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Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
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July 5, 2023 12:01 am


Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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July 5, 2023 12:01 am

Jesus' baptism marked the beginning of His public ministry. Today, R.C. Sproul looks closely at the baptism of Christ, explaining its importance in His life and its relevance for our salvation.

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John has been sent to be the one who is the herald of the Messiah. He's the one who announces Jesus when He comes, and Jesus comes to John and says, would you please baptize me?

I can't do that. I've called you the Lamb of God. And the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world has to be a perfect Lamb.

He has to be a sinless Lamb. You don't understand, Jesus. This ritual is for sinners. It doesn't apply to you. It would be a scandal for you to be baptized by me.

You've got it wrong. I should be baptized your head the first time you read of Jesus being baptized. I know I did, but understanding that the boy Jesus visits to Jerusalem at age 12 in which He amazed the doctors of the law with His understanding and His questions and His insights to the things of God. We're going to move now to the public entrance of Jesus at the beginning of His earthly ministry as it relates to His baptism, the River Jordan, by John the Baptist. Now before we look at the baptism of Jesus Himself, I want to spend a few minutes to talk about the radical character of this ritual that was initiated at the summons of John the Baptist.

It's a miracle. It's a miracle that the prophets had been sent to the island for 400 years, and we have a tendency to look back into the past and sort of telescope history and think that there was a miracle behind every bush and a prophet appearing every other Friday there in Israel. But the prophets that had been sent by God in Old Testament days delivering His Word through their mouths had a very high and important role in the life of their people. But that voice of prophecy ceased with Malachi, and 400 years went by and there wasn't a peep out of God. There was no more special revelation that God was giving His people, four centuries.

That's a long time. You go back now, it takes us back to 1610 before the pilgrims have even arrived here on the shores of America. A lot of history transpires over the course of four centuries, but now after 400 years of silence, suddenly out of the desert comes this man coming from the traditional meeting place between God and His prophets, the desert itself, wearing the kind of clothing that the Jews associated with the asceticism of certain prophets in the Old Testament. And, of course, he speaks as one having the authority of God. You know, in the early days of the Christian church in the first century, John the Baptist excited more interest among local people in Israel than Jesus did for the precise reason that His voice was the restoration of the voice of prophecy.

But the most radical thing about His appearance was not how He looked or how He dressed or even that He was a prophet coming after 400 years, but what He did. He calls the people of Israel to the Jordan River to be baptized. And we have to understand that the baptism of John is not identical with the baptism that Jesus introduces in the New Covenant church.

There are certain links between them, but rather John's baptism has to be more associated with the Old Testament process. In the Old Testament, the Jews had a ritual called proselyte baptism that was restricted only for those Gentiles who were converting to Judaism. And in the categories of the Old Testament covenant, the Gentiles were strangers to that covenant, they were outside the covenant community of Israel, and they were considered by nature to be unclean, impure, defiled. So if a Gentile wanted to convert to Judaism, they would have to go through certain procedures, paramount of which was this procedure of proselyte baptism. They had to go through a cleansing ritual in order to become members within the covenant community of Israel. Now here all of a sudden comes John, and instead of calling Gentiles to this act of cleansing, he's doing the unthinkable. He's calling Jews to be submitted to the proselyte ritual of cleansing. And this, of course, greatly offended the Pharisees and the religious leaders who went out from Jerusalem to see what John was doing. And they said, what do you do? We're children of Abraham.

We don't need to be subjected to this sort of thing. But why did John have this ministry? Remember in the Old Testament the prophets, particularly Isaiah, talked about the coming of the Messiah, but before the Messiah would arrive there would be a forerunner, one who would come and prepare the way for the Messiah. And John is that one who is anointed by God to be the one who is crying as a voice in the wilderness, prepare the way the Lord makes straight His paths.

And so in this preparatory mission to which John is sent and for which he is consecrated by God, he is now calling the whole nation of Israel to be subjected to baptism. Why? What was his message? He comes on the scene and his message is simply this, repent.

Why? For the kingdom of God is at hand. The kingdom of God that the Jews look forward to in the prophecies of the Old Testament was in the nebulous, distant, far-off future.

No specific timeframe had been given for their expectation of the coming of the kingdom and the coming of the Messiah. And what John is saying, the time is at hand. The kingdom of God is about to break through, and he uses some metaphors and some images to describe the urgency of the moment, where he says the ax is laid at the root of the tree. And using that image of the woodsman who goes out, and he's going to chop down a tree, and he starts with the outer bark, and he makes a dent in the bark, and then he has to keep penetrating deeper and deeper and deeper into the course of the tree and get to the root of the tree before the tree will topple. And so John's image is this. It's not like the woodsman is out in the shed sharpening his ax and thinking about cutting down the tree, nor is he just giving one or two strokes to the tree, removing the outer bark.

No. The ax has come all the way, cutting through all the pulp and the meat of the wood to the very center and core. So that with one more stroke, in one more second, the tree will fall. The other image he uses is of the wintering fork, where the farmer says it's time for harvest, and they would harvest the wheat, and they would separate the wheat by the chaff. They would have this big pile of wheat, and it would be all filled with chaff, and you wouldn't get down on your hands and knees and take out a little piece of wheat and a little piece of chaff would take you forever to do the harvest. But because the chaff was lighter than the wheat, the farmers used the winnowing fork, and they'd take this big fork and put it into the pile of wheat and chaff and just throw it up in the air, and the slightest zephyr of wind would carry the chaff away, and the heavier wheat would settle straight down, and the separation between the wheat and the chaff had taken place efficiently. And John says, here's how urgent it is. His fork is in his hand. He's ready to put that winnowing fork into that wheat and the chaff.

That crisis moment of separation is now. It's about to break through, and the problem with you, Israel, is that the King is about to appear, the Messiah is at the threshold, and you're not ready. You're unclean. So by the law of God being voiced through the mouth of the prophet John the Baptist, a new regulation is being imposed upon the people of Israel, that they, like the Gentiles, must be made clean in preparation for the coming of the King. Let me read a little bit of John's ministry from the gospel according to St. John. This is the testimony of John. This is from John chapter 1. When the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, who are you? He confessed and did not deny, but said, I am not the Christ.

They said, well, what then? Are you Elijah? No. Are you the prophet?

No. And then they said to him, who are you that we may give an answer to those who sent us? What do you say about yourself?

Now listen to his answer. Here's who I am. I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness. Make straight the way of the Lord. Quoting directly from the prophet Isaiah, this is my mission to be the forerunner, the herald of the Messiah. Now those who were sent were from the Pharisees, and they said to them, why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the prophet? He answered them, saying, I baptize with water, but there stands one among you whom you do not know.

It is he who, coming after me, is preferred before me, whose sandals strap I am not worthy to loose. And these things were done beyond the Jordan where John was baptizing. And the next day, John saw Jesus coming toward him, and he sang the Agnus Dei. He said, behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Wow, the biggest problem that the Jews had with their understanding of the Messiah was this element of his office, his element of redeeming from sin, of being a sacrificial lamb. But at the very beginning of his mission, John the Baptist announces Jesus. He said, here he is, here he comes, the Lamb of God, the Lamb prepared for the slaughter, who takes away the sin of the world. And this is he of whom I said after me comes a man who is preferred before me, for he was before me.

I didn't know him, but that he should be revealed to Israel. Therefore, that's the reason I came baptizing with water. And John bore witness, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and he remained upon him. I did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon him, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.

And I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God. This marks the beginning of Jesus' public ministry. This, as it were, was his ordination. Though God had sent him to be the fulfillment of the prophecies of the Messiah, Jesus, during his youth, was not running around being the Messiah.

He didn't enter into that mission until he was baptized. And at his baptism, he is anointed to fulfill Isaiah 61, which says, the Spirit of the Lord is upon me. You know, when Jesus gave his first public sermon, that text from Isaiah 61 was read in the synagogue, and Jesus, as the invited rabbi guest of the day, his sermon was very brief and to the point. He simply announced to the people there, today this Scripture is fulfilled in your midst. And if they had any understanding of the text of Isaiah 61, which they should have, they understood what he was saying. He's saying, I am the Messiah.

This is my mission, to fulfill all that is spelled out there by Isaiah in chapter 61. And so, this marks the beginning of his ministry. It's at that moment that the Spirit of God comes down and anoints him. Now, that's significant. That means that the work of Christ is not done by the divine nature.

It's thinly clothed in the human nature. It's the human Jesus who is anointed by the Holy Ghost to fulfill this mission of the Messiah. Now, in Matthew's version of the baptism of Jesus, we hear a little passage that I believe is of the utmost importance if we're to understand the whole significance of Jesus being baptized. In Matthew chapter 3, we read in verse 13, that Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by Him. And John tried to prevent Him.

Isn't that interesting? John has been sent to be the one who is the herald of the Messiah. He's the one who announces Jesus when He comes, and Jesus comes to John and said, I came to be baptized by you. Well, you can't do that. John now wants to prevent Him from being baptized, and he said this, I need to be baptized by you, and you're coming to me.

What's up with that? Remember, he'd already said that the one who comes after me is before me, and I'm not even worthy to unloose his sandals. And now Jesus comes down and says, would you please baptize me?

I can't do that. I've called you the Lamb of God. And the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world has to be a perfect Lamb.

He has to be a sinless Lamb. You don't understand, Jesus. This ritual is for sinners. It doesn't apply to you. It would be a scandal for you to be baptized by me.

You've got it wrong. I should be baptized. But imagine the presumption of John the Baptist now trying to instruct Jesus. He obviously wasn't there that day in the temple in Jerusalem and understood the depth of Jesus' understanding of theology, that Jesus doesn't have time for a theology seminar right now. This is how he answered him. He says to John, suffer it now or permit it now, for it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness. I don't have time to explain all of what's involved here, John, but just trust me on this. Suffer it now. Let it alone. You do it.

Why? Because it is necessary for me to fulfill all righteousness. I don't think there's any more important text in all of the New Testament that defines the work of Jesus than this one, that Jesus was sent to fulfill all righteousness. And what that meant to the Jew was to obey every jot and tittle of the law, because now Jesus is not acting in His baptism for Himself but for His people.

And if His people are required to keep the Ten Commandments, He keeps the Ten Commandments. If His people are now required to submit to this baptismal ritual, He submits to it in their behalf, because the redemption that is brought by Christ is not restricted to His deaths on the cross. We've seen that in the work of redemption, God didn't send Jesus to earth on Good Friday and say, die for the sins of your people, and that'll take care of it. No, Jesus not only had to die for our sins, but He had to live for our righteousness. If all Jesus did was die for your sins, that would remove all of your guilt, and that would leave you sinless in the sight of God, but not righteous. You would be innocent, but not righteous, because you haven't done anything to obey the law of God, which is what righteousness requires. So we have a doctrine in theology that refers to the active obedience of Jesus as distinguished from the passive obedience.

And this doctrine is in great dispute right now, particularly among dispensational thinkers, which I find extremely, extremely unsettling. The passive obedience of Christ refers to His willingness to submit to the pain that is inflicted upon Him by the Father on the cross in the atonement. He passively receives the curse of God there. The active obedience refers to His whole life of obeying the law of God, whereby He qualifies to be the Savior. He qualifies to be the Lamb without blemish.

He qualifies for the song, worthy is the Lamb who was slain through His total righteousness. He fulfills the law's demands. And if you remember the covenant with Moses, everybody who fulfills the law receives the blessing.

Those who disobey the law receive the curse. What does Jesus do? He obeys the law perfectly, receives the blessing and not the curse. But there's a double imputation that we will look at later at the cross, where my sin is transferred to His account. My sin is carried over and laid upon Him in the cross. But in our redemption, His righteousness is imputed to us. Which righteousness He wouldn't have if He didn't live this life of perfect obedience. So, what I'm saying to you is that His life of perfect obedience is just as necessary for our salvation as His perfect atonement on the cross because there's double imputation. My sin to Him, His righteousness to me, so that is what the Scripture is getting at when it says Jesus is our righteousness. Even John the Baptist didn't understand that yet.

He does now. But to fulfill all the law, Jesus had to submit to this baptism. Immediately after it, the Spirit that has just anointed Him drives Him into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan.

And aren't we, as Christians, so thankful that He did fulfill the law in His act of obedience? Actually, that reminds me of the famous final telegram that J. Gresham Machen sent before he died in 1937. It simply read, I'm so thankful for the act of obedience of Christ.

No hope without it. You're listening to Renewing Your Mind, and today's message from R.C. Sproul is one in a complete series on the work of Christ for us, and it can be yours for your donation of any amount. When you give your gift at, not only will you receive the entire series, What Did Jesus Do?, we have compiled it together with four other series in a special collection, and we'll send all of them to you for your donation of any amount. Give your gift today at, or by calling us at 800 435 4343. I often wonder, if I had lived in the first century, what would it have been like to meet Jesus? But as we survey the New Testament, people's responses to Jesus are not always what we might expect. You'll discover that tomorrow with R.C. Sproul here on Renewing Your Mind. .
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-07-05 02:33:39 / 2023-07-05 02:41:28 / 8

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