John the Baptist: The baptism of Jesus

TEXT: MARK 1:9-11

John the Baptist is nearing the end of his ministry as Jesus comes to him and is also baptized by John.

Mark uses three verses to describe this scene (verses 9-11), two verses to describe Jesus' temptation in the wilderness (Mark 1:12-13) and one verse to show that John the Baptist was put into prison after Jesus was tested in the wilderness (Mark 1:14).

That is quite a brief summary of events.

WHY JESUS?

Mark doesn't say why Jesus needed to be baptized - he just says that Jesus was baptized. So, we need to look to the other apostles to get more information.

However, of the four Gospel writers, only Matthew offers some insight. Matthew says that John the Baptist didn't want to baptize Jesus because Jesus was the Lamb of God and didn't need to repent (Matthew 3:13-15. But in Matthew 3:15, we see Jesus' answer: "Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us [ note the use of the word "us" ] to fulfill all righteousness."

Other than what we've seen in Matthew, we have no other information or cross referencing we can do within the four Gospel accounts; it is the mind of Christ we're trying to understand here, which is a lifelong pursuit.

It is also important to note - especially for those who have not undergone water baptism since believing in Jesus - that Jesus' disciples also performed water baptisms (REFERENCE: John 4:1-2). So, yes, you need to be baptized to "fulfill all righteousness," just as Jesus did.

CLOSER LOOK

But let's at least try to understand why it is that Jesus would want to be baptized, even though He had no sin:

1. He wanted to identify with sinners and with the baptism of repentance preached by John. Remember that John was sent by God to preach repentance to mankind - and Jesus, who is the Son of God, is also a man.

2, Jesus was made sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21). John's baptism symbolized repentance (2 Corinthians 5:21), and so it was only "right" that Jesus not only identify with the sin that He would become on our behalf, but also with the repentance that needs to go along with it (every sinner needs to repent - it's part of being saved from sin).

3. Jesus' baptism is linked to His death and resurrection (REFERENCE:  Romans 6:3-4). We see in those verses death linked to baptism and also resurrection. Why? Because we are forgiven; and when we are forgiven, we are baptized into him - it's part of our being forgiven, which is also symbolized by our repentance. Thus, it would only be "fitting" for Jesus to want to fulfill all "righteousness" by being baptized by John.

4. It wasn't only Jesus and John in the waters of the Jordan river. We were also there - future Christians - who are now "in Christ," and therefore, "in His water baptism." And because Jesus was publicly baptized in water, so should we be - as His followers. And we are also to follow Him into a second, spiritual baptism in which HE is the baptizer - not John (REFERENCE: Luke 1:8).

TWO BAPTISMS

Thus, we see two baptisms - one of forgiveness and one of inclusiveness. In one, man repents and, through Christ, is saved and publicly declares that fact in water baptism. In the second baptism, we see God including those who have repented into Christ by way of the Holy Spirit baptism - also a public event (REFERENCE: Acts Chapter 2).

Whether it's earth's water or the spiritual water of the Holy Spirit, the water "closes over" each baptized believer when they are immersed.

It is also important that we remember that it is not baptism that saves us - only the blood of Jesus that can do that. Baptism, rather,  is an outward testimony of an inward change of heart. It is a public affirmation to both heaven and the world.

WHAT DOES THE HOLY SPIRIT LOOK LIKE?

It is interesting to note how the Holy Spirit is described as He (yes, the Holy Spirit is a person) descends upon Jesus and then rests upon Him. John the Baptist is the one who saw this event, looking through spiritual eyes (REFERENCE: John 1:32-34).

Matthew, Mark, Luke and John recount that story. In the Gospel according to John (REFERENCE: John 1:35 and John 1:40) , that disciple says that Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, was one of two disciples of John the Baptist who were called by Jesus (John the disciple does not say who the second disciple was, although many theologians believe it was, in fact, John the disciple).

It is not known if Andrew or John the disciple also saw the spiritual dimension behind the baptism of Jesus, as John the Baptist did.

OTHER THOUGHTS

From Barnes' Notes on the Bible: "The Spirit of God - See Matthew 3:11. This was the third person of the Trinity, descending upon him in the form of a dove, Luke 3:22. The dove, among the Jews, was the symbol of purity of heart, harmlessness, and gentleness, Matthew 10:16; comparePsalm 55:6-7. The form chosen here was doubtless an emblem of the innocence, meekness, and tenderness of the Saviour. The gift of the Holy Spirit, in this manner, was the public approbation of Jesus John 1:33, and a sign of his being set apart to the office of the Messiah."

From Clarke's commentary on the Bible: "The heavens were opened unto him - That is, to John the Baptist - and he, John, saw the Spirit of God - lighting upon him, i.e. Jesus. There has been some controversy about the manner and form in which the Spirit of God rendered itself visible on this occasion. St. Luke, Luke 3:22, says it was in a bodily shape like to a dove: and this likeness to a dove some refer to a hovering motion, like to that of a dove, and not to the form of the dove itself: but the terms of the text are too precise to admit of this far-fetched interpretation."

FURTHER READING

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