Inauguration, identification, and commitment in Jesus’ baptism

INTRODUCTION. An examination of Matthew 3:13-17 with the goal of discovering why Jesus was baptized, then applying those ideas to the life of a believer/disciple.

When He was about thirty years old (Luke 3:23), Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River. Here is the account from the gospel of Matthew 3:13-17:

13 Then Jesus *arrived from Galilee at the Jordan coming to John, to be baptized by him. 14 But John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?” 15 But Jesus answering said to him, “Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he *permitted Him. 16 After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him, 17 and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.”

The Scriptures are clear that Jesus was baptized. All four gospels unambiguously attest to this fact. But the question that must be answered is, “Why was Jesus baptized?”

WHY WAS JESUS BAPTIZED?

Let’s explore this question. We can start by saying what is not the reason Jesus was baptized. John the Baptist was “preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4). In Matthew 3:6 we read that John was baptizing people “in the Jordan River as they confessed their sins” (Matt. 3:6). But since Jesus was sinless (John 8:46; 2 Cor. 5:21; Hebrews 4:15; etc.), He had no sins to confess, so He was not being baptized for repentance.

So, we are back at square one. “Why was Jesus baptized?”

MATTHEW 3:15

Jesus’ words in Matthew 3:15 seem to provide some helpful information. First, Jesus commands John to permit His baptism. In the Greek, this is an imperative, meaning Jesus is giving John a command. “Allow My baptism!” With this command, Jesus is telling John, “I know you do not understand why I am doing this, but I know why, and so I am commanding you to baptize Me and to trust Me about this.”

Notice also that John is to permit this baptism “at this time.” This phrase could also be translated from the Greek as “at the current time” or simply “now.” There is something about this particular time that is significant and that makes it “fitting” (or “proper”) for Jesus to be baptized at this specific time. This new information has changed our question to, “Why was Jesus baptized at this specific time?” As we consider the timing of this scene, we see that this is the time Jesus began His earthly ministry. And it is “fitting” (or “proper”) to mark the start of Jesus’ earthly ministry “in this way,” that is, with baptism.  

WHY JESUS WAS BAPTIZED AT THIS TIME

Putting these pieces together, then, we would say that it was appropriate and fitting to fulfill all righteousness for Jesus to mark the launch of His earthly ministry with baptism. To say this more simply, it was right (or righteous) for Jesus to mark the start of His earthly ministry with baptism. So, the answer to the question, “Why was Jesus baptized?” is that He was baptized to mark the start of His earthly ministry. But that is not the complete reason.

At His baptism, Jesus emerged from complete obscurity and was publicly identified as the Son of God when God the Father declared from heaven, “This is My beloved Son” (Matthew 3:17). Prior to this event, Jesus had been an unknown carpenter in the backwater town of Nazareth, quietly living His days with His mother and brothers. Now, by His baptism, His days of quiet obscurity are forever ended and His anonymity is gone. Through His baptism, He is now identified as the Son of God. Thus, a second reason for His baptism was His identification as the Son of God.

But there was another reason for Jesus to be baptized, for at His baptism, Jesus committed Himself to the cross. After He emerged from the waters of baptism, there was no turning back, there would be no distractions, there was no other possible ending to the story. His baptism was the visual sign that Jesus was committed to His mission all the way to His death. As Jesus went down into the waters of baptism, He was picturing His own physical death on the cross and subsequent burial, and when He was raised up out of the water, He was picturing His own glorious resurrection. His baptism, then, was also about His commitment to be obedient till death (Philippians 2:8).

APPLICATION TO THE BELIEVER

We have seen that in His baptism, Jesus inaugurated His mission, He identified as the Son of God, and He committed to the cross. But Jesus’ baptism has even more significance than that.

When I was baptized, after my pastor requested from me a verbal testimony of my faith in Jesus Christ, he said these words before he plunged me under the water: “Based on your profession of faith, IN IMITATION OF OUR LORD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST and in obedience to His divine command (Matthew 28:19), I baptize you, my brother in Christ, in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Buried unto death in Christ (plunge into water), rise again to walk in newness of life (bring up out of the water).”

As believers, we worship a crucified Savior, but we also worship a baptized Savior. Jesus Christ was baptized, and He thus left His disciples an example of what we are to do when we make disciples, according to Matthew 28:19. And as Jesus was baptized as a sign of inauguration, identification, and commitment, so the baptism of a disciple is also a sign of inauguration, identification, and commitment.

In his public baptism, the disciple publicly inaugurates his discipleship and starts his lifelong walk with Jesus. Baptism is the fitting sign to mark the start of a disciple’s earthly journey with Jesus.

Also, in baptism the disciple publicly declares his faith in Jesus and vows to follow Jesus forever. His baptism publicly identifies him as a follower of Jesus Christ. From that moment on, the baptized disciple is always identified with the crucified and risen Savior.

Finally, in the disciple’s baptism he visually makes a commitment to follow Jesus until death, no matter the cost and no matter the consequences. To live is Christ and to die is gain (Phil. 1:21), and so as long as he draws breath, the disciple is a committed witness for Jesus Christ.

Thus, the disciple is baptized IN IMITATION OF OUR LORD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST.

SDG                 rmb                 6/10/2022                   #542

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