But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you,
and do you come to me?” - Matthew 3:14
and do you come to me?” - Matthew 3:14
It’s a good question: Why did Jesus Christ need to be baptized? That’s basically the question that came out of John the Baptist’s mouth when Jesus came forward to be baptized in the
Jordan River. He
knew Jesus was the Messiah, the savior of the world. So John said, “I need to
be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” John makes an excellent point. If
John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance, what sin did Jesus commit that
required his repentance? There wasn’t one! He was perfect! He had never sinned!
Between John and Jesus, if one of them needed to be baptized, certainly that
someone was John.
Here’s how Jesus responded to John’s protest: “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness” (v. 15). So, John complied. But the answer “to fulfill all righteousness” doesn’t really clear things up for us, does it? What did Jesus mean? Well, there are at least three possibilities.
Possibility #1: Jesus was baptized in order to identify with those he came to save. According to the theologian Albert Barnes, “When John emerged, the people flocked to hear him and to be baptized. Throughout the whole country there was an unprecedented movement towards God. And Jesus knew…that he too must identify himself with this movement towards God” John’s baptism was part of the people’s turning from sin and turning toward God. Jesus wanted to identify with this turning. That makes sense, doesn’t it?
Possibility #2: Jesus was baptized in order to mark the official start of his ministry. Since John would be handing the ministry baton over to Jesus when Jesus was ready to begin his ministry, what better place to do that than in the Jordan River where John—for quite some time—had been helping people turn from their sin and prepare themselves for Jesus’ coming? This possibility makes sense, too.
Possibility #3: Jesus was baptized in order to ceremonially cleanse himself before being filled with the Holy Spirit. According to Old Testament law, the Jewish high priest was the only man authorized by God to enter the Holy of Holies, the most sacred room in the temple where God’s Spirit dwelled. And before entering the Holy of Holies, the high priest would always wash his hands as part of a ceremonial cleansing. Well, in Jesus’ case, heaven was about to open above the
Jordan River, and
the Holy Spirit was about to leave heaven and come down to get up close and
personal with Jesus. So, possibly, Jesus was baptized as a sort of ceremonial
washing to prepare himself for the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
All three of these possibilities make a lot of sense. And there’s a good chance that Jesus had all three in mind when he was baptized. Now, there’s one more detail I don’t want you to miss. All four Gospel writers—Matthew, Mark, Luke and John—record that the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus in the form of a dove. But let me ask you: What was Jesus doing when the Holy Spirit descended on him?
It wasn’t while he was being baptized. Jesus had already finished being baptized and was on his way out of the water. Only the book of Luke records for us exactly what Jesus was doing. Take a close look at Luke 21: “When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove.” So, what was Jesus doing when the Holy Spirit descended on him? He was PRAYING.
Luke makes it crystal clear in his gospel account that prayer was a priority for Jesus. And as such, Jesus prayed before and often during the most important moments of his ministry. He prayed all night before choosing his 12 disciples (v. 6:12). He was praying before Peter gave his good confession that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God” (v. 9:18). He was praying before teaching his disciples the Lord’s Prayer (11:1). Jesus prayed on the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.” And before he died, he prayed: “Father, into Your hands I commit my spirit.”
Do you suppose it’s possible that Jesus did this—in part—to convince you and me that we also should be praying before and even during our most important moments in life? I think so. Communication with the Father was a top priority for Jesus. And it should be a top priority for you and me as well. Prayer was the fuel for Jesus’ most powerful ministry, and likewise it will be the fuel for ours.
Dane Davis is the Lead Pastor of First Christian Church in Victorville. For more information,
visit www.YourVictorvilleChurch.com and join us for church Sunday at 10 a.m.