Who is Jesus?
That’s our question for this morning.
And before we think, too quickly, that we know exactly who he is, we need to stop and consider two things. Firstly, it’s a brave person who stands up and says they’ve got Jesus pegged. With someone as rich, as big as Jesus, there’s always more to discover.
Second, there is massive confusion out there, about who Jesus is. Madonna thinks everyone she meets is Jesus, Elton John thinks Jesus was gay, Elvis Presley thought Jesus was king, the Jehovah’s Witnesses think he wasn’t God, and many people think he was no more than an inspirational teacher. We have to at least admit the possibility that we might have caught a little of the confusion ourselves.
You see in the passage we read this morning, Matthew introduces us to the adult Jesus for the first time. One basic rule of literature is that the moment when you first meet a key character is an important one. This is that moment for Jesus the adult. So Matthew stops to make sure we are absolutely clear as to who he is. In the rest of his gospel, he’ll provide us with lots of evidence to back this up, he’ll record Jesus doing some amazing things, teaching some memorable truths, and making some extraordinary demands. But we won’t understand any of it if we don’t know who we’re dealing with.
Perhaps you’ve had the experience of coming in half way through a film, and never quite catching up. Last summer on holiday we tried watching episode 4 of the BBC drama “The Hour”. We could tell it was good, but we hadn’t a clue who anyone was, or what they were talking about. When we got back, we tracked it down on iPlayer, and watched it from the beginning. We never knew Episode 4 could make so much sense!
Matthew doesn’t want us to do that with Jesus. He wants us to read his book, to come to church to worship him, and to work out what difference he makes to the other 6 days a week. And therefore he wants us to be clear who he is.
So: Who is Jesus? I have 3 things to say:
Jesus is God’s loved Son and Servant
First, Jesus is God’s loved Son and Servant. Jesus is God’s loved Son and Servant.
The Bible is not just a record of God’s actions. It does record some of the things that God has done, yes. But it also explains them for us. In the Bible, God tells us what he’s done in history, and he also tells us what he wants to say to us through those events. …how he wants us to understand them.
So when we read the story of Jesus being baptised, we need to listen to how God explains it to us. In this case, that’s not hard. God actually speaks and gives a commentary for us. Verse 17, there is a voice from heaven, that is God’s voice: This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.
That announcement from heaven combines a number of Old Testament passages.
One is Psalm 2. Let’s turn there together. It’s on page 286. Psalm 2 pictures God installing a new King in the city of Jerusalem. This king will be king, not just over the land of Israel, but over the whole world. And in verse 7, we hear God speak his decree as he crowns his new king. Psalm 2, verse 7: I will tell of the decree: The Lord said to me, ‘You are my Son; today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.
This year we look back on 60 years of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II. We look back, 60 years ago, to her coronation. Psalm 2 looked forward, nobody knew how many years into the future, when the king of the world would be crowned, and God would crown him.
That’s what the Old Testament looked forward to. And then when Jesus was baptised, a voice thundered from heaven: This is my beloved Son. This man here in the Jordan is my Son, the king over the nations that the Old Testament expected.
Another text that is in play here is Isaiah chapter 42. This is page 388… Isaiah chapters 40-55 have a recurring character who keeps on popping up, the Lord’s servant. God wants to restore his people who have failed him; God wants to mend his world. And this servant of the Lord is the one who will make all things new. And the very first place we meet him is in Isaiah 42. So, verse 1: Behold, my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.
And then the voice from heaven says: This is my Son, my beloved. This is the one I said I would send into the world to restore it. This is my servant, in whom my soul delights.
Perhaps, from time to time, you have to call someone out to fix your boiler. The firm says they’ll send an engineer out. To reassure you on security, they tell you what he’ll look like. They send him with an ID card. When he comes, he answers the description, and he has his ID. Your boiler is going to get fixed. Well God announced he was going to send someone to fix the world. He tells us what he’ll be like. And then when he comes, he shows us clearly that this is the person he was talking about.
That is what this voice tells us at Jesus’ baptism. Jesus is nothing less than the Son of God, king of all the world, the servant of the Lord, the one God would send to restore all things, the one whom God loves and delights in like no other.
You can see why John the Baptist said what he did in verse 11. He wasn’t just being bashful or modest. Verse 11: He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. Jesus wasn’t just a little bit more important than John. You don’t get more grand, more important than Jesus.
And you can see why he’s so much greater than any of us. Jesus deserves our worship. He deserves to be the centre of our lives.
Jesus is God’s loved Son and Servant. Nothing less.
Jesus is endowed with God’s Spirit
Second, Jesus is endowed with God’s Spirit. Jesus is endowed with God’s Spirit.
There’s more to what God wants to tell us about the baptism of Jesus. Before Jesus heard the voice, he saw a vision.
What was it he saw? Verse 16: The heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him.
The heavens were opened. The Bible pictures a number of layers. We live on the earth. Far above us is heaven – where God lives. And in between heaven and earth you can picture a curtain to separate the two. That curtain is variously known as the sky, the firmament or the heavens.
What Jesus saw was the heavens being ripped open. A massive hole was made in that curtain, providing a direct way through to God’s throne room in heaven beyond. And if this reminds you of an event later in the Gospels, then yes, it should do.
Through that hole flies a bird. The Spirit of God came to rest on Jesus, but the Spirit is invisible, so if we’re going to see it happen he needs to take on some form that we can see. He chose a bird, a dove as it happens. And that dove, the Spirit, came to rest on Jesus.
John the Baptist has already told us that Jesus will baptise with the Holy Spirit. Here, God actually shows us the Spirit resting on Jesus. We no longer have to take John’s word for it; we can see it for ourselves. If you’d travelled back in time to the banks of the Jordan, and if you’d had a camera with you, you could have taken a picture, and enlarged it to see the dove’s feathers.
Do you see what’s happened here at Jesus’ baptism? John the Baptist had told us about Jesus, but now God the Father has given us the chance to see and hear those truths for ourselves. John had told us of Jesus’ greatness; we got to hear God’s voice confirm it. John had told us that Jesus would come with the Spirit of God; we get to see the Spirit come and rest on Jesus.
So we discover that Jesus is endowed with God’s Spirit. Which means that everything John said is true. He really can baptise us with God’s Spirit. He can change us from inside, not just make us clean on the outside. He can make us new people, with hearts that love God and want to live for him.
If you were here a few weeks back, you’ll remember I said how it’s nice when parents have time to help their children with their homework. What we can’t do, but wish we could, is give them the ability to do it. God doesn’t just sit in heaven and bark orders at us. He doesn’t just get alongside and help. With Jesus, he transforms our hearts to make us new people.
Jesus is endowed with God’s Spirit.
Jesus came as saviour of God’s people
Third, Jesus came as saviour of God’s people. Jesus came as saviour of God’s people.
So we’ve heard and we’ve seen what God wants us to hear and see as Jesus is baptised. God wants us to hear him say that this is his beloved Son. God wants us to see the Spirit alight on him. But we had to hear the voice and see the vision at Jesus’ baptism.
So verses 14 and 15 record a little tussle between Jesus and John the Baptist. Jesus comes to the Jordan to be baptised by John. But John is reluctant. If anything, he should be baptised by Jesus. But Jesus insists. It must be this way. He must be baptised by John. Verse 15: Let it be so now, for this is fitting for us to fulfil all righteousness. In a nutshell: John, this is the right thing to do.
Jesus is saying that there is no other place where he can be seen to have God’s Spirit, and heard to be God’s Son, other than emerging from being baptised by John’s baptism. He must go through the same thing that these crowds go through, if we are to see him for who he is..
These crowds were coming to John for two reasons. First, they wanted a clean break with sin. They confessed their sin. They repented – turning away from it. Second, they were looking forward to the new beginning that God had planned. John was the one announcing that God was about to keep all his promises, and they wanted to be part of it.
Jesus had no sin to repent of. He never did anything wrong. But he was the one through whom God would keep all his promises. So Jesus had to be part of that crowd that was coming to John. He was the first member of the future that John was pointing to.
I don’t know how many of you have been to St Paul’s cathedral, and have seen the encampment outside. I’ve not been, and I guess if you asked the people there what they were hoping for, you’d get a lot of different answers. Some want a change in the way big business is done, some want the government to take notice of the poor – lots of different issues. But everyone wants some kind of new beginning where things are done differently.
Now imagine that you look more closely at those gathered there, and you notice Prince William is there. A slightly more comfortable tent, but he’s in a tent like everyone else. Then you notice Harry a few yards over. That would be a bold move from them. It would be them saying that they want what the crowd want. They want to identify with those protestors. They want to be part of the future they’re asking for.
That’s a bit like what Jesus did when he came to be baptised. The crowds are streaming to John, wanting an end of sin and a new beginning. And Jesus says: I’m with them. I identify with them. I’m the one who will bring about the future these people want.
And Jesus was clear: if God was going to show us that he is God’s loved son, and he is the one who has the Spirit of God, that had to happen here. Jesus didn’t come as God’s Son with God’s Spirit for the fun of it. He did it for us. He came to save us. He came to give us a new beginning.
Which means that Matthew wants us to be amazed at Jesus. That he is God’s loved Son and Servant is truly amazing. That he is endowed with God’s Spirit is wonderful. But Matthew doesn’t want us to stand and gawp at these things. He wants us to be clear that Jesus is these things for us. He came for us. So Matthew wants us to follow Jesus. And that’s why he wrote 25 more chapters of his book.
So: Who is Jesus?
There may be a lot of confusion about Jesus, but we don’t need to be confused.
There’s much more than Matthew’s shown us in this passage, but we can note two things we can be clear on when it comes to how we relate to Jesus.
First, we mustn’t treat Jesus just like an ordinary man. He’s much, much more than that. He’s God’s beloved Son and Servant. He is endowed with God’s Spirit to change us from the inside.
But neither must be we keep him at arm’s reach and examine him like an exhibit in a museum. He may be great, but he’s not aloof and out of each, wrapped up in his own thoughts. The reason he came as God’s Son, as God’s Servant, with God’s Spirit was because that is exactly the saviour that we need.