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.