Summary: Jesus’ baptism


Steve Simala Grant, June 1, 1997


We’ve come this morning to celebrate who God is and what he is doing in our lives. To worship Him and to praise Him and to meet with Him face to face in a way that changes our lives. We’re going to continue to do that as we look into Scripture this morning, looking first at Jesus’ baptism, then at what happened immediately after his baptism, and then concluding by listening to what the voice of God had to say to Jesus and also to us this morning.

read Matthew 3:13-17

We know virtually nothing about Jesus’ childhood and early adult life. We have the stories of his birth, and one brief mention of a trip to Jerusalem when He was twelve. It is then about 18 years later, Jesus is about 30 years old, and we head out into the desert and meet John the Baptist, who is calling people to repentance and baptizing them in the Jordan river.

The story begins with Jesus coming to John and asking him for baptism. John, recognizing who Jesus is, is understandably reluctant, and tries to deter Jesus by saying that it is he that should be baptized by Jesus. Can you identify with how John must have felt when Jesus asked him for baptism? I can. When I come before God in prayer, I sometimes feel the same way John did: inadequate. "I can’t share my faith with my co-worker, I’m a sinful person who doesn’t have enough faith - I need you to give me more faith." And God smiles and says, "No, I need you. I have placed YOU in that job beside those people so that you can be my witness to them. And I will be with you in the middle of it. Now go and do it." Jesus’ response convinces John, and so he baptizes Jesus, and as Jesus comes up out of the water he sees the heavens open, the Holy Spirit descend upon him, and he hears the voice of God speak directly to him.

The fact that Jesus came to John for baptism makes me ask a simple question: Why? John was preaching a baptism of repentance - of turning from sin. Jesus was sinless; why then did he ask John to baptize him? We understand John’s hesitation - "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?", and we recognize with John that something is a little strange here: The God of the Universe asking John to baptize him. Why is that?

Let me suggest three quick reasons: first, Jesus embraced his humanness fully. Jesus chose to become completely man, and to participate fully in that experience. As a man, Jesus identified with the people around Him - he celebrated feasts like Passover - though he had watched from heaven when the Israelites were in Egypt painting the blood of the Passover lamb on their door frames; he went to the weddings and laughed and celebrated; he cried when his friend Lazarus died, even though a couple of minutes later he raised him from the dead; and he went out to the desert to participate in the baptism of John. Luke’s version of this same story begins like this: "When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too." (3:21). By accepting John’s baptism of water, Jesus identified himself with the people of Israel who were being purified and committing to live in obedience to God. I think that is what Jesus has in mind when he says: "Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness." And isn’t it great to know that we have a God who has identified himself with us? Who has walked among us and experienced everything that we experience? We are not alone - we have a God who has come to us and walked with us and cried with us and loved us.

second, Jesus desired to be baptized to set an example for us to follow. Jesus led by example; he said to his disciples "Come and follow me; learn from what I do; become like me". Baptists baptize believers by completely immersing them in water simply because that is how Jesus was baptized.

and thirdly, Jesus’ baptism was a spiritual experience. It seems strange to think of God having a spiritual experience, and yet that is exactly what happens to Jesus: the heavens open, the Spirit descends like a dove, and he hears the voice of God from heaven. And while I am sure that part of what God was doing was for the benefit of the others around witnessing Jesus’ baptism (we know that John saw the Spirit from John 1:32), I’m willing to bet that most of it was for Jesus’ benefit.

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