Summary: This is about Jesus’ baptism, and what it shows for us: an attitude of humility and submission.
Matthew 3:1-16 – Going Under
(Lengthy illustration at end by Dr. Wayne Dehoney and SermonCentral Pro.)
As I mentioned last week, this year, we are looking at the life of Jesus. What He did, what He said, how He spent His time on earth. Today we are looking at one of the 1st things He did as He started His ministry: His baptism. What did it mean for Him? What does it mean for us? Let’s read Matthew 3:1-16.
Now, this is the very outset of Jesus’ public ministry. He had had an interesting birth: angels showing up, a heavenly choir, strange visitors from another country, death threats, and traveling to and from another country. As a 12 year old boy, he had gotten into theological discussions with the teachers of the law. But for 18 years, he had lived in obscurity. Nothing too interesting, as far as being in the public eye goes, anyway.
Then, He re-surfaced. He showed up shortly after his cousin, John the Baptist, began preaching to people, telling them that they needed to turn from their sins and turn to God. John was baptizing people, and Jesus showed up to be baptized too.
Baptism looks as if it just appears in the NT. But that’s not entirely true. For years, if a person wanted to become a Jew, turning from another religion to Judaism, there was a process. The process of becoming a Jewish proselyte, that is, a Jew formerly of another religion, involved 3 things: a sacrifice, circumcision, and baptism. The sacrifice was brought to the priest and given as a burnt offering to God. The next thing was circumcision. It is a cutting away of a piece of flesh from a man’s body. This is usually done with an 8-day-old baby. But an adult male, who wanted to become Jewish, had to go through the surgery, no matter how old he was.
Finally, after the circumcision wound had healed the proselyte had to go through the final step, which was baptism. They went into the water, and dipped themselves being sure to fully immerse their entire body in the water. They were very careful that not one bit of their flesh remained dry. When males were baptized, the priest was present. When females were baptized, they were attended by other females while the male priest or rabbi stood outside the door.
Once these 3 things were done, the proselyte was now considered to be a Jew in every way. He had fully renounced his previous life, his previous nationality, all allegiances he had to his previous life ceased to exist, and he was fully Jewish. He or she was not someone who had simply added Jewish-ness to his old identity. In a sense, the Gentile died when he went under the water and a new person with a new name, and a new identity was born when he came out of the water.
So, you see, baptism was about being a new person, a different person. So John the Baptist took that thought and made baptism symbolic of a person turning their back on all their old ways. Well then, why did Jesus get baptized?
After all, what old ways did He have to turn His back on? The Bible says that He never sinned. I don’t know if He had been tempted before, but He was about to be. And He still didn’t sin. Clearly, Jesus’ baptism was not about repentance and sorrow for His sins. He never had any of His own. Why then, did Jesus get baptized?
Many reasons have been given. 1) It was right for a person to be baptized, and so it was right for Jesus, as a man, to be baptized. 2) There is also the example factor: that He was setting a pattern for people to follow in His steps. 3) Of course, even though Jesus had never sinned, by being baptized He was showing people where He stood on the issue. By renouncing sin publicly, He was saying that repentance is a good thing. Another reason, 4) Jesus’ baptism showed that God had indeed come near. It was the message of Christmas. God’s presence was with us on earth. He was not a distant, far-away God, but a God who would feel what we feel, and would go through what we go through.
All those might be part of the reason why Jesus was baptized. But there’s another reason I want to look at today. That’s the issue of submission and humility. Look at what Jesus said in v15: "Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness." To fulfill all righteousness. To make things right and correct and the way they should be.
Yes, Jesus was, and is, greater than John the Baptist. We looked at that last week. We saw how John had an attitude of putting Jesus #1. John didn’t care what number he was - #2, #3, whatever, as long as Jesus was #1. That’s part of why Jesus said that no person was greater than John the Baptist.