Matthew 3: 1-3, 5-9, 11, 13-15
Psalm 16: 1-3
Philippians 2: 5-7
In chapter 2, Matthew refers to the days in which, “Jesus having been born in Bethlehem”, the magi came to celebrate His birth. As we know, it was possibly a year or two since the birth of Jesus took place, and they find Him in the house. Herod and all Jerusalem were troubled, “and, assembling all the chief priests and scribes … he enquired of them where the Christ should be born. And they said to him, In Bethlehem of Judaea”. Micah speaks about it, “And thou Bethlehem, land of Juda, art in no wise the least among the governors of Juda; for out of thee shall go forth a leader who shall shepherd my people Israel”,. The only man who made an in-depth enquiry was Herod because he hated Christ, hated a rival to his authority as king, v 1- 7. Jerusalem and all with him were troubled, but that was the end of their concerns at this time we are speaking about here, “Jesus having been born”. They could tell from the Scriptures where the Messiah would be born, but it meant nothing more to them. That was the sad state of affairs in Israel when the Lord was here.
Chapter 3 is about thirty years later; John the baptist preaching, declares, “Repent, for the kingdom of the heavens has drawn nigh”. He speaks about preparing “the way of the Lord”. The great matter with John was repentance and the kingdom of the heavens. It is quite remarkable that he should proclaim that! He is proclaiming a new dispensation, one in which he himself would not have part. It does not declare in this section of Matthew’s gospel what form the kingdom of the heavens would take, but it was called “the kingdom of the heavens” because the Jews were usually used to earthly speaking, speaking from Sinai, but now authority was to come from heaven. I understand “the kingdom of the heavens” is really the same as the kingdom of God but from another aspect. Someone has said “kingdom of God” is the generic term (JND Letters vol 3 p 411), but “the kingdom of the heavens” is another aspect, to stress at this point in time the change of the place from where authority would come. Instead of being from Sinai, it would come from above, and there is One who is coming in to bring that kingdom in. John the baptist announced it.
Then there are those who go out from “Jerusalem, and all Judæa, and all the country round the Jordan, and were baptised by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins”. These were sincere persons. They are putting themselves on a right road - I will say a bit about that later - the way of repentance; they were genuine persons. That is the remnant.
Now, the Lord Jesus was taking account of all this. He did not come in until later on, but He had taken account of all this. Then the Pharisees come up, and John the baptist challenges them as to their sincerity. Our brother has been speaking a little about the fact that we do not want to claim anything; we do not think anything of ourselves as coming from a certain line or a certain company. John the baptist says here, ‘Do not claim Abraham for your father’. It is not sufficient to claim Abraham for your father. What is needed is “sincerity and truth”, 1 Cor 5: 8. There are those who are confessing their sins in sincerity. John says to the others, “Offspring of vipers, who has forewarned you to flee from the coming wrath?” They had taken up a position, but it would appear that John discerned that they were not real. Then he says, “I indeed baptise you with water to repentance, but he that comes after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not fit to bear; he shall baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire”. The Lord Jesus was considering all these things. He has not yet entered into it, but then He suddenly comes in, blessed Man!
Well, I want to speak at this point from Psalm 16. Psalm 16 was actually filled out in this scripture in Matthew when the Lord comes to be baptised of John. He comes in, not claiming equality with God, but as a blessed Man, a humble Man, a lowly Man, an obedient Man, the One who had taken a body prepared for Him to do the will of God. He says, “Preserve me, O God: for I trust in thee”. That is the One who was approaching the Jordan to be baptised by John, and then He says, “Thou my soul hast said to Jehovah, Thou art the Lord”, that is addressing God as His Lord. He says, “my goodness extendeth not to thee”. He did not commend Himself to God. He has taken a humble place, the lowest place that could be taken, the very Man. Then the psalmist says, “To the saints that are on the earth, and to the excellent thou hast said” - that is Christ who has said - “In them is all my delight”. That is this passage at the Jordan, the Lord Jesus coming in as a humble Man, lowly Man, One whom the mass of the Jews took no account of: only the ones who came to John in repentance. The Lord took consideration of those persons, persons in the way of repentance and sincerity, “confessing their sins”. He says, “In them is all my delight”. How Christ found something here that was to His delight; and in His humility, in His humbleness, He identifies Himself with them in baptism, not for His sins, but baptism in righteousness. It has been said when we confess our sins in repentance, we find Jesus because He is already there, but He is there in righteousness. That is the blessed Lord. That is this humble, lowly Man, not distinguished by the hierarchy, by the Sadducees and the Pharisees, or by Herod. They sought to destroy Him. But this company attracted His attention, and He says, ‘I want to be part of them’. He identifies Himself with them. It is very interesting the Lord does not give the lead here in going to be baptised. He waits to see what was taking place and He says, ‘That is the company I wish to be identified with, repenting persons, persons who confess their sins’. In His humility He says, ‘I would like to be identified with them’, and He is the righteous One. He was going on to be the Sin-bearer. That is later on, but it is still true. But He says, “Suffer it now; for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness”. He went down into the waters of baptism. That is the Lord Jesus Christ.
Dear brethren, let us take Him as an example, that blessed, lowly Man. John says, “comest thou to me?”. Really Jesus is rejoicing in heart, but He has come in amongst them to carry their burdens, dear brethren. The Lord has come in amongst us, as repenting persons, to carry our burdens, to know something of the sufferings we are going through. He comes in as this lowly Man - “Preserve me, O God: for I trust in thee” - not as claiming equality, not asserting divine power here, just a lowly Man who says, ‘I want to be identified with the sufferings of My people’, what they had gone through under the bondage of another nation, the Romans, for their sins. He says, ‘I will identify myself with them’. How the Lord delights to identify Himself with persons such as that! Let us be among them, dear brethren, persons who are repenting and who are on the way! Another has said the Lord becomes a Leader to them, to lead them on the way to those wonderful things “which God has prepared for them that love him”, 1 Cor 2: 9. What an outlook, what an outlook He had for them! The way of repentance was the beginning, the gateway into life, the gateway into blessing, the gateway into all the wonderful things that God has prepared for them that love Him, that Christ was going to secure through His death and His burial, His resurrection and His glorification. And then the Spirit of God would come, and the kingdom of God would be formed down here. We can read in Acts 7 how authority was transferred from Jerusalem and the temple to Christ in glory, “the heavens opened”. Stephen saw “the heavens opened”, v 56. The heavens opened again in the passage our brother referred to, Christ coming out to meet Saul of Tarsus.
And then in Philippians there is an exhortation, “For let this mind be in you ...”. Is it, dear brethren? Is that mind in me, the going-down mind? I think it is the King James Version that says He “made himself of no reputation”, v 7. We have to come to learn our nothingness. When we come to that, we find Christ because He is already there. If we confess our sins, we find Jesus. One step in the right direction, and you find God, and you find Christ, and here this attitude of mind, helped by the Holy Spirit, the “mind … which was also in Christ Jesus”. That was in His flesh and blood condition when He came into humanity in lowliness. He “emptied himself, taking a bondman’s form, taking his place in the likeness of men; and having been found in figure as a man, humbled himself, becoming obedient even unto death, and that the death of the cross”, v 7, 8. That was the way the Lord was on. So we have reference to “always bearing about in the body the dying of Jesus”, 2 Cor 4: 10. What a test that is! I do not claim to fully understand it, but the Spirit of God helps in some way in our lives.
But is “this mind … which was also in Christ Jesus” in me? I say again, when you come to find your own nothingness, you find Christ because He is already there. He has taken the lowest place, the lowest place, but a place that He delights in, a place in which He serves and cares for us, a place in which He can go through the burdens of life with us, sympathise in carrying our cares, and carrying ourselves, and rejoicing that, basically in us, there has been true repentance, “repentance towards God, and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ”, Acts 20: 21. That line of things is working in the hearts and souls of the brethren, who have received the gift of the Holy Spirit, so that you can rejoice to be among them in all the lowly place in the testimony. The day will come in the day of display, but that is not the time we are speaking about here. It is the day of the testimony in which there are tests , but there is a blessed lowly Man who has taken a lower place than any of us to support us and be with us.
May the Lord just encourage us for His Name’s sake!
22nd April 2014