The Baptism of Jesus
It’s just confusing. We all know the story of John the Baptist, and we know the story of Jesus and we even know the point where the two stories intercept. And that’s where it gets confusing.
There are two things we know that seem to muddy the water, so to speak. The first is that John was preaching a baptism of Repentance. In Mark’s Gospel we read Mark 1:4 This messenger was John the Baptist. He was in the wilderness and preached that people should be baptized to show that they had turned to God to receive forgiveness for their sins.
And he is faithful to that message, not content with lip service, he actually called on people to change their ways. In Luke’s account we read that the crowd hearing John’s message wanted to know what repentance looked like in real life, we pick up the story in Luke 3:10-14 The crowds asked, “What should we do?” John replied, “If you have two shirts, give one to the poor. If you have food, share it with those who are hungry.” Even corrupt tax collectors came to be baptized and asked, “Teacher, what should we do?” He replied, “Collect no more taxes than the government requires.” “What should we do?” asked some soldiers. John replied, “Don’t extort money or make false accusations. And be content with your pay.”
And we have no problem with that, some people did. His message finally resulted in his being killed by King Herod after he challenged the king about his marriage to his younger brother’s ex-wife.
And while John was a little different and just a tad eccentric his message was clear. Repent, commit to changing your behaviour and get baptized. Simple.
The confusion arises when Jesus arrives at the edge of the Jordon River asking John to baptize him. Because our understanding of Christ’s character was that he was without sin, that is that he had nothing to repent of, no behaviour that had to be changed. And that isn’t just my opinion, the scriptures return to that theme over and over again. And it forms the foundation of our theology of salvation. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:21 For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ. No sin, no need for repentance, no repentance not need for baptism. That’s where it gets confusing.
So let’s jump in and see where the story takes us.
Matthew 3:13 Then Jesus went from Galilee to the Jordan River to be baptized by John.
The First Thing we discover is that Jesus’ Baptism Was Intentional The baptism of Jesus didn’t just kind of happen, Jesus wasn’t just walking along one day and saw John baptizing people and thought, “Hey that’s kind of cool, I should do that.”
We are told that Jesus travelled from Galilee to the Jordan river to be baptized. Let’s pull up one of our handy dandy maps. Couple of points of reference. Here is the Sea of Galilee and here here is the Dead Sea.
And here is where Jesus was, and here is where John was and where Jesus went. That isn’t like Jesus crossed the road to be baptized, it was at least a full day’s journey, and possibly longer to get from point A Galilee to Point B the Jordan river.
This is the first mention that we have of Jesus since he was 12, you’ll remember that story from the book of Luke when Jesus and his family had gone to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover and Jesus got separated from his parents and got lost. Actually he knew exactly where he was, in the temple, and that’s where they found him. Now we discover that he is 30 years old and he steps back into the narrative. And what may or may not have happened in those 18 years will remain speculation and the arena of fiction.
After Luke’s account of the Jesus’ baptism he adds a little aside when he writes Luke 3:23 Jesus was about thirty years old when he began his public ministry. And maybe that’s just Luke, after all he told us that Jesus was 12 when his parents lost him at the temple, he seems like a bit of a numbers guy. Or maybe there is more to it.
In 1965 it was Jack Weinberg who coined the phrase “Don’t trust anyone over 30.” Of course Weinberg turned 76 in April so he might have changed his mind. But 2000 years ago a man’s opinion wasn’t worth much before he was thirty. Joseph was thirty when he began his service in Pharaoh’s court, David was thirty when he became King and the Levites had to be thirty before they could serve in the temple.
And so when Jesus was thirty, he made the decision to be baptized, and being baptized was a choice that Jesus made, his parents didn’t make it for him, John didn’t make it, it was Jesus who decided to go from Galilee to where John was baptizing people and he went with a purpose, to be baptized.
I am a firm believer in believer baptism. In 35 years of pastoral ministry I have never baptized a baby, I have baptized children who have made a commitment to follow Christ and who have asked to be baptized, but I have never baptized an infant. Why? Because I believe that baptism needs to be intentional, that it is a choice and a decision that has to be made, by the person being baptized.
Other’s may suggest that you ought to get baptized, but ultimately the decision to be baptized has to be yours.
Let’s go back to the story, Jesus makes the journey and finds his cousin baptizing folks, now if you are familiar with the story John has been telling people that he wasn’t the promised Messiah but that the promised one was on the way. And then Jesus show up and asks to be baptized and we pick up the story in Matthew 3:14 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?”
Jesus’ Baptism Wasn’t Without Opposition I would think that John would have been excited to baptize Jesus. Pretty good chance that they knew each other, we are told very early in the story that their mothers were related, and even though they raised in different communities, Jesus in Nazareth and John in Jerusalem, the gospels tell us that Jesus’ family went to Jerusalem every year for the Passover.
Now I don’t know if you have a place that you go home to, but when I was a kid we went home to Grand Manan. And when we went home to Grand Manan we stayed with kin and we visited kin. I would suspect that it was the same with Jesus. And I would think that John would be excited that his younger cousin wanted to be baptized, and that he wanted John to do it.
But Nooooooo. The New Living Translation says that John tried to talk him out of it, the New International Version says that John tried to deter him and the King James version is even stronger, it says that John forbade him. The word used in the original language means to hinder or to prohibit. It would appear that John wasn’t in favour of Jesus being baptized.
John no doubt saw Jesus as the messiah that he had been announcing, if he had grown up with Jesus he probably had seen the difference in Jesus’ life compared to the life of others and had never witnessed any behaviour, attitudes or actions that Jesus needed to repent of.
So understand, if you choose to be baptized there will be some who might not be as excited as you are. If you were baptized as an infant they might not understand why you have chosen to be baptized again, they might tell you there is no need of it. They might even feel that by choosing to be baptized that you are in some way negating or diminishing their earlier earlier decision, or by being baptised you are saying that it was wrong.
Other may not understand your need to get baptized, or maybe because they have never been baptized they are feeling some pressure because of your choice.
Other’s may suggest that you shouldn’t get baptized, but ultimately the decision to be baptized needs to be yours.
So what happens, Jesus arrives at the edge of the river asking John to baptize him and John objects and tries to talk Jesus out of his decision, well let’s go back to the story
Matthew 3:15 But Jesus said, “It should be done, for we must carry out all that God requires.” So John agreed to baptize him.”
Jesus’ Baptism Was an Act of Obedience There have been many suggestions and theories as to why Jesus was baptized. But ultimately Jesus goes back to the fact that God required it. Why? We’ll never really know, this side of eternity, but we can speculate.
Some have suggested that he was baptized to display his humility. Others would say that he was baptized in order to provide an example to future believers.
I kind of think that he chose to be baptized in order to mark the beginning of his journey. He could point back to his ministry beginning at that point. He could say “It all began the day John baptized me in the Jordan.”
But honestly, Jesus doesn’t elaborate on the why, he simply said he needed to be baptized if he was going to be obedient to God. And if we go back to Luke’s account we are told that is when Jesus began his public ministry. And so baptism seems to be Jesus stepping out in obedience and saying “Yes I will.”
We can go into all the theological implications of why you need to be baptized, and that is a sermon in itself, for next week. And we will talk about how baptism symbolizes the washing away of our sins, that it is a metaphor for becoming made new, that it illustrates the resurrection and new life. And we can provide scriptures to back up each of those concepts.
But for the Christians there is really only one scripture that we need and that is when Jesus told his disciples in Mark 16:16 Anyone who believes and is baptized will be saved. But anyone who refuses to believe will be condemned.
Baptism is the first point of obedience in your Christian life. Believe and be baptized. And I’ve said before, if you find it hard to be obedient in an act as simple as baptism what are you going to do when the big stuff comes along? And don’t worry about getting everything right before you get baptized, it marks the beginning, not the end.
Here is the bottom line, and you can disagree with me if you like, but you will be wrong, if you are a Christ Follower and you haven’t followed him into the water of baptism then you are disobedient.
Baptist preacher and evangelist John R. Rice summed it up when he wrote "God's people should be baptized because God commanded it, not because some church requires it."
Because ultimately the decision to be baptized is a decision of obedience.
So let’s go back to the story, Matthew 3:16 After his baptism, as Jesus came up out of the water, Jesus’ Baptism Happened in the Water There is no question that Jesus’ baptism was a water baptism. But there are different opinions about how the water was applied. Some would insist that John would have simply poured water over the head of a standing Jesus, others speculate that Jesus knelt and had water poured over him, while still others argue for full immersion.
We don’t know, but again we can look at what we are told. In this scripture we are told that Jesus came up out of the water, which would imply that Jesus had gone down into the water. In John’s account we read John 3:23 At this time John the Baptist was baptizing at Aenon, near Salim, because there was plenty of water there; and people kept coming to him for baptism.
And so John wasn’t looking for a little bit of water, he was looking for plenty of water. Which would lead me to believe that whatever method he was using required plenty of water. And if you are just going to pour water on someone then all you need is enough water to pour.
And so if you are unfamiliar with Cornerstone, we baptize by immersion, figure you were good and lost so you ought to get good and wet. Is that engraved in stone? Probably not. In 2010 I was in Northern Ghana and while there our team performed 89 baptisms, many of them were performed in rivers but at one church we were way too far from the closest body of water for that to be a reality, so we poured water on the candidates, and I believe that they were just as baptized as those who had been baptized in the river.
But when it can happen by immersion, I believe, this is Denn talking, that it should be by immersion. And I know that entire denominations disagree with me, and that’s ok, and I’m not saying that if you were baptized by sprinkling or pouring it doesn’t count, I’m just saying that I believe that when it can happen by immersion, it should happen by immersion.
And the result of what happened that day is spelled out in, Matthew 3:16-17 After his baptism, as Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and settling on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.”
Jesus’ Baptism Testified to the Trinity
The concept of the Trinity goes clear back to creation, when we read in Genesis 1:26 Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like ourselves.” He didn’t say “Let me make human’s in my image, to be like me.” He said “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like ourselves.”
And while we get hints throughout the Old Testament with talk of all three persons separately here and there it is in this scene at the beginning of the New Testament we see the Trinity, together. The Son has just been baptized, the Holy Spirit descends on the Son and the Father speaks from heaven.
Sometimes people will ask me if I can explain the Trinity, the answer I usually give them is “No.” There are all kinds of things I can’t explain.
I can explain how the solar system on the roof of our house makes hot water but I can’t explain how the solar system on the roof of the church makes electricity. I can’t explain E=mc2, I can’t explain where the white goes when the snow melts, I can’t explain women and I can’t explain the Trinity. But even though I can’t explain them the solar system on the room still produces energy, E still equals mc2, the white disappears with the snow and the Trinity exists.
Augustine wrote a book called “On the Trinity” and he couldn’t explain it. In 1953 in their book “A Handbook of Christian Truth”, Harold Lindsell and Charles Woodbridge wrote “The mind of man cannot fully understand the mystery of the Trinity. He who has tried to understand the mystery fully will lose his mind; but he who would deny the Trinity will lose his soul.”
And while we may not be able to articulate the “how” of the Trinity we see each of them at Jesus’ baptism, and through the Gospels we see Jesus refer to himself as the Son we listen to Jesus pray to the Father and and we hear Jesus promise the Spirit.
When Jesus was giving the apostles their final instructions he tells them in Matthew 28:19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
It was Thomas Adams, a Puritan Preacher, who was sometimes called "The Shakespeare of the Puritans" who wrote, ""Baptizing them in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost: there are three distinct persons: in the Name, not names; there is one essence."
Ten years ago we had a lady who asked me if I would baptize her just in the name of Jesus instead of in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit? And I said “No.” And she left Cornerstone, because there are somethings I don’t move on, and that’s one of them.
And at that moment, when Jesus stepped out of the water he was declaring that he was stepping into obedience. He closed the door on one chapter of his life and opened the door on another chapter. When we choose to follow Jesus into the water of baptism that’s what we are doing, we are proclaiming that we are made new. We aren’t just taking Christianity for a test drive we’ve signed on the dotted line, Max Lucado is one of my favorite writers, and he sums it up when he writes "Baptism separates the tire kickers from the car buyers."
Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar explains “The Church does not dispense the sacrament of baptism in order to acquire for herself an increase in membership but in order to consecrate a human being to God and to communicate to that person the divine gift of birth from God.”
So, where you at?