The Baptism of Jesus – Why?

Part of the ancient Madaba Map showing two possible locations of Jesus’ baptism

Part of the ancient Madaba Map showing two possible locations of Jesus’ baptism

Did you ever wonder why Jesus was baptized? This event is recorded in the Canonical Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. In John 1:29-33, rather than a direct narrative, John the Baptist bears witness to the episode. Here is a part of the Lucan narrative (Luke 3:21–22):21 After all the people had been baptized and Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, heaven was opened 22 and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

Where did John baptize? He baptized people in the area of the River Jordan around Perea about the time of the commencement of the ministry of Jesus. The Gospel of John (1:28) specifies “Bethany beyond the Jordan.”

The Baptism of John. In the New Testament, John the Baptist preached a “baptism with water,” not of forgiveness but of penance or repentance for the remission of sins” (Luke 3:3) and declared himself a forerunner to one who would baptize “with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” (Luke 3:16) In so doing he was preparing the way for Jesus.

Why did Jesus submit to John’s Baptism? John’s baptism was the baptism of repentance (Matthew 3:11), but Jesus was sinless and had no need of repentance – so why was he baptized?  Even John was taken aback at Jesus coming to him. John recognized his own sin and was aware that he, a sinful man in need of repentance himself, was unfit to baptize the spotless Lamb of God: “I need to be baptized by you and yet you are coming to me?” (Matthew 3:14)  Jesus replied “Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”  (Matthew 3:15)

There are several reasons why it was fitting for John to baptize Jesus:

  • To mark the beginning of the public ministry of Jesus.
  • To be publicly heralded and recognized by his forerunner, John, the “voice crying in the wilderness” prophesied by Isaiah, calling people to repentance in preparation for their Messiah (Isaiah 40:3).
  • By baptizing Jesus, John was declaring to all that here was the One they had been waiting for, the Son of God, the One he had predicted would baptize “with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Matthew 3:11)
  • The Lukan description of the opening of the heavens show that the Reign of God is beginning to break into human history in the person of Jesus – the mercy and power of God about to be unleashed.
  • Blessings of God in the person of the Holy Spirit, anointing Jesus for his earthly ministry, showing that indeed this was the Son of God.

Jesus’ baptism also showed that He identified with sinners and the faithful remnant of Israel. Think of St Paul’s passage in Romans 6:3-5:

3 Or are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life. 5 For if we have grown into union with him through a death like his, we shall also be united with him in the resurrection.

His baptism symbolized our baptism into His own death, dying with Him and rising free from sin and able to walk in the newness of life. His righteousness would fulfill all the requirements of the Law for sinners who could never hope to do so on their own. When John hesitated to baptize the sinless Son of God, Jesus replied that it was proper to “fulfill all righteousness.” (Matthew 3:15) By this He alluded to the righteousness that He provides to all who come to Him.

Perhaps most importantly, the occasion of the public baptism recorded for all generations to come the perfect embodiment of the triune God revealed in glory from heaven. The testimony directly from heaven of the Father’s pleasure with the Son and the descending of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus (Matthew 3:16-17) is a beautiful picture of the Trinitarian nature of God. It also depicts the work of the Father, Son, and Spirit in the salvation of those Jesus came to save. The Father loves the elect from before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4); He sends His Son to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10); and the Spirit convicts of sin (John 16:8) and draws the believer to the Father through the Son. All the glorious truth of the mercy of God through Jesus Christ is on display at His baptism

 

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