Right­eous­ness that fits


Some things are just fit­ting, aren’t they? They are just sup­posed to be a cer­tain way. Take the Golden Globes. Did you see the show? Ev­ery­one who is any­one in Hol­ly­wood was there. And ev­ery­thing was just right.

But, that’s what you ex­pect, isn’t it? So they didn’t sneak in a side door, but there was a red car­pet. And no one wore sweat­pants and a sweat­shirt; the clothes were worth a small for­tune. The stage was ma­jes­tic and the tro­phies were shiny and ev­ery­thing was just right. That’s fit­ting to cel­e­brate the best of the best in such a spot­light busi­ness. It’s just proper.

To­day, we talk about some­thing else that is fit­ting — some­thing even big­ger than the 71st An­nual Golden Globes. We’re talk­ing about what the church has been cel­e­brat­ing for at least 20 times as long - the fes­ti­val of the Bap­tism of our Lord. And in our text, we see what Je­sus says is “fit­ting”, “proper”. Look up Matthew 3:13-17.

John is bap­tiz­ing in the Jor­dan. Je­sus comes up to him to be bap­tized. John hes­i­tates. Je­sus says – no – this is fit­ting. It’s proper. But, do you un­der­stand why John hes­i­tated? Here – Je­sus, the holy Son of God is com­ing to John, the sin­ful son of Zechariah and El­iz­a­beth. And granted, Zechariah prob­a­bly had a pretty good rep­u­ta­tion as a pri­est, but he was no God. Any­way – Je­sus comes to this guy who was bap­tiz­ing peo­ple for re­pen­tance, for for­give­ness of all their sins – and the sin­less One comes and gets in line. John couldn’t see how that was fit­ting, so he protests.

And that makes sense. I mean, sure John was good. He was a Nazirite from birth, keep­ing those spe­cial vows that set him apart. He was so good that he was will­ing to sac­ri­fice a nor­mal life and be eat­ing lo­custs and honey and dress­ing in un­com­fort­able clothes. But he re­al­ized that even he needed the mes­sage he was preach­ing right along with other hear­ers. He knew he was a sin­ner who needed to re­pent and be­cause of that didn’t even de­serve to touch the san­dal-laces of Je­sus – per­fect God in the flesh. John knew he needed the for­give­ness his bap­tism gave.

Now think about that. If John needed it, this guy who gave up ev­ery­thing to serve God … where do we stand? We some­times have a hard time giv­ing up just a half-hour a day for Bi­ble study and prayer. We have a hard time giv­ing up just 10 per­cent of our in­come, much less any other spe­cial gifts – be­cause, well, we NEED to go out to eat one more time a month. Five chan­nels of TV aren’t enough – I need 50, or 100, or even more – the Net­flix and Red­box, and high speed In­ter­net. Not that there’s any­thing wrong with hav­ing any of those bless­ings, but see my point. Here is a guy who gave up ev­ery op­por­tu­nity for the finer things say­ing he doesn’t de­serve any­thing good. Where does that put me on the “de­serv­ing” scale? The truth – you and I are plenty in the neg­a­tive.

Think back to the Golden Globes – with all their at­ten­tion to de­tail and spar­ing no ex­pense to make ev­ery­thing just right. And yet, on the talk shows the very next day there were those per­fec­tion­ist crit­ics show­ing im­ages from the red car­pet and us­ing words like “hideous” or “aw­ful” to de­scribe cer­tain out­fits – out­fits that cost more than my en­tire wardrobe.

Now, when it comes to our lives, that don’t even al­ways have that Golden Globe ap­pear­ance of per­fec­tion, there’s a critic at the gates of heaven who has told us that “even our right­eous acts are like filthy rags.” They just don’t mea­sure up. We don’t fit with the stan­dard; our fail­ures aren’t “proper” for heaven. Our self­ish­ness doesn’t fit with holy. The things we do might look nice, but their ab­so­lute right­eous­ness is lack­ing.

So Je­sus an­swers John’s protest. Look at verse 15: “Je­sus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to ful­fill all right­eous­ness.” Re­al­ize what he’s say­ing. Re­al­ize what he’s do­ing. Je­sus’ bap­tism wasn’t just a demon­stra­tion of his be­ing the Anointed one – anointed by the Holy Spirit as the One to ful­fill all the prophe­cies – the One who would pay for our sins and die in our place. His Bap­tism was also him ful­fill­ing God’s de­sires for what a hu­man life should be.

Imag­ine right­eous­ness – a per­fect record - as a mea­sur­ing cup. And maybe we do a few good things that get that level up a lit­tle bit, but no hu­man has ac­com­plished full right­eous­ness. One sin sees to that.

But here is Je­sus, step­ping in to our place, com­mit­ting to do what right­eous­ness takes, what is fit­ting for a per­fect life. And he did. Right af­ter this text, we see him de­feat­ing all those temp­ta­tions of the devil in the wilder­ness, avoid­ing sin, but in this text we see him ac­tively do­ing what God wants us to do. This bap­tism was nec­es­sary to fill up that right­eous­ness. And that’s good – be­cause that’s the right­eous­ness that God gives to us in our Bap­tism. That’s the right­eous­ness that is placed on our record through faith.

So praise God that Je­sus did what was fit­ting that we now have heaven wait­ing for us. Next week, we’ll look at how God guar­an­teed that it fit and how that af­fects our lives, but for now – just cel­e­brate that God sees you as Je­sus made you, not as you were.

The Rev. Jonathan Scharf is pas­tor of Abid­ing Grace Lutheran Church in Cov­ing­ton. Wor­ship ev­ery Sun­day is at 8 & 10:30 a.m. Full ser­mons and more in­for­ma­tion can be found at www.abid­ing­grace.com.

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