out again sin, and yet he was very popular. Some people were asking if John was the promised Messiah, but John said, “It’s not about me. I’m just a voice in the wilderness.” John was always looking forward to the coming Messiah. He said
11 I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come One who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will clear His threshing floor, gathering His wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire. (Matt 3:11-12, NIV)
John never allowed his anointing, his popularity or his success go to his head. He knew that his role was to prepare the way for the Messiah, who was also his younger cousin.
II) THE BAPTISM OF JESUS
In verse 13 we see Jesus. We haven’t heard much about Him following His birth. Luke’s Gospel tells us that eight days after His birth, Jesus’ parents took Him to the temple to be dedicated to the Lord. There they met an old prophet named Simeon and a prophetess named Anna. They both prophesied over the infant Jesus confirming what the angel of the Lord declared to both Mary and Joseph, that this child is Messiah; He is the Savior of the world. Luke’s Gospel tells us that “the child [Jesus] grew, and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him” (2:40).
Matthew tells us that for a time Jesus and his parents moved to Egypt to escape the murderous plot of Herod to kill the newborn King, and they later returned to live in the city of Nazareth where Jesus grew up as the [adopted] son of Joseph, who was by trade a carpenter. In fact, as was normally the case, Jesus learned the trade of carpentry as an apprentice to Joseph. Later in the Gospels we see people skeptical of the ministry of Jesus, identify Him as no one more than “the carpenter, the Son of Mary, and brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon” (Mark 6:3).
Still, there was something special about this child. As a twelve-year-old boy Jesus was in the temple “sitting in the midst of the doctors [of the law], both hearing them, and asking them questions. And everyone who heard Him, were astonished at his understanding and answers” (Luke 2:46-47). But then eighteen years pass before we see Jesus again when at the age of 30, He begins his public ministry. Look at our text, verse 13, “Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him.”
It is curious that Jesus came to be baptized, in that, John’s baptism was a baptism unto repentance. In fact, John tried to resist, saying, “I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?” (v.14). John had been saying that he wasn’t worthy to carry the sandals of the Messiah, and now Messiah is coming to him for baptism. But Jesus tells John to do because in doing this He would be fulfilling all righteousness.
Many scholars see a typology in this event. Jesus is representing the entire nation of Israel. Just as the High Priest wore the twelve stones on the priestly garments to represent the Twelve Tribes of Israel when he went before God in the temple, Jesus is symbolically carrying the entire nation with into the Jordon with Him.
Furthermore, the typology is an extension of the fact that Jesus comes out of Egypt, just as Israel had, and just as Israel crossed the Red Sea into the wilderness, Jesus will come out of the water and enter into the wilderness where, after fasting for forty days, He will be tempted by Satan. Jesus is, in effect, the new Jacob, the new Israel, who will choose twelve spiritual sons, called apostles. He will establish the spiritual Israel of God that is not built upon the old covenant of animal sacrifices, but is built upon a new covenant, a better covenant, an everlasting covenant based upon faith in Jesus as the Lamb without spot or blemish. It is a covenant and a community built upon the lumber of an old rugged cross, the emblem of suffering shame, but the hope of the redeemed.
By being baptized by John, Jesus was fulfilling the symbolism, and He was coming up out of the water, not just as Messiah, but as the new Israel, the source of a new covenant community that would be built upon faith in His sacrifice.
III) THE BLESSING OF THE FATHER
John baptized Jesus and from that point on, just as John had stated, he began to decrease as Jesus began to increase. John’s ministry was coming to a close just as Jesus’ ministry was just getting started. John knew that he was merely someone who was preparing the way for someone else who was greater than himself. He was now willing to step out of the spotlight so that Jesus could shine.
Not many people are as willing as John to humbly exit stage left and let someone else stand in the light, but John did. When Jesus came up out of the water, verse 16 says
16 . . . the heavens were opened . . . and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. 17 And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
All three members of the Trinity are in this scene: Jesus is being baptized, the Holy Spirit comes in the form of a dove to affirm the anointing of the anointed one, and the voice of the Father speaks from the heavens affirming Jesus as His beloved Son. Notice specifically those words, “My beloved Son.” When God sent Moses to Pharaoh to set Israel free, God specifically gave Moses this message
22 . . . you shall say to Pharaoh, “Thus says the LORD: ‘Israel is My son, My firstborn. 23 So I say to you, let My son go that he may serve Me. But if you refuse to let him go, indeed I will kill your son, your firstborn.’” (Ex 4:21-23, NKJV)
So what does all this mean? It means that in Jesus, Israel is reborn. It means that a New Covenant is being established. It means that it is no longer about ethnic Israel as the “people of God”, but is now about Jews and Gentiles putting faith in the Jewish Messiah, in Jesus Christ, who fulfills all righteousness and completes in the world what ethnic Israel had failed to do, and that is to bring a light to the Gentiles.
The apostle Paul says it this way in Galatians 3:26-29
26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise. (NKJV)
When Jesus came up out of the water, He brought us up with Him. When the Spirit came upon Him, and the Father identified Him as His Son, it was the dawning of a new covenant that would be consummated in the cross as Jesus gives His life as a ransom for many.
What we see in John the Baptist is an example of for us all. First, we are different from the rest of the world. We are uniquely called of God to prepare for the coming of the Lord. Second, we are anointed by the Holy Spirit to preach repentance. On the Day of Pentecost, after the anointing, Peter preaches, saying “Repent , and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38, NKJV). Third, we must be willing to let Jesus shine. We must remember that it is not about us, it’s not about our egos, or our ministries, or our denomination, or our local church. It’s all about Jesus, or we’re just wasting our time.
Do you see the transition? John the Baptist prepares for the beginning of Jesus’ ministry during his First Coming by preaching repentance and baptism, and He declares that Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit. Then, after the Day of Pentecost, Peter preaches repentance, baptism, and the Holy Spirit. Now, in our generation, we are to be those who are preparing the way for the Second Coming of Jesus.
We are to be a voice in the wilderness. We are to be preaching repentance, baptism, and the Holy Spirit. We are to be modern day Elijah’s. We are to be anointed as God’s prophets walking and talking in the power of the Holy Spirit. And like Elijah, we are to be prepared to pass on the mantle to the next generation, from generation to generation until Jesus comes.
Today, I want to ask everyone in the sanctuary today is 29-years-old or younger to come forward. We are depending on you to pick up the mantle, to strike the waters, and to see the power of God working your life just as powerfully, even more powerfully, than that power has worked in the generations that have preceded you.