Permit it at this time

Greg Aikins on October 21, 2019

1 – Permit it at this time

(Commands of Jesus in Matthew)

Then Jesus arrived from Galilee at the Jordan coming to John, to be baptized by him.  But John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?”  But Jesus answering said to him, “Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he permitted Him. – Matt. 3:13-15, NAS, emphasis mine.

                It may seem strange that I’ve included this particular phrase in my consideration of the commands of our Lord in Matthew, since he speaks it prior to the beginning of his formal teaching ministry.  However I do so for two reasons.  First, I’ve chosen to meditate on all the times Jesus is quoted as speaking in the imperative in the gospel.  Second and more importantly, I believe that this command represents a crucial starting point on the disciple’s journey.

Jesus speaks this gentle command to an audience of one, namely his cousin, John the Baptizer.  John has been called by God to be an irritating prophet.  He stirs people to face the uncomfortable truth that despite what they might think, they are really not ready to welcome God’s Messiah.  John also has the distinction of being the God’s greatest spokesperson because he is sent to prepare the way for the Lord (cf. Mt. 11:7-11). However, John himself needs to take one small step further into greatness.  He needs to enter the Kingdom of God.

There is a humility that characterizes the Christian and it starts with what the Bible refers to as “repentance.”  Repentance means a change of mind, a turning from one direction and moving in another.  And this is a very humbling thing to do, especially when you have assumed certain things to be true and based your life on a particular view of reality. John, the preacher of repentance, needed to change his mind about Jesus.  And so do I.

In our minds, Jesus has no business participating in a ritual washing that includes confession of sin.  I, like John, and like all who were coming to be baptized in the Jordan, need to confess my sins.  And I, like the Pharisees and Sadducees, need to bring forth fruit in keeping with repentance.  But Jesus doesn’t belong to our tribe of “sinners,” does he?

Yet here is King Jesus standing in front of John.  He has come down into the water with him (and me).  He turns to face us and says “permit me to be baptized too.”  And I need, as did John, to humbly allow him to be baptized so that he might become for me “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).  I need in a real sense to “baptize” Jesus into my place as a sinner, in order that he might then usher me into his kingdom, baptizing me with the Holy Spirit and fire (Mt. 3:11).

John’s own entrance into Christ’s kingdom began with his humbly “permitting” Jesus to be baptized by him and for him, great person though he was.  And I may not assume that because I have been raised in a Christian family, or because I’ve been called to serve Christ, or because I’m a missionary that I don’t need to permit Jesus to “be made sin for me” (2 Cor. 5:21).  The discipleship pilgrimage begins with and continues with a necessary, yet awful vulnerability.  I must face my precious, spotless Lord continually and allow him to bear my sin, so that I might be made the righteousness of God in him.  

For reflection:  Spend some time imagining yourself in John’s place, standing in the water of the Jordan, with Jesus facing you, expecting you to baptize him, saying, “Permit it to be so.”  What are you thinking and what are you feeling?  Talk to the Lord about what you are experiencing and listen to what he says.