Summary: This Jesus, who lowers himself to the depth of us failed human beings, is the Beloved Son of the Living God. His baptism, unnecessary as it was in terms of repentance from sin, nevertheless shows us the importance of submitting to God’s law, God’s will f
I imagine many of you may be unaware that today is the day the church traditionally remembers the baptism of Jesus. So how appropriate that today we should be baptising Caleb. As we just read, Jesus too was baptised, not as a baby, but as an adult, as a sign that he was about to begin his work for God.
Now we need to recognise from the start that Jesus didn’t need to be baptised. In fact no-one needs to be baptised. There’s nothing magic about it. There was a time when people thought you needed to be baptised or you couldn’t be a Christian and therefore, of course, if you died you’d go to hell. There may still be people who think that, but that isn’t why we baptise people. You become a Christian by putting your faith and trust in Jesus Christ; by making him your Lord. And then he gives you new life. Baptism is merely a sign that that new life has begun. We baptise children like Caleb on the understanding that we’re bringing them into the community of God’s people. That’s why we encourage people to not just have their children baptised but to get them involved with their local church, so they grow up trusting in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour.
But let’s get back to Jesus and his baptism. The symbolism of baptism is both of washing and of new birth. It carries the idea that the old sinful nature is being washed clean, ready for a new start in serving God faithfully for the rest of our lives. But it also signifies death and rebirth. As the baptism service reminds us, the people of Israel passed through the Red Sea as a sign that they were being reborn as the people of God, freed from slavery to serve God in their new land. It reminds us that Jesus died and rose again to bring us new life. So there’s both the idea of the removal of sin, and of the old sinful life being replaced by a new life for God.
Now the problem with both those ideas, as far as Jesus is concerned, is that he didn’t need to do it for either reason. So why did he do it? Well, because there was a sense in which he did need to. But first let’s think about why he didn’t need to be baptised.
Why he didn’t need to be baptised.
John was in no doubt about what should and shouldn’t be happening. Look at v14: John would have prevented him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" John understood Jesus’ importance in the scheme of things. He’d said a few verses earlier that Jesus was the promised Messiah, whose sandals John wasn’t even worthy to carry.
But it wasn’t just that. More importantly, baptism signifies being washed clean from sin, and Jesus had never actually sinned. The reason John was baptising people was to purify them before the Messiah came. So they’d be ready. Up to this moment John’s message has been one of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. He’s been warning people to flee from the wrath that’s coming as God’s Messiah, God’s anointed King, bursts on the scene. And in the final words we have recorded from John’s lips, he tells people that he baptises with water for repentance but one is coming who will baptise with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Jesus’ coming will bring the breath of life and the fire of cleansing.
What’s more Jesus didn’t need a new start in obeying God because he had always obeyed God. That’s why as he came up out of the water God spoke and said "This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased."
But that still leaves the question, "Why did he need to do it?"
Why he needed to be baptised.
Jesus says "Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness." There was a sense in which Jesus did need to be baptised. He says it’s to fulfill all righteousness. That is, to fulfill God’s law.
In the sermon on the mount we have these words of Jesus recorded for us: "Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill." Jesus’ whole life, you see, was intended to fulfill the law and its requirements. So his baptism by John isn’t a sign that he needed to repent. Rather it’s a sign that he identifies with all those who live under the law and that he himself submits to that law. His submitting to baptism says that John’s message is right. That people do need to submit to God’s law if they’re to be ready for the coming of the King.