Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Gospel Of Mark, Part 3 - The Baptism Of Jesus

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
Mark 1:9-11
With these three verses we come to the Baptism of our Lord. We are not given a lot of detail here, and in fact are probably left with more questions than answers. But let's look at these three verses, and at the surrounding context, and see what we can learn.

We know from the previous passage that John the Baptist was in the wilderness baptizing and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. We know that many were coming to him and were being baptized and were confessing their sins. We know that john said clearly that there was someone coming after him whose sandals he was not worthy to untie and this coming one would not baptize with water as John was doing, but would baptize with the Holy Spirit. It is into this setting that Jesus walks in verse nine where we see that Jesus came from Nazareth and was baptized by John in the Jordan. This is where the questions start. Why was Jesus baptized? And why by John?

Let's start with the second question first because I think it is the easier of the two to answer. We read Mark 1:2-3 a quote from Isaiah 40:3 and Malachi 3:1 where we are told that God would send a messenger, His messenger, before the Messiah to prepare the way for His coming. And that is what john had been doing; he had been preaching that the people needed to repent of their sins - that the forgiveness of sins comes through repentance and turning to God. We looked at this in some detail last time (see The Gospel of Mark, Part 2 - Get Yourselves Ready) so we will not get into that again here, but we still must answer the question why did Jesus come to John to be baptized? Jesus came to John to be baptized as a validation of John's ministry.

The message of Jesus was also the message of repentance and faith, and by Jesus allowing John to baptize Him He was showing the world that the message of John was true, that the ministry of John was valid, and that He was the One for whom John had been preparing the way.

This then brings us to the more difficult question to answer, if John was proclaiming a baptism of repentance from sin (and he did) and Jesus was sinless (and He was), why did He need to be baptized?

We read in Matthew's account of this incident that John tried to prevent this saying that he needed to be baptized by Jesus, but Jesus said that His being baptized by John was fitting to fulfill all righteousness (Matthew 3:13-15). This creates a problem that I think is best expressed by James Boyce in his commentary on Matthew, he writes:
Since John’s baptism was a baptism unto repentance and Jesus had no sin of which to repent, how is it that he sought baptism by John in the first place? And why did he seek this, as he said to John, “to fulfill all righteousness”? How could baptism add anything to the already perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ?
To answer this dilemma we must ask another question: what is baptism? By this I don't mean the mode or method of baptism (i.e. sprinkling or submersion), but what does baptism mean; in other words, why do we do it? Baptism is, at its most basic and fundamental level, a means of identification. What do I mean by this? When we are baptized as a believer in Jesus Christ what we are doing is saying to the world that I now identify my life with His life - I am now identified with Jesus in His life, death, and resurrection. In the same way when the people that John was baptizing were baptized what they were doing was identifying themselves with his message of repentance and making a public statement - by the means of baptism - that they had in fact repented of their sins as John had instructed.

Why is this important? Because when Jesus stepped down into that water to be baptized by John what He was doing was identifying Himself with us. Again James Boyce writes:
In Jesus’ baptism by John, Jesus identified himself with us in our humanity, thereby taking on himself the obligation to fulfill all righteousness so that he might be a perfect Savior and substitute for us.
This does not in any way mean that Jesus had sinned or that He needed to repent of anything as the writer of Hebrews reminds us:

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.
Hebrews 4:15
And the apostle Peter wrote:
He [Jesus] committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth.
1 Peter 2:22
So it was to identify Himself with us that made Jesus go to John, step down into the Jordan River, and be baptized by him. John MacArthur here writes:
Jesus came into the world to identify with men; and to identify with men is to identify with sin. He could not purchase righteousness for mankind if He did not identify with mankind’s sin.
Let me help you see the picture here. When Jesus went to the cross he took upon Himself the sin of the world; He took our sin upon Himself (1 Peter 2:24) and actually became a curse for us (Galatians 3:13). Jesus not only identified with us He literally took the punishment that we deserved and He paid the price that our sin required.

As I said above, when the people came to John to be baptized by him they were symbolically showing that they had repented of their sin. They would go down into the water, John would submerge them showing their death to sin, and they would come up a new person who figuratively speaking was leaving their sin behind in that water. When Jesus - the sinless Son of God - wend down into that water He figuratively took upon Himself the sin that He literally bore on the cross in our place.

Before we move on there is one more thing that this passage teaches us that we need to see and understand, and that is found in verse eleven where John hears a voice out of heaven say to Jesus, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

Why is it important that God the Father was pleased with Jesus, and does it have any implication for us that this was said at this time when Jesus was clearly identifying Himself with us? The reason that this is so important is because apart from Christ we cannot please God in any way. So we can take great comfort in the fact that God is "well pleased" with Him, because when He sees us who have come to Christ is faith and repentance He sees us as being "in Christ" (Romans 6:11; 6:23; 8:1; 2 Corinthians 5:17 and many, many more) and since we are now in Christ we are accepted by God, not based upon our own merit but on the merit of Christ (Ephesians 1:6).

So the next time you read about the Baptism of Jesus I hope that you don't just skim over it, but that you stop, think about what it means, and take a few minutes to thank Jesus for His identifying Himself with us. Then take some time to praise God because when He sees us He is not seeing us in our own merit, but in His beloved Son in whom He is well pleased.

And we can rest because there is nothing we have to do to please Him - Jesus already did it all!
Print This Post

No comments: