Groundwork for the Soul: Sermon Study Guide #2 - Back to the Basics

READ Matthew 3:13-17

If we are following along in the story Matthew is telling we should be surprised by this passage. The suspense has been building. In Chapters 1 + 2, we read that a baby has been conceived by the Holy Spirit. He is “God with us." He is the fulfillment of the story God has been writing in history. He will save His people from their sins. Then John the Baptist appears and builds even more suspense. “There’s someone coming after me mightier than me, I’m not worthy to carry his sandals, He’s coming with fire!” In v13, Jesus comes onto the scene and… His very first act is to come forward to be baptized with sinners in the Jordan river. What? John is confused. We are underwhelmed. Why did Jesus get baptized? The answer to this question brings us back to the basics about Jesus and back to the basic questions in our souls.


Jesus’ baptism could be thought of as his inauguration ceremony. At an inauguration, a new leader has the opportunity to send message about his/her priorities and plans. This is exactly what Jesus is doing. In being baptized, Jesus says, “Here is the statement I’m making: I’m being baptized not because I need to repent of my sin, but to show you that I’ve come (not with the fire of judgment) but to meet you right where you are – broken sinners in need of a new start.” Jesus starts his ministry by fully immersing himself into humanity’s struggles and suffering due to sin. His baptism was the beginning of Him bearing this with us and for us. Here’s what scholar Fredric Bruner says about this:

“The first thing Jesus does for the human race is go down with it into the deep waters of repentance and baptism. Jesus’ whole life will be like this. It is well known that Jesus ends his ministry on a cross between two thieves; it deserves to be as well known that he begins his ministry in a river among sinners.”

This is so important for us as when we are doing groundwork in our own souls. The question we should start with is: “Where am I?” Jesus’ baptism frees us to ask and answer this question honestly and truthfully no matter where we are. The most important spiritual moments for us almost always begin when we honestly ask and God graciously shows us “You are here."

We don’t have to fear God coming against us if we admit we are struggling.  Jesus came to be with and for sinners desiring change. He never leaves us where we are; but He always begins with where we are – no matter how broken and messy it is.


Jesus baptism is also His introduction to the world by the Father.  After he is baptized, the heavens open up, signifying that God is revealing himself to the world in Jesus. The Holy Spirit descends on Jesus signifying that He comes out of the waters of judgment and sin in order to bring a new creation by the power of God’s Spirit (see Gen 1:3; 8:11). But perhaps the most notable part of the introduction is what is said, “This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.” Even though we can safely assume that Jesus already knew this was true of him, in his humanity, he needed to hear it as confirmation before he started his ministry. This shows us that even for Jesus the issue of identity was primary. He had to get this right before anything else started.

It’s the same for us. The question “Who am I?” is one of the most basic questions of the soul. Where do we look for our sense of self? Our sense of worth? How we answer these questions affects everything else in our lives. There are two common approaches to question of identity – the first being the more traditional approach and the second the approach of modern western culture:

1)     I am who others say I am – The voices of others: This could be the voice of our parents. We find our identity in their approval, affirmation, or to prove them wrong about what they have said about us. It could be the voice of a spouse or a loved one – their approval defines us. The problem of this approach is that we feel great pressure to meet others’ expectations and if this is all we are, we lose ourselves. Our Identity is lost.

2)     I am who I say I am – My voice: This approach rejects the idea that others give me my identity – only I can do this. I create my identity. This could be through my career, success or achievements. It could be through my looks, my fitness or the image I want to portray to others. It could be being the perfect parent, the perfect Christian or the perfect __(fill in the blank)____. Though it may appear liberating at first, it turns out that our own voice is just as demanding, critical and confusing as the voices of others. We never know if we are enough. We end up living in more pressure and insecurity.

Christianity tells us the only source of a secure and liberating identity is found when realize I am who God says I am. Because Jesus came to fulfill all righteousness for me and forgive all my sin, when my trust is in Jesus, God says to me, “You are my beloved son/daughter, in you I am well pleased”


In addition to being Jesus’ inauguration and introduction to the world, Jesus’ baptism was also His commissioning into ministry. The words in verse 17 are the combination of a few key Old Testament passages – Psalm 2:7 (the Messiah King) and Isaiah 42:1-2 (the Suffering Servant). Together they give Jesus his mission: Your mission is to bring the world back into submission to my rule and to set everything right that’s gone wrong; to bring lasting justice to the world without harming or breaking fragile and sinful humanity. How is this possible? Only by the cross. At the cross Jesus took on the identity of a sinner separated from God so we could have his identity as a beloved son. He lost the voice of the Father, so we could recover it.

In recovering our identity by His sacrificial death, Jesus fulfills His mission. He crushes our sin without crushing us.

When we recover our identity as God’s beloved children and hear the approving voice of the Father, we begin to willingly surrender to God’s reign in our lives. Even more, answering the question of identity with the gospel enables us to answer and pursue the question of our calling free from shame and fear. Shame (the feeling that we are not enough, defective and don’t matter) is evil’s chief weapon against the joyful release of our creative capacities for the glory of God and good of others.

We can only find and fulfill our callings if we are free from having to prove ourselves; when we have nothing left to prove. The voice of the Father – “you are my beloved child, in whom I am well pleased” -  frees us from the voices of shame and fear to discover and fulfill our calling in God’s kingdom.


1.     What about the sermon most impacted you or left you with questions?

2.     By being baptized Jesus is telling us, “Before I show you how to get out of this mess, first I want you to know that I’m with you in it.” How does this free us up to be honest with our struggles? How would you rate your own ability to be honest and vulnerable about your struggles and sin?

How would you answer the question, “Where am I spiritually today?” 

3.     Which of the two approaches to identity most characterize your own sense of identity, self and worth – the voice of others or the voice of yourself? Do you agree that we all sense a pressure and feel anxiety in basing our identity on the voice of others or ourselves? How does this look for you?

4.     Look up Psalm 2:7-12 and Matthew 12:15-21. At Jesus’ baptism these two passages were brought together to commission him to ministry, telling him: Your mission is to bring the world back into submission to my rule and to set everything right that’s gone wrong; to bring lasting justice to the world without harming or breaking fragile and sinful humanity. How does the cross make this possible?

5.     What difference would it make in your life if you believed that – at all times – God the Father says of you, “You are my beloved child, in you I am well pleased”? How would this address your battles with shame and insecurity?

6.     “We can only find and fulfill our callings if we are free from having to prove ourselves.” Do you agree with this statement? How does the need to prove ourselves keep us from being joyful in what God has called us to do?