My One Defense - Matthew 3:13–4:11

We grew up saying things like, “He hit me,” or “She took my toy.” Some of you have young children and you observe it every day. Sometimes we were innocent; sometimes we were guilty. And we learned how to make a defense. If we were innocent, we simply appealed to the facts. But if we were guilty, we learned about using excuses. Didn’t you? Sure, you did do what you were accused of, but you had a good reason.

My One Defense - Matthew 3:13-4:1-11

“He hit me first,” or “Well, I had that toy first.” By the time we grow up, we’ve had years of experience making appeals to justify our guilt.

  • You have to understand what I’ve been through in my life.

  • Here’s how I’ve been treated.

  • I’m under a lot of pressure. I couldn’t help it.

I was provoked. I’m not completely to blame for the sinful thing I’ve said or done.

Or, rather than making excuses, we might appeal to our accomplishments. “I did do that, or say that, and it was bad. But look at the good things I’ve done. I’m not so bad,” Or, “What I did was bad, but at least I’m not as bad as that person over there.”

Truth is, when we face condemnation for our guilt, either from other people or from within - from our own consciences - we naturally want to make some appeal to defend ourselves.

But for those who are born again in Jesus Christ, there is only one defense we should make. Earlier we sang these lyrics: “Lord, I need You…Every hour I need You, My one defense, my righteousness, Oh God, how I need You.” No excuses to justify ourselves when we’re guilty, no appeals to good deeds done or bad deeds avoided; there’s only one defense for the guilty before a holy God, only one source of righteousness to which we can appeal, and that is Jesus.

In the life of Jesus, specifically at his baptism, his anointing, and his testing, those who trust in him find one defense against condemnation. And so, we should look to Jesus when we face condemnation. But a reasonable question is “How do his baptism, anointing, and testing defend us?”

That’s what we’re going to examine today. On page 6 of your worship guide, you’ll see an outline.

  • At his baptism, Jesus was identified as the One who could bear our guilt.

  • At his anointing, Jesus was empowered as the One who could perform our obedience.

  • And at his testing, Jesus was confirmed as the One who could earn our righteousness.

So, let’s look at each of these.

First, his baptism. (v.13-15)

Jesus comes to John to be baptized, but John hesitates because of what his baptism means. Jews who were receiving John’s baptism were essentially proclaiming that they were unclean. His baptism was for those who needed to repent. Jesus did not need to repent. He was not unclean. But he insists that John baptize him, in order to, as he says, “fulfill all righteousness.” The baptism reflects his purpose of saving his people by being their representative before God. Jesus is identifying with his unclean people as the bearer of their sins.

In Luke 22, Jesus says he must fulfill the words of Isaiah 53, which states that the Messiah must be, “numbered with the transgressors.” In other words, Jesus must be counted among the sinners. In this way, Jesus became one of us. He’s like one who is unclean because of sins. Romans 6 tells us that those whom Jesus saves are united with him. We have union with him in which he is our represents us before God. The New Testament repeatedly says we are “in Christ.” Therefore the baptism was essential for Jesus. And as with many other events in Jesus’ life, this one also parallels Old Testament Israel.

I pointed out last week that the baptism administered by John was not a Christian baptism. It belongs to the Old Testament, as the new covenant did not begin until after John’s ministry. The meaning and method of Christian baptism will come into clearer focus later. But while they are not identical, there is a close link between the sacrament of baptism which Jesus institutes as the sign of the new covenant and this baptism of John.

So far in Matthew, we’ve read that Jesus fled to Egypt to escape death, he was called out of Egypt by God, he was baptized, and he was then tested in the wilderness. Each of those things happened to the nation of Israel as well, including baptism. How do we know? In 1 Corinthians in the New Testament, the apostle Paul is instructing new Christians on the nature of life in the covenant community of the local church.

Even though believers are saved by grace through faith, we must demonstrate that we are truly saved by how we live our lives. Not that we will never sin, but we should bear fruit in keeping with repentance. Therefore, true believers need warnings and reminders of how we should live. Paul means to tell them that just because a person is a member of the covenant community, that does not guarantee that he or she is truly saved. Each one must reject sin and pursue holiness. And in chapter 10 Paul writes this:

[1] I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, [2] and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea…Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased,

for they were overthrown in the wilderness.”

Paul is talking about the Israelites and their exodus out of Egypt led by Moses. He says they were baptized into Moses, “in the cloud,” which refers to the cloud manifesting the presence of God that they followed out of Egypt, and they were baptized “in the sea,” which refers to the parting of the Red Sea when God delivered them from the Egyptian army sent by Pharaoh to retrieve the Israelites because he changed his mind about letting them go.

Interestingly here, it was the Egyptians, not the Israelites, who are immersed in the water. But the Israelites, according to Paul, were baptized. How? Well, in their exodus, the Israelites were basically in union with Moses as their deliverer. And they were delivered. Yet many obviously didn’t truly know God by faith, which is why they died as a result of their disobedience in the wilderness. Gerald Williamson writes, “When Paul says that the children of Israel “were all baptized into Moses” he means that they left Egypt and all the relationships which they had with it, to enter into a new relationship with Moses the man of God.” Moses was their mediator or representative between them and a holy God.

For those who have trusted in Jesus, those in union with him by faith, Jesus is our representative, our mediator, in our great exodus from bondage to sin and death. And this is our defense against condemnation for our guilt, that Jesus fully identified with us in our guilt, not because he was guilty, but because he intended to fully bear the condemnation for our guilt on the cross. Our union with Christ is everything. He fully identified with us in our sin, so that we could fully identify with him in his sinlessness. Have you been united to Christ in this way? And if so, can you rest in this as a defense against condemnation?

Let’s look next at his anointing.

In a sense, this is the ordination of Jesus. It’s a visible demonstration that the Holy Spirit has come upon him for his important task. He goes into the Jordan, John puts water on him, and he comes back up from the water to the shore. Notice verse 16, “the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; [17] and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

Just a few chapters ago we saw Matthew’s case that Jesus is the son of Abraham, the son of David. In Exodus 4, God refers to the people of Israel as his firstborn son. This event is loaded with meaning. Isaiah 61 describes the Messiah in this way: [1] The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.” God pours his Spirit on Jesus Christ here. He consecrates him or sets him apart and gives him power. Philippians 2 says Jesus actively set aside his power to become man, though he never ceased being fully God. The Trinity could never be broken apart. Here Jesus is empowered as God said the Messiah would be. The Spirit descends and the Father acknowledges it from heaven, so heaven is communicating again with the people. The silence of God is broken.

And what the Father says reflects two key Old Testament passages about the Messiah. Isaiah 42, [1] Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.” So Jesus is the suffering Servant spoken of in Isaiah. Also, Psalm 2, the psalm written by King David, says, “The LORD said to me, “You are my Son.”

God had promised the people a son of David who would be an eternal King, and a servant who would suffer to make them righteous. And here we see Jesus empowered by the Spirit to be both, not only to perform miracles and to preach, but also, and this is important in light of the next verses, empowered to perform our obedience. To live the life for us that we could not live.

Often you hear that Jesus died for the sins of his people. Absolutely true. And with your sins paid for, your slate is wiped clean. But that’s doesn’t make you righteous. Isaiah 53 says “by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.” Genesis 15 says that Abraham, “believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.” Jesus credits a righteous life to his people. How can he do that? Because he lived a righteous life, and then united with his people, that righteousness is ours.

Here is a sufficient defense for guilty sinners who trust in Christ. To say, “Yes, I sinned, I admit it, but glory to God, when the Father looks at me, because of my union with Christ Jesus, the Father sees an obedient life. I have no ground to stand on but this: I am in Christ. I am his, he is mine. The man Jesus Christ was empowered by the Spirit to live an obedient life in my place. I have no righteousness of my own.” Do you own Christ in this way?

And finally, let’s look at the testing of Jesus.

This testing of Jesus right after his anointing mirrors the testing of Israel described in Deut. 6-8. Before the Israelites were to go into the promised land, spies were sent to scout it out. All but one spy came back and said it was too dangerous and could not be done. They did not trust the God who had delivered them from Egypt. And in Numbers 14, God says, [34] According to the number of the days in which you spied out the land, forty days, a year for each day, you shall bear your iniquity forty years, and you shall know my displeasure.’ [35] I, the LORD, have spoken. Surely this will I do to all this wicked congregation who are gathered together against me: in this wilderness they shall come to a full end, and there they shall die.” Deut. 8 says the wilderness was a testing to see what was in the hearts of the Israelites.

What was revealed was sin. In a parallel way, Jesus goes into the wilderness for forty days to be tested to reveal what is in his heart. They failed, but he would not. Like Israel, the devil is allowed to tempt Jesus. Notice verse 3, “And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” [4] But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

The hunger of Jesus mirrors the hunger of Israel in the wilderness. Deuteronomy 8, “And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” In their hunger, the Israelites did not trust the word of God. But Jesus does.

The devil urges Jesus to prove he is the Son of God. But he faithfully trusts that God is his sustainer. He does not have to abandon trust in God.

Look at the next temptation. Verse [5] Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple [6] and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”

This is Jerusalem, not Charleston. That’s the other holy city. Satan twists Psalm 91 and urges Jesus to test God. This mirrors Exodus 17, where the Israelites accuse God of bringing them out of Egypt only to let them die of thirst in the dry land. The Israelites tested God by demanding proof of his care, and the devil urges Jesus to do this. But he won’t. Verse [7] Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

And a third temptation, verse [8] Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. [9] And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” This strikes at the heart of faith. The devil urges Jesus to shift his worship. This was the core of Israel’s problems. God brought them out of Egypt to worship only him, but they continually turned to false gods.

Unlike Israel, unlike you and me apart from God’s grace, verse [10] “Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’” [11] Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.

For the Israelites to survive in the wilderness, they needed to give their whole selves to God. They needed to surrender. What we see in Christ here is true surrender to God’s will and plan. There is no reserve in Jesus. There is no part he holds back.

You might say that Jesus is able to live completely by faith in the moment. In each moment. He is not deterred by the past, the present, or the future. And for that reason, he’s a worthy representative for us before a holy God. In these verses God confirms that Jesus is worthy to earn our righteousness.

Isn’t it profound, puzzling, seemingly too good to be true, that God could judge you based on this man’s life, that you can reconcile with your past, be brave in the present, and look with hope to the future because Christ has secured for you peace with God?

Our only appeal should be “Yes I sinned, but in Christ I’m forgiven.” This can transform relationships. When we sin against each other, rather than appealing to our best excuses or our best accomplishments, we can humble ourselves, appeal to the righteousness of Jesus, and simply say, “Please forgive me.” And when our consciences condemn us, we can proclaim that we are pure in Christ. 1 John 3, “[19] By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; [20] for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. [21] Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God.”

Let’s pray.