Life of Christ 19
Well, why did He? If John’s baptism was one of repentance from sin and an expression of faith in the coming Messiah, why would Jesus get baptized? After all, He had no sin from which He needed to repent (John 8.46) so logic would decree that baptism was unneeded. In my opinion there are three answers to that question.
First, Jesus was baptized in order to publicly identify Himself with the believing remnant of Jews. Israel was in a mess. Rome had her by the throat, and just as with any country there were various ideas about how to deal with it, and people identified themselves in accordance with those ideas into about four major groups.
The Pharisees, with their resistance to Hellenization by a strict adherence to the letter of the Law, their concept of a fence around the garden of the Torah, and their solution of an highly complex system of rules designed to keep people from breaking Moses’ Law, sought to handle it by pursuing religious purity. The Essenes, a cult like commune on the shores of the Dead Sea, handled the mess by seeking to withdraw from it into a monastic life. The Zealots, the Irish Republican Army of Israel, believed that the solution was an armed revolution against Rome. The Herodians, on the other hand, were complete accommodationists, and believed that since Rome was so powerfully permanent they should just make the best of it.
Into the midst of all of this strode the gigantic figure of John the Baptist preaching a national repentance from sin and a faith in God’s promises of a soon coming King. John the Baptist’s answer to the problems of his day was a heart driven spiritual one, and by accepting baptism at the hands of him Jesus was publicly saying, ‘That’s my crowd.’
Secondly, Jesus was baptized in order for the Father to publicly affirm Him (Matthew 3.13-17). We spoke recently about Jesus’ gradually dawning awareness of His own position as Messiah. I don’t believe He had any doubt in that whatsoever, or that He needed God’s public endorsement in order to firm up His own insecure and shaky understanding. No, He didn’t need those, but He was soon to be surrounded with people who would express both mingled faith and doubt in His claims, including John the Baptist himself (John 1.29 vs Luke 7.19). This baptism marked a formal beginning, transitioning Jesus from a simple carpenter in Nazareth into the One Who would present His claims as the Christ, and this transition was now stamped with the visible and audible approval of God Himself.
Thirdly, Jesus was baptized in order to introduce Him to John the Baptist. It is probable that they already knew each other, since their mothers were related, but if they did it was a prior knowledge, before each had assumed his national religious role. They certainly did not have any working relationship on this level for John was still preaching a generic ‘The King is coming’ not a specific ‘Jesus is that King’ type of message.
As of this writing I have been a pastor for seventeen years, and one of the things I enjoy very much is baptizing people. For lack of a better phrase, I feel something special toward each one of the people whom I have been privileged to baptize. The first and most formal step into their new life in Christ was done, literally, in my hands, and that, in my mind at least, creates a link between us. Of course I do not know if John the Baptist felt that way but I suspect he might have.
|The Jordan River|
As they are standing there in the water they have a bit of an argument, for John, realizing he is holding the Messiah, resists the very idea of baptizing Him. I can imagine this conversation as it takes place, privately, yet in full view of the others assembled on the shore of the Jordan River, and I can imagine the people watching wondering why this one was taking so long and what they were talking about. But when it was over what a link there must have been between the two! Not just the kind of link that I feel, but additionally the thought that you had been privileged to baptize the Messiah Himself, the very One to whom your message of repentance in preparation for a coming King was pointing. He is finally here! And I got to baptize Him!
I think was necessary because if John the Baptist was to be the forerunner, not just of a generic Messiah, but of Jesus then it would be well for John to know Him personally, and to love Him.
Frederick W. H. Myers wrote it this way in his lengthy nineteenth century poem, ‘Saint John the Baptist’:
And once again I saw him, in latter days
Fraught with a deeper meaning, for he came
To my baptizing, and the infinite air
Blushed on his coming, and all the earth was still;
Gently he spake; I answered; God from heaven
Called, and I hardly heard him, such a love
Streamed in that orison from man to man.
Then shining from his shoulders either-way
Fell the flood Jordan, and his kingly eyes
Looked in the east, and star-like met the sun.
Once in no manner of similitude,
And twice in thunderings and thrice in flame,
The Highest ere now hath shown him secretly;
But when from heaven the visible Spirit in air
Came verily, lighted on him, was alone,
Then knew I, then I said it, then I saw
God in the voice and glory of a man.
I think the highlight of John the Baptist’s life was this moment, and a love and worship sprang forth inside his heart that would continue to warm him as his ministry declined, prison came, and eventually the martyr’s crown. Do you love Him today? Is there, in your heart, a great awe, respect, and affection for Jesus? Naught else will warm you through all that you will face in the coming days of your life, but Christ alone, a great love for Him, and His great love for you.
If you would like to listen to the audio sermon that accompanies this blog post you may find it here on our church website. Just press 'launch media player' and choose We Preach Christ 7, 'When He Was Baptized'.