The Baptism of JesusMatthew 3:13-17
“Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Joran 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.’ Then he consented. And when Jesus was baptized, immediately He went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on Him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.'”
The Story of Matthew
One thing that I find helpful when reading different parts of the Bible is to try to read it like a story. Of course, the Bible is true and so different than other stories. But I think we can gain a different perspective on different parts of the Bible if we read it like a story. Try reading through these first chapters of Matthew like they’re the beginning of a book. Imagine for a moment that you don’t know what’s going to happen next. And as you read look for how the author builds the story. We talked a bit in one of the first posts in this series about how important it is to understand the literary context of what we’re reading. And that’s exactly what I’m talking about here. Take some time to reread what we’ve already read in Matthew. Read it from the perspective of someone who had never heard it before. Let yourself get swept up in the story Matthew is trying to tell. And as you do this, pray for God to help you understand the point Matthew is trying to make throughout the story. As you do this, I think God will meet you in it and you’ll learn deeper things about Jesus.
In the last blog post, Matthew stepped away from focusing on Jesus for just a moment. Up until this point, Matthew had been focusing exclusively on Jesus. He gave us a bit of a prologue with Jesus’ genealogy. Then, Matthew told us the story of how Jesus was born. And right before introducing John the Baptist, he tells us that Jesus’ family moved from Egypt to Nazareth in Galilee.
Now as a reader you might expect Matthew to go on talking about Jesus, He is the point of the story after all. Instead, Matthew turns to another character, John the Baptist. Matthew says John was preaching in the wilderness, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2). Matthew tells us John is the fulfillment of a prophecy from Isaiah 40:3. Here Isaiah spoke about someone who would come before the coming of the Lord. This man would go, clearing the way and announcing that the Lord was coming. And according to Matthew, that’s exactly who John was. Matthew tells his readers that John also came in the spirit of Elijah. He does this very subtly with a description of John: “Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist.” Matthew’s description of John is almost exactly how Elijah was described in 2 Kings 1.
John baptized people as they confessed their sins to him. And when Pharisees and Sadducees approached John, he rebuked them, calling them a brood of vipers. He warned them that someone would come after him, who was greater. This person would baptize them with the Holy Spirit and fire.
The Baptism of Jesus
And “then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him.”
So, Matthew is setting his readers up for something important in his description of John. The introduction of John the Baptist isn’t random. It’s an important part of the story. It’s important to the text we’re looking at today. Matthew is telling his Jewish readers, in case they haven’t gotten it already, the Lord is coming. Matthew has already been trying to make the case from square one that Jesus is the Christ. Jesus is the King the Jews were waiting for. And here Matthew takes it a step further. Jesus is not just an earthly king. He is the Lord. He is the Lord coming for His people. And John the Baptist was preparing the way for Him to come.
And so, Matthew smoothly brings us right back to the point of his story, Jesus.
Jesus came to John to be baptized by him. Matthew tells us that John was surprised that Jesus wanted to be baptized.
“John would have prevented Him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?'”
John’s surprise leads us to one of the most important questions to answer in this text. Why did Jesus need to be baptized? It was clearly a question John had as Jesus approached him. And I think it’s an important question for us to ask as well. The baptism of Jesus is an easy thing to take for granted. To be honest, I often don’t take the time to think much about it. In fact, I never really thought much about it until I started this study. It’s part of the Bible that I’ve known my whole life. And I think I’ve taken it for granted that Jesus was baptized by John. It’s just another part of the story.
But it is a really important part of the story. It’s the part Matthew uses to introduce Jesus’ adult ministry. And it comes right after John announced the coming of the Lord. The baptism of Jesus is in fact a pivotal scene in the Gospel of Matthew.
So, let’s take some time to look at the significance of Jesus’ baptism. I’ll be honest, I’m just starting to look into this passage. So, I won’t necessarily have a full, deep answer. And so as always I challenge and encourage you to do some studying on your own. Take a little time to pray about this story. Read it. Take notes on it. Do some research if you have the time. Just make sure that your understanding of this story is truly your understanding. Don’t just go along with what I say.
Baptism for Repentance
If we look back at what we’ve read in Matthew already, we can get some clues about why Jesus’ baptism was so significant. In the last post, we looked at the baptism of John in general. John’s baptism was specifically for repentance. People came to John in response to his call to repent. They came and confessed their sins to him.
But Jesus was not sinful. There was no reason for Him to be baptized. John even recognized this. He realized Jesus was the one that needed to baptize him, not the other way around. However, Jesus told John His baptism was necessary “to fulfill all righteousness.”
So what does that mean? How does Jesus’ baptism fulfill all righteousness?
Well, just based on what we’re reading here in Matthew I wonder if Jesus’ baptism symbolizes how He takes the sin of the people on Himself. As we see later in the Gospels, Jesus died for the sins of the world. Jesus, who had no sin to die for, died for sinners. He took the sins of you and me and died. And here, even though Jesus had no sin to repent of, Jesus asked John to baptize Him. In His baptism, Jesus took on the sins of the people with His baptism. His baptism was a demonstration of what He was going to do later. And in His baptism, Jesus identified Himself with sinful people. Even though He was holy, Jesus chose to participate in something only sinners needed to do.
And that is a big deal. As I wrote about this in my notes while I was studying, I felt God pulling on my heartstrings a little. And even now I still feel a bit of a pull to make what I just said a bit more personal. I want you to do this too. What does this have to do with me? What does knowing that Jesus identifies Himself with sinners have to do with Kailynn (fill in your own name)?
Jesus, holy and sinless, identifies Himself with me, a wicked sinner. Instead of standing far off and demanding perfection, Jesus comes as God with us and identifies Himself with Kailynn. He chooses to take my sin. He chooses to do what only sinners need to do. And Jesus did that for me.
Jesus is The Son of God
After John baptized Jesus, He came up out of the water and “the heavens were opened to Him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on Him.” When the Spirit came down a voice from heaven said,
“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
In the moment after Jesus’ baptism, we see God’s approval of Jesus. Jesus pleases God. And with these words, Matthew tells his readers something very important about Jesus.
Yes, Jesus is the Christ. He is the king the Jews were waiting for. But, Jesus is so much more than just an earthly king.
Jesus is the Son of God.
There is a lot we can learn from this section of Matthew. I want to try to understand what Matthew is saying here by weaving together some of what we’ve already read.
Jesus is the Christ. The Son of God. God with Us.
The primary point in the Gospel of Matthew is that Jesus is the Christ. And throughout the Gospel, Matthew is trying to reinforce and build on this point. He wants his Jewish readers to know Jesus is the Christ and to understand what that means.
According to Matthew, Jesus is more than just an earthly king. He is not a political king. He is God Himself. Even the Son of God. Matthew has already identified Jesus as “God with us” in chapter 1. Jesus is literally God coming to His people. And that fits in with what we learned about John the Baptist. John was preparing the way for the coming of the Lord. When describing John the Baptist Matthew quotes from Isaiah 40:
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
Prepare the way of the Lord;
Make His path straight.”
Based on the context of these verses, John wasn’t just preparing the way for another king. He was preparing the way for the Lord. He was preparing the way for God Himself. The Lord was coming to set His people free.
And here in the baptism of Jesus, Matthew identifies Jesus as the Son of God. Again, He is not just an earthly king. Jesus is the Son of God.
So, early on in Matthew, we are beginning to see him hinting at an important fact about Jesus. Yes, Jesus is the Christ. But He’s not the Christ the Jews were expecting. He’s not just a man. Jesus is the Son of God, God with us. He is the Lord coming for His people.
And this is something that makes Christianity radical and beautiful.
We might be tempted to believe God is distant from His creation. It’s easy to think about God looking at us and loving us from a distance, not wanting to get His holy hands dirty. He loves us, but from a distance, keeping us at arms-length so that our mess does not get on Him.
But as we see, even here in the first few chapters of Matthew, that could not be further from the truth. We saw earlier in this blog post that as Jesus was being baptized, He was identifying Himself with sinful people. And then Jesus is identified as the Son of God.
Over and over in Matthew, we see a picture of a God who is very involved with His creation. As we will see later in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus Christ, both fully God and fully man, poured out His blood so that anyone who would believe in Him would be restored back to God. Just like Jesus participated in a baptism He didn’t need, He will also die a death He didn’t deserve. We see a God who loves so much that, not only will He get His hands dirty, He will get them bloody.
This is the king the Jews were waiting for. They just didn’t know it. They had all of these ideas about what the Christ would be. But they had no idea how truly amazing and different He would really be. Jesus came as that Christ, not to simply set the Jews free from Rome. He came to rescue a dying world from sin. He came to be God with sinners. He came to be God with you and me.
In case you wanted to do some more studying on your own time, here some resources that might be helpful! As always I would love to hear about what God is teaching you as you study! Next week we will be looking at Matthew 4:1-4.