The Baptism of Jesus

Today's Bible reading: Matthew 3:13-17

Why would Jesus - the Son of God – need to be baptized?  That key question is behind Matthew's telling of this event.  For John the Baptist there was the added difficulty that Jesus actually asked to be baptized by Him – shouldn’t be the other way around?  Jesus answers somewhat cryptically: “It is necessary for us to fulfill all righteousness.”   The Good News Bible paraphrases this verse as: “We shall do all that God requires.”  Certainly Jesus knows that baptism is part of God’s plan for Him … but why is this the case?  After all, He is the Son of God – He’s sinless, right?! The reason: Jesus needs to be baptized because our Savior must identify with us in every way – He must fully identify with those He came to save.  He has come to follow the way that leads to a cross.

We miss the point of this event if we look at it only in terms of Jesus receiving something for Himself.  Jesus is the sinless Son of God: He didn’t need to receive forgiveness … nor did He need to be re-united with God – (He is the second member of the Trinity … you can’t be more united than that!)  However, what the Gospel tells us is that Jesus “receives” the Spirit, which comes down on Him like a dove.  John's Gospel stresses this feature with its repeated reference to the fact that the Spirit “remained” on Jesus.  But the coming of the Spirit on Jesus doesn’t mean change in His person.  So we ask ourselves: “What, then, does it mean?”

The real significance of Jesus baptism is that it marks the beginning of His public ministry.  The Spirit alights on Him not so much for His sake … but for ours.  The account speaks of John seeing the Spirit descending on Jesus.  Meaning: in this event God publicly sets Jesus aside for His ministry as the Spirit-filled Messiah.  Thus, the very first sermon of Jesus in His hometown of Nazareth is based on Isaiah 61:1: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…” … a point we will return to in a few minutes.

The voice from heaven certifies who Jesus is: the beloved Son.  As the one anointed with the Spirit, He is the perfect Son and King of Israel.  But He is also God's chosen and loved servant.  We see how rich and many-colored this picture of Jesus and His mission really is right from the beginning.  He is the Son of God as the new Israel … the perfect King, the Servant of God, the Savior of the world – all because He is Son of God in the fullest senseGod Himself among humankind.

Prayer: Gracious Father, through the baptism of Jesus You have shown that You are God-with-us.  Through our baptism into His death, you have connected us to His life.  Help us to give witness to all You have done for us; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.