The question asking, “Why did Jesus get baptized,” is a common question in the minds of new believers and perhaps some long-time believers as well. And for a good reason, Jesus never sinned; therefore, He did not need repentance. The baptism of John the Baptist symbolized an individual’s repentance of sin; after all, the Bible does teach that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). However, Jesus was perfect, without sin, and so you can imagine how the Lord’s request for baptism took even John by surprise. John said, “I have the need to be baptized by You, and yet You are coming to me?” (Matt. 3:14). It is indeed a fair question. Why did Jesus seek baptism from John?
John’s response was not one of refusal but of genuine perplexity as to why His Lord, the Lamb of God, would come to him for baptism. Jesus told John, “Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matt. 3:15). When we look at the word righteousness in the original Greek language, we learn that it translates to the word “dikaiosune” (dik-ah-yos-oo’-nay). The term refers to a condition acceptable to God or to satisfy the doctrine concerning how one attains a status that meets God’s approval. That prompts a question: To what condition is Jesus referring? To answer that question, we must turn back the pages of Scripture to the book of Exodus.
In Exodus, chapter 29, we learn about the consecration of men who were about to enter into the priesthood to serve God. The LORD said, “Then you shall bring Aaron and his sons to the doorway of the tent of meeting and wash them with water” (Exod. 29:4). Notice Aaron and his sons did not wash; instead, others washed them at the doorway for the tent of meeting. Since that doorway was in a public setting, it was, without any doubt, a humbling experience. “Then you shall take the anointing oil and pour it on his head and anoint him,” said the LORD (Exod. 29:7). Oil is symbolic of the Holy Spirit, and we see that it was to be poured over the head of the new priest – to anoint him. The pouring over the head indicates an abundant amount of oil, and it symbolizes the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
As odd as this may sound, Jesus was about to begin His public ministry and enter into the priesthood. Therefore, He proceeded to fulfill the legal requirements set forth by God under Old Testament Law that consisted of being washed with water and anointed with oil. We see these requirements fulfilled in the baptism of Jesus, where He first humbles Himself by partaking in John’s baptism and did so right along with a crowd of repentant sinners. John willingly and obediently baptized Jesus in the Jordan River, and the scene described in Matthew’s gospel must have been breathtaking by those present. The apostle wrote:
“After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on Him, and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.”
“Now hold on,” one might say. “Jesus did not need spiritual cleansing, nor did He need to be empowered by the Holy Spirit for He was God made flesh.” Yes, that is true, but Jesus was both fully God and fully man; therefore, He fulfilled the legal requirements for a man to enter the priesthood. Jesus is the fulfillment of that which King David alludes to in his Psalm, where he said, “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek” (Ps. 110:4). Jesus said that His baptism was fitting to fulfill the righteousness of God. In doing so, we see that God the Father immediately acknowledged His satisfaction with His Son, in whom He said He was well-pleased.
So what is the meaning of baptism today? There are two major camps regarding the purpose and intent of being baptized by immersion in water. One supports the belief that this form of baptism is essential for salvation, whereas the other cites it as an act of obedience to what the Lord has commanded as part of the Great Commission. John the Baptist said, “As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matt. 3:11). John’s baptism served as an outward sign of an individual’s inward penitent heart and a sincere desire to be obedient to the Lord. John alludes to the fact that Jesus will baptize believers not with water but with the Holy Spirit and fire.
When people accept Jesus as their Savior and Lord, they receive the Holy Spirit’s baptism, who then dwells in them to guide and help them grow in their Christian walk. As apostle Paul said, we are “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Eph. 4:5). Then why do we baptize by immersion in water? It is because Jesus commanded it to be so when He issued the Great Commission. Jesus said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19). A new believer in Christ is baptized by immersion in water because this unites that person with Jesus in death to sin and resurrection to new life.
It is essential for new disciples to understand that water baptism is not a criterion for salvation. Only by the atoning work of Jesus Christ on the cross, the shedding of His blood can wash away the crimson stain of sin. Do not be deceived by those who throw a few verses of Scripture out of context to claim that water baptism is necessary to receive salvation. That is simple hogwash because such claims are not congruent with the context of Scripture. Baptism is an act of obedience to Jesus in whom our heavenly Father has given all authority.
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“God never leaves you nor forsakes you.” I’ve heard that before. “Jesus will leave the 99 to come after you.” I’ve heard that one too. Meanwhile, fear creeps up when life hurls a season of loneliness our way, and poof! Churchy sayings hold as much weight as thin air. Believe it or not, God is cheering us on and inviting us to thrive amidst the loneliness. Yes, it’s weird and scary, but this emptiness is a safe space where you get to hear the God of everything speak the loudest. You’re safe because God is so good at owning goodness amidst our dank, confused, lonely seasons, and because of Him, you aren’t so by yourself.”