Summary: Meeting Jesus in the waters of baptism.
THE BAPTISM OF JESUS
The baptism administered by John was with a view to the repentance of sins. So, immediately, we are challenged with the thought: why did Jesus make the journey from Galilee to Jordan to be baptised by John (Matthew 3:13)? After all, as John would argue (Matthew 3:14), Jesus alone of all men is without sin (Hebrews 4:15).
Jesus Himself gives us the answer: “to fulfil all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15). We may understand by this that, in the waters of His baptism, Jesus identified with the sins of His people. Reciprocally, in the waters of their baptism, His people identify with His righteousness (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:21).
Jesus stands in stark contrast to the Pharisees and Sadducees, who came to John’s baptism without repentance (Matthew 3:7-8). Jesus came without any need for repentance. So, still under protest - but as an act of obedience - John baptised Him (Matthew 3:15).
One of the reasons for our own baptism is the example of Jesus. Jesus’ baptism anticipates the work of the Cross (Galatians 3:13). In our baptism we identify with the burial and resurrection of Jesus (Romans 6:3-4; Colossians 2:12).
Another reason for Jesus’ baptism was for His commissioning as a priest (cf. Exodus 29:4). Furthermore, as Jesus “came up out of the water” (Matthew 3:16), the “heavens were opened” (a ‘divine passive’ - suggesting that it was God who opened the heavens) - and He was anointed by the Holy Spirit. This marked Him out, in Jewish thought, as a prophet.
The form in which the Spirit of God descended was “like a dove” (Matthew 3:16). A dove had been sent out by Noah after the flood, and when it was safe for Noah to return to land it alighted upon him bearing an olive leaf (Genesis 8:11). The Holy Spirit’s involvement at the time of Jesus’ baptism suggests another new beginning - connecting us back to His involvement in Creation, another occasion involving water (Genesis 1:2).
The voice from heaven echoes the words of an enthronement Psalm, declaring the King to be the LORD’s own Son (Psalm 2:7). None of the sons of David so perfectly fit this role as does Jesus, and the Father declares Him to be Beloved (cf. Isaiah 42:1, which links Jesus with the Servant motif). ‘Son of God’ was not an unexpected title for the Messiah in the Judaism of those days.
The voice is heard again at the Transfiguration: the same words, but with the additional, ‘hear ye Him’ (Matthew 17:5). The Trinitarian content of Jesus’ baptism by John (Matthew 3:16-17) adds weight to our own obligation to be baptised ‘in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost’ (Matthew 28:19). Are we listening to Jesus, in this, and in all things?