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  • Writer's pictureRev. Gerald (Jerry) Reiter, Emeritus

As Jesus Was Baptized

Baptism of Our Lord

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan 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?”

Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.

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 alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

Matthew 3:13-17

John the Baptist was standing in the Jordan River, baptizing people with a baptism of repentance, when he’s approached by the most famous candidate for baptism in all history: Jesus. At first it seems strange that Jesus would have anything to do with baptism which was plainly said to be a baptism for those who had repented of their sins.

And yet Jesus came gladly to be baptized by John. The only hesitation was on John’s part: “John tried to deter Him, saying ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.”

What could that mean? The answer is right there. If Jesus was really going to take the place of sinful men and women on the cross, He must identify fully with them. And here He is doing just that. It was a prelude to Calvary.

Here’s Jesus, who has done no sin, identifying Himself with sinful men and women in the waters of baptism, as a picture of what He had come to do – and what He would work out in blood and tears on the terrible cross a few years later.

It's clear that Jesus saw His baptism in this way. In the Gospel of Luke He spoke of the fire which He came to bring on earth – predicted by John and fulfilled on Pentecost – and how He wished it was already kindled. And then He said, “But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is completed!” (Luke 12:49,50)

His cross was to be His baptism! It was there that He took the sins of the world on Himself, which He symbolically identified with when He was baptized by John in the Jordan River. That’s the most striking thing about Jesus’ baptism. He identified Himself with sinners so that, in due time, He might bring about the forgiveness of sins to which John’s baptism pointed. But there were other important meanings to Jesus’ baptism, too.

First, His baptism meant an anointing by the Holy Spirit. “Heaven was opened, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on Him.” Maybe an actual dove settled on Him at His baptism. Maybe it was a vision. It doesn’t matter very much. The important thing is that God’s Holy Spirit came mightily upon Him. Of course He wasn’t a stranger to the Spirit – He’d been conceived by the Spirit (Matt. 1:20), but now He was starting out on His ministry, and Isaiah’s prophecy, “The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him.” (Is. 11:2) was being fulfilled.

The evangelists saw great significance in this “resting.” The Holy Spirit could be withdrawn in Old Testament days. Men like Saul and Sampson did great things in the power of the Spirit, and then the Spirit would be withdrawn because they disobeyed God. It would be a wonderful thing if the Spirit came to rest on someone! And then it happened with Jesus! At His baptism, Jesus received a permanent gift of the Holy Spirit.

And that’s what God offers to us in our baptism. We may choose to leave Him, but He will not leave us!

The second important aspect to Jesus’ baptism was His assurance of sonship. “This is my Son, whom I love.” Here again, Jesus was already the Son of God, but here He received a powerful assurance of it.

Jesus was the Son of God by nature. We are sons and daughters of God by grace. He was the authentic, the only-begotten Son of God. We are adopted by God because of Him. He could cry, “Abba” that intimate word for “daddy” by right. We can use it because He allows us to. This is one of the most profound meanings of baptism. “You have received the Spirit of sonship – or adoption,” writes the Apostle Paul. “When we cry ‘Abba! Father!’ it is the Spirit Himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.” (Romans 8:15-17)

There’s a contrasting truth that the baptism of Jesus brought out, and that’s servanthood. The Messianic Son was also the Suffering Servant. That was evident throughout His ministry, and ultimately at its end, but it’s indicated here at the start. The quotation, “This is my son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased” is a composite one, made up of two separate prophecies. The first half comes from Psalm 2:7, “You are my Son.” But the second half of that quotation comes from Isaiah 42:1, “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one, in whom I delight.”

So, in this quotation the son, the highest ideal in Judaism, is united with the servant, the lowest role that no one wanted! And they’re both brought home to Jesus at His baptism. Jesus the Son had to walk the path of the Servant. And so must His followers!

There’s a lot of preaching of the Gospel of glory these days. We want blessings now, riches now, healings now, and spiritual gifts now. But you don’t hear a lot about the call to suffer and serve. But sonship can’t be divorced from suffering and servanthood! They’re both part of the one baptism.

The last aspect in the baptism of Jesus was witness-bearing. Jesus didn’t just receive in His baptism a warm feeling of acceptance and sonship, a gratifying experience of the Holy Spirit, and a premonition of servanthood. He was commissioned for ministry!

And that commissioning was immediately followed by a period of doubts and testing in the wilderness of Judea for forty terrible days. And He was taken there by the Spirit who had settled on Him at His baptism!

The gift of the Holy Spirit doesn’t keep us from having hard times. It enables us to survive hard times, as Jesus did, and get on with the job. He came back from the desert sure of God’s provision, sure of His own calling, sure of the Spirit’s leading, and He began at once the ministry that God had assigned to Him. He burst upon the scene in Galilee preaching the Gospel of God, and saying “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the Gospel.” (Mark 1:15)

That’s what He did when the Spirit came upon Him at His baptism. It was an enrollment to ministry. And it is for Christians, too. Baptism has been called the ordination of the laymen. And in the eyes of the New Testament, we’re all laymen. When the Spirit baptized the first disciples at Pentecost, they immediately began to preach the Good News to anyone who would listen, just as their Master had.

The baptism of Jesus was, of course, unique. But it still has much to teach us about Christian baptism. It’s the pledge of the Holy Spirit. It’s the mark of sonship, or adoption as sons and daughters of God. It’s the call to the path of the servant. It’s the commissioning for ministry.

Baptism catches us up into all of this. We go down with Jesus into the water of repentance. We claim for ourselves the justification He won on Calvary. And we look to the Holy Spirit to fill us and equip us for ministry.

As the Apostle Paul wrote to the Church at Rome, “Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with Him like this in His death, we will certainly also be united with Him in His resurrection.” (Romans 6:3-5)

Our baptism is all of that. Let us never forget it!


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