What is This Baptism of Jesus About?

1.5.13The baptism of Jesus is, to me, a bit of a mystery. Depending on which Christian tradition to which you belong, various meanings are assigned to the purpose of baptism. For some it is a demonstration of something that has already happened in the heart. For others it is a defining moment that begins a new journey as a saved person. For some it is an identification with a local congregational assembly. But none of those can really be assigned to the baptism of Jesus.

He hasn’t “accepted Christ as his personal savior.”

He hasn’t had his “sins washed away, calling on the name of the Lord.”

He hasn’t pledged himself to serve under the leadership of a local church.

So what is Jesus doing in the Jordan river with cousin John the baptist (who was not a Baptist, but that is for another post sometime)? Even John doesn’t seem to know.

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?” ~Matthew 3:13-14

So if the prophet in the wilderness is a bit confused, I think it is ok for us to be also. But we do know more of the story than John did. It seems to me that the baptism of Jesus can be seen as needful in a couple of ways.

*It was the right thing to do. (Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented. ~Matthew 3:15) Although baptism seemed to all but disappear from Protestant theology over the centuries, it’s making a comeback! If you read your Bible you will find over and over examples of people being baptized in water. Jesus even told his disciples to go into the whole world and upon teaching them about the gospel. The result is that people would be baptized (Matthew 28:18-20). Baptism is not the end of the story, but it is in the story. I think, for Jesus, it was a recognition of his life as a human on earth.

*It culminated the ministry of John the baptist. It isn’t long until John is decreasing and Jesus is increasing. The baptism of Jesus is both the crowning moment of John’s ministry and a stamp of Divine approval.

*It officially announced Jesus as the Lamb of God and began his public ministry. We do not know what Jesus was doing from the time he was twelve until this moment. Perhaps spending time in the carpenter’s shop. But a dramatic shift in the purpose and life of Jesus begins at this moment.

*It gives us a trinitarian moment! Jesus in the water, the dove in the sky, and the voice from heaven. (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. ~Matthew 3:16) The doctrine of the trinity relies on this passage.

*It affirms for us (and for Jesus) that his ministry as the Messiah is, indeed, the plan of God to redeem man.

 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” ~Matthew 3:17

I’m sure there are some deep theological principles that I’ve passed over, but these are the thoughts that are evident to me in the baptism of Jesus. In these ways, the baptism of Jesus and the baptism practiced by the Christian church is very different. The Christian church didn’t exist yet…but it would not be long. We had to have a Christ before we could have Christians!

These initial reflections on the lectionary Gospel passage for this week leave me with one more thought. How captivating is it that the Father affirms the Son at this crucial moment …that the Holy Spirit is present and in a peaceful beautiful presence? When we are baptized today to demonstrate our faith in Christ, I believe that there is no less the presence of the Spirit to bring peace, and the voice of the Father to affirm love and approval. Maybe in those ways the baptism of Jesus is like our own.

Maybe you thought of other reasons why Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River by John. Feel free to share them in the comments.

Thanks for reading,


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