“Then Jesus came from Galilee to John to be baptized by him in the Jordan River. But John tried to prevent him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and yet you come to me?’ So Jesus replied to him, ‘Let it happen now, for it is right for us to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then John yielded to him. After Jesus was baptized, just as he was coming up out of the water, the heavens opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my one dear Son; in him I take great delight.’” (Matthew 3:13-17 NET).
It is sad that baptism for many has become a hotly disputed topic. Although there are those in most Christian groups who have gladly accepted baptism, there are many who refuse to do so because they do not think it is necessary. It is instructive to look at Jesus’ baptism and see what this can tell us.
We should understand from the outset that our English word “baptise” comes from the Greek word “baptizo” which simply means to immerse, submerge, dip. That Jesus was immersed in water can be seen from Jesus “coming up out of the water.” Both the word used and the action performed indicate a complete submerging in water.
Why did Jesus need to be immersed in water? It wasn’t for the reason that others came to John. “Then people from Jerusalem, as well as all Judea and all the region around the Jordan, were going out to him, and he was baptizing them in the Jordan River as they confessed their sins” (Matthew 3:5-6). We know from the writings of the apostles that Jesus was sinless (see 1 John 3:1-6). So why did he go to John, when even John could tell this wasn’t the right way around?
Jesus told John: “Let it happen now, for it is right for us to fulfill all righteousness.” That may not satisfy our ears but it did for John. The Greek word for “righteousness” means the “state of him who is as he ought to be, righteousness, the condition acceptable to God” (Strong’s Dictionary of Greek Words). Jesus was basically telling John that this was the right thing to do. It wasn’t to take away any sin of Jesus but to fulfill what was right. We can see that this was the right thing for Jesus to do through God’s reaction: “This is my one dear Son; in him I take great delight.”
Perhaps part of what was happening was Jesus giving us an example to follow. John the apostle later wrote (speaking of Jesus), “If you know that he is righteous, you also know that everyone who practices righteousness has been fathered by him” (1 John 2:29). If Jesus was immersed to “fulfill all righteousness” shouldn’t we want to do what he did? And especially when we realize that this is the way we have our sins removed (Acts 2:38).
We also learn something about God here. Some teach that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all the same, yet here we find them all present and all doing different things. The Son (Jesus) was immersed in water; the Spirit descended on him; and the Father spoke from heaven. They are one, but they have, if you will, distinctly different functions.
If you have never obeyed God in this way, we would encourage you as a new year is about to begin to start this year with your sins washed away. “And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized, and have your sins washed away, calling on his name” (Acts 22:16).
Readings for next week:
31 December – 1 Kings 2
1 January – No readings for today
2 January – Matthew 1
3 January – Matthew 2
4 January – Matthew 3