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Revelations at Jesus' Baptism (Matthew 3:13-17)

Revelations at Jesus’ Baptism

Matthew 3:13-17

Matthew records four revelations about Jesus that occur at his baptism: (1) his humility; (2) his righteousness; (3) his anointing; and (4) his sonship. This sermon is part 6 of “Messiah’s Dawn,” Bryan Craddock’s verse-by-verse Bible teaching series on Matthew 1-4.


When I moved from Southern California to West Michigan, some people told me that the cold temperatures would be the hardest part about winter. Others warned me about the lake effect snow. But after 23 years of living here, I think the biggest challenge is the lack of sunlight. The experience of unbroken cloud cover for days and even weeks can take a toll on us emotionally and even physically. But being deprived of sunshine makes you appreciate it even more when the skies finally clear. The colors at dawn seem extra vibrant. They lift your spirit and change your entire outlook on the day ahead.

When Jesus began his ministry, the Jewish people had been living through depressingly dark times politically and spiritually. It had been six hundred years since their last true king ruled the land. They had experienced oppression under a succession of foreign empires: Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome. It had also been four hundred years since the last prophet, Malachi, had revealed the word of the Lord to them. But with the ministry of John the Baptist the winds were shifting, and the first rays of light became visible as Jesus came to be baptized.

As you read the Gospels, it can be tempting to skim over his baptism, gleaning a few facts to tuck away in your intellectual database. We would rather move on to his teaching and the stories of his miracles. But we should view his baptism with awe and wonder as the glorious dawn after centuries of darkness. Matthew 3:13-17 records four revelations about Jesus that occur at his baptism. They show who he is and why he came. Each one also deserves a response. So, as we consider these verses, may his light lift our spirits and change our outlook!

His Humility

People have different ideas about mud. Some pay for expensive spa treatments with it, particularly mud from the Dead Sea that is rich in minerals. Others think it’s fun to run through it in some crazy obstacle course race. But most of us would rather avoid it altogether.

From a spiritual perspective, we cannot get away from the filthy, disgusting mud of sin. We live in a world splattered with it. It is all around us. It causes us to slip and fall. It sucks us in. It even oozes out of us. But a lot of people are not bothered by that. They luxuriate in it. It’s all fun and games to them.

When people came to be baptized by John the Baptist, they were repenting of their sins. They wanted a way out of the mud. They wanted cleansing. But water could not rescue them. That is why John spoke of the coming of someone greater who would baptize them with the Holy Spirit and fire. So, the last thing John expected was for the Messiah himself to come join people in submitting to water baptism. When Jesus did so, it revealed his humility. Matthew 3:13-14 tells us, “Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’”

Was Jesus repenting? Did he need cleansing from sin? Certainly not! He lived a perfectly sinless life. John 8:46 tells us that he challenged the Pharisees, saying, “Which one of you convicts me of sin?” He did not follow all their extra-biblical traditions. But you can be sure that if they had discovered any sinful disobedience in his life, they would have publicized it and used it against him.

Jesus’ decision to be baptized by John is consistent with the pattern of humility in his life that began with his incarnation. In Philippians 2:6-7, Paul described the decision that led to his birth by saying,

… who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.

When Jesus was conceived in Mary’s womb, the eternal Son of God became human. He submitted to all the humbling aspects of being born and raised as a helpless infant because it was essential for his mission. To serve us and rescue us from our sin, he became like us. He joined us in the mud. Later in his ministry, the Pharisees call him a friend of tax collectors and sinners (Matt 11:19).

So, in his baptism, Jesus was humbly identifying himself with sinful people who need cleansing. But what does that mean for us? How should we respond? Let me share two passages. First, Hebrews 4:15-16 tells us,

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Jesus is still the humble friend of sinners. He is our priestly advocate before the Father who understands the power of temptation and knows our weaknesses. So, we should not hesitate to look to him for mercy and grace. No matter how deep you are in the mud, you can be confident that he hears, saves, and helps us move forward.

Once we have received salvation, we should seek to emulate Christ’s humility. We have no right to look down on others who are stuck in the mud. We should humbly serve them as Jesus did.  This was Paul’s point when he spoke of Christ emptying himself in Philippians 2. In verses 3-5, he wrote,

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.

So, is your life being shaped by the humility of Christ?

His Righteousness

The world’s most expensive garments have been worn by its most powerful people. Kings and queens dress in ostentatious royal robes for special occasions. Once they are done showing off, those clothes are locked away. They are not shared with anyone else unless passed down to a successor. But they would probably want their own more lavish and costly design.

The Prophet Isaiah, however, spoke of a priceless garment that would be shared. In Isaiah 61:10, he said,

I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

No one can stand in the presence of God without this robe. It is far too intricate for us to make. It must be woven by someone with unmatchable skill. It is far too costly for us to buy. It can only be received as a gift. It is the work of Jesus Christ, and his baptism is one of its threads.

So, in addition to his humility, the baptism of Jesus reveals his righteousness. As we read in Matthew 3:14, John felt unworthy to baptize him. Then verse 15 tells us, “But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then he consented.”

What is true righteousness? Jesus explained it in his Sermon on the Mount that begins in Matthew 5. Righteousness is required to enter the kingdom of heaven, but it is more than the observance of rituals and rules (v. 20). It is genuine obedience that honors the spirit of God’s commands. It is not enough to stop short of murder, it resists anger and seeks reconciliation (vv. 21-26). It avoids adultery but also lust and divorce (vv. 27-32). It speaks truth with no deceit (vv. 33-37). It does not retaliate but shows love even toward enemies (vv. 38-47). Jesus summed up in Matthew 5:48 by saying, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

This standard is far beyond our grasp. Our most determined efforts fall short. We are not qualified to enter God’s kingdom. In fact, the apathy and stubborn disobedience that characterize our life deeply offend God. In Isaiah 64:6, the prophet confessed, “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.”

But Jesus aspired to live a perfectly righteous life. He came to fulfill the Law.  Apparently, being baptized by John was part of that. Baptism was not commanded in the Old Testament. But the Old Testament clearly calls for a spirit of humility and longing for the fulfillment of God’s kingdom promises. So, it was righteous for Jesus to join others in this act.

But how does his righteousness cover us? Paul explains in his letter to the Romans. He likens it to a financial transaction. When we believe, righteousness is credited to our account (4:5). It is like an inheritance given to an adopted child (4:16). It is like a courtroom scene where we stand guilty, but someone else takes the punishment for our crimes (5:9). It is the opposite of the sinfulness that we receive from Adam’s sin. In Romans 5:19, Paul says, “For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.”

So, when we consider the righteousness of Christ revealed in his baptism, we should give up any idea that we can be good enough to earn God’s acceptance. We should accept the gift of this perfect robe that covers all our shameful inadequacies. We should be filled with gratitude, and we should express that gratitude by seeking to grow in our practice of righteousness. In Romans 6:13, Paul said,

Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.

May the righteousness of Christ shape our lives!

His Anointing

In my previous home, a pair of doves came to nest in our backyard every spring. They were not marked by the brilliant colors of cardinals or blue jays. They were not hyperactive like robins. Most of the time you would not notice them at all. But sometimes in the stillness of the morning, you could hear them making their peaceful cooing sound.

The idea of anointing is seldom associated with peacefulness in the Old Testament. Those chosen for important roles were anointed with oil. It was part of God’s process for ordaining priests who would devote their life to the messy never-ending work of offering up slaughtered animals. It was God’s way of marking out kings who would lead the fight to defend his people from their enemies. The Prophet Elijah was also commanded to anoint Elisha as his successor to carry out the hard ministry of confronting Israel’s wicked kings.

But the Prophet Isaiah spoke of a different anointing, not with oil but with the Spirit. This anointed one would bring true comfort and peace. Isaiah 61:1 foretold that he would say,

The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound.

This would be the ultimate anointed one, better than any prophet, priest, or king. He would rescue God’s people and transform the world, and this anointing was revealed during the baptism of Jesus. Matthew 3:16 says,

And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him.

All four Gospels describe the Spirit descending upon Jesus like a dove. Is there some significance to that appearance? Genesis 8 tells us that Noah sent forth a dove to see if the waters had subsided after the judgment of God’s flood. You might say that the dove led the way into a new life.

But I think that when the Spirit appears as a dove in the anointing of Jesus it represents gentleness, patience, hope, and peace. Isaiah 42:1-4 gives us this description of the Lord’s Spirit-anointed servant:

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. He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law.

We see this character throughout the ministry of Jesus. He felt compassion for the multitudes. He healed the sick, cleansed lepers with a touch, and raised the dead. He associated with sinful outcasts and led them to repentance. He is the true anointed one, in Hebrew the Messiah, in Greek the Christ.

How should we respond to this revelation of Jesus as the one anointed by the Spirit? When I consider all that Isaiah has to say about the anointed one, I am reminded of the words of Christ recorded in Matthew 11:28-30. He said,

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

Is that how you think of Jesus, as the one who gives true rest? Have you found rest in him? If so, does that rest continue to shape your spiritual life? He later sent the Holy Spirit to indwell believers to produce the same kind of gentleness, patience, and love that we see in his life. Are you walking by the Spirit?

His Sonship

We cannot help but view the relationship between a father and a son in terms of time. To bear a son, the father must exist first. Because he is younger, the son needs instruction, nurture, and discipline. But what if time is not a factor? What if father and son are both eternal with no beginning and no end? How should we understand their relationship?

We encounter this complicated question in the baptism of Jesus as God the Father reveals his sonship. Matthew 3:17 says, “and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’”

Some people misunderstand the biblical idea of divine sonship. They associate it with Greek and Roman mythology where gods had relationships with mortals and produced heroic demigods like Hercules. That is not what happened at the birth of Jesus. John 1:1-3 makes it clear that Jesus existed before his incarnation. It refers to him as the Word, and says,

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.

Our minds struggle to comprehend how the Word was with God and was God. This is the mystery of eternal sonship. The Son has always existed in perfect union with the Father. He was present and actively involved in the work of creation. He did not begin to exist when he was conceived in Mary’s womb. That was just the moment he took on flesh.

We find a different conception of divine sonship in the Old Testament, however. Second Samuel 7:13-14 tells us that when God made his covenant with David, he promised to establish the throne of one of David’s offspring forever. God said that he would be a father to him, and that this king would be his son. In some sense, this applied to all the Davidic kings. But Psalm 2 anticipates the ultimate fulfillment of this promise. Verses 7-9 tell us that the king testifies,

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. You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”

So, the Old Testament idea of divine sonship relates to the coming of God’s kingdom and the establishment of true justice. But the battle to conquer evil must extend beyond international politics. It requires victory over the spiritual forces of evil as well, a goal no human king can achieve. The fulfillment of the Old Testament idea of divine sonship is only possible when combined with the New Testament idea.

Hebrews 1:1-5 pulls both concepts together. It says,

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs. For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”? Or again, “I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son”?

So, the baptism of Jesus revealed him to be the Son of God. But as the Son of God, Jesus reveals the glory of God to the world. His deity is what makes his sacrifice on the cross an effective atonement for all who believe. It is what enables him to represent us before the presence of God, and it is what empowers him to bring all the world into submission to the will of God. In fact, as we continue our study of Matthew, we will see that Satan and his demons always refer to Jesus as the Son of God.

So, how should we respond to God’s beloved Son? The next verse from Hebrews 1 points us toward a fitting response. Verse 6 says, “And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, ‘Let all God’s angels worship him.’”

As the Son of God, Jesus is worthy of worship. We should praise and adore him. We should devote our lives to serving him. The Son of God is our Savior and our King.


In the baptism of Jesus, we glimpse the dawn of the Messianic era. It reveals his humility as the holy one who stepped down into this dirty world to identify with sinners like you and me. It shows his perfect righteousness that he offers to us as a robe to make us acceptable in God’s sight. It demonstrates that he is the gentle one anointed by the Spirit who patiently cares for us and invites us to find our rest in him. Finally, it was when God testified to his divine sonship. Jesus is the only one with the power to save us and to fulfill God’s kingdom promises.

Are you a worshiper of Jesus Christ? If not, I invite you to bow before him. Receive him as your Lord and Savior. Begin to live for him. If you want to learn more about him, you might want to focus on Hebrews 1 & 2.

If you already worship him, does your life reflect what we have learned about him? Do you need to focus on one of these revelations? Let the truth about who he is shape how you live, and don’t keep that knowledge to yourself. Look for opportunities to tell others about him. May we grow to be more like Jesus Christ!


Which of these revelations about Jesus is most meaningful for you today? Why?

What changes could you make to better reflect these revelations in your life?

How could you start a conversation with someone this week about who Jesus is?