As we just read, Jesus was baptised, as a sign that he was about to begin his work for God. As John points out Jesus didn’t need to be baptised.
Baptism demonstrates the old sinful nature being washed clean, ready for a new start to serve God faithfully for the rest of our lives. But it also signifies death and rebirth.
Our baptism service reminds us, that the people of Israel passed through the Red Sea as a sign that they were being reborn as the people of God, freed from slavery to serve God in their new land. It also reminds us that Jesus died and rose again to bring us new life.
So there’s both the idea of the removal of sin, and of the old sinful life being replaced by a new life for God.
Now that’s great, but as far as Jesus is concerned, he didn’t need to do it for either reason. So why bother?
Why Jesus didn’t need to be baptised.
John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptised by you, and do you come to me?”
Matthew 3:14 ESV
John’s in no doubt about what should and shouldn’t be happening. John understood Jesus’ importance in the scheme of things. Only a few verses earlier he declared that Jesus was the promised Messiah, whose sandals John wasn’t even worthy to carry.
Baptism signifies being washed clean from sin, and Jesus had never sinned. John was baptising people to purify them before the Messiah came. So they’d be ready. His message was repentance for the forgiveness of sins, warning people to flee from the wrath that’s coming as God’s Messiah, God’s anointed King, bursts on the scene.
He tells people that he baptises with water for repentance but one is coming who will baptise with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Jesus’ coming will bring the breath of life and the fire of cleansing.
And of course Jesus didn’t need a new start because he had always obeyed God. That’s why as he came up out of the water God spoke and said “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
So why did he need to be baptised?
But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfil all righteousness.”
Matthew 3:15 ESV
There was a sense in which Jesus did need to be baptised. It’s to fulfil all righteousness, to fulfil God’s law.
Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them.
Matthew 5:17 ESV
Jesus’ whole life, was intended to fulfil the law and its requirements. Jesus is saying that John is right, people do need to submit to God’s law if they’re to be ready for the coming of the King.
And his baptism isn’t a sign that he needs to repent, it’s a sign that he’s just like us and that he himself submits to that law.
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Hebrews 4:14–16 ESV
One of the reasons Jesus is baptised by John is so he can identify with us, with our weaknesses. So that he understands what we go through.
The great thing about the gospel message is that our God understands us.
He sees us in the pit, in the messiness of our lives, the lack of self esteem, the guilt and insecurities and our sin. Jesus climbs down into the pit with us and helps us out!
In baptism Jesus identifies himself with Israel. Baptism was one of the rituals that was used when a person became an Israelite. It signified purification from every impurity that might hold them back from the worship of the true and living God. You may remember the story of Naaman, the Assyrian, who was told to dip himself in the Jordan River seven times if he wanted to be healed of his leprosy. In a similar way Jesus lowers himself into the river to identify himself as a true Israelite.
But also, his baptism by John is a sign of his humility. It’s a sign of his humility that he comes to John, he lowers himself into the muddy waters of the Jordan River and submits to the ministry of his predecessor; of his herald.
Jesus identifies with us, he knows us inside and out… Do you ever wonder if your friends and family understand what you are going through? I know I do.
When things are tough, do you even wonder if God really knows how hard it is to live in this broken world, in the messiness of our lives?
But when we see Jesus being plunged into that muddy water, we see that he does identify with us. It reminds us, that yes, he does understand what it’s like to live in a fallen world, where things don’t always go right, where people hate you and persecute you for doing good, where others flaunt God’s laws and get away with it and where people suffer through no real fault of their own.
Jesus knows what we’re like. He’s lived life as a human being, he’s gone down into the waters of the Jordan as a sign of human imperfection, even though he suffered no imperfection in his own obedience to God.
If we think about that it might make it easier for us to face up to our own imperfections, our own failures. So when we come to God in repentance, Jesus understands how hard it is to resist temptation, and just like Peter who he forgave — remember Peter denies Jesus three times when he was on trial, I never knew him. In a beautiful reversal Jesus gives Peter the chance to restore himself. That’s true love and true forgiveness.
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”
He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.”
He said to him, “Feed my lambs.”
He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.”
He said to him, “Tend my sheep.”
He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?”
and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep”.
John 21:15–17 ESV
Jesus is always ready to forgive you, he’s waiting for us to turn to him and repent.
Now this is the most beautiful part , as Jesus is coming up out of the water:
The heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
(Matthew 3:16–17 ESV)
Here, right at the outset, we see Jesus’ glory manifest. Even at the moment when he’s lowered himself into that filthy, muddy river, God speaks and attests to his real glory, that of the only begotten Son of the Father.
This Jesus, who lowers himself to the depth of us failed human beings, is the Beloved Son of the Living God. His baptism, unnecessary as it was in terms of repentance from sin, nevertheless shows us the importance of submitting to God’s law, God’s will for human life.
It encourages us that Jesus was truly human, that he understood what it means to be a human being. And it assures us that John’s offer of forgiveness indeed came from God.
And for us in our baptism, when accompanied by true faith, we are washed clean in the precious blood of the lamb it means that one day we will hear God say to us: