Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
February 2, 2014
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.” 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.”
— Matthew 3:13-17, ESV
I love going to concerts to see and hear some of my favorite musicians. Usually there is an opening act of lesser fame. Though not the headliner, they are talented, perform well, and serve a good purpose to get your ready for the main event. But the real magic is in the moment when the star finally hits the stage.
Forgive me for likening the gospel to a rock concert, but each Gospel audience is warmed up by the work of John the Baptist before the Lord Jesus Christ steals the spotlight. John did a masterful job of getting an audience ready for the main event. And as the curtain begins to draw on his career, the Baptist shares the stage for a fleeting moment with the One people have been waiting in line for millenniums to see. Mark records that transcendent moment with the opening words in this text, “Then Jesus came …!”
Jesus Came to be Baptized
The first thing we learn Jesus came to do in this text is “to be baptized.” John the Baptist has set the stage for Jesus by preaching a message of repentance and baptism as a rite of passage into the new and improve version of the kingdom of God. Sinners flocked to John at the Jordan River to confess their sins, express their repentance, and be baptized.
Now it is a pivotal point of theology and the firm belief of every Christian that the Lord Jesus Christ never sinned. So why would a non-sinner, the only non-sinner who ever lived, submit to a baptism of repentance from sin? John obviously had qualms about this, too, but was assured by Jesus that this baptism was necessary or “fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” In other words, God decreed that this was the right thing to do. Why? For at least three reasons: inauguration, identification, and exemplification.
The baptism of Jesus was the inauguration of His public ministry as the great High Priest, the authoritative Rabbi, the Good Shepherd, and the promised Messiah. In the Old Covenant, the high priest was ceremonially washed with water before taking office (ref. Exodus 29:4). Jesus, who was doing literally Lord knows what for about thirty years, now comes publicly before the people of Israel to begin His priestly, prophetic, and propitiatory work on behalf of the world. So, Christ’s baptism was his ordination for ministry and the inauguration of the greatest story every told and a new and better Covenant.
The baptism of Jesus was a way and means of identification with repentant sinners. When a new Christian confesses their faith in baptism, they are claiming a new identity with the crucified, buried, and resurrected Lord Jesus Christ (ref. Romans 6:4). It is our way of saying to Jesus, “I accept you, I love you, and I’m going to walk with you for the rest of my life.” And while Jesus certainly did not need to be baptized on account of His sins, He was baptized on account of ours, so he could say to you, “I accept you, I love you, and I’m going to walk with you for the rest of your life.” There is a double identification symbolizing the double imputation between the Savior and the saved going on in the beautiful ordinance of baptism.
The baptism of Jesus was also conducted as an example to all future followers of Jesus Christ. Great leaders, including the greatest leader, lead by example. They seldom ask you do do something they have not done, or are not willing to do, themselves. Jesus submitted to baptism as the beginning of the New Covenant and expects His followers to do the same until He comes again. Are you a fully devoted follower of Jesus Christ? Have you been baptized? If not, what are you waiting for?
Jesus came to be baptized for you so that you can be baptized for Him. But more importantly, Jesus came to bring us to God by bringing God, in all of His triune glory, to us.
Jesus Came to Bring Us to God by Bringing God to Us
Though the word “trinity” is not found in Scripture, the theological concept of the tri-unity between the three persons of the one, true, and living God is apparent everywhere. We see it in creation (ref. Genesis 1:1-2 combined with John 1:3; Genesis1:26 and the “majestic plural;” etc.), the incarnation (the Father through the Spirit conceives the Son), and in plain view during the baptism of Jesus. God the Father speaks, God the Spirit descends, as God the Son is baptized to begin His ministry of redemption.
It is truly at the baptism of Jesus that we see the fulfillment of the name “Immanuel,” or “God with us” (ref. Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23). We also should reflect here on the meaning of the name “Jesus,” which is “God saves.” Jesus came to save us from sin and death and grant us forgiveness and everlasting life. God knows we could never climb up to Him, nor attain His righteousness with our own morality and works, nor in any way achieve or earn our own salvation. So like any outstanding father or faithful friend, when we could not come to Him, He came to us!
To say “Then Jesus came” is the same as to say, “Then God came.” At this great baptism, “Then God came” in the Son, in the flesh, in person, to begin a ministry that would accomplish the salvation of the world. The Son of God came with perfect character, perfect obedience, and a perfect love for you and me. God was in the Son at the baptism of Jesus.
At this great baptism, “Then God came” in the descent of the Spirit. We know Jesus and John saw the dove-like manifestation of the Holy Spirit, although we cannot be certain if anyone else cast a gaze upon this image. We know now that the Holy Spirit comes in invisibility and invincibility to do His work in and through us. We know now and for all time that the Holy Spirit is the power of God that creates, regenerates, and enables the human race. And somehow we know that as God embodied and identified with mankind in the person and work of the Son, the Spirit was necessary to give guidance and power to the Son. God was in the Spirit at the baptism of Jesus.
And at this great baptism, “Then God came” in the voice of the Father. Did He speak in Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic, Latin, or King James English? Did He sound like James Earl Jones, Morgan Freeman, or George Burns? Was His voice heard by all, by some, or just by Jesus and John? All I know is that when God the Father witnessed God the Son being loving, humble, and obedient, it made Him exceedingly proud and pleased. I think this is true for God and all of His children, too.
Are you one of them?
Jesus Came to Be Your Lord and Savior
“The Jesus came” to be baptized. “Then Jesus came” to be “God with us” in order to bring us to God. Has there been a day in your life when you could honest say, “Then Jesus came” to be your Lord and Savior?
The baptism that began Christ’s gospel ministry tells the tale of how it ended. The Lord Jesus Christ died, was buried, and He rose again. This is the gospel!
The gospel is never about what you can do for God, but what God has already done for you. It does demand repentance and faith, for there is no other way to be connected to the grace of God that saves. I hope there has been a time in your life when “Then Jesus came” to grant you repentance and faith. I hope you have honored and obeyed the Lord by being baptized in some Christian tradition. I hope you will hear God the Father say of you one day that He is “well pleased” with your life. For I know, then and now, that this is why “Jesus came.”