Jan 8

Jesus Baptism by John

I’ve always found Christ’s statement to John the Baptist at the time of his baptism to be somewhat enigmatic: “Suffer it to be so for now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness” (Matt 3:15). Although I have long understood, in general terms, that Christ was identifying with sinful men through his submission to baptism by John, I also felt there was some deeper significance in Christ’s statement that I was missing.

I am reading several books on the life of Christ in preparation for a class I will be teaching this spring. I found some comments in one that were helpful to me in gaining a deeper appreciation for this event.

By his statement to John about fulfilling all righteousness, Jesus seems to mean that for the purpose of accomplishing his mediatorial work it is necessary for him to be baptized. This must be understood as a deliberate identification of himself with the nation, and so is in line with his birth, circumcision, presentation, and assumption of the yoke of the law. Since John’s baptism was bound up with the forgiveness of sins (Mk. 1:4), and no personal sin is involved in Jesus’ case, the conclusion is fairly obvious that the baptism was the first public step taken in the direction of bearing the sins of the people. . . .
Later developments in the gospel story reveal that our Lord’s conception of the baptism moved along this vicarious line. His experience at the Jordan meant more to him than a consecration to his ministry. “I have a baptism to be baptized with: and how I am constrained (or hemmed in) until it is accomplished!” (Lk. 12:50). He was anticipating the baptism of blood that came to him at the cross. Again, in dealing with the sons of Zebedee he linked his baptism of the future with the cup he must drink then applied both of them to these two disciples (Mk. 10:38-39). They would share his suffering.  Clearly baptism is associated with death. Jesus seems to have been the first one to state a connection between these two items, and in stating it he revealed his understanding of his own experience of baptism. The teaching of the early church followed this same pattern, depicting Jesus as coming both by water (baptism by John) and blood (the death of the cross) (1 Jn. 5:6), and also coupling baptism and death in the case of the believer as the ground of his sanctification (Rom. 6:3). . . . [Everett F. Harrison, A Short Life of Christ. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1968. pp. 74-75.]

The whole chapter—indeed, the whole book— is helpful.

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