Below is a copy of the sermon I preached on Sunday, January 8, in Cove Presbyterian Church, Weirton, West Virginia. You can find a podcast of this sermon on the Cove Podbean page. You might also want to visit the congregational website (covepresbyterian.org) for more church information.
If you find this sermon meaningful, please consider supporting this ministry by sending an offering to Cove Presbyterian Church, 3404 Main Street, Weirton, West Virginia or through PayPal.
Then, Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John to be baptized by him. And John tried to stop him, saying, “I have a need to be baptized by you, do you come to me?” And Jesus answered and said to him, “Allow it just now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he allowed him. And when Jesus was baptized, just as he was coming up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the spirit of God come down like a dove and come upon him. And behold, a voice from heaven said, “He is my son, the beloved one, in whom I am well pleased.”
The Unnecessary Necessity
I’m going to tell you right up front, the title of this sermon makes no sense. It just doesn’t. And even though I’m certainly not beyond doing something that’s kind of cute and clever, or at least I think it is, this title is just goofy, or as the Greeks might say, “goofos.” What the heck was I thinking. “The Unnecessary Necessity,” give me a break. If something is unnecessary, it can’t be a necessity; it can’t be necessary, right? That’s a contradiction of terms. Now, if I’d said “The Necessary Necessity,” that would make sense. I mean, it’s pretty redundant, but at least it’s correct. But a necessity that’s unnecessary, man, that’s what’s called an oxymoron, with an emphasis on the moron, you know, like “jumbo shrimp” or “pretty ugly” or everybody’s favorite “virtual reality.” Man, something can’t be both unnecessary and a necessity, right? That would be crazy, something from the Bizarro world.
I mean, just think about what’s going on here. According to what Matthew wrote right before this passage, John was out there in the wilderness of Judea preaching, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” And of course, he was baptizing folks in the Jordan River as they confessed their sins. And just like we talked about before Christmas, he must have been pretty good at it, because Matthew wrote that the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan.”
But Jesus, well, we believe that, as the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews said, “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested [you know, tempted,] as we are, yet without sin.” Now that’s what we believe, and so, you tell me, what did Jesus have to confess? Of course, I recognize that may not seem to be a big deal to us, certainly not when compared to Pittsburgh versus Miami later this afternoon, but it was huge in the early church. At the very least, Jesus didn’t need to be baptized. In a word, it was unnecessary, right? Now that’s one problem.
And second, man, John didn’t want to do it. He just didn’t want to baptize Jesus. As a matter of fact, he wanted Jesus to baptize him, didn’t he? And even though that certainly said something about how John saw his own status when compared to Jesus, I think it said a lot more. Let me explain; do you remember what John said about the one who was coming? According to Matthew, he said, “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” Now that’s what he said; therefore, I assume that’s exactly what John wanted, what he expected to happen now that Jesus was on the scene. And since he sure seemed to believe that Jesus was the one, I think John was ready to start that cleansing process right now. And to get that ball rolling, baptizing Jesus just wasn’t necessary. And so, in a nutshell, with this kind of baptism, Jesus didn’t need it, and John didn’t want to do it.
And so, according to Matthew, John did it. “And when Jesus was baptized, just as he was coming up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the spirit of God come down like a dove and come upon him. And behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘He is my son, the beloved one, in whom I am well pleased.’” You see, as a result of this action, God announced who Jesus was, not just to Jesus, but everyone around. And you know, that’s why I called the baptism of Christ, well, an unnecessary necessity.
And for that reason, I really believe this story is important. I mean, even though, on the surface, there really was no reason for Jesus to be baptized or for John to do, as Matthew wrote, it really was what God wanted to happen. You see, for Jesus, it ended up being a sign that he was both human and God; therefore, he could identify with us completely and yet also do for us things we’re not able to do for ourselves. And for John, he was forced to lay aside some of his wants and expectations so that he could do exactly what God had called him to do. And you know, I think the same thing can happen to us when we accept and even embrace something that may make a little more sense than it did about twenty minutes ago, and I’m talking about this unnecessary necessity.