Phil Cox

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The Baptism of Jesus

18th February 2012

After describing the ministry of John the Baptist, the next thing Matthew writes is:

Matthew 3v13-17
Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptised by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, "I need to be baptised by you, and do you come to me?"
Jesus replied, "Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfil all righteousness." Then John consented.
As soon as Jesus was baptised, 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 lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased."

It seems to me that John asked a perfectly reasonable question. Why would Jesus ask John to baptise him?

Jesus explained to John that "it is proper for us to do this to fulfil all righteousness" meaning, I think, that it was the will of God for John to baptise Jesus, so he should do it. That's true, I'm sure, but it just re-frames the question, which now becomes: Why did God want John to baptise Jesus?

John was aware of his own sinfulness. You can't preach repentance and baptism everyday without becoming aware of how imperfect your own repentance has been (or, at least, I hope you can't and John was a genuine prophet. Why would the sinless Jesus Christ come to the sinful John to be baptised? For me, the answer is in two parts, because the question has two aspects:

Firstly, if Jesus is going to be baptised, why choose John? Because he had to choose someone and whoever he chose would be a sinner. We all are, except Jesus. And if he had to choose some sinner, who would be a better choice that a prophet sent by God to baptise people?

Secondly, why would Jesus be baptised at all? Since, as John had said in verse 11, his baptism was a baptism of repentance, and since Jesus was without sin, why would Jesus undergo baptism? In His case, what was it for? I think the answer is because Jesus is our leader.

Jesus is our pioneer. He leads, and we follow. Like an Israelite shepherd with his sheep, Jesus is always in front. What Jesus calls us - His people - to do, He does first. Jesus calls us to be baptised so, first, He is baptised.

And, as soon as Jesus came out of the water, He was anointed by the Holy Spirit. This raises another question: Since Jesus is God, why did He need to be anointed by the Holy Spirit?

The answer, again, is because He is our pioneer. Jesus calls us to be baptised in the Holy Spirit, so He Himself was baptised in the Holy Spirit. As Philippians 2v6-7 tell us, Jesus being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. To be our pioneer, He had to live like us. Like us, He didn't perform any miracle or utter any prophecy, until He was empowered by the Holy Spirit to do so. He didn't preach either, until filled with the Holy Spirit.

(The New Testament has several names for this experience, and several different descriptions of how it happened for different people, but the principle is the same; God the Holy Spirit comes with power and glory on believers - and on their Pioneer. It's OK that different people have different experiences of the Holy Spirit, and it's OK that Jesus's experience was more dramatic than ours. Isn't it?)

And when the Holy Spirit came upon Jesus, there was a voice from heaven. God the Father said "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased".

I hope that you, dear Christian brother or sister, have submitted yourself to the waters of baptism. If it's important for Jesus, then it's important for you. If it's proper... to do this to fulfil all righteousness for Him, then it is for you.

And I hope that you've been baptised in God's Holy Spirit. It's the only way you can be empowered to do God's work.

And I hope that you've heard the voice of God, telling you that you are His child, and that He's pleased with you.

You are. And He is.