Sermon audio here.
John, the one whose whole job it was to prepare the way of the Lord, wanted to put up roadblocks instead. Christ came to John for baptism, but John didn’t think that was right. “I need to be baptized by you,” he objected, “and do you come to me?”
Our instinct is to be self-centered and always seek our own advantage. And yet, here John would have prevented Jesus from doing the very best thing that anybody could ever have done for him. The flesh is so blind it would even prevent Christ from restoring its sight. This is why so many people reject the Gospel today.
This is what the Evangelist meant when He said Light has come into the world but people loved the darkness instead. The flesh is happy with its blindness. It wouldn’t have it any other way.
We see this also with Peter on Maundy Thursday. Again, there’s washing involved, but this time the tables are turned and now Jesus is doing the washing. And like John, Peter wants no part of it.
The lesson here’s simple: the sinful flesh wants absolutely nothing to do with Jesus. It never does what God wants. Jesus asks for baptism, and the flesh says, “I can’t, I’m too dirty.” Jesus offers to wash, and the flesh says, “You can’t, You’re too clean.” Jesus tells Peter how He’s going to die for his sins, and Peter’s outraged that Jesus would even think such a thing.
At first glance, it might look like John and Peter are doing the right thing here. They undoubtedly had the best of intentions. John didn’t want to baptize Jesus because He had no sin that needed to be washed away, and Peter knew he didn’t deserve to have Jesus wash him.
But their apparent humility was false. They thought they knew better than Jesus, so they decided to catechize Him.
But before we start throwing stones at John and Peter, we should remember that this is what the sinful flesh always thinks, flesh which you also share. You think you know better than God.
I recently heard about a lady who used to be a Christian. She looked around at the world and saw all of the terrible things that are constantly happening, evil apparently having its way. So she concluded she could no longer believe in God.
Because, if there were a God, she thought, surely He wouldn’t let these things happen. And what that translates to is, “If I were God, I wouldn’t let these things happen.” And there we go again, presuming to know better than God.
This is what always happens when you believe in a god of your own imagination rather than in the God Who Is. God didn’t avoid evil, He allowed evil to have its way with His Son. The flesh doesn’t want to hear about a God who enters into our suffering, it wants a God who puts an end to all suffering immediately. It doesn’t want to believe in a weak God Who washes dirty feet, it wants a God to show all of the Herods and Caiphases and Pilates of the world Who’s boss by miraculous displays of power and might.
The flesh loves its idols, those gods who would always act as you would have them, who only teach doctrine that’s pleasing to your ears. But the difficulty of God’s doctrine doesn’t make it false, and God always accomplishes His good and gracious will, whether it’s done among us or not.
All sin flows from pride, from thinking we know better than God. It’s not that Scripture’s unclear, it’s that it’s only too clear and we don’t like what it says. So we come up with all of these clever interpretations.
Did God really say homosexuality is a sin? Or that my own sexual impurity is just as damnable as gay marriage?
Did God really say abortion is murder? Or that my heart is filled with so much evil that it would put Planned Parenthood to shame?
No, that can’t be right, I’m a good person—and so we twist God’s Word until we end up saying ‘no’ where God says ‘yes’, and ‘yes’ where He says ‘no.’
Pottery that resists the Potter’s efforts to beautify it is the kind we throw into the trash. But there’s a kind of pottery that’s happiest when it’s broken, and that pottery is your own sinful flesh.
But God poured the Living Water of His Gospel into such a broken vessel as yourself to show that this all-surpassing power belongs to God. God’s Wisdom is, as the apostle says, hidden in Christ.
God’s Wisdom is the kind of wisdom that sends His Innocent Son to receive a sinners’ baptism. It’s even more shocking to see Jesus being baptized than it would be to see the Queen of England herself standing in line at a soup kitchen.[i] But Christ numbers Himself among sinners so that sinners might number themselves among the saints in heaven.
God’s is the kind of Wisdom that declares the Innocent guilty and the guilty free, Wisdom that puts an end to death by dying. In God’s Wisdom, the King serves the servants, and the servants sit on thrones. His Wisdom turns the Potter into the most beautiful vessel of clay, only to crush Him instead of the ones that were already broken.
The Wisdom of God is folly to those who are perishing. But to you who are being saved, God’s folly is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
You will always resist God’s Word as long as you abide in this sinful flesh, just like John and Peter. But Jesus didn’t give up on them, and He doesn’t give up on you. He continues to speak His Word, correcting, rebuking, instructing, and absolving.
Like our Lord’s baptism, hearing the preaching of repentance and the forgiveness of sins in Christ Jesus is necessary to fulfill all righteousness. Like Peter’s washing, this is necessary for you to have a share in Christ. Faith always consents to God’s Word. And nothing less than faith is needed—because, more often than not, His Word and His ways are unpleasant and make no sense to fallen human reason.
If it doesn’t make sense for Jesus to receive a sinners’ baptism or to wash your feet, how much less that He die for your crimes and then welcome you as His Bride to the altar? But you have His command and promise: Take, eat and drink: for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.
Soli Deo Gloria
[i] This insight is from David Scaer’s sermon for the Baptism of Our Lord. It can be found in “In Christ,” a collection of his sermons that is published by Peace, Sussex.