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A Few Stories About Water: Fulfilling All Righteousness

December 4, 2011 Leave a comment

Jesus’ baptism in Matthew and how it is linked to the crossing of the Red Sea makes me think of a lot more I want to explain. It’ll be longer than I want it to be, but I think the explanation will be worthwhile and probably shed some light on other aspects of the first portion of Matthew’s gospel narrative. Jesus lives out the story of Israel in the first few chapters of Matthew and his baptism comes at the point of the crossing of the Red Sea.

In Genesis, Sarah is much too old to have a child (90). Abraham and his wife know that there is no way she can conceive at their age. God made it happen anyway. He visited Sarah and she conceived and bore a son through whom the descendants of the promise of God would be reckoned.

In Matthew, Mary is much too virginal to have a child. Conception is an absolute impossibility. But the virgin was with child through the Holy Spirit without having ever been with a man. Mary gave birth to a son through whom the descendants of the promise of God would be reckoned. Genesis in Matthew 1.

In Exodus, the Pharaoh was afraid that Israel was reproducing too fast and would become too strong and wrest from the hands of Pharaoh the power he had over them. So, Pharaoh declared that every male child born to the Hebrew women living in Egypt was to be killed. Moses’ family hid him away and he eventually found safety in the palace of Egypt. Moses’ found safety in the heart of Egypt. And then Israel was brought out of its slavery in Egypt to enter the land of the promise.

In Matthew, Herod heard that there was one who was born to be king of the Jews and was afraid that this future king would rise up and wrest from the hands of Herod the power he had over the Jews. So, Herod declared that all male children 2 years of age and under in Bethlehem and the surrounding area were to be killed. God told Joseph, Jesus’ surrogate father, to find safety from Herod in the land of Egypt.* And then, filling full the prophecy of Hosea, as God’s son Israel was called out of Egypt, so God’s son Jesus was called out of Egypt. Exodus in Matthew 2.

When Israel leaves Egypt, their next scene is the crossing of the Red Sea. When Jesus leaves Egypt, his next scene also involves water. Yeahp, the baptism.

Crossing of the Red Sea was a seminal moment of salvation for Israel. The crossing of the sea not only marked their departure from Egypt, but eliminated those who were trying to re-enslave them. It was their ultimate moment of salvation from their bondage. When they crossed the Red Sea, Israel was free to be a sovereign nation that is no longer under the power and reign of another ruler. Israel’s salvation freed them to be a people who were set apart, able to display the power, goodness, faithfulness, love , and superiority of YHWH to the nations around them.

It was after Jesus was baptized that he becomes not just the main character, but the main acter in the story. The baptism begins Jesus’ battle with the devil, preaching, healing… a lot of bibles give it the header “Jesus Begins His Public Ministry.” We’ll go with that, it’s quicker. Anyway, the baptism began Jesus’ public ministry which was about bringing salvation to his people. Jesus’ ministry was to free the covenant people of God from their bondage to sin. Jesus is the first in and the initiator of the New Exodus. Once free from their slavery to sin, his people are liberated to be set apart from the world, putting on display the power, goodness, faithfulness, and love of their God to the nations.

I think that Jesus statement, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” is linked to Jesus living out the story of Israel. ** Jesus lives out the story of Israel the story of Israel perfectly. Jesus fills full Israel’s righteousness by honoring YHWH where they failed to. The righteousness of the Messiah makes up for the sin of Israel. The best example of this comes in the next passage about the temptation of Jesus.

In the book of Numbers Israel refuses to go up into the promised land, instead spending 40 years in the desert. Their time in the desert was replete with rebellion, grumbling, and sin. Israel was discontent with God’s provision. They repeatedly tested God. They engaged in idolatry.

In Matthew 4 Jesus spends 40 days in the desert without food. Hungry, Jesus faces the temptation of being discontent with what God has provided, but God’s words are enough for him. Jesus refused to put God to the test. With the reward of having all the kingdoms of the world and their glory on the line, Jesus still will not bow down to a false god. Israel was unrighteous, but Jesus fills full all righteousness.

The book Jesus quotes three times when he is being tempted by Satan is Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy is a long sermon that gives a brief run through of Israel’s history with commentary, reiterates some of God’s instructions, and constantly exhorts obedience to YHWH and Him alone. Deuteronomy describes the individual who loves God , fears Him, obeys Him, and who teaches others to do the same and describes those who rebel against God and live according to the ways of themselves, other nations, and other gods. The one who loves God is blessed and the one who doesn’t is cursed. During his temptation, Jesus was being the idealistic archetype described in Deuteronomy. Jesus was fulfilling all righteousness.

After Israel spent 40 years in the desert, in the book of Joshua they enter into the promised land and their wandering nation is given a kingdom. Centuries later, Israel is in that same land, but under the power of another government. They are again a nation that exists as a part of the kingdom of another nation. Jesus, after his 40 days in the desert, comes preaching that the kingdom of heaven is at an arms reach. Jesus is bringing his people into a kingdom where regardless of what government authority is in power, God always reigns.
*This parallel of Jesus’ safety in Egypt is not just similar to Moses being protected by Egypt from the ruler, but is also similar (probably more similar) to Jacob (Israel) and his descendants being protected in Egypt. Joseph brought his brothers and his father Israel into Egypt in order to protect them from the famine they were experiencing. Egypt was first not a place of slavery, but of protection.

** If you have a more fitting explanation of this statement than I do, please share! This verse is always one that has left me wondering. I’ve never felt like I’ve had a firm grasp on it.

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A Few Stories About Water: Playing With Birds in the Jordan

November 28, 2011 1 comment

Millennia after Israel crossed the river, another man came walking up to the Jordan. Guess what that man’s name is? Iesous in the Greek. Guess what word is also translated Iesous from Hebrew? Joshua. We call this man Jesus, but he very nearly shares a name with Joshua (it’s not quite as simple as saying Jesus = Joshua, but it’s very similar). So again, sort of, Joshua (Jesus), approaches the Jordan.

Jesus enters the Jordan River and asks John the Baptist to baptize him, and though, as John said, Jesus should be baptizing him, Jesus says, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Jesus went into the water, came up out of the water, and the Spirit of God descended like a dove upon him. A voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

Some of the same basic things that are happening at the crossing of the Jordan river are also happening at the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan river. Jesus’ baptism as the Messiah begins His public ministry and marks a transition point, a new stage for God’s covenant people. The Jordan river crossing is essentially YHWH’s fulfillment of His promise of land, Jesus’ baptism marks God’s fulfillment of his promise of a Messiah. The crossing of the Jordan was Israel’s entering into the promised land where the kingdom of God’s covenant people would be established. The baptism of the Messiah was the baptism of the one who would bring God’s kingdom for His covenant people. YHWH tells Joshua that the crossing of the Jordan was going to be an affirmation of God’s presence with Joshua, just as He was present with Moses. God affirms Jesus at the baptism in the Jordan by calling Jesus his son and affirms His presence when the Spirit of God came down from the heavens and rested on Jesus. It’s not the same, but I believe we are intended to see the similarities and to see Jesus as a Joshua-like character who is a major participant in bringing God’s promise to Abraham to fulfillment.

I guess we’ll move chronologically, starting with the story of the flood. The same imagery parallels the parting of the Sea and stopping of the Jordan had with the flood aren’t present in this story, but there is one very peculiar element this narrative shares with the Flood narrative. The dove. In all of Scripture, we only see the dove used in narrative on two occasions: in the Flood story and in Jesus’ baptism.* I’m disinclined to think its coincidental. The dove in the Re-Creation stories is a sign that the world has become new and alive for humanity so YHWH’s image bearers can thrive after God saved them from their own destruction. Jesus is doing something similar.

Thematically, Jesus’ baptism has a lot of similarities to the Flood. The Flood was an act of Re-Creation, Jesus has come to Re-Create humanity in His image. The Flood rid the world of the destroyers and perverters of God’s image. Jesus has come to transform the destroyers of the image of God in humanity into its cultivators. The Flood was designed to undo what went wrong with Creation and fix it. In the same way Jesus purposes to redeem the effects of the Fall and set everything right that is wrong with the world. God’s use of Jesus to purify, save, and redeem humanity is not something completely novel, but something God has been doing since the Flood.

*There are other uses of the word “dove,” but they are not used in a narrative, unless you count the cost of its poop in Kings. Primarily the word “dove” is used for imagery purposes in Psalms, Songs of Solomon, and the poetic prose of prophets.

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