Jesus came to John to be baptized and John was reluctant to do it. "I need to be baptized by you," he said. "And you are coming to me?"
I understand John’s hesitation. John baptized for repentance and the remission of sins (Mark 1:4). Of what sins did Jesus have to repent? What sins did he have to wash away? None. So why be baptized?
John felt confused and unworthy. "I need to be baptized by you!" John is a great guy! He proclaims the Word. He is the forerunner of Jesus. But is he worthy to baptize Jesus? He didn’t think so.
Jesus said: "Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness" (V.15). "It is proper" means God wants it. It is to "fulfill all righteousness" means it is doing God’s will. But why, if Jesus has no sin? In his baptism Jesus is doing something important in relation to his Father and to us.
Jesus is identifying with God and his purpose for life.
God always calls for his people to declare their allegiance to him. "Chose you this day whom you will serve ..." (Joshua 24:15). God gives his people numerous ways to identify with him - the moral laws, ceremonial laws and cleanliness laws. All of these were for his people to tell the culture around them, "We belong to God." Anyone in the gentile nations could look at a faithful Hebrew and say, "They don’t live like us. They live for their God." That is identification.
Jesus’ baptism did that. Jesus was saying, "I belong to God. I humble myself to his will and his ministry for me." It was bold commitment and humble obedience. God responded with lavish praise to his son’s baptism:
"As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased." (16-17).
Humble obedience pleases God whether it is rendered by Jesus or by us.
Jesus is identifying with his people.
In baptism Jesus identified with everyone else who was baptized. "Jesus thereby shows his solidarity with his people in their need."3
Jesus’ ministry was one of humble obedience. He walked among people and bore their struggles. He wept with them, struggled against the religious establishment with them and listened to them. Jesus healed people. He bore their sin on the cross. Jesus also took on the humble, obedient nature of a servant in baptism. He had no sin and no rebellion but he identified with sinners and rebellious people.
To fulfill all righteousness Jesus was baptized. Jesus was the unique son of God, born of a virgin. He was a powerful worker of miracles and the triumphant king. Jesus was also a humble, obedient servant. Jesus’ humility and obedience beckons us. Jesus calls us, even today. "Follow me. I obey the Father. You, too, can obey the Father."
John baptized people for repentance and remission of sins. Later, Jesus’ baptism would be for this but would include the dispensing of the Holy Spirit (Luke 3:16). Today in baptism we receive the forgiveness of sins and the Holy Spirit. In baptism we experience what Jesus did.
Like Jesus, when we are baptized we identify with God. When Jesus was baptized, the Holy Spirit came upon him. When we are baptized the Holy Spirit comes upon us (Acts 2:38). When Jesus was baptized he was identified as the son of God. When we are baptized we are identified as sons of God (Gal. 3:26,27).
Secondly, when we are baptized we identify ourselves with other followers of God (Acts 2:41; 1 Cor. 12:13). We don’t live the Christian life alone. We identify with other followers and live in community with them.
The Optimist, Rotary and Kiwanis clubs all have initiation rites for new members. The ceremony welcoming new members has nothing to do with the cleansing of sin or recognizing passage from rebellion to humble submission to God. But their initiation ceremony does offer a chance for the new member to identify himself to and with the group. After learning about the club a person may decide, "I want to be a part of this group." The initiation ceremony becomes his or her opportunity to officially identify themselves as a club member.
Members in these clubs receive a pin and new member packet recognizing their status in the club. Jesus’ baptism accomplished that ... and more. Jesus received the accolades of heaven: heaven was torn open, God manifested himself in the form of a dove that descended upon Jesus, and the voice of God spoke affirmingly. Now, all who so desire can have fulfilled in their hearts what Isaiah prayed for years ago: "Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down ..." God has torn open the heavens and he has come down in the form of Jesus, the dove, and the spoken word. The dynamic for this revelation of God is the baptism of Jesus.
I’ve never performed a baptism where the heavens opened, a dove descended, and the authoritative voice of God spoke from on high. But I know from scripture that any baptism today performed as scripture teaches is no less significant in what it offers to our lives: identification with Jesus and his people.
The following story isn’t about baptism, but it is about identification. I think it captures some of the thought of what it means to identify with Christ and others at a deep level. To identify with us, Jesus not only submitted to baptism, he submitted to emptying himself and leaving heaven to dwell for awhile on earth. He deprived himself and suffered for the sake of those he was seeking to redeem. Some of that is captured in the following story.
John Austin is 13 year old living in Hong Kong. Last week he was in a bike accident and received a corneal scratch. His eye bled and he had to go to a top pediatric ophthalmologist. The doctor told John’s parents that the scratch will heal and the blood clots drain. The blurry vision will go away and John will eventually see clearly again. But there is more to the story.
As John was suffering with his painful eye he received a text message from a Japanese girl and classmate of John’s. She wrote,"I know I am not a Christian, but I want you to know that I have been praying for you."
John Austin was thrilled and told his mother, "You know Mom, as bad as this is for me, it would sure be worth it if my friend came to know Christ because of my pain."
I would say this young man knows something about identification with Jesus and his people. He is willing to suffer for the kingdom, like Jesus, and he is willing to suffer for the redemption of others.
I think the Spirit of God must still be saying, "This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased." Anytime we so identify with God’s purposes and God’s people the heart of the Father is pleased.(You can read about John Austin's story at Everyday Adventures in Faith).