071. MATTHEW 3:15. THE WAY OF RIGHTEOUSNESS. – Sermons and Biblical Studies

Matthew 3:15.

The Way Of Righteousness.

… thus it becomes us to fulfill all righteousness.


These are the first recorded words of Jesus after He had come to man’s estate. We have in the Gospel of Luke a record of what He said as a boy twelve years of age, Wist ye not that I must be in the things of My Father (my Father’s house).” That was a truly remarkable utterance characterized by all naturalness and simplicity, the naturalness and simplicity of a boy undefiled, artless, and sincere.They were words in which He revealed, even at that time, a sense of relationship that was mystic and peculiar, for there can be no doubt that His reference was to God as He said, “My Father’s house” or “the things of My Father.” Even then, also, there was a sense of responsibility resting upon Him, “… I must be in (My Father’s house).” In that “must,” moreover, there was revelation not of responsibility alone, but of response thereto.In that word the boy uttered the deepest thing of His heart, the central inspiration of the life that was opening full of beauty and full of promise, “Wist ye not that I must be in the things of My Father (My Father’s house).”

Between that hour and this of His baptism, eighteen years had passed, during which once again, according to St. Luke, He had “… advanced in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” There had been definite growth and development; mentally, in wisdom, physically in stature, spiritually, in grace with God and men. The double favor “… with God and men” was the outcome of the double fellowship of those eighteen years. Through them all He had lived with God and with men; in a close, perpetual fellowship with His Father of him and naturally with the people of Nazareth, not aloof from them but mixing in all their life of him.

As He approached thirty years of age, a strange and wonderful thing happened in Judaea. A voice was heard which was unmistakably the voice of a prophet crying in the wilderness,

… Make ye ready the way of the Lord;

Make His paths straight.

It was a voice so prevailing that men crowded out to the wilderness to hear him, were swept by his fierce invective and his stern denunciation, and multitudes of them bent and bowed themselves in repentance. Among those who heard the voice was the Carpenter of Nazareth, and hearing it He answered it; “Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to the Jordan unto John….” At this point in the narrative we have a statement which is a very arresting one. When this man from Nazareth presented Himself to the stern, hard, ascetic, magnificent prophet of the desert for baptism, John hesitated, and said to Him, “… I have need to be baptized of Thee, and comes Thou to me?” There is nothing really arresting in that, nothing very starting in it if we read it with our knowledge of Jesus; but if we remember that at the moment when John said it, he did not know Who Jesus was, then it became arresting, startling, suggestive. John himself distinctly declared later that he only knew that this Jesus was indeed the One Whose coming he had been predicting when he saw the Holy Spirit descending upon Him. When Jesus presented Himself, John had not yet seen that sign and so he did not know Him as the Messiah. It may be that in earlier boyhood days they had met and played together, but there had been long years of separation. John had retired in early life to the desert and there in loneliness, in meditation, brooding over the sins of his people, he had prepared for the stern ministry to which he was being called. Jesus had remained in Nazareth. Looking into His eyes he said, “… I have need to be baptized of Thee, and comest Thou to me?” The explanation is not far to seek. John stands supreme in all the long and illustrious line of Hebrew prophets; brief, stern, and severe, he had so entered into fellowship with the righteousness and holiness of God that when he looked into the eyes of the Galilean peasant that day, he saw light that he had seen in no other eyes, purity which he had seen nowhere else, and without at all knowing Who He was, he recognized that here was One separated from the multitude in His purity, and he said, “… I have need to be baptized of Thee, and comes Thou to me?”

In that connection Jesus uttered the first words of His ministry that have been recorded, and in the uttering of them He struck the keynote of the whole of that ministry, unveiling in a flash the whole truth concerning it. With gentleness to John He said persuadingly, “… Suffer it now,…” and then added, “… for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness.”

These words were introductory to His mission. They came out of a quiet mind, full heart, and fixed will. They were the utterance of One Whose mind had grown in wisdom, Whose heart had grown in grace, Whose will had been constantly yielded to the will of His Father. He clearly saw His mission from him and understood its deepest meaning and in quiet simplicity in this act He dedicated Himself to it.

In the words He uttered, we have first a revelation of the ultimate toward which His face was set; that ultimate is in this connection expressed in the word “righteousness”; “… thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness.” Second, in the declaration we have a revelation of the work that was returning upon Him and upon all those who were already in association with Him, John being among the number, as were the men of the past and those who ultimately come into association with Him, His disciples, and His church; “… to fulfill all righteousness.” In the first suggestive word, “Thus,” so pregnant with meaning yet so simple that we may hurry over it, He revealed the method by which His work was to be accomplished and the ultimate order of righteousness established.

Let us then follow these three lines of thought, considering first, the suggestion of these words of Jesus concerning the ultimate order, “righteousness”; considering second, the work which He revealed as His work of him and the work of all associated with Him, “… to fulfill all righteousness”; dwelling last upon the method revealed, “… thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness.”

The keynote of our meditation is struck in the word “righteousness.” Our difficulty is immediately created, as it is so constantly, by our familiarity with the word. It is one of the commonplace words of the Christian church, one of the great words which is no longer confined to the Christian church but has passed out and is perpetually being used by men of the world. What does it mean? We have sometimes said that by a shortening of the word we may gain access to the heart of the intention, rightness; and by still further shortening it we may come closer to the simple statement of its profoundest meaning, right. Yet we are not finally helped by that. What is justice? Righteousness is found absolutely in God and in God alone. Turning back to the Old Testament Scriptures where the word so often occurs, we find one great illuminative passage in which the word itself does not occur but in which the whole fact is so poetically and forcefully set forth that nothing can be added to it. In the Book of Deuteronomy, we have the song which Moses wrote at the close of his life and taught the people that they might sing it. It is found in the thirty-second chapter of the book;

For I will proclaim the name of the Lord:

Ascribe ye greatness unto our God.

The Rock, His work is perfect;

For all His ways are judgement:

To God of faithfulness and without iniquity,

Just and right is He.

An inclusive and final definition of righteousness lies within that stanza of the great song of Moses. This righteousness is absolute in God, and the measure in which man understands righteousness is the measure in which he knows God. All the Divine attributes are needed for the exposition of the righteousness of God. Righteousness is a greater word than holiness. Righteousness is the positive of which holiness is the negative. The babe in her mother’s arms is righteous but not yet holy; righteous in that it is perfectly related to God until the touch of another shall spoil it; needing no priestly magic to make it a Christian. Holiness is the negative virtue which results from the exercise of the positive condition of rightness. In God both truth and grace are included in righteousness. In Him righteousness is not a hard, ethical condition, integrity alone. In Him righteousness has at its heart love and grace, tenderness and compassion. He “… will by no means clear the guilty,…” but He will die in the stead of the guilty, cancel sin and so render the guilty guiltless. Righteousness is absolute in God.

What then is righteousness in man? I want to answer the question individually, socially, and in regard to things. Righteousness in man individually is adjustment to God, thinking with God, feeling with God, willing with God. That means not merely what man is in himself, but all his attitudes and relationships from him to his fellowmen and to things. In man righteousness is adjustment to God. Righteousness is not the rendering of homage to God on a day, in a place, in an attitude. Righteousness is an adjustment of the whole life to God, every day, in every place, in all conditions, and in all attitudes. Whereas it is true that we cannot put God on the same list with our material possessions, it is also appallingly true, tragically true, that many people put their material possessions where God ought to be. Although it seems almost a frivolous thing to say, the frivolity is tragic, it is nevertheless true, there are men and women who are entirely adjusted to their houses, automobiles and bank accounts. They think in the realm of these things, they feel under the impulse of these things, they will under the mastery of these things. The tragedy of business! That is all background and negative to our meditation. The thing that stands in the foreground and is the positive end of our meditation is that righteousness in. a man is life adjusted in all things to God.

In social life, righteousness is the proper articulation of the lives so adjusted. Socially, righteousness is that relation between man and man which is the outcome of the adjustment of individual lives to God. The motive of relationship and the method of relationship result from the adjustment of life to God and its right relationship with Him. We imagine too often that we are in a right relationship with God and then proceed in our relationships with our fellow men as though there were no connection between the two. Yet there is always a connection between the two. A man whose relationship with his fellow man is wrong at any point is a man whose relationship with God is wrong in spite of his song, his belief, and his profession of him. To be adjusted to God in all truth is to be true, and the man who is true cannot lie to his fellow man of him. To be adjusted to God in grace is to be gracious, and the man who is gracious cannot be mastered by malice in his dealing with his fellow man.

Once again what is righteousness as to things? What do I mean by things? Just things! Houses, cars, bank accounts, trees, fields, birds, beasts, minerals, mountains, valleys, subtle and hidden forces not yet discovered, things already discovered such as electricity, anything, everything. What has righteousness to do with them? What does righteousness mean in regard to them? It means the discovery of things as to their being and as…

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