In Sunday’s gospel (Matthew 3:13-17), it’s not hard to grasp why John would have sought to change Jesus’ mind about who would baptize whom. John had just finished confessing that he was not worthy to perform the menial task of toting the Messiah’s sandals (Mt 3:11), but now Jesus asks John to baptize him just as John had baptized countless thousands before him. John’s heart longed for a role reversal.
And right there is something very important for us to imitate in John! He knew that he too lived only by the repentance and forgiveness of sins his ministry proclaimed. In his heart, John identified with the needy souls who flocked to him at the Jordan.
There is a grave danger in ministry to become so accustomed to people coming to us in need of the grace of God – people whose personal or family lives may look much messier than ours – that we begin to think of ourselves in another league than those we serve. Of course, that arrogance may never spill out of our mouths. Yet the aroma of ministry arrogance can seep from our pores in more ways than we realize. Its stench is found in petulant impatience with those who struggle with a particular sin that may not be our Achilles heel. The foul odor we think we are smelling in others actually arises from us when we sniff at the cluelessness or foolishness of others (think social media). Something rotten is festering when we label others as endlessly needy while forgetting our ongoing need for the same healing we dispense.
And all of this decaying rottenness hinders the impact God intends for our ministry. Yes, it’s true, God once spoke through Balaam’s smelly donkey, but that does not excuse me for ministering like one. Of course, we haven’t even mentioned the worst impact. The foul stench of such arrogance threatens to become not just a barrier between us and those we serve but also between us and our God.
All of which sends us back to the Jordan where we long with John to be washed by the Messiah. And there we are amazed with John to find Jesus insisting on standing in our place in the water befouled by our sin. There – as in every moment of life and ministry– we find Jesus fulfilling all righteousness for us!
But Jesus did not do his fulfilling of all righteousness – then or now – alone! Now that we’ve joined John in confessing our unworthiness to serve Jesus, please allow me to point out a wonderful little word that shows how highly Jesus exalts John and you and me. “Jesus replied, ‘Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.’” (15). Jesus didn’t say “me” but “us.” Jesus permits John to partner with him in fulfilling all righteousness as John becomes the human hand that pours the water on Jesus. John is the unworthy and yet chosen tool Jesus uses to identify with sinners in the water of the Jordan. John becomes the conduit to deliver the Spirit’s power poured out on him so that as true man Jesus might be strengthened by the outpouring of the Spirit for ministry. John becomes the great revealer of the Messiah there at the Jordan as his pouring of the water initiates a glorious chain reaction that leads to a descending Dove and a fatherly Voice identifying Jesus as the great Anointed One. John had confessed to being unworthy to tote the Messiah’s sandals, and yet Jesus partners with John to fulfill all righteousness!
And Jesus is still using unworthy servants like John, and like you and me, “to fulfill all righteousness.” Of course, it is not in the identical way that God had in mind for John. Yet, as this new year dawns, Jesus is also still partnering with you and me – unworthy instruments though we too must confess to be – “to fulfill all righteousness.” For everything that happened there at the Jordan misses its goal if it doesn’t reach hearts still today. John’s hand once poured water on Jesus as he identified with sinners. Now your hand pours water on sinners as they are identified with Jesus. It is still a gracious and glorious “us” as Jesus partners with you in your ministry to fulfill what your saving God has had in mind from all eternity. Every day unworthy servants like you and me have a God-ordained partnership to play in the ongoing fulfillment of all righteousness.
In this new year of 2020, I could hardly speak a new year’s blessing for you greater than what Sunday’s gospel gives you! May this new year give you, like John, a daily increasing awareness of your own desperate need for Jesus. And then, after finding the joy that Jesus willingly identified himself with sinners like John and you, may this new year open your eyes again and again to the wonderful partnership that still exists between Jesus and “us,” his admittedly unworthy instruments. May God’s good Spirit open your eyes to see day after day – even in the most mundane ministry tasks – that God is daily partnering with you to move forward his eternal plan of salvation.
God in his great patience has granted this world to see the year of our Lord 2020. You know why that matters. Jesus is still partnering with unworthy instruments to fulfill all righteousness!