The Baptism of Jesus

A Sermon by Nate Wilson delivered to the Rocky Mountain Presbytery, Jan. 2002.

Updated & Delivered to Christ the Redeemer Church, Manhattan, KS 24 Oct 2010


Read passage: Matt. 3:13-17 (My rough translation follows)

13. Then Jesus comes from Galilee up to the Jordan to John to be baptized by him.

14. But John wanted to prevent Him, saying, “I have need to be baptized by You, and You come to me?”

15. But Jesus answered and said to him, “Let it be now, for this is fitting to us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he let Him.

16. But after being baptized, Jesus immediately went up from the water,
and, look, the heavens were opened to Him,
                  and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming upon Him,
17. and look, a voice out of the heavens saying, “This is my beloved Son in whom I delight.”


Intro - Misfits

In 1997, I purchased a copy of Microsoft’s Office software package. The logo on the package was a picture of a puzzle made of five interlocking pieces, representing Microsoft Word, Excel, Access, PowerPoint, and their new product, Microsoft Outlook. But the logo looked kinda strange. The four original software programs formed a neat square, but Microsoft Outlook was hanging off the end of the square like a misfit that never could find its place. Practical use bore out my suspicions from the logo, and I had all kinds of problems with that first version of Microsoft Outlook.


You know, the baptism of Christ scripture that seem like that misfit piece hanging off the end of the logo. They just don’t seem to fit.


Have you ever wondered why Jesus was baptized by John? Earlier in the chapter, it says that John baptized with water for repentance (v.11), his message was “Repent…” (v.2), and that the people confessed their sin as they were baptized (v.6). Did Jesus have sins that He needed to repent of? Did Jesus need to be baptized?


Jesus Sinless

·         Peter, one of Jesus’ closest disciples, wrote of Jesus, that “He committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth.”

·         That was also Pilate’s verdict when he tried Jesus: “I find no fault in Him.”

·         Even Jewish leaders, when they tried to find fault with Him, could not identify any sin, but had to hire false witnesses!

·         Jesus never sinned. He lived the uniquely perfect life in total obedience to all the law of God.

·         When Elizabeth said that Mary was blessed among women, it was more than just verbal blessings – can you imagine having a child who never disobeyed you? “Jesus, change your brother James’ diaper and then take out the trash.” “Yes Ma’am!”

Jesus was perfect; He had no sin, so he had no need to be baptized for the remission of sin.


Jesus God

And Jesus is more than just perfect; Jesus is God!

·         He was divinely conceived and born of a virgin,

·         He did what only God could do by claiming to forgive sins,

·         He accepted the worship of  His disciples as “Lord and God,”

·         He claimed to be God when He said “Before Abraham was I AM,”

·         and it was His claim to be the Son of God and Son of Man that finally drove the Jewish leaders to crucify him as a blasphemer.

·         Jesus’ claims to be God were substantiated by God the Father at His baptism and later on at the transfiguration, where God said, “This is my Son…”

·         Even Satan in the temptation admitted Jesus’ divinity when he used a first class conditional to start conversing with Jesus: “If You are the Son of God (and my grammar implies that you ARE), speak in order that these stones become bread.”


Impossibility of Baptism

When Jesus came to be baptized, John recognized that Jesus did not need his baptism, and he objected, “I have need to be baptized by You, and You come to me?”

·         “he evidently regarded Jesus as Himself needing no purification but rather qualified to impart it to those who did.” ~JFB

John’s baptism was impossible for someone who had not committed any sin. He cannot be tempted to sin or repent of sin; it’s impossible! So why would Jesus go through the motions of being baptized? Couldn’t He have just shown up for Easter Friday and saved us without all the stuff inbetween?


Solution: Christ’s Vicariousness

The key to the puzzle of a sinless Son of God being baptized for the remission of sin is the vicarious nature of Jesus, as the second Adam, the representative of man before God. In order to save us, Jesus, the Son of God, had to become like us. That is why the first few events in His life are intensely identificational with humanity – His birth, His baptism, and His temptation.


In fact, these events of Christ’s life closely parallel the beginnings of the nation of Israel:

·         with a calling out of Egypt after Herod’s threat,

·         a baptism paralleling Israel’s journey through the Red Sea,

·         a voice out of the heavens after the baptism paralleling the covenant at Mt. Sinai,

·         a forty-day time in the wilderness paralleling the 40 years in the desert,

·         and an entering upon the divine calling in the Promised land.

Jesus underwent baptism and temptation in order to identify with sinful human beings.


Kenosis and Humiliation

·         The book of Philippians says that Jesus “emptied Himself, taking on the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And while He was found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself, becoming obedient to death…”

·         In the Westminster Catechism, it says that the sufferings of Christ consisted not only in His death, but also in “His being born, and that in a low condition, made under the law, and undergoing the miseries of this life.”

Not only did He humble Himself by becoming a human being, but after becoming a human being, He continued to humble Himself. The choice for the holy Son of God to identify with sinners, including temptation, confession of sin, and receiving punishment for sin was a conscious choice to humbly take the place of sinners in the sight of a holy God.


Vicariousness Displayed in the Baptism

·         We believe that Jesus Christ bore our sin vicariously on the cross, so it should not come as a surprise to us that Jesus could also repent vicariously in the baptism.

·         After his initial objection, John expressed this concept of vicariousness eloquently the next day when he called Jesus “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”

·         The lamb was the perfectly innocent party killed in a sacrifice for the atonement of sins. That’s exactly what Jesus was.


Isaiah 53

Isaiah 53 describes this concept of substitutionary atonement – in fact, it is probably the passage that inspired John to call Jesus the “Lamb of God.” This is so significant, we need to read the actual prophecy – I’ll be using the NAS Version:


“He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, so He did not open His mouth. By oppression and judgment He was taken away; and as for His generation, who considered that He was cut off out of the land of the living for the transgression of my people to whom the stroke was due?


“His grave was assigned with wicked men, yet He was with a rich man in His death, because He had done no violence, nor was there any deceit in His mouth. But the Lord was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; if He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, and the good pleasure of the Lord will prosper in His hand.


“As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; By His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, as He will bear their iniquities. Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great, and He will divide the booty with the strong; because He poured out Himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; Yet He Himself bore the sin of many, and interceded for the transgressors.”


Jesus was the Lamb of God who had “done no violence” yet was “cut out of the land of the living” through his death on the cross, taking on Himself the “stroke” of punishment for the “transgressions of [His] people.” Jesus “rendered Himself as a guilt offering” to “justify the many” as “He Himself bore [our] sin…” The language of substation and vicariousness is all over this passage!


Numbered with the Transgressors

·         Not only did Jesus fulfill Isaiah 53 with his death on the cross, but also in His being “numbered with the transgressors.”

·         In Luke’s parallel account (3:21), it says literally, “in the baptizing of all the people, Jesus also was baptized.” By showing up with the nation of Israel on the bank of the Jordan River, Jesus fully iden­tified Himself with Israel and all of mankind, being numbered with us sinners in order to save us.

·         That’s why Jesus insisted that the baptism of the sinless Son of God would fulfill all righteousness; Jesus was consciously identifying with mankind and taking the place of a sinner at the very outset of His ministry years.


Cross-references in LXX to Mat 3:15 “fulfill all righteousness."

1.      The Bible pictures us as “full of all unrighteousness” in Rom 1:29 [Those who do not acknowledge God] being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice…


2.      In contrast, The Bible pictures God, and Christ in particular, as being “full” of all “righteousness”

·         Psa 48:10 ASV  As is thy name, O God, So is thy praise unto the ends of the earth: Thy right hand is full of righteousness.

·         Psa 145:7 ASV  They shall utter the memory of the fullness of thy goodness, And shall sing of thy righteousness.


3.      The Bible also consistently pictures Christ as the one who connects the righteousness of God to the people of God and fills them with His righteousness

·         Psa 72:7 ASV  In his [the messiah’s] days righteousness shall flourish, And fullness of peace, till the moon be no more.

·         Isa 33:5  The LORD is exalted, for He dwells on high; He has filled Zion with justice and righteousness (cf. Isa 1:21)

·         Isa 63:7 ASV  I will make mention of the mercies of Jehovah, and the praises of Jehovah, according to all that Jehovah hath bestowed on us, and the great goodness toward the house of Israel, which he hath bestowed on them according to his mercies, and according to the fulness of his righteousness.

·         Php 1:11  having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

·         For since “he that is circumcised is a debtor to do the whole law” (Gal. 5:3), Jesus thus bore about with Him in His very flesh the seal of a voluntary obligation to do the whole law... And as He was “made under the law” for no ends of His own, but only “to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons” (Gal. 4:4-5), the obedience to which His circumcision pledged Him was a redeeming obedience – that of a “Savior.” ~JFB

·         “The general reason why Christ received baptism was, 1) that he might render full obedience to the Father; and 2) the special reason was, that he might consecrate baptism in his own body, that we might have it in common with him.” ~Calvin


Operation of H.S.

·         “He stepped out of the stream, and again stood upon the dry ground; the work before Him, the needed and expected Spirit to rest upon Him for it, and the glory He would then put upon the Father that sent Him - would not these fill His breast, and find silent vent in such form as this? – ‘Lo, I come; I delight to do Thy will, O God. Father, glorify Thy name. Show Me a token for good. Let the Spirit of the Lord God come upon Me, and I will preach the Gospel to the poor, and heal the broken-hearted, and send forth judgment unto victory.’” ~JFB

·         v.16 As soon as Jesus is baptized, an amazing thing happens; the heavens open up and the Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus, and the voice of God the Father speaks, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I delight.”

·         Lest anyone think that it was a normal thing for Jesus to be baptized, lest anyone dare to imagine that Jesus was a mere man, the sky is “torn apart” (as Mark tells us in his Gospel), and for a little while the barrier between the physical and the spiritual world is broken; God speaks forth and sets the record straight in a public way. This is the Son of God.

·         And in consummation of the preparation for the messianic work of Jesus, God Himself anoints His Son, and not just with oil but with the real thing symbolized by the oil in all the previous anointings of all the prophets, priests, and kings before Him – the Holy Spirit Himself.

·         “why did the Spirit, who had formerly dwelt in Christ, descend upon him at that time? This question is answered by a passage of the prophet Isaiah...  ‘The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord God hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the broken-hearted,’ (Isaiah 61:1.) … Though the grace of the Spirit was bestowed on Christ in a remarkable and extraordinary manner, (John 3:34,) yet he remained at home as a private person, till he should be called to public life by the Father.” ~Calvin

·         “why did the Holy Spirit appear in the shape of a dove, rather than in that of fire? The answer depends on the analogy, or resemblance between the figure and the thing represented. We know what the prophet Isaiah ascribes to Christ.  ‘He shall not cry, nor lift up, nor cause his voice to be heard in the street. A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench,’ (Isaiah 42:2, 3.) On account of this mildness of Christ, by which he kindly and gently called, and every day invites, sinners to the hope of salvation, the Holy Spirit descended upon him in the appearance of a dove And in this symbol has been held out to us an eminent token of the sweetest consolation, that we may not fear to approach to Christ, who meets us, not in the formidable power of the Spirit, but clothed with gentle and lovely grace.” ~Calvin



Now, we can see that these puzzle pieces of the baptism of Jesus actually are consistent with the work of Christ in Scripture. They are not some irrelevant appendage to the Gospel story; they are in fact essential to the ministry of Christ. The fact that He allowed Himself to be baptized and to be tempted shows that Jesus held nothing back in fully identifying with us in order to save us. This calls for two responses:


1.     Receive Christ’s righteousness

·         What do we have to do to be filled with that righteousness? Just do what Abraham did and believe God: Jas 2:23  and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, "AND ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS," and he was called the friend of God. (Neh. 9:8)

Jesus was baptized to “fulfill all righteousness” and through Himself pour out the righteousness of God into us. Let us open our mouths and drink in this goodness and righteousness of God which Jesus has connected us to!


2. Adoration

First, this calls for adoration. What an awesome God we serve! How mind-boggling His love is that He would want to identify so closely with us in the filth of our sin.

How immeasurable His grace that He would empty Himself of all His glory and become a real man in order to save us. Halleluiah; what a savior!


This sign was enough to convince John to worship Jesus. John 1:26-34  John answered them saying, "I baptize in water, but among you stands One whom you do not know.  27  "It is He who comes after me, the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie."  28  These things took place in Bethany beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing.  29  The next day he *saw Jesus coming to him and *said, "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!  30  "This is He on behalf of whom I said, 'After me comes a Man who has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.'  31  "I did not recognize Him, but so that He might be manifested to Israel, I came baptizing in water."  32  John testified saying, "I have seen the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven, and He remained upon Him.  33  "I did not recognize Him, but He who sent me to baptize in water said to me, 'He upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him, this is the One who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.'  34  "I myself have seen, and have testified that this is the Son of God."


3. If you are in Christ, you are loved; believe it!

“v.17  Such, too, is the import of the epithet “beloved:” for in ourselves we are hateful to God, and his fatherly love must flow to us by Christ. The best expounder of this passage is the Apostle Paul, when he says,  "who hath predestinated us into adoption by Jesus Christ in himself, according to the good pleasure of his will; to the praise of the glory of his grace, in which he hath accepted us in the Beloved," (Ephesians 1:5,6) ~Calvin


4. We should follow in His footsteps

Second, we should follow the example of Christ. If He gave up privileges that were rightfully His in order to identify with us, we should do the same in order to identify with the people He has called us to minister to. For Hudson Taylor, it meant growing a pigtail and enduring the ostracism of British society in China. For Adoniram Judson it meant giving up his health in order to bring the Gospel to Burma. For me it has meant giving up close relationships with extended family to live far away in Kansas. For each of us, it may be something different that we have to give up in order to fully identify with the people God has called us to. Are you willing to pay that price for the sake of God’s people? Jesus suffered for us more than we can ever imagine and left an example that we should follow in His steps. Let us joyfully follow in His steps, filled with awe at our wonderful God and savior!