13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. 14 But John tried to deter him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?"
15 Jesus replied, "Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness." Then John consented.
16 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. 17 And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased." (NIV)
I remember going to a Catholic wedding as a child. When everyone entered the pew, they knelt and crossed themselves. I had never seen anything like that. And then after the wedding, everyone started shaking hands with everyone else. That seemed strange to me. Just recently I remember going to a Methodist wedding and hearing them sing along to rock songs at the service like at a karaoke bar - it seemed strange to me. So also, it sounds strange to people when they hear that some Mormons wear a special kind of protective undergarment. It sounds strange to some people that Jehovah’s Witnesses do not celebrate birthdays. Different churches have different “rituals.” If you don’t understand why they do it - or if it is something that you aren’t used to - it will seem strange to you.
These different experiences made me start thinking . . . I wonder how visitors think we are? Do they think we’re strange for our liturgy? Do they think we’re strange because I wear a gown and we seem so formal? When they see us take the Lord’s Supper without any knowledge of it, what do they think? “What is the purpose of coming up and drinking wine from the same cup?” And when they see a baptism without any knowledge of baptism, what do you think goes through their mind? “What is the purpose of pouring water over a child’s head?” It takes explanation for people to understand.
John had similar questions today. Jesus came to the Jordan to be baptized, and John didn’t understand why Jesus would do this. It didn’t make sense. Therefore, Jesus had to explain it to him. So we are going to answer that question today -
Why Did Jesus Get Baptized?
I. The purpose of a normal baptism
John was confused for a reason. It wasn’t that he had never seen a baptism before. John had performed probably hundreds of them by that time. No, John was confused because he knew all there was to know about baptism. First of all, he knew it was for sinners. Just prior to today’s text, it says that John the Baptist came preaching, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near!” When the people came out to the Jordan, they had to realize they were sinners and repent of their sins before he would baptize them. For instance, when some Pharisees and Sadducees came out to be baptized, John wouldn’t do it. Why not? They had become hardened in their evil ways and their evil religion. Instead of confessing their sins, their only purpose was to find some fault against John. So John told them to get lost.
Why did he want people to confess their sins? When the people confessed their sins, John would then baptize them in the Jordan River. Why did he baptize them? He knew what would happen as a result of that baptism. Peter explains this to us in Acts 2:38 as he tells the crowd, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Notice that there are two purposes to baptism. Peter says the first is - for the forgiveness of sins. When Rylee was born - I remember her being all full of blood and mucus. She needed to be wiped clean and given a bath. That’s the way we are all born spiritually. All of us are born steeped in sin at birth. Even though a little infant looks so innocent and pure, King David described their actual condition as He said in Psalm 51:5 5 Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. So we are born for a deep need to be cleansed.
Somehow, in some way, God says that baptism is like taking a bath - only spiritually. When you take a shower or a bath, all of the dirt and grime that you have on you from a hard day’s work gets washed off of you. Peter said, that’s what baptism does. It actually cleanses you of all of your sinful impurities. In Romans 6:3 Paul asks, don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? What that means is that at your baptism, God takes all of your sins, and buries them with Christ. In exchange, He gives us something else. Galatians 3:27 says that all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. So God puts a whole new garment on you - the perfection of Christ - so that you look holy and righteous in His sight. Imagine it this way - God has a whole big bucket of forgiveness and perfection - like a bucket of paint. He’s got enough to cover all of the graffiti filled walls of the world plus a whole lot more. When you are baptized - it doesn’t matter how thick your wall is full of the graffiti of sin, God will cover it. At your baptism, God applies that forgiveness which Christ won to YOU. So that you now look different in His sight. You look holy. That’s why baptism is for sinners. The reason John wouldn’t baptize the impenitent is because they didn’t think they needed that holiness - they didn’t really want it.
The second purpose of baptism, is that you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. When you are baptized, in other words, when someone applies water to you in the name of the triune God - something miraculous takes place. God puts His name on you - like a child puts his name on his new toy after he buys it - showing that it is his. At baptism the Holy Spirit - even though you can’t see Him, chases the devil out of you and enters you through the water and becomes one with you at your baptism. Just like you can’t see the vitamins you drink, but they still help you and enter your body, so the Holy Spirit invisibly enters us at our Baptism.
What is the result of being baptized? It works just like a nice bath or shower. When you come in from a hard day at work and you’re all grimy, it refreshes you - and cleans you off. When you wake up in the morning and you’ve still got the sleepies in your eyes and your hair is standing every which way - a shower or bath makes you feel better about yourself, and it even changes the way you look. You look like a brand new person. That’s what happens after a baptism. You become a new person. Instead of living in the old grime of sin - you become clean. As a natural result of that - you don’t want to go back and wallow in the mud of sin. Since the Holy Spirit lives in you, He gives you the strength to live a new life. That’s the purpose of baptism - to totally revive - to bring back to life - to refresh and renew the sinner. If you have been baptized, God wants you to take comfort in this. You were a filthy sinner on the way to hell. But through your Baptism God has cleaned you up and given you a new life.
John knew what baptism was about. This is why John had such a hard time understanding why Jesus came to be baptized. John had just gotten done building up Jesus to be someone great - someone more powerful than John - whose sandals he was not even fit to carry. He didn’t need forgiveness. So here Jesus comes - the holy One - the Messiah - the King of Kings! And what does He ask for? To be baptized? Why would Jesus need forgiveness of sins? Why would the Holy One need God to do anything to Him? In his deep humility, John realized his need for baptism, just as each of us should recognize our need for it. But he didn’t see Jesus’ need for it. So John tried to deter him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" That word for “tried to” is an imperfect verb in the Greek. It means that John wasn’t easily dissuaded - he kept on talking to Jesus about this. Why? Because it didn’t make sense to him. Why would a holy one need holiness? Why would a sinless being need His sins forgiven? Good questions!
II. The purpose of Jesus’ baptism
Notice that Jesus doesn’t deny what John is saying. What he said was correct. Jesus didn’t need to be baptized for the forgiveness of sins. So Jesus replied, "Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness." Then John consented. There was more to His baptism than the forgiveness of sins. So Jesus said, “Let it be so now,” which basically means - “attention!” Jesus was pulling rank on John, and just told him to obey. Although John didn’t understand why Jesus needed to be baptized, since Jesus commanded him to do so - he consented.
At first glance, this Baptism doesn’t seem to make sense to us either. But hindsight gives us better insight on this. So let’s take a close look at what Jesus said. Jesus said it had to be done to fulfill all righteousness. Jesus had already been called by God to be the Savior before the creation of the world. And Jesus had already begun His work of salvation the day He was conceived. Up to this point He had already lived a perfect life that He could give us credit for. Now Jesus said it was time to fulfill that righteousness. All He had to do was finish His work of salvation by entering His public ministry - by facing the false teachings and facing the horrible death on the cross. In order to fulfill this calling, He would need God’s help and God’s approval.
That’s what Jesus’ baptism was all about. First of all, in His humility, He needed God’s help. So it says, 16 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. Notice what happened - in a similar way to our baptism - the Holy Spirit came down in the form of a dove and landed on Jesus. Peter explains this in more detail as he says in Acts 10:38 that God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power. Even though Jesus already had the Holy Spirit and power, now the Holy Spirit would equip Jesus in a special way for the extra hard work that lay ahead in His public ministry. Jesus was about to heal the sick, fight the devil’s temptations, take the world’s sins on Himself, and raise the dead. Therefore, Jesus would need God’s help in His humility.
The second purpose of Jesus’ baptism is revealed in the last verse of our text. For years and years the Jews had been waiting for a Messiah to come. In the Old Testament - when God had chosen a new king, priest, or prophet, He would have them anointed with oil to mark the beginning of their ministry. God had promised that one special man would be anointed as the Savior of the world. So the people were waiting that to happen. When Jesus was baptized, it was a loud and clear sign that Jesus was the Christ - which literally means “anointed One.” Listen to what happened again at Jesus’ baptism - 17 And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased." The Father told John and all those present - “this is the Christ! This is the anointed Messiah!” Since Jesus was about to enter His public ministry and make it clear that He was the Messiah, He needed this approval. If you remember - when Jesus healed the sick and performed miracles, the Pharisees were constantly asking, “who gave you the authority to do this?” Jesus couldn’t “toot his own horn” so to speak, and just build Himself up to be the Savior. But with this baptism - Jesus could answer that question. He could say, “God gave me the authority at my baptism - just ask John!” Therefore, His baptism showed that He had the authority to fulfill all righteousness - to complete His work of salvation.
Most of you may remember the story of David vs. Goliath. This huge Philistine man stood before the armies of God and defied them to their face, "This day I defy the ranks of Israel! Give me a man and let us fight each other." (1 Samuel 17:10) Then suddenly, one young man started putting on the armor. He stepped to the plate. Saul asked, “how can you fight this man?” David said - “I’ve already killed lions and bears, so what is this man with the help of God?” Nobody thought he could win such a battle. Goliath laughed. But to the dismay of even his own brothers, this one young man by the name of David took the challenge. With God by his side, he felled the giant with one sling of a stone.
For years and years, Satan had defiantly challenged anyone to step to the plate and to beat him in battle. Adam failed. David failed. Solomon failed. Isaiah failed. All of them fell into sin, died as a result of their battle, and rotted in the grave. But then, one day, about 2,000 years ago, a little boy was born in a manger. For 30 years, not many thought He would fight any battles as the Messiah. But then one day, as John was baptizing, Jesus stepped to the plate - volunteering to fell the evil giant. At his baptism, God announced to the world, “this is my warrior - my fighter. It’s time for the devil to meet his match.” From that time on - Jesus’ work load as the Savior would get greater and greater. So God armed Him, not with a slingshot and a stone - but with the Holy Spirit. With God’s approval and power, Jesus decided to fight the battle. He fought the battle in the desert. He fought the battle in the temple. He fought the battle on the water. He fought the battle on the cross. With God by His side, Jesus took on the devil, and won. He took on death at the cross, and three days later He won. He who believes this and is baptized, shall be saved. Does that seem strange to you? I hope not! Amen.