by Daniel McCabe
Matthew 3:15, “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”
He closed the door of the family carpentry shop one last time—its floor covered with sawdust and rich with memories of time spent with his dad, Joseph.
Remember, Jesus, measure twice, cut once.
Dad, which wood is harder? Cedar or oak?
Finish sanding that table leg and we’ll call it a day.
Three-legged and four-legged stools, chairs with backs, dinner tables that stood very low to the ground, beds with slats to support a mattress, nightstands to hold small clay lamps filled with olive oil, and large wooden storage chests—the business would now pass to his younger brothers: James, Joses, Judas and Simon (Matthew 13:55). Mary’s “firstborn son” (Matthew 1:25) embraced his young mother who always knew this day would come. He soaked in the familiar Nazareth hills with a slow sweep of his head and set out down the dry riverbed of the Wadi Bira for the winding, muddy waters of the Jordan River “to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15).
By the time Jesus arrived on the banks of the Jordan, possibly just outside of Jericho Town, believers and skeptics alike had already gathered there to hear the prophetic sermons of John the Baptizer and in the case of many to be baptized in the same water that had once divided miraculously for General Joshua and the children of Israel to begin their conquest of the Promised Land. Any and all who confessed their sins each day at the Jordan followed up their change of heart with baptism. Baptized tax collectors promised to collect no more than the law required. Baptized soldiers promised not to bully civilians and to be content with their wages. Others promised to share their clothes and their food with the needy.
Forgiven sinners of all ages publicly identify themselves as sinners through the practice of baptism, which pictures the cleansing that God brings to the heart of men. The perfect need no baptism, so when Jesus stepped to the front of the crowd requesting baptism, the Baptizer initially refused. But Jesus insisted, saying, “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (3:15). I suspect that John, like me, didn’t fully understand the meaning of Jesus’ words. They made little sense at the time. That’s why Jesus says, “Permit it to be so now.” In other words, some things that don’t make sense now will prove to be just right as we look back on them in the days ahead. John, not fully understanding, nevertheless fully trusted, and together they waded into the water for baptism—the sinless in the hands of the sinful. How fitting that Jesus, who could never identify himself as a sinner, nevertheless chose to identify himself with sinners! How comforting to know that Jesus understands our temptations, pressures and loneliness! He asks us to trust him in our moments of hesitation and confusion.
Today in Israel more than half a dozen locations near Jericho have been proposed as the actual site of Jesus’ baptism. Despite the evident uncertainty, each site stands as a memorial to Jesus’ compassion for sinners and John’s obedience to Jesus in the face of the unthinkable.
God may be asking you too to do the unthinkable. It would be so much easier for you if it weren’t for the crowd nearby poised to criticize your actions; yet, you’ve clearly heard from God, so “permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for to fulfill all righteousness.” Step into the water with him. It’s time to trust.
Further Reading: Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22