This scene of Jesus’s baptism would have looked, at least at first, as ordinary as any other baptism that was taking place in those days. We don’t know all the details of the setting here in Matthew 4, but we know that John the Baptist had been baptizing crowds of people for several days.
John the Baptist was an unusual guy. He pretty much lived in a van down by the Jordan River. And Matthew tells us that in chapter 4, verse 5 that “Jerusalem and all Judea and the all the region” were going out to where he was to be baptized. So we would expect that there was a crowd the day that Jesus came walking up. We would expect a line of folks waiting their turn to stand in the river with John, and Jesus would have stepped into that same line with them. And then when it was his turn, we imagine John the Baptist looked up, saw Jesus, and was absolutely shocked. That’s how the Gospel of John describes it. John the Baptist sees Jesus coming toward him and he says, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). And then reluctantly, because he feels unworthy and because he’s still a little bit in shock, John the Baptist immerses Jesus into the water and immediately Jesus comes up. And we read Matthew 4:16 . . .
the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
Now, what do you think the guy was thinking who was standing in line behind Jesus?
Remember there was probably a crowd of people there. People from the whole region had been coming out to John to get baptized, and so there was most likely a line of people waiting their turn, which means there was a person who was baptized right before Jesus, and there was a person baptized after Jesus. We don’t know who this person was behind Jesus and we don’t know exactly what they were thinking, but we know they would have at least thought, by all appearances, that this man named Jesus looked like them. Whoever this person was who stood behind Jesus in line, he would have noticed that Jesus was as short as he was. He would have noticed that Jesus’s elbows were as dirty as his own — that Jesus’s hair was as dark and thick as any other Jewish 30-something in First Century Palestine. Whoever this person was, we imagine that he would have at least said to himself, in the unconscious way that we say things to ourselves, “Hey, Jesus is like me.”
And this person who stood behind Jesus would said that about Jesus because it was true about Jesus. Jesus was (and is) a man, and he lived just as much a man, a human, as anyone else who got baptized by John. Jesus lived as a man, a human, just as much as any of us are today.
And this is not just a box to check theologically. This is something we have to hold in our imaginations, and feel with our hearts. Jesus became like you.
He Came and Lived
Jesus became human — human like the rest of us and he lived on this earth like the rest of us. The Nicene Creed reminds us about this. Remember last week Pastor David introduced us to the Nicene Creed. It is a statement from the early church about who Jesus is and what he did. It was first put together in the 300s. And in this creed, in a short but important phrase, we read: “For us and for our salvation [Jesus] came down from heaven; he became incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary, and was made human.” Just that phrase: “Jesus was made human.” It’s loaded with significance.
Jesus was and is human like us. And it’s important to remember this because the life of Jesus doesn’t just jump from a manger in Bethlehem to a cross outside Jerusalem. There are around 33 years of life he lived on this earth, and the life he lived here is as relevant for our salvation as his dying and being raised. His living is as much as part of his work as his dying. In other words, if we are going to be saved by him, we don’t just need his death, we need his life.
It’s easy for us to think that the work of Jesus to save us goes like this: he came, he died, he was raised. But we need to slow down a little. It’s more accurate, and important, that we understand the work of Jesus like this: he came and lived, and then he died, and then he was raised and then he ascended, and he will come again. We talked last week about Jesus’s incarnation, and we’ll talk about these others in the next few weeks. But today I talk more about his life of Jesus and why it matters.
Here are three points we’re going to unpack:
- Jesus lived like you to save you.
- Jesus lived like you so that you could live like him.
- Jesus lived like you to suffer with you.
Now as I go through these, I want to attach a passage from the Bible to each point to help you make the connections. [And I want to just say, before we get started, I wish I thought of a story or two to throw in here, but I don’t have any. So it’s three straight points (bam, bam, bam). It’ll be around 30 minutes. So hang on.] We’ll start with the first point . . .
1. Jesus lived like you to save you. (Hebrews 2:14–18)
14Since therefore the children [he means humans] share in flesh and blood, [Jesus] himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. 16For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. 17Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 18For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
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.
Jesus lived like you to save you. This first point is really saying two things — that Jesus lived like you, and that he lived like you to save you. The first part, that he lived like you, means that Jesus was made like you in “every respect” (that’s the phrase used in 2:17 and 4:15) — in “every respect.”
In other words, it means that Jesus lived life in your shoes. All the things about you that make you human, Jesus became that. He didn’t just become a man, but he entered into the details of human life and experience. For example, we see in the Gospels that Jesus got tired sometimes and he slept (Luke 8:23). We also see that Jesus got hungry. Matthew 21:18 says that Jesus got hungry one time and was going to eat some figs from a fig tree [and if you remember this story we might even say that Jesus got hangry, as long as being hangry doesn’t mean sin.]
All the different categories of stresses that we each experience as humans was something that Jesus experienced in some way. All the ways or categories in which we have been tempted were the ways that he was tempted, except he never sinned. And that part is really important. Jesus has been through, in some sense, everything that we’ve been through, but he did it all perfectly.
And he did all it all in righteousness, in faithfulness, in obedience to God in every circumstance, in order to save us.
There’s actually a doctrine, a title, for what this is called. It is called Jesus’s active obedience. Many years ago, some Christian thinkers identified two categories to help us understand Jesus’s human obedience: there is his active obedience and his passive obedience. The passive obedience of Jesus is when he died for us — it’s when he passively yielded his life, or gave up his life for us. His active obedience is when he, throughout his life, actively, intentionally obeyed the will of God, even through struggle and pain and suffering.
The phrases “active” and “passive” can be confusing because they overlap, but think of it like this: Jesus’s passive obedience was him head down, on the cross letting go, surrendering his life to save us. And then his active obedience was Jesus heads up, covering new ground in human faithfulness. He was trusting and obeying God in the ways we have not, and therefore he was blazing a trail for us, and accomplishing a human righteousness that we need in order to be saved.
Let’s bring this down to the very practical. We need a Savior who has looked temptation in the face the same way we have, and yet was perfect in all the ways we are not.
Moms, when you are in the thick of mothering stress, and the kids are not listening, and that one more thing happens that pushes you over the edge, and you lash out in anger, you need to know that Jesus was once in a moment like that. In some way, he experienced the same mounting stress and when it came to that moment when the straw usually breaks the camel’s back, in that split second just before you sinned and lashed out in anger, Jesus took a deep breath and obeyed God. He trusted God. He did the right thing. And therefore, he can save us from that sin.
Jesus also knows how to have a roommate. Ya’ll know what it’s like to have roommates: there’s a moment that comes every now and then when your roommate does something you do not like, and you feel like you’ve raised the issue several times, but you are just not being heard. And it sometimes means that when you are with other friends and that friend isn’t there, you have a desire to talk about your roommate in unloving ways. This is gossip. Well, you need to know that Jesus understood that. He was around people, and close enough to people, to understand the dynamics of human relationships, and there were times when he probably face palmed about the things Peter did. But whenever he was standing around his disciples and Peter wasn’t there, in a similar way that you stand around your friends and one of them is not there, all the things that frustrated Jesus about Peter came to his mind, and in that moment, in that split-second just before we say something sinful, Jesus took a deep breath and obeyed God. He trusted God. He refused to speak badly of his friends, and therefore, he can save us from that sin.
Men, Jesus knew how not to click. In those moments when you might feel sorry for yourself, in those moments when you are tempted to indulge your sexual desires in distorted ways, you need to know that Jesus, in some way, has been there. He dealt with the rushing winds of sexual longing, and in those moments when images were accessible to him, when the power to exploit women for their physical appearance was a look away, or a page away, Jesus never clicked. He never looked the wrong way though he could have. He never thought the wrong the thought though he could have. In that moment, in that split-second before we sin, Jesus never got alone with the Internet, and therefore, he can save us from that sin.
We could go through examples like this all day. Jesus was human in “every respect” and he was perfect in every way. In every circumstance, every temptation, Jesus trusted and obeyed God, and accomplished a human righteousness that we could not. Therefore, he can save us. He can save you, whoever you are. When Jesus died, an exchange took place. In his dying, he took all of our sin and failure, and he suffered the punishment for it. And he gave us, in the place of our sin, all the righteousness and faithfulness he accomplished in his living. One way it’s historically been said is that the perfect obedience of Jesus is accredited to our account. The righteousness of Jesus is ascribed to us as if it were our own. That is what we need. Jesus lived like you to save you.
2. Jesus lived like you so that you could live like him. (Romans 13:14)
But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
So when we put our faith in Jesus the righteousness of Jesus is ascribed to us. God declares us righteous in Jesus. This is a status freely given us by God’s grace, through our faith. And there’s more. Jesus lived like us to save us, and he lived like us so that we could live like him. The righteous trail of human life that Jesus blazed is a trail that we ourselves now walk on.
There are really two different ways of human life. Paul talks about these in Romans 5. There is the way of Adam, which represents sinful humanity. And then there is the way of Jesus, which represents true humanity. For all those who believe in Jesus, who trust in Jesus, they are given the title of true humanity. They are declared righteous. That’s the banner over our lives, given to us by God’s grace, not our effort.
And then, of course, it makes sense, it fits, it is necessary, that those who live with the title of “righteous in Jesus,” will walk the way of righteousness that Jesus walked. Think of it this way: it makes no sense that someone who is called “righteous in Jesus” would continue to walk in the ways of Adam. The metaphor that Paul uses in Romans in death and life. In Adam is death, in Jesus is life. If, therefore, God has made you alive in Jesus, don’t live like you are dead in Adam. You have been spiritually raised from the dead, and raised to walk in newness of life. That is actually what baptism represents. When you come out of the water, it says that you starting brand new. It’s a symbol that says you are doing life a different way than you did it before. You are righteous in Jesus and you are going to do things his way from now on.
That’s where the command comes from, “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” Put on Jesus. Dress yourself in Jesus’s way of doing things, because Jesus had a way of doing things. He lived a certain way so that you would live like him. He wants you to put him on and do what he did. This is not abstract. It gets very practical. Jesus loved his enemies, we should love our enemies. Jesus cared for the broken, we should care for the broken. Jesus treated others the way he wanted to be treated — so we do too. Jesus refused to orient his life based upon outside impressions and social expectations — so we do too.
Jesus relentlessly focused on the hearts of those around him. Jesus served others at his own expense. Jesus trusted God in the hardest time — so we do too and on and on. Jesus had a way of doing things, and he lived that way so that we, as his disciples, would live like him. He is a Savior who doesn’t just save us from sin, but he is a Savior who we are called to follow. He lived like us as a human in every respect, and did it perfectly, so that we could live like him, and do things the way he did them.
3. Jesus lived like you to suffer with you. (1 Peter 2:21–25)
1 Peter 2:21–24,
For to this you have been called [Peter is talking about unjust suffering, and he says we are called to it] . . .
because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.
Of all the ways that Jesus lived like us and we are called to live like him, the reality of suffering is foremost. Human suffering is as deep into the human experience of a broken world that any of us can go.
Here is one way to think about suffering: There is life as we know it, the common ground, full of its own trouble, and then there is suffering — the outskirts of town, the unchartered territory where there are no street lights, and no company. This is where it’s dark, where there are the hidden paths of unexpected turns and ups and downs that lead to only God knows where.
All of us, for most of the time, are huddled together in life, making our way, looking to God, on the common ground, and then sometimes we are thrown out on those dark, hidden paths all by ourselves. We end up so far away from what we’ve known before, and carrying so much pain and disappointment, that every other experience in life feels like a bubble compared to this.
We find ourselves in a place that we want so badly not to be. We want it to stop, we want it to be fixed. We did not choose this path! But we’re on and we can’t escape it. That is the path of human suffering, and many of you, in different ways, have walked that path or are walking that path, and you need to know that however dark it might be, however uncertain each step might seem, Jesus has walked there before you.
When you walk down the path of suffering, you are walking in his steps, and even when you don’t know where you are, he knows where you are. Jesus knows how you feel. In fact, Jesus suffers with you. He’s right there beside you.
Sometimes I think we can forget that our God suffered. So often in human suffering, when we are in the depths of human experience and brokenness, when we’re in the outskirts, it feels like we are far away from God, but actually we might be closer to him. Because when Jesus lived like us, he lived like us in the depths. Jesus lived in the outskirts. We have to remember that there was a time when Jesus said, sweating with anxiety, “Father, isn’t there another way?” And there was another time when Jesus said, crying in confusion, “Father, where are you?”
Jesus got knots in his stomach. He got frogs in his throat. Jesus wept.
He suffered like us so that when we find ourselves in suffering, we can remember what the man knew who stood behind Jesus the day he was baptized. When we suffer we can think what that man thought: “Hey, Jesus is like me.” He’s like me. He knows what this is like. He has been here before. And he’s here with me now.
And this brings us to the Table. [Servers come forward]
The Table is a call to fellowship with Jesus however dark the our paths might be. Wherever we find ourselves, however bad it hurts, here is when we remember the death of Jesus for us, and we experience our union with him by faith.
This is a family meal for Cities Church, but if you’re here this morning and you are united to Jesus, if Jesus rules you, and saves you, and satisfies you, then we invite you to eat and drink with us.