Mark 1:9-11, “In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
I recently had opportunity to witness a couple of baptism services. In one of those services two men in their 80s were baptized…the people in attendance were especially joyful realizing that it somewhat uncommon/unexpected to see people of that age being baptized.
The baptism of Jesus was kind of unexpected and surprising when we consider the context. We are told in Mark 1:4 that John was baptizing with a “baptism of repentance.” Matthew 3:6 speaks to how the people were “confessing their sins.” But Jesus never sinned and therefore had nothing to repent of (Cf. 2 Corinthians 5:21). So why was He baptized?
The gospel of Matthew speaks to John’s own questions regarding the matter. Matthew 3:13-14, “Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness’.” Though it seemingly represented a reversal in roles, it was fitting in the circumstance in the doing of what was right before God.
Baptism has to do with identification. John’s baptizing was consistent to his God-given purpose to serve as the forerunner of the Christ. The people being baptized thus identified themselves with the repentant community that was thereby being prepared. A believer’s baptism is symbolic of the believer’s identification with Christ and specifically with Him in His death and resurrection (Cf. Romans 6:3-4). The key thought underlying baptism is identification.
All that being said, Jesus’ baptism was a part of His identifying Himself with us. He knew no sin and never sinned. He had no need to repent of anything. But He came into the world to save sinners. According to Hebrews 2:17 it was necessary for Jesus “to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.”
Let’s endeavor to fully appreciate the humility expressed in this event! Thousands were baptized by John. Every one of them a sinner. They had hearts that were burdened by guilt. They cried out to God for forgiveness, confessing their sins. Time after time, from one person to the next, the story is the same. The community is weighed down by guilt and sin and neediness. Now here comes Jesus, He’s the only one in the crowd who had committed no sin. He has no need to repent. But He has come, as John would say of Him, to be “the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). He who identified Himself with sinners in baptism would one day be completely identified with sinners and their sin at the cross (Cf. 2 Corinthians 5:21).
We needn’t wonder as to God’s view on the matter, for we are instructed in what happened following Jesus’ baptism. He saw the heavens opened and the Spirit descended upon him and he heard the voice from heaven of the Father’s approval, saying, “You are my beloved son; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11). All three of the trinity are there—the Spirit falling upon Jesus, and the Father voicing His hearty approval.