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It is a first act of obedience to Christ after professing faith in His death and resurrection. Baptism was significant, symbolic, and a turning point for Jesus, and so it is for believers.
13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16 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; 17 and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
Following Jesus Christ is to accept a life of “similar experiences.” These similar experiences are with
other believers and with Christ Himself. These experiences both shape our faith and allow us to express our faith. One such experience is baptism.
The idea and act of baptism has been debated and argued for centuries, not just between
denominations and religious groups, but among Baptists. The mode (sprinkling, anointing, immersion) and its requirement for fellowship in the local church have been points of division, contention, confusion, and celebration for decades. However, I wonder how much of the significance of baptism have we lost in our years of misunderstanding and legalism? We should look intently at the baptism of Jesus (included in the New Testament for a purpose) to interpret its significance for Him, and therefore, for us.
Baptism was Significant and Symbolic for Jesus.
Just prior to his baptism He is not yet on the scene as a teacher, prophet, or miracle worker. You might say that Jesus was certainly called to His servant role well before baptism but now at His baptism He confirms that call with this significant commitment. Jesus’ baptism was certainly a turning point for Him.
It was significant because He chose to do it. He must have wanted to identify with those who were stepping into the Jordan River to be baptized by John. Why? Jesus knew He would become the sacrifice for sin for all of humankind, so being baptized became symbolic because He had no need to do it. He had no need for “a baptism of repentance,” which John the Baptizer was doing in the Jordan River. There was nothing Jesus needed to repent of. He was without sin. Therefore, He wanted to be baptized because He wanted to symbolize to the people that He was accepting His role of “becoming sin who knew no sin” (2 Corinthians 5:21). "Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness." “To fulfill all righteousness” (Mt. 3:15) was Jesus’ way of telling John it was the right thing for Him to do because He was making a commitment to His calling. John opposed His baptism because Jesus was without sin. Jesus was intent on being obedient to God’s way; "to fulfill all righteousness."
It was significant because Heaven recognized it. The heavens “were opened” - “were torn apart” the text says. This is more than just clouds parting with a ray of sunlight coming through, like some special effects in a movie. No, this was a “heaven-quake,” as one commentator put it. All of creation shuttered “and a voice came from heaven” (v.11). This passage reveals the Triune of God: The Son being baptized, the Spirit descended upon Him, and the Father pronouncing His pleasure. The Father is “well pleased” with his “beloved Son.” Therefore, the world was being introduced to the concept that in Jesus all the intentions and grace and power of God will be seen and heard. In His baptism the veiled mysteries and misunderstandings of God will be made known and clarified in “His Son.”
It was significant because He called His Church to perform it. In Matthew 28:16-20 Jesus commissions His followers to make disciples and baptize them. Someone who follows Jesus follows Him in baptism. It is a confession of faith in Christ. Just like Jesus, they choose to do it as testimony of God's love and grace. Could heaven be more involved in this symbol or act than we have probably realized? I wonder, because over the generations the Church has made a "legal" matter rather than a personal belief one. We have sought not to offend anyone in fear we would push them away from the church. Baptism developed into a controversial focus for churches, even to the point of questioning someone's salvation from sin's penalty if they refused to be baptized. The personal spiritual experience and significance of baptism over time has been diminished. Jesus was baptized because of his sense of purpose. God was pleased. The Holy Spirit descends and compels Him to the wilderness. After the wilderness testing (Matthew 4), He begins His ministry. We are baptized because of our commitment to Jesus as God's Son, God is pleased, and the Holy Spirit (the Spirit of Christ) guides us into a growing relationship with Him (discipleship under Christ).
Christian baptism is significant and symbolic. It is significant in the fact that it is a real, clear, public act of obedience to Christ as Lord. The believer chooses to follow Christ in the manner of baptism that He demonstrated. Further, it is significant because it is an open, public testimony of a repentant life; an identification with all believers in their similar acceptance into the faith. Just as
Jesus committed Himself to the purposes of God as His Son, meaning he would fulfill that role completely through His suffering and His cross; so too, the believer makes a commitment to follow the Christ. Just as Jesus illustrated His acceptance of the sins of the world in His baptism; so too, believers have accepted the responsibility to be a witness of that good news to the world. Why else would Jesus include “baptize them” in His commission to the Church (Matthew 28:16-20)?
We may all be different, but as believers we have a similar acceptance. We have accepted the truth that is in Jesus of Nazareth: He is the Son of God, and is the sacrifice for our sin. He was crucified, was buried, and was raised from the dead - all symbolized in the confession and testimony of baptism.