“Then Jesus went from Galilee to the Jordan River to be baptized by John. But John tried to talk him out of it. ‘I am the one who needs to be baptized by you,’ he said, ‘so why are you coming to me?’ But Jesus said, ‘It should be done, for we must carry out all that God requires.’ So John agreed to baptize him” (Matthew 3:13-15, NLT).
John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth had a common message: “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near” (Matthew 3:2 and 4:17). For months before Jesus began his ministry, John had been confronting the crowds with their need to turn to God for forgiveness. When the Messiah arrived – that is Jesus – John soon stepped aside, for his role is complete. John knew that he was to prepare the way for Jesus’ coming. Therefore he said, “He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less” (John 3:30).
We don’t know how many encounters John and Jesus had, but Jesus’ baptism stands out in the Gospel story. Imagine, John devoted his life to preparing the way for Jesus, so when Jesus went to the Jordan River, he clearly didn’t expect Jesus ever ask to be baptized along with the crowds. He knew Jesus had no reason to repent. Jesus never sinned (2 Corinthians 5:21, Hebrews 4:15). Jesus once challenged the Pharisees to accuse him, “Which of you can truthfully accuse me of sin?” (John 8:46) – they can't. Jesus, the God-Man, never sinned and no need to be baptise. So, John replied is understandable. Instead, John suggested that Jesus baptize him. (Mind you, there is no magical about water baptism. It just a symbol. It simply an outward expression and public witnessing of being inwardly baptize by the Spirit of God when we accept Jesus as our Saviour and acknowledge His lordship over our lives.)
Jesus’ answer gives us a glimpse into his acceptance of God’s will over the course of his life. The phrase “we must carry out all that God requires” is similar to Jesus’ later words in the garden of Gethsemane, “I want your will to be done, not mine” (Luke 22:42). By insisting on baptism, Jesus was making public his identification with sinners. He went to the Cross as the ultimate act of substitution, but he began his ministry with this act of obedience that beautifully pictured his eventual purpose. Long before the nails were driven into his flesh, Jesus was taking steps that would make his sacrifice perfect and complete.
Think about this: Both the King (Jesus) and his herald (John the Baptist) had the same message: repent. The herald invited people to demonstrate their inner response with an outward action in baptism. The King submitted to the outward action as a way to confirm that repentance makes a difference in God’s eyes. This has always been the first step in responding to God – we must accept our hopeless condition apart from God’s mercy and respond in simple obedience. The King welcomes the humble and needy who come to him.
THINK BIG. START SMALL. GO DEEP.
Life Application Study Bible Devotional: Daily Wisdom from the Life of Jesus (Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2011)