The Baptism of Jesus

Posted: July 10, 2011 in Matthew

Matthew 3:13-17, “The Baptism of Jesus”

It’s quite an introduction to the ministry of Jesus!  The last Matthew told us of Jesus’ family, they were being persecuted by Herod & now after almost 3 decades, Jesus bursts upon the scene by showing up to one of John’s baptisms.  We can almost picture it as a movie scene change: Joseph, Mary & the Child Jesus have returned to Nazareth after their flight to Egypt & they ease into a life of obscurity – the picture fades out & back in to the bank of the Jordan River & at the bottom of the screen reads “28 years later…”

Chapter 3 actually started by describing the ministry of John the Baptist.  John is the last of the OT prophets, and he served as the forerunner of the Messiah – the herald of the King.  In the role of the famous prophet Elijah, John proclaimed a single message as he pointed the way to Jesus: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”  John pleaded with the people to prepare for the coming of God’s Messiah & the only way to prepare was through repentance & faith.  They needed to turn away from their sin & place their faith & trust in God’s Messiah, who is the only One who could give them the true baptism they needed.

What was baptism, exactly?  The word literally means “immersion” or “dipping.”  (You wouldn’t have seen sprinkling at the Jordan river!)  Jews might dip themselves as a sign of ritual cleansing; Gentiles might get baptized as a sign of converting to Judaism.  John’s baptism was unique because it was for Jews outside of the priesthood: it was a sign of repentance & starting anew with God.

Remember, John’s baptism was different than our baptism into Christ.  John baptized with water unto repentance; Jesus baptizes us with the Holy Spirit.  When we are baptized with water, it’s a sign of our new birth of the Holy Spirit into Christ.  We are identified with Jesus as we are laid into the water (as He was laid into the grave), and come up out of the water (as Jesus came into new life).  It’s a public proclamation – but not merely of repentance (i.e. “I’m sorry, and I want to be closer to God”), but of our faith in Christ.  It’s a statement to God & the whole world saying: “I am a wretched sinner in desperate need of the grace and forgiveness that only God can offer through His Son, Jesus.  I believe that He died for me & lives today, and I’ve personally surrendered my life to Him as my Lord & received Him by faith as my Savior.”  When we’re ready to publicly identify ourselves with Jesus in that way – THAT’s the reason we get baptized! 

But that’s us.  Why did Jesus get baptized?  After all, Jesus isn’t a sinner in need of a Savior…He doesn’t need to somehow identify with Himself.  The key is found in verse 15: Jesus was baptized in order to “fulfill all righteousness.”  In His baptism, Jesus identifies with us & Jesus glorifies God.  And all of that is good & right in the sight of God!

Matthew 3:13–17 (NKJV)
13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him.

  1. How far did Jesus travel?  That depends on where John was actually baptizing.  The site most preferred by scholars is actually in modern-day Jordan (not far from Jericho, on the opposite side of the river), which seems to have some strong archaeological evidence as being Bethabara beyond the Jordan… [MAP]  Yet it’s possible that John baptized in many areas up & down the Jordan river, with some people preferring modern-day Yadernit on the west side of the Jordan south of the Sea of Galilee.  At the closest possibility, Jesus travelled at least a day from Nazareth (in the Galilee region).
  2. The point?  This wasn’t some happenstance encounter – this wasn’t done on a whim.  There was a purpose to Jesus’ coming.  Of course, this is true regarding virtually everything about His ministry.  Jesus specifically said that He came to seek His Father’s will (Jn 5:30) & always did the things that pleased the Father (Jn 8:29).  Thus everything Jesus did & experienced was purposeful & fulfilled the will of God.
    1. Question: can the same be true of us?  Obviously we have a struggle with our sinful nature that keeps us from perfectly following the will of God – but when we are truly submitted to God by being filled with the Spirit, we’ll find that most of our “happenstance” situations are divinely guided by God & being used for His glory.

14 And John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?”

  1. Keep in mind that Jesus would not have been a stranger to John – they were cousins. [Mary & Elizabeth]  John recognized Jesus straightaway, but perhaps it’s unclear that he would have always understood of Jesus’ identity as the Messiah.  Surely he would have known of the circumstances of Jesus’ birth (and no doubt knew the circumstances of his own!), but it seems that John did not fully understand the import of all of these things until after his ministry of baptism had begun.  John 1:31–33, "(31) I did not know Him; but that He should be revealed to Israel, therefore I came baptizing with water.” (32) And John bore witness, saying, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him. (33) I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’" []
    1. So did John know BEFORE Jesus’ baptism (as Matthew suggests), or AFTER (per John)?  Likely both at the same time.  When Jesus approached John, John probably received the revelation that Jesus was indeed the Christ (the Messiah), and he had already received a word from the Lord of how the Christ would be confirmed to him via the descent of the Holy Spirit.  Thus Jesus probably was both revealed and confirmed to John at the same time.
    2. God will always confirm His will through His written word!  He will never contradict what He has already said.
  2. Once John recognized Jesus, he tried to change the order of service up.  Instead of John being the baptizer, he needed to be baptized.  He understood that he was in the presence of someone far greater than him – whose sandals he was not even worthy to carry (vs. 11).  John thought (rightly) that he needed Jesus’ ministry; not the other way around (which he would be corrected on).  John was indeed a great man – the last of the OT prophets.  Yet even he realized that he was a sinner in need of salvation.  John the Baptist may have been used of the Holy Spirit, but he still needed the birth & baptism of the Holy Spirit!  Jesus told us that even the least in the Kingdom of Heaven was greater than John (Mt 11:11).  Why?  Because even the least was born of the Spirit – this is exactly what John recognized that he needed.
    1. It doesn’t matter how many “good” things you think you can do for the Lord.  It doesn’t matter how many church services you’ve attended, or how many Bible verses you’ve memorized, or how many people you’ve even ministered to at different events.  None of those things matter if you’re not born of the Spirit!  They are all good things, but they don’t purchase your salvation for you.  If even John the Baptist needed a new birth, how much more do we?
  3. It’s interesting that John even attempted to stop Jesus.  How exactly does someone “prevent” the Almighty God from doing anything?! J  Yet that’s what John did.  Of course, Jesus wasn’t fully prevented from being baptized – after a brief conversation, they went ahead as planned.  Yet for a moment, John stood in the way of the will of God.  (Amazing – this was one of God’s prophets!  And even HE made this mistake!)
    1. Can we “prevent” the will of God?  Frankly, yes.  We can resist the Holy Spirit. Stephen (the 1st martyr of the church) accused the Jews of this very thing.  “You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you.” (Acts 7:51)  Jonah is a textbook example of someone resisting the will of God. …  Question: if God wills something to be, how can we resist it?  There’s a difference between the perfect will of God & the permissive will of God.  God’s perfect will can never be overridden.  It was God’s absolute will that Jesus go to the cross, die for our sins, and rise from the grave.  There was not a being in heaven or on earth that could have prevented that from happening.  At the same time, God’s permissive will for us is that we would abstain from sin – yet we resist Him all the time.  Obviously that doesn’t mean that God is incapable of doing what He wants to do, nor does it mean that God doesn’t know what choice we are going to make.  (His omniscience & omnipotence makes that absolutely clear – He is infinitely capable of glorifying Himself in whatever capacity we work within our free will.)  But it does mean that we can resist God’s permissive will & we can end up missing out on a lot that God would have for us.

15 But Jesus answered and said to him, “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he allowed Him.

  1. Why should John allow the baptism? It was fitting to fulfill all righteousness.  Sounds nice & straightforward…but what does it mean?  Scholars debate this somewhat. Everything that Jesus ever did was done in order to fulfill righteousness.  He always perfectly did His Father’s will.  Everything was done to perfectly fulfill prophecy, the law, and the will of God the Father.
    1. Emphasizes the fact that our God is glorified in order; not confusion or chaos. When we worship God, we’re to do so decently & in order (1 Cor 14:40).  That’s not to say that our worship is not passionate & sincere – quite to the contrary!  But as God’s will is not chaotic, neither is our worship of Him.
  2. Two basic purposes in Jesus’ baptism.  Purpose #1: Jesus identifies with us.  Think of it – John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance.  Yet what did Jesus need to repent of?  Nothing. Remember that “repentance” speaks of conversion – a change of mind & direction.  Jesus would not have needed to change His actions about sin in anything!  Jesus lived His life in absolute sinless perfection.  He was tempted in all ways as we are, except without sin. (Heb 4:15)  So if Jesus didn’t need to repent, why would He submit Himself to a baptism of repentance?  In order to identify with OUR repentance.  He identifies with our repentance because He identifies with our sin.  In our baptism, we identify with Christ; in Jesus’ baptism, He identifies with us.
    1. This goes straight to the heart of the substitutionary atonement – the doctrine that Jesus died upon the cross in our place as an acceptable substitute for us.  The cross was the death that we should have received for our sin & the wrath of God should have fallen upon us because of our rebellion against Him, but it fell upon Jesus instead.  Isaiah famously tells us that Jesus was wounded for our transgressions & bruised for our iniquities (Isa 53:5).  Jesus did NOT deserve the punishment of God; we did.  Yet Jesus willingly took our punishment by serving as our substitute.  2 Corinthians 5:21, "For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." []  Like a lamb who was slain in sacrifice for the sins of another, Jesus was identified with us & our sin was placed upon Him – and we received His innocence & righteousness in return.
    2. Understand that to be identified with Jesus Christ is what it means to be a Christian.  (We even see that in the label: “CHRISTian.”)  A Christian obviously attends local church services, but membership in a local church doesn’t make someone a Christian.  A Christian gives & does good works, but charity doesn’t make someone a Christian.  What makes someone a Christian is being IN Christ – being identified with His death, burial, & resurrection.  That only comes through repentance & faith (and is exactly what baptism symbolizes).  Jesus came to identify Himself with you; have you yet been identified with Him?
  3. Purpose #2: Jesus glorifies God.  This is what’s seen in the next verses…

16 When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him.

  1. This is one of the few places in Scripture where we see an express manifestation of all three Persons of the Godhead: the Trinity.  The Trinity has been often debated through the years, but this is one of the essential doctrines of orthodox Christian belief.  Granted, the word is not found within the Bible – but it’s a word we use to describe a concept found throughout the pages of Scripture.  (Literally from Genesis to Revelation!)  The word simply states that God is eternally existent in three Persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  We do not worship three Gods (polytheism); we worship one God (monotheism).  Yet that one God exists as three Persons.  God the Father is fully God – Jesus the Son is fully God – the Holy Spirit is fully God…yet there is only one God.
    1. The Trinity is NOT three manifestations.  Some people have a mistaken idea of the Trinity & believe that God sometimes manifests Himself as the Son, other times as the Spirit, etc.  This is absolutely NOT taught in the Scripture & is an ancient heresy known as modalism. [Analogy of water is modalistic & heretical]  Jesus’ baptism makes it absolutely clear that God is far more than 3 manifestations…at His baptism, all three Persons show Himself at once!
    2. The Trinity IS completely unified, yet fully distinct.  As the Athanasian Creed states, we do not confuse the persons, but neither do we divide the substance.  Each is a Person distinct from the others (including the Holy Spirit – He is a Person; not an inanimate force), yet we cannot divide them to such an extent where we start talking about three gods.  Scripture affirms the unity of God (“Hear O Israel, LORD our God, the Lord is One,” Dt 6:4).  At the same time, Scripture affirms the Triune Godhead – as seen in the way Jesus told us to baptize one another: in the (singular) name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
    3. Can it be tough to understand?  Yes.  But remember that we are talking about the nature of infinite God.  It’s only to be expected that there are some aspects about God’s nature that go beyond the confines of our limited minds!
  2. Why would the Holy Spirit take the form of a dove?  Apparently, the 1st century Jews associated the dove with the Holy Spirit (as seen in the DSS at Qumran), & doves seemed to be a common symbol for the divine in other pagan religions, but Scripture does not tell us.  There’s no direct prophecy in the Bible that otherwise shows the Holy Spirit as a dove.  The only instance that comes close is the very 1st mention of the dove in the Bible: during the flood of Noah.  Noah had been in the ark for the 40 days of rain & the 150 days of the flood before the waters began to recede & the ark rested.  Time passes, and at the 10th month, the tops of mountains were in view.  Finally 40 days later, Noah decides to test things.  He sends a raven which was no help whatsoever, and then sent a dove.  Over time, the dove brings back signs that the water had dried & eventually did not return any longer.  The dove was the bearer of news of the work of God.  What was the role of Noah’s dove is a similar role of the Holy Spirit’s work at Jesus’ baptism: He is the bearer of the news of the work of God.  The Spirit testifies of Jesus Christ.
    1. This is still one of the roles of the Holy Spirit today!  John 15:26, "But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me." []  The Holy Spirit will bear witness of Jesus Christ – the Spirit points to/testifies of the Son.  (This is actually one way to distinguish between a true miracle of God & a fleshly work of man.  The true work of the Spirit will always point to Jesus Christ.)  Beyond simply pointing to Jesus, the Spirit “testifies” of Him. He is the one that brings conviction in our heart regarding the gospel of Christ – He is one who witnesses to the deity of Christ through the Resurrection – the Spirit of God is an expert witness when it comes to the declaration of who Jesus is: the Risen Son of God.
  3. By taking the form of a dove (Luke’s gospel says it was the bodily form; not simply a metaphor), we have a visible picture of the Spirit “coming upon” Jesus.  Obviously it’s a confirmation of Jesus’ ministry, but it’s also symbolic of the empowerment of the Spirit upon Jesus.  Calls to mind Isa 61 (which Jesus would later quote in the synagogue regarding Himself) – Isaiah 61:1–3, "(1) “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me, Because the LORD has anointed Me To preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives, And the opening of the prison to those who are bound; (2) To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, And the day of vengeance of our God; To comfort all who mourn, (3) To console those who mourn in Zion, To give them beauty for ashes, The oil of joy for mourning, The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; That they may be called trees of righteousness, The planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified.” " []  Let there be no doubt that Jesus is the anointed one of God (re: “Messiah”), perfectly empowered by the Holy Spirit to do the work of God by seeking & saving the lost, and then proclaiming good news & freedom to those who need it most!  We were poor in our sin – we were enslaved to death – we had the spirit of heaviness because of our guilt…but Jesus frees us from all of that by His glorious work!
    1. Have you received of His work?  Have you partaken of the good tidings?
  4. As the Spirit descended, God the Father speaks.  See vs. 17…

17 And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

  1. God the Father testifies 3 things about Jesus.  Testimony #1: Jesus is the Son of God.  Not only was this the testimony that God had told John the Baptist to expect regarding Jesus (John 1:33), but it was the testimony to all who heard that Jesus was the prophesied Messiah – the fulfillment of the promises to David & the One who would reign over all the earth.  Psalm 2:7–8, "(7) I will declare the decree: The LORD has said to Me, ‘You are My Son, Today I have begotten You. (8) Ask of Me, and I will give You The nations for Your inheritance, And the ends of the earth for Your possession." []
    1. Notice the present tense here: “This IS My beloved Son…”  Jesus did not suddenly become God’s Son at baptism; Jesus had always been the Son of God.  There was an ancient heresy from the Gnostics (which is still taught in some cults – JW) that supposed that Jesus was just a normal man who became the anointed Christ at His baptism.  The Scripture & the testimony of God show exactly the opposite.  God the Son existed eternally with the Father prior to His incarnation & the moment He was conceived in Mary’s womb via the Holy Spirit, Jesus was already the anointed Son of God.  This is a crucial difference between Jesus & us.  We need to be adopted as God’s children in order to receive life – and we receive that adoption through faith in Christ.  But Jesus has never needed to be adopted, because that’s simply who He is – God’s Son.
  2. Testimony #2: The Son is beloved of God (“The Father loves the Son,” Jn 5:20).  What a glorious insight this is to the relationship within the Trinity!  There is eternal fellowship and love between Father, Son, and Spirit.  There is perfect relationship among the Godhead that has always existed & will always exist.  This does away with the false idea that God created humans because He was lonely & wanted to be loved.  God has never been lonely & He is in need of nothing.  He has perfect fulfillment & fellowship within Himself.  The Father loves the Son with a perfect love.
    1. Now think this through to the next level.  As much as the Scripture talks about the love of the Father for Jesus, it also speaks of the love of God for us.  John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world…”  What kind of love would allow a Son to die for the sins of rebellious enemies (which is what we are in our sin)?  An amazing love – a sacrificial love – the perfect love of God.
  3. Testimony #3: The Son is pleasing to God.  We’ve already seen how Jesus did the things that were pleasing to God (Jn 8:29).  This was true not only of His 3-year ministry, but of His entire life.  Keep in mind that for 30 years, Jesus had lived in relative silence with His family in Nazareth.  The Bible tells us very little about His childhood – but whatever Jesus’ childhood was like, it was already well-pleasing to His Father in Heaven.  (That in itself is no minor miracle!  How many of us could claim to perfectly please God in our childhood – especially our teenage years?)  Jesus glorified God during His entire life & everything He did was pleasing to the Father – exactly as prophecy foretold.  Isaiah 42:1–4, "(1) “Behold! My Servant whom I uphold, My Elect One in whom My soul delights! I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the Gentiles. (2) He will not cry out, nor raise His voice, Nor cause His voice to be heard in the street. (3) A bruised reed He will not break, And smoking flax He will not quench; He will bring forth justice for truth. (4) He will not fail nor be discouraged, Till He has established justice in the earth; And the coastlands shall wait for His law.” " []  God spoke to Isaiah of both of Jesus’ comings.  In His 1st coming, Jesus was the Suffering Servant – so meek that He wouldn’t break a bruised reed, and thus Pilate & the Jews were permitted to send Him to the cross.  In His 2nd coming, Jesus will return in power & glory to establish justice upon the earth & all the world will be ruled by His law.  Every aspect of this is a delight to the Father.  Whether it is the sacrificial love of Christ, or the holy judgment of Christ, Jesus pleases & glorifies God in every respect.
  4. All of this together demonstrates the 2nd purpose of the baptism: in order to demonstrate the glory of God & God’s approval upon Jesus Christ the Son.

Can you imagine what it would have been like to be there as a witness?  Here comes this unknown guy to the most famous preacher in Judea at the time, and John the Baptist stops everything he’s doing & tries to stop the guy from coming in.  That in itself is unusual enough!  The only guys that John ever stopped from getting baptized before were the Pharisees & Sadducees who obviously were not sincere in repentance – yet John is telling this guy that HE is the one who ought to be baptizing & not John.  They go on with the baptism, and once the guy comes out of the water, the heavens open, the Spirit descends as a dove, and God Himself speaks!  This is no ordinary Man; this is none other than the Son of God!  Simply amazing.  After decades of silence, Jesus’ ministry is ready to begin, and He receives the confirmation & public blessing of God.  There ought to be no doubt of what God has in store for Him.

Why was Jesus baptized?  To fulfill all righteousness.  In His baptism:

  1. Jesus identifies with us.  We don’t have a high priest who cannot relate to who we are; we have a high priest (and Savior & Friend & Lord) who intimately identifies with us on every level.
  2. Jesus glorifies God.  Everything about His life gives glory unto God, and in turn, God testifies of Jesus Christ AS God in the flesh.

As a Christian, how does this impact you?  Jesus is our Lord, our Savior, our High Priest, and…our example.  Do we live our lives publicly identifying with Him? Do we walk in such a way that we consciously desire to bring glory to God?

God the Father & God the Holy Spirit both testify to Jesus Christ.  Have you received their testimony?


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