Summary: Why would the son of God be baptized? I was told that it was an example. But there has to be more to it than this. And there is.
This is the season in the church year of Epiphany, which means coming in the flesh. It is the season where the scriptures focus on the life of Jesus starting with the beginning of his ministry when Jesus was baptized. So we are going to look at the passage where Jesus got dunked. The scriptures that we have heard tie into the passage that I will read from Matthew 3 beginning at verse 13.
Before I read as this is a new year, I wanted to share with you last year’s winners for the wackiest label contest. These are labels that seem the most ridiculous sponsored by Michigan Lawsuit Abuse Watch. I’ll start with some of the honorable mentions.
Cyndi LaMonde of Traverse City submitted a label on a letter opener that says: "Caution: Safety goggles recommended."
Ann Marie Young of Fillmore, N.Y., submitted the warning that "The Vanishing Fabric Marker should not be used as a writing instrument for signing checks or any legal documents."
Third place went to Richard Goodnow of Lancaster, Mass., for a label on a baby stroller featuring a small storage pouch that warns: "Do not put child in bag."
The $250 second place was given to the Turin family of Greensburg, Pa., for a label they found on an iron-on T-shirt transfer that warns: "Do not iron while wearing shirt."
And the first place winner goes to Kevin Soave of Farmington Hills, a Detroit suburb, for submitting the tractor’s "Danger: Avoid Death" label.
Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”
Jesus replied, "Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness." Then John consented.
As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased."
I want to begin by asking a question. It is a question that has been asked for centuries and one that I wondered about for a long time. If Jesus was God and completely sinful, why did he need to be baptized? This is especially perplexing when I read Jesus reply, “Let it be so now; it is proper for to this to fulfill all righteousness.” Does that imply that Jesus wasn’t righteous?
Let’s start by hearing some of the answers that you may have heard over the years.
The standard Church of God answer that I was given (in church) was that Jesus was giving a us example to follow. This may be true but I have come to believe that this is very simplistic and besides the scriptures do not really say this is the reason. This is theological deduction that has some merit. Jesus commands his disciples to make disciples by teaching them the ways of Jesus and by being baptized. Jesus’ disciples are shown in scripture as baptizing people. But I had always believed that there had to be something more because the scandal that Jesus might need to be baptized because of sin was too problematic for such a simple answer.
So what does this mean the Baptism of Our Lord.
The Baptism of Our Lord
• An example
It is an example for us to follow. There is merit in this understanding. This is a valid rationale as to why we need to be baptized. If we follow Jesus, we should follow his example. But there is more.
• A consolation
When Jesus was presented in the Temple, an old man by the name of Simeon was waiting for the consolation of Israel. He was waiting for God to console or move into the pain of Israel through the coming of the Messiah. Jesus was the consolation of Israel as he moved into human form to enter fully into the pain of suffering of their sin.
Jesus would have been fully aware of the prophets, their tradition and their teachings. Often a prophet would not only pronounce the impending judgment that Israel’s sins would bring upon Israel but they would also recount the history of Israel including the previous sins of generations long gone and God’s saving activity. When doing so, the prophet would often identify himself with the sins and redemption of previous generations. He would use a first person plural, “we,” to claim that he was a part of this story and saving tradition of God.
When Jesus told John that he was to be baptized, Jesus was claiming in the tradition of the prophets that he was a part of the history of Israel. He was claiming partnership with Israel and Israel’s sins. He was taking responsibility for being a part of this sinful people even though he himself had not sinned personally.