Close up of blue ocean waves

Baptism is an important part of a Christians life. One question that is often asked is, “Why was Jesus baptized?”

A Few Questions We Have about Jesus’ Baptism

Why does Jesus need to be baptized? Why is John hesitant? Why does Jesus use the plural and say that it is “fitting for us to do this in order to fulfill all righteousness?”

John’s job was to be the one who prepared people to meet the Messiah. He fulfilled that role by preaching faithfully and calling people to turn away from anything that separates them from God. He calls them to show their repentance by being baptized in the waters of the Jordan River. 

Down they go into the water and up they come cleansed and called to live according to what the baptism claims: they belong to God in this world and live rightly in response to grace.

In due time, Jesus went out to meet John and said, “John, I need to be baptized by you.” 

John said, “You are greater than me! You should be baptizing me!” 

Jesus responded, “It is necessary to do this in order to fulfill all righteousness.” In other words, this is the way God wants it, so let’s do this right.

John baptizes Jesus and when Jesus came out of the water the Spirit descended in the form of a dove and the people heard a voice that said, “This is my beloved child in whom I am well please.” (Matthew 3:13-17)

Was Jesus Baptized because He Needed to Repent of Sin?

John was preaching a baptism of repentance (Mark 1:4), so does that mean Jesus had sins in his life he needed to repent of? No, that’s not why he was baptized, for Jesus was without sin.

1 Peter 2:22 says that Jesus committed no sin and no deceit was found in his mouth. The writer of Hebrews 4:15, said, “For we do not have a high priest {Jesus} who cannot sympathize with our weakness, but we have one who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.” Finally, in 1 John 3:5, we read, “You know that Jesus appeared in order to take away sins; and in him, there is no sin.”

Two of the three descriptions in the prior paragraph were written by people who lived and worked with Jesus for three years. They knew him best and said, he used his words well. He was authentic. He wasn’t fake. He never sinned.

Is Jesus Making a Decision for God and that’s Why He is Baptized?

In some traditions, baptism is understood to be what you do when you make a choice to be a Christian. Is that what he is doing–telling God, “I choose you”? Jesus is not making a decision for God because baptism is a sacrament and is really about what God has done for us.

So, why was Jesus baptized?

4 Reasons Jesus Was Baptized

The ever-moving water

1. John and Jesus have a role to play together

Notice that John says, “I need to be baptized by you!” Jesus doesn’t dispute the fact that John may need to repent, but tells John, “Let it be so now for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” 

It is proper for US in this way to fulfill all righteousness. John’s life and ministry and Jesus’ life and ministry are tied together. Jesus wants to validate John’s place in the role of preparing people for the Messiah. Jesus is showing continuity, “What John is saying is true and good and I support it.” 

John’s role was to announce the arrival of the Messiah and Jesus’ baptism links Jesus and John together forever. 

2. John is presenting the sacrifice

John was from the tribe of Levi and a direct descendant of Aaron, who was an important high priest who worked alongside Moses.

One of the duties of the priests in the Old Testament was to present sacrifices to the Lord because of the sins of the people. In the gospel of John, John the Baptist puts words to his own experience. After the baptism, Jesus and John meet again and John proclaims, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” John 1:29.

John then says, the purpose I came baptizing with water is so that he might be revealed. I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him.” He is baptizing Jesus and announcing Jesus will be the one God uses to remove the curse and stain of sin.

3. Jesus is starting his ministry as our priest

Many scholars have linked baptism in the time of Jesus with the water purification in the temple. It is very interesting to note that the priest who served in the temple started their service when they turned 30 years old. The way they started their service was through a water purification ceremony. 

How old is Jesus at his baptism? Luke 3:23 tells us he was “about 30 years of age” when he started his ministry. In his baptism, he is starting his work as a priest at work in the world. It’s no wonder the writer of the book of Hebrews in the New Testament calls Jesus our Great High Priest.

Christianity is filled with symbols. Christ is seen as the lamb of God and he is also seen as a priest who intercedes and prays for us before God. He is both the one who offers and the one who is offered.

These points tie the story of Scripture together really well. John is preparing people to meet the Messiah. The Messiah is the one who will give his life to defeat sin and is starting his public ministry with an act of consecration. 

Yet there is something more personal: 

4. Jesus is stepping into the Jordan River to identify with the plight of people who need deliverance

The first act of his ministry is identification. He puts himself in our place—in the muddy and wet river. Time and again Jesus is described as being humble—not a pushover, not a wimp, but someone who was determined and who acted with humility.

When Jesus was born we call that the Incarnation—God in the flesh. That is the major point of identification. God became one of us. Yet the identification didn’t stop at the manger. He came all the way down into the mud, both the mud of the baptismal river and into our world that corrupts.

He came to where we are.

Yet, this world mistreated him so badly. The world then responded how the world would respond now—with misunderstanding, with face-saving, with denial. And the world punished him and killed him.

Why? 

God came to where we are because God is determined to save us and the world, even if that means getting muddy or getting killed.

He came to where we are to save us, to pull us out, to call us up.

Remembering Our Baptism

In our beautiful, Reformed theology, baptism is not something we do for God. It is a visible action that reminds us of what God has done and will do for us—God has promised to be with us always, even to the end of the world. God has promised to relate to us through mercy, grace, love, and kindness. The water in baptism reminds us of how God’s grace cleans away our sins.

In baptism, God promises to send the Holy Spirit daily to renew us and cleanse us. Just as the Spirit dove was seen at Jesus’ baptism and remained on him, so too the Spirit is with us renewing us and cleansing us, assuring us of our forgiveness, and helping us notice God’s pull on us.

What are we called to when we are baptized? 

We are called to a new obedience. What is that? It is a call to love and trust God completely, to forsake evil in ourselves and in the world, and it is to live a new and holy life.

Can we do it? No. We try. We try to live according to the teachings of Jesus, but we fail don’t we? Let’s get real so we can get to the good news.

Yes, we do. We try to be patient. We try to not hold a grudge. We try to love others and to be charitable and not to gossip. We try not to hate and lose our anger and hurt others with our words. Yet, we fail. We end up back in the mud, but that is where Jesus is willing to go to get us!

How are we to think of ourselves –both befuddled by our sinful proclivities and our belovedness?

When we are united to God by trust/faith, what God says about Jesus is what God says about us, “With you I am well pleased.” This is astonishing. God, pleased with me?

But, you may say, I’m not always good. I’m not as generous as I should be. I lose my temper. I gossip.

Yet, God says, “I am still your God and you are still my child.”

When we falter or when we are down, we can remember our baptism and God’s gracious declaration over us as God’s own child. Therefore, when I fall into sin I have no need to despair of God’s mercy. God is merciful and loving and kind to me. And, because I am indeed God’s child, I should not continue in my sin.

So, we don’t despair and we don’t stay where we are. Grace moves us and grace calls us out of the mud, out of the water, into a new way of following Christ in our life.

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