Why was Jesus Baptized?

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.

Matthew 3:13-15 (NIV84)

I got baptized when I was 18.  My baptism was a public declaration, in front of the body of Christ at Westland Free Methodist, that I identified with the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  Going underwater signified death, coming back out of the water signified new life, as if I had been buried and then risen back to life.  The water signified the cleansing power of Christ’s death, and the baptizer/dunkman represented both authority and brotherhood.  The congregation represented the body of Christ, and my wet clothes represented a shameful joy (who wants to be soaked in front of everyone, yet, it is so awesome to know God!)

There are many views on baptism.  Here are but a few, generalized for the sake of bringing them to the table, yet in the hopes that, by acknowledging and moving on, these won’t become the center of the discussion:

– Baptism by water is an old practice that is not relevant to our day and is, quite frankly, legalism.  Believers should instead seek baptism by the Spirit.

– Baptism by water is required for salvation.  Unless you participate in this sacrament, you will not be saved.

– Baptism is an outward sign of an inward reality.  In other words, while you cannot see the internals of my sins being washed away, you can see that I have entered into this life-altering covenant with Jesus.

I’m in favor of the third view.  Water baptism has a place in the church, though it is not necessary for salvation.  Most Orthodox churches say that baptism is one of two sacraments, the other being Communion.  As an aside, let me point out that these two sacraments cannot be experienced online.  Attending church via the internet certainly has positive affect, but until they make a communion cup dispenser and/or virtual holideck baptismal, we’re still missing out on the formative nature of corporate worship unless we’re in the same room with fellow believers, participating together in the sacraments.

By being baptized, you confess that yes, you were born into sin, participated with and practiced sin, and that you now believe Jesus is your Savior.  Those who believe are saved. Those who are baptized say “I identify with Jesus and His people”.  There is both humility (I can’t get this right, but Jesus did) and accountability (help me, church, to follow Jesus faithfully and to live like Him).

Baptism doesn’t make you resistant to temptation.  Baptism doesn’t make you resistant to sin.  Baptism doesn’t make you better than anybody else.  Baptism water gets kinda cloudy after a few people have been dunked (take my word for it).  But baptism is a powerful testimony of the cleansing power of Jesus and the filling power of the Holy Spirit, to the glory of God the Father.

Herein lies the question: Why was Jesus baptized?  I think I know why.  It’s not a very long answer, but it is critical to understanding Jesus.

Jesus was baptized because God the Father told Him to be baptized.  It was the right thing to do.  Jesus was baptized out of obedience and submission to His Dad.  Now we need to work backwards just one more step: why did the Father tell Him to be baptized?  People came to John to be baptized confessing their sin.  Jesus was the sinless One.  He had no sins to confess.

Jesus is like us because He put on flesh and live on earth as a human.  Jesus is not like us because He had no sin.  It wasn’t because of sin that Jesus was baptized.  It wasn’t because of accountability that Jesus was baptized.  Instead of kicking the ball around, let’s ask Jesus why He was baptized.  He answers: “it is proper to fulfill all righteousness.”

proper: appropriate, though it didn’t seem so from John the Baptist’s perspective (you should be baptizing me!)

fulfill: Just like on Amazon.com — an order has been placed by an expectant customer.  The fulfillment of the online order happens when the customer gets their new Cuisinart.  Jesus is finishing something, not starting it.  We see the same pattern later on in the gospel of Matthew, where Jesus says that He didn’t come to abolish the law but to fulfill it.  The law existed before Jesus’ earthly ministry.  His arrival marked the completion, not the continuation or the cancellation.  This event is part of God’s plan of salvation.

righteousness: the right thing to do.  The rightest right thing to do, because God is righteousness.

Jesus was baptized for the opposite reason that we have been baptized.  Whereas we didn’t have ears to obey, Jesus had ears to obey the Father.  Whereas we were broken in Sin, Jesus, who knew no sin, became sin for us.  We were unable to obey the Lord because of sin; Jesus was perfectly able to obey the Lord because He is the Lord.

Jesus takes the position of servant by putting on flesh and taking His directive from the Father.  Jesus said that His food (the stuff that kept Him going) was to do the will of God the Father (Jn 4:34).  Jesus said that He only does what He sees His Father doing (Jn 5:19-23).  Very early in the morning, Jesus would often go to a solitary place to pray (Mark 1:35) and come out of that prayer time with the next steps for ministry (Mark 1:38 – let’s go!).

Jesus wasn’t running His own plan.  He was functioning by the guidance and direction of the Father.  He didn’t have to — he chose this route as a way of existing as the Incarnate.  Jesus lives the life that we are to live, and, by identifying with Him in baptism, we say “I’m going to obey the Father just as Jesus did — by choice, and out of respect for His authority.”

Jesus is obedient to God the Father.  By submitting to baptism, He identifies with our humanity, yet He does the opposite of what we want to do: Jesus humbles Himself in submission.  Submission goes against our sin nature.  Duh.  Jesus, the sinless One, submits.  Maybe, in order to be like Him, we should do the same.

Best part: His submission is marked by the presence of the Holy Spirit.  When I submit myself to God’s way, I am making room for the Holy Spirit to run my life.

Jesus was baptized so that I could fully participate in His humility, submission, and obedience.  And the Father was pleased.

So What?

1) Like a servant, Jesus was obedient to the Father.  I should be, too.  We endeavor to live like Jesus.  Jesus submitted to authority.  Jesus made Himself available to the Father.  Jesus did the job He was told to do, without complaint.  I want to have the heart of a servant in all things — with my wife, with my kids, at work, at the store, and even when no one is looking.

2) Obedience is never easy.  In fact, obedience is often far more difficult.  What came after the baptism of Jesus?  Oh, just 40 days of fasting followed by targeted temptation by the devil.  Jesus wasn’t eased into the role of servant — he jumped right into the center of suffering servanthood, all the while maintaining His obedience to the Father.  I want to have the courage to serve where I’m called, regardless of the ease or complexity, smooth sailing or trouble.  Servants don’t get to choose.  Servants serve.

3) Obedience is not about me; it’s about God’s purpose.  Jesus came to fulfill a righteousness that was found in the heart of the Father.  It wasn’t about earning points or doing something to get something.  He was focused on the fulfillment of God’s calling, not the fulfillment of warm fuzzies from doing something good.  It’s easy to take the position of a servant and to say “look at me!  I’m a humble servant!”, thereby undoing the whole purpose of servanthood. When John said “Jesus, you should be baptizing me!”, note that Jesus didn’t say “Yeah, I know!”  He points to God’s purpose.  I want to have God’s purpose in mind in all things.

Do what? 

1) Regularly make yourself available to the Father through the reading of the Word and prayer.  In order to get my directive, I need to be quick to hear God’s leading, which He does primarily through scripture and prayer.  Endeavor to do this daily.

2) Connect with others who are on the same journey.  This goes much easier within the context of biblical community, where we can challenge and encourage each other as the body of Christ.  Be committed to one another.

3) Do something.  It’s easy (dare I even say tempting?) to sit on our hands until the “right” opportunity to serve comes along.  Don’t wait for fireworks from heaven or angelic voices: know that God calls us to serve one another.  Oftentimes being in service is what puts us in the position to hear the next step.  We need to show faithfulness with what we’ve already got.  (The next time you hear someone say “we need people to help serve dinner to the homeless community”, it might be you that needs to step up!).  Just do something.

Look for…

1) Your own agenda to take a back seat.  This is, by far, the most difficult part of following Jesus.  We’re following the One who put His agenda aside so that He could accomplish the will of the Father.  This led to an excruciating death on a cross as He carried the weight of all sin on His shoulders.  Our human proclivity keeps us away from any kind of pain (when’s the last time you wanted to get your teeth drilled at the Dentist’s office?)  My plan, no.  His plan, yes.

2) Your way of living to go against the way of culture.  We are surrounded by stuff that is designed to maintain self.  Obedience is resolutely focused on other and not self. The general way of living in the USA is to be polite but look out for yourself.  Living like Jesus has a beautifully countercultural way about it, which is what makes it so oddly attractive.  “Wait… something is different about you…”.

3) The occasional stumble.  Paul describes the struggle between the way of the flesh and the way of the Spirit when he says  “I don’t understand what I do… what I want to do, I don’t do, and what I hate, I do!”  This isn’t easy.  But God is faithful in helping us as we trust Him (remember, we’re listening every day) and His grace is enough to get us through.

The way of the Kingdom is obedience to God the Father, guidance by the Holy Spirit dove, and uniting with Jesus in mission and priority, which all started with a baptism service.

Amen.

About radamdavidson

I'm a husband, dad, and pastor living in Portage, Michigan. I suppose I'm a euphoric melancholy generalist with average skills, experiences, and passions across several intertwined disciplines and hobbies including music, speaking, writing, leadership, ministry, and collecting cultural artifacts from the 1980's -- mostly vintage boomboxes. You can read my blog at www.radamdavidson.com, subscribe to my podcast (RadCast) or friend me on facebook.com/radamdavidson. about.me/radamdavidson
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