“Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him.
But John forbad him saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?
And Jesus answering said unto him Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness. Then he suffered him.
And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water:
And, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
Important word here, for it points out especially two things. First, it refers back into the preceding context and has special reference to John. Then—that is, when John was baptizing in the Jordan; when John was in the full height of his activity; when he was about to reach the highest purpose of his calling, namely, to point out the Christ and to open the door for the Messiah and discover Him to the people. Then cometh Jesus. But in the second place, the word also has reference to Jesus. As we saw in our last Meditation, already at the age of twelve He was deeply conscious of His Messianic calling. How much surer He must be now that He is thirty years of age and ready to begin His public ministry. It means, too, that He fully understood the mission of His forerunner, and that it was the proper time for Him to come to John to be baptized.
Then cometh Jesus unto John with the expressed purpose to be baptized of him! Never did the Lord do anything without design. So also here He came to be baptized because His baptism was essential to His ministry. Shall He establish the house of God’s covenant, shall He realize the kingdom of heaven, He could do this only through the way of His own baptism. Shall He fulfill all righteousness, the, righteousness of the kingdom of heaven, even that kingdom He could not enter except through His own blood of which the baptism of John was the proper sign. In seeking the baptism of John therefore, Jesus formally entered upon the way of suffering in perfect obedience unto the Father.
But how strange!
Do we not meet here another of those apparent paradoxes so often evident in the life of the Saviour?
Observe that John’s baptism was unto remission of sins. This presupposes, first of all, sin on the part of him who was to be baptized. Surely the righteous need no repentance, nor remission of sins. Did not the Lord Himself teach this when publicans and sinners drew near for to hear Him, and He was criticized by the murmuring Pharisees and Scribes because He received sinners and ate with them? When He related to them the parable of the lost sheep, did He not say in conclusion: “I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance?” Indeed, the just, the righteous need no repentance, for they have no sin. Only sinners need to repent. And this was the heart of John’s message: “O, generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance!” Only those, therefore, who were sinners were to be baptized by John.
Not only so, but this presupposes also, in the second place, the consciousness of sin on the part of him who sought to be baptized: For this reason the self-righteous Pharisee rejected John’s baptism. Only those who knew they were sinners came to him. And these earnestly desired forgiveness, felt the need of cleansing, and saw in John’s baptism the sign of sanctification and righteousness.
But none of this seems to be applicable to Jesus! He had no sin! Was He not the Holy Child Jesus, conceived and born of the Holy Ghost? Was He not without the sin and guilt of the race because He was born without the will of man? And did He not later, when confronted by His adversaries exclaim: “Which of you accuses me of sin?” And does not all the Scripture testify that
He knew no sin? that He was holy, undefiled, and separated from sinners? Is it not plain that He personally had no need of forgiveness and had therefore no consciousness of repentance? But why, then, should He seek the sign of forgiveness, evident in the baptism of John?
Not surprising it is therefore when we note in the text that John forbad Him, saying, “I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?”
The meaning is, John tried to prevent it. He was not easily persuaded. Though the narrative here is limited as far as the conversation is concerned between John and Jesus, it is not impossible to conclude that John did all he could to dissuade the Lord from His purpose. Perhaps even we may conceive of him as unwittingly standing in the room of the Tempter, to distract the Lord from the path of obedience. John simply could not understand how that One Who was holy and without sin should seek the very sign of washing away of sins, and need therefore the grace of repentance. That he was a sinner and in need of the sign of baptism, he was quite ready to admit, but that Jesus must be baptized he could not understand. And since he had instructed the people that he had baptized with water unto repentance, and that there was One coming after him Who is mightier than John, Whose shoes he was unworthy to bear, and Who would baptize with the Holy Ghost and with fire—therefore Jesus ought rather to baptize him In the presence of Jesus, John saw his own sin pronounced. How then could a sinful man baptize his sinless Lord?
What appears, however, as a paradox, is only apparent—not real! O, indeed, it was proper and necessary that Jesus be baptized!
Not, mark, you, if He were to be considered merely as an individual! For then, indeed, He was not a proper candidate for baptism. To be sure, He was holy and undefiled, without sin, and in no need of repentance and forgiveness at all. But so He should not be reckoned. Nor did He so regard Himself here.
As the Head of His Church He ought to be baptized!
For as such, all the sins of His people rested upon Him!
That is why when He was eight days old, being under the law He had to be circumcised. And being the end of the law, it was necessary for Him now to be baptized.
We must remember here that the Lord could not enter into His own kingdom except through His own blood! That made His baptism, unique, in that it was the sign of baptism in His own blood. This was the baptism of which the baptism of John was but a sign. His real baptism was His descension into death and rising from death again. Of this He spoke later in a conversation with the two sons of Zebedee, who had asked that they might sit on His right and left side when He would come into His kingdom. He asked them whether they were able to drink of the cup He drank of, referring to His crucifixion and death.
Christ’s death and resurrection was the essential element in His ministry. Of this He was deeply conscious now as He began His public ministry. If He would not die he could not bring about the kingdom concerning which He would now preach. It was proper, therefore, that He should be baptized of John.
Thus it behooved John and Jesus to fulfill all righteousness!
Observe how Jesus does not say: “It is fitting that I should fulfill all righteousness”, but He states expressly: “It becometh us to fulfill all righteousness.”
John must function here as the porter who opens the door of the sheepcote so that the Shepherd might enter to lead out His sheep unto everlasting salvation. If John should fail now, all his baptisms would be a lie, for they would never be baptisms unto the remission of sin. And Jesus must function here as the Shepherd Who through His laying down of His life for the sheep can only redeem them. And the path of obedience that must lead to the cross and the resurrection must go through the door of His baptism, which was the symbol of His redeeming death and resurrection.
Thus, and thus only, would all righteousness be fulfilled!
So, by His death and perfect obedience, God’s justice over against our sin and guilt could be satisfied. Only in this way could the righteousness of God which He prepared and purposed to impure unto all His own be realized.
No, you understand, did Jesus imply that all righteousness would be fulfilled merely in His baptism; but in that which His baptism signified and pointed to; namely, as the Head of His people to stand under the vials of God’s holy wrath, which was due to us, and allow in the way of perfect love all those vials of wrath to be emptied on His sacred head in our stead. So, and only so, would all righteousness be fulfilled!
Then John suffered Him!
Significantly we are told in Luke’s Gospel that before Jesus was baptized He prayed. Evidently this He did as He descended with John into the waters of the Jordan, as a sign of what later as the obedient Servant He would do when He would descend into the Jordon of His death. Praying He was for the Spirit of God without measure which could consecrate, anoint and qualify Him to fulfill all righteousness in the way of perfect obedience.
And the Father heard His prayer!
The obedience of His Servant was acknowledged!
For the Father left Him not without witness! As He ascended from the water of baptism, the heavens opened and He saw the Spirit of God descending as it were a dove, coming upon Him. And behold a voice out of heaven was saying: “This is My Beloved Son in Whom I am well pleased.”
Significantly John also bare witness to this anointing of the Spirit and received a special testimony that this Jesus was indeed the Son of God. In the Gospel of John we read: “And John bare record, saying: I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him. And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me: Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost.”
Undoubted sign and testimony it was, too, to the Savior, Who had now formally set His feet on the path of obedience that must ultimately lead Him to the death of the cross, that, as God’s beloved Son in Whom He was well pleased, He would indeed fulfill all righteousness.
Undoubted sign and testimony also unto us, His redeemed people, that in the baptism of Jesus, beautiful Savior, we also have assurance that the house of God’s everlasting covenant shall be filled, and that we shall dwell in that house because of the righteousness which God prepares through His Beloved Son, and imputes unto us by the Spirit of Christ, Who was qualified to be our perfect Savior.
Indeed, through Him all our righteousness is fulfilled!
In God’s dear Son, through Whom He realizes all His good pleasure, and will therefore save us without any works of righteousness which we could not perform, is all the righteousness we need—both now, and unto all eternity.
Thanks be unto His Holy Name!