Summary: Making Sense of Jesus' Baptism
Of all the miracles Jesus performed, one I’d really love to see replayed is his walking on water over a windswept sea. You’d click on that video if it came up on YouTube wouldn’t you? And what do you suppose you would see? Jesus clearing white-capped waves like an Olympian hurdler? Or Jesus deftly sliding from one wave to the next as if on a skateboard? I’ve always pictured the water where Jesus stepped becoming calm so that it looked as if our Savior was peacefully walking down a garden path. However he did it, it sure impressed the disciples.
But do you realize that before Jesus walked on water he walked into water? That’s what happened when he waded into the Jordan River at the beginning of his ministry to be baptized by John. So what? Well at this event all heaven broke loose. Let’s take a closer look so that we can make sense of Jesus’ baptism and learn what it meant for him and what it means for us.
Jesus was thirty years old when he made his way to the Jordan River where his cousin John was baptizing. John had been waiting for Jesus, for God had told John that he was going to reveal the Messiah to Israel through his baptizing (John 1:31). You can imagine his excitement then when John finally spotted Jesus in the crowd. Here, in the flesh, was the one about whom John had been saying: “After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8 I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Mark 1:7, 8).
Imagine John’s confusion then when Jesus asked to be baptized. What? How could John baptize Jesus when he had been telling everyone that he wasn’t even worthy to stoop down and untie Jesus’ sandal straps? Imagine bragging to your friends about your rich uncle who was coming over for Christmas, the uncle who was sure to bring you lots of presents. But when he arrives, he asks if he could borrow fifty bucks from you to put gas in his car.
Could John have been wrong about Jesus? No. Jesus assured John that while he didn’t need to be baptized because he wasn’t a sinner in need of forgiveness like everyone else getting baptized that day, it was the right thing to do for it would “fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15). But what does that mean? Was Jesus saying that he wanted to be baptized to set an example for the rest of us to follow? Certainly baptism is God’s will for us but not in the sense that this is the Eleventh Commandment: “Thou shalt get baptized!” When a friend says, “Come over for dinner tonight,” you don’t take that as a command but as gracious invitation. Likewise baptism is God’s gracious invitation to us to have our sins washed away.
But Jesus didn’t need his sins washed away because he didn’t have any! So why did he insist on getting baptized? Well, when a friend grabs the check at the end of a restaurant meal and tucks it under his plate while you finish your coffee and after-dinner conversation, what does it mean? It means that he intends to pay the bill. When Jesus stepped into the water of the Jordan River, it was his way of letting the world know that he was picking up the tab for all of our sins. The payment of that bill came due on Good Friday, three years later and when it did, it cost Jesus everything.
But we shouldn’t think that Jesus’ baptism was his way of getting his feet wet to be our Savior. No, that work had begun the moment he was conceived. That truth is revealed in what happened immediately after Jesus’ baptism. Mark records that as Jesus was stepping out of the water God the Father spoke from heaven saying: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11). When the Father said that he was well pleased with Jesus, it wasn’t just because he was a “chip off the ‘ol block.” God the Father was pleased with Jesus because up to that point he had done everything perfectly. He had been a perfect baby, never screaming to get his way and never ripping toys out of the hands of other kids. He had been a respectful youth never rolling his eyes at how slow his parents sometimes were to understand him. As a teenager he never burned with lust for the cute girl down the block. Nor did he ever scheme ways of getting out of doing chores around the house. God the Father was pleased with Jesus because, although he was already the sinless Son of God, he was also the sinless son of Mary, a perfect human being as Adam had once been and as God expects us all to be...or all hell will break loose…really.