The baptism of Jesus is a little blip in the grand story of Jesus. Let’s take a look and see why this might be important enough to be in three out of four gospels. For the purpose of our study we will be using the account found in Matthew because it is the most detailed and the other two versions do not differ much. If you want to read them you can click on their respective links, Mark 1:9-13 and Luke 3:21-22.
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)
I don’t know about you but this passage raises some questions like, “What is baptism?”, “Why is baptism important?” and “Why did Jesus need to be baptized?” These are great questions and if you think of anymore that I don’t answer here, please feel free to ask them in the comment section below.
Let’s address the first question first: “What is baptism?” Literally, the Greek word for baptism means “to wash.” Some religions just sprinkle water on the head, some pour water over the head and some dunk the whole body under water. Some churches, like mine for example, dunks the whole body three times, once in the name of the Father, once in the name of the Son, and once in the name of the Holy Spirit. I don’t think anyone knows for sure exactly how the first baptisms were done. And to be honest with you, I don’t think it really matters how you are baptized as long as you are baptized.
Why is baptism important? Some religions believe that the physical act of baptism is what saves your soul and that is why some perform infant baptisms. This is not what is taught in the Bible however. The Bible teaches that, “it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God,” (Ephesians 2:8). This presumably can only happen once a person reaches an age where they can have faith and understand, at least on a basic level, the concept of sin and the need to be rescued from that sin. Since infants are unable to make that decision, it is pointless to baptize them. Baptism is not some magical spell by which we enter the kingdom of God. It is an outward symbol of inward repentance, of turning from our sinful ways, of washing away the sinful self. It is announcing to the world that you have decided to become a follower of Christ, a Christian. It is also where we get the term “born again”.
Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”
Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
“How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”
Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (John 3:1-8)
Being baptized symbolizes a rebirth, a dying of the the old sinful self and a birth of a new justified self. I could go on here but I’ll save it for a later time.
So, if being baptized symbolizes a change from sinful life to a new life, why did Jesus have to be baptized? Well, the real answer is I don’t know and I’m not sure anyone else is 100% sure either but I can tell you what they say and what I think.
They say (they being biblical scholars) Jesus’ baptism shows God the Father’s approval of Jesus. This is obvious because God comes right out and says it after Jesus is baptized, “This is my Son,whom I love; with him I am well pleased,” (v. 17) They also say that Jesus’ baptism marks the consecration and validity of his ministry. In other words, the work he was about to do is holy and set aside for him. They also say that the Holy Spirit equips him for ministry when he descends like a dove. I think “they” are right in all of these things but I think they are missing an important aspect of Jesus’ baptism. Could it be that the baptism of Christ signifies a change from a simple baptism of repentance to a baptism of the Holy Spirit for all believers? Again, I’m not saying that it’s a magic formula to receive the Holy Spirit; I’m talking about an outward symbol of an inward change- one of the hard heart to a heart for God AND a spiritless soul to a Spirit filled soul. Again, this is just my own thoughts. I could be wrong about this but it seems to me that Holy Spirit was definitely working in the lives of believers even before Pentecost happened, when the Holy Spirit settled on the disciples in a powerful and visible way. Please feel free to leave questions or comments below!
Father, thank you for sending your Son to not only die for us but to live for us as well. Jesus, Thank you for being obedient to you Father in all things even to the point of death on a cross. Spirit, thank you for indwelling in us and equipping us for your work. Amen.