To fulfill all righteousness

Matthew 3:13-15
13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him.
14 And John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?”
15 But Jesus answered and said to him, “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he allowed Him.

We are a disobedient people. We like to do things our way, coming up with our own methods, rules, and laws. Why do things some other way if the way we have found seems easier? And so we come up with our own way of worship, our own way of meeting the just requirements of a “good Christian life,” our own way of approaching the Lord our God. All that matters to us is that we live a decent life, don’t hurt anyone, and generally are peaceful, and then we figure we’ll be okay with God. Oh, and we simply MUST remember to attend church a few times a year–preferably on those big holidays like Easter and Christmas. Yes, then we’ll be just fine.

That, my friends, is RELIGION, but it is NOT FAITH. It is NOT RIGHTEOUSNESS. It is just going through the motions, and it has no relation to true obedience to the will of God. That is why it amazes me that there are some who say they are simply “followers of Christ”–by which they mean they generally live a “clean” life, seek peace, and love and care for others–and yet they do NOT follow Christ’s ordinances of baptism and the Eucharist, they do NOT submit to the will of God and truly live as Christ lived. They say they follow Christ and yet they only imitate SOME of His behavior, SOME of His speech, SOME of His love and forgiveness. “We’re doing the best we can,” they say. “After all, we’re only human.”

Philippians 2:5-8
5 Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus,
6 who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God,
7 but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.
8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.

Jesus was wholly divine and wholly human, too, and yet He perfectly submitted to the will of God the Father–even unto death on the Cross! Want to “follow Christ”? Follow Him to the Cross!

Since Jesus was wholly obedient, and since He knew that people would need to follow His example, He submitted Himself to His own ordinances. Jesus could expect nothing more from His disciples than what He himself had done. If He expected them to pray, then He must pray. If He expected them to fast, then He must fast. If He expected them to heal, then He must heal. If He expected them to seek the Father’s will in all things, then He must do so–and certainly did! And as we see in today’s verses, if Jesus expected His followers to undergo the baptism of repentance, then He must be baptized as well. Yes, the sinless Son of God did not need to repent of any sin, but He needed to set the example of submission to God’s cleansing Spirit, to be a model for how His own disciples would be guided and how they would guide others to repentance and faith.

Matthew 6:33
“But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”

God’s righteousness is fulfilled in us when we submit in perfect obedience to His will for us. His righteousness is not fulfilled in going to church on Sundays, but by worshiping Him in spirit and truth. (John 4:24) God’s righteousness is not fulfilled in simply loving others, but in loving HIM with all our heart and soul and mind. (Matthew 22:37) God’s righteousness is fulfilled in laying aside our own earthly concerns and taking up our own cross–“the emblem of suffering and shame,” as the hymn goes–and following Christ’s commandment to go and preach the gospel to all creatures, to make disciples of all nations, and to baptize in the name of the Father and Son and Holy Spirit. (Matthew 16:24, Mark 16:15-16, Matthew 28:19) And most importantly, Jesus told us to teach those new disciples “to observe ALL things that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:20, my emphasis) That means that we ourselves must observe all the things He has commanded us, all the things He Himself spoke and did in His lifetime, that we must wholly submit to the will of God, humbling ourselves before God and each other.

John 13:13-17
13 “You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am.
14 “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.
15 “For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.
16 “Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him.
17 “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.”

And so Jesus submitted to John to be baptized in order to fulfill the perfect will of God in the ordinance of baptism–the same baptism by which we embody the repentance and washing of the Spirit we undergo when we accept Christ and submit to Him as Lord and Savior. (Romans 6:3-11, Titus 3:4-7)

Psalms 40:7-8
7 Then I said, “Behold, I come;
In the scroll of the book it is written of me.
8 “I delight to do Your will, O my God,
And Your law is within my heart.”

Jesus chose to follow the will of God the Father. In fact, He delighted to do so! As Paul said, He did not think it robbery to put off His glory and majesty to submit to the will of the Father. Jesus submitted to God because He knew that a more perfect prize awaited all mankind if He did so. But that prize, that salvation and eternal life, is only ours through our own repentance from sin and obedience to God.

I will be the first to admit that I don’t always know the perfect will of God, and so I find submission to Him quite difficult at times. But I do know that if I follow the simple commandment to love God first and actually SEEK His kingdom and His righteousness, then His will becomes clearer to me. Did I need to be baptized in water to be washed of my sins? No, Jesus did that for me on the Cross, and He has sent His Holy Spirit to seal me for God. (Ephesians 1:13-14) But in my own baptism, I symbolize the death and resurrection of Christ, the renewal of my life in Him. (Colossians 2:11-12) Therefore, God’s righteousness is fulfilled not merely in Jesus being baptized with water but by His being baptized through death and resurrection. (Matthew 20:22)

My dear friends, the righteousness of God doesn’t simply come to us–we ourselves must fulfill it every day by the way we live our lives. Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, the very Son of God, submitted Himself to being baptized my a man in order that He could fulfill the will of God for our salvation. Submitting to God’s righteousness does not mean we follow the trappings of religion, nor does it mean we simply follow what we like of Christ and ignore the rest. The righteousness of God is fulfilled in us when we repent and believe in Jesus Christ, when we submit to His redemption, when we follow His ordinances, when we actively seek His righteousness. Let us therefore submit to the baptism Jesus offers us–the baptism of the Holy Spirit–and seek to fulfill all of God’s righteousness for our lives.

Holy God and Father, I do not always know Your will for my life, but I am willing to learn. Show me how I may fulfill Your righteousness, how I may seek Your kingdom in how I live my life. Teach me from Your Word and through Your Holy Spirit. Counsel and guide me. Heal and protect me. Baptize me with fire and the Spirit so that I may rise again as a new man, wholly obedient to Your will. Be Thou my wisdom, O Lord. Amen.


About Glenn Pettit

I am a deacon at The Well of Iowa, and a father and grandfather. Called to teach and to preach, I write fresh messages about the Bible every now and then.
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