Summary: Why was Jesus baptized? Granted, Jesus said it was to "fulfill" all righteousness"... but what does that mean?
OPEN: A woman once took her 4-year-old daughter to a baptismal service at her church. Later that night, her daughter took all of her dolls into the bathtub with her and held her own “baptism.” As she dunked each doll under the water, she repeated, “Now I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son and hold your nose.”
APPLY: That little girl had observed a baptismal service but she was really too young to know what was going on. She simply knew people got dunked and that the preacher had recited something about the Father and the Son, etc.. But she didn’t quite understand what was going on, or why the preacher had said what he said.
I. John the Baptist had sent by God for two specific purposes
1st He had been sent to preach “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” Luke 3:3
AND 2nd, he had been sent to “go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him” Luke 1:76
Those wouldn’t have seemed to be difficult missions for John to understand. For 6 months or more, John had been preaching persuasive messages condemning sin and calling for repentance. People came in droves to hear his powerful sermons and were baptized by him in the Jordan.
But then along comes Jesus – along comes “the Lord” he was to prepare the way for - and suddenly John seems confused. Jesus requests 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?’” Matthew 3:14
This wasn’t what John had expected. This wasn’t in accordance with the instructions he thought he’d been given. He’s almost incredulous “What do you mean baptize you. You should be baptizing me!”
But Jesus responds "Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness." Matthew 3:15
In other words, Jesus is telling John: “This is what you were sent to do. This is the fulfillment of your mission.”
There was something inherent in John baptizing Jesus that “prepared the way for Jesus.” But John was confused. His baptism was for the “forgiveness of sins”… BUT Jesus didn’t need to be baptized for that reason. Jesus hadn’t sinned. Jesus was God in the flesh.
II. Why would Jesus need to be baptized by John????
Well… Jesus’ baptism by John was the beginning of Jesus’ ministry
Mark 1:1 starts out with the words: “The BEGINNING of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” - and then Mark proceeds to tell us about Jesus’ baptism by John.
Luke 3:23 describes Jesus’ baptism by John and then declares: “Now Jesus himself was about thirty years old when he BEGAN HIS MINISTRY…”
At this point in Jewish history, water baptism served one of 3 purposes.
1st, there was the Baptism Of Repentance. This was what John the Baptist’s was preaching. But of course Jesus didn’t need to repent because He hadn’t sinned.
The 2nd kind of baptism was for people who desired to convert to Judaism. It was a Baptism Of Conversion. If you were a Gentile who wanted to convert to Judaism, you were baptized in water. Jamieson, Fausset and Brown explained that : “The Jews were accustomed to say of a heathen proselyte, on his public admission into the Jewish faith by baptism, that he was a new-born child.” So, baptism was used when someone wanted to convert to Judaism. But Jesus had no need to convert to Judaism… because He’d been born a Jew.
So… for what OTHER reason would a person be baptized in water back then???
The only other people who experienced baptism - in the Jewish faith in that day were the priests. The Law dictated that especially the High Priest was to “washed with water.”
In Leviticus 8:6 we’re told that - by the instruction of God – “Moses brought Aaron and his sons forward and washed them with water.” Later, during that ceremony Moses “poured some of the anointing oil on Aaron’s head and anointed him to consecrate him.” Leviticus 8:12
This act initiated Aaron’s ministry as High Priest. When Aaron and his sons were washed with water and anointed with oil… they began their priesthood and were empowered to make sacrifices and handle holy things as God’s representatives. At that point, God put His mark of approval on the ministry of Aaron and his sons.
The Bible tell us that Jesus’ ministry began with His baptism by John. After His baptism, the Father anointed Jesus from on High with Holy Spirit descending in the form of a dove. And the Father put His mark of approval on Jesus by loudly declaring: "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased." Matthew 3:17