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Matthew 3:13-17 - The Baptism of Jesus

Matthew 3:13) Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, 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 it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.”  Then he consented.  16) And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove ad alighting on him.  17) And a voice from heaven said, “This is my son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

An Early Church Scandal:  In the early years of the spread of Christianity, when Matthew wrote his gospel, the baptism of Jesus was a well-documented embarrassment.  People were trying to share the gospel with their friends and neighbors and this story kept raising uncomfortable questions such as, “If you want me to be baptized for forgiveness of my sins, why did Jesus need to be baptized?  What was his sin?” And “If you say that in baptism I will become a child of God, then was it Jesus’ baptism that made him God’s son?” And “If Jesus was the great and sinless Son of God, why would he submit to being baptized by John the Baptist? Doesn’t that mean John was superior to Jesus?” Long arguments were made for simply deleting the story from the scriptures because it was too hard to interpret and was becoming a stumbling block of faith. Even so, the story has captured, and captivated, Christians throughout the centuries. It is here that Jesus speaks his first words in Matthew’s gospel and in so doing we see his priority: obedient dedication to doing the revealed will of God.

Active Obedience is an important theme in Matthew. In this text we see that, while Jesus is baptized by John, he is clearly in control of the situation. Jesus, in Galilee, determines that it is time for him to be baptized. He chooses John and convinces the Baptist to do the ceremony. With this action, Jesus’ identity is declared, his public ministry is launched and a new era in salvation history is begun.

John the Baptist, a prophet from the priestly family of Zecharais, was a contemporary and relative of Jesus (about 6 months older). He is reported to have lived some of his adult life as a hermit to prepare himself for his prophetic role. His strange dress, courageous speech, wildly charismatic manner and the common belief that someone great (Messiah) was about to appear to save the people, made him enormously popular. His central message was repentance. He later ran afoul of King Herod’s wife and wound up being beheaded.

Baptism in the time of Jesus was a sign of repentance and washing clean from unrighteousness. Ordinarily a person was baptized by someone who was spiritually greater in order to become a disciple of that teacher.

Word Study

Vs. 15 – us – this word emphasizes the partnership between John and Jesus in this action.  They both are called to obey God and each has a role to play in the unfolding of salvation history.

            Fulfill – this word simply means to do, accomplish or perform

            Righteousness – the revealed will of God in action

Vs. 16 – heavens opened, dove – these were symbols associated with the beginning of that last days. People expected to see this kind of manifestation prior to Messiah’s coming.

Vs. 17 – “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” – This quotation is a combination of Psalm 2:7 and Isaiah 42:1. The Isaiah passage is especially important. It comes from one of the Suffering Servant Songs. For God to use this verse would immediately bring to the peoples’ minds that the Messiah’s identity will be as both Son of God, and Suffering Servant.

Questions for Personal Reflection

  1. If asked to describe yourself, what words would come to your mind? How do you think that God would describe you?
  2. Jesus shows us that obedience is the pathway to revelation and personal mission. How have you experienced this truth in your own life? Have you ever felt that God was calling you to do an uncomfortable, risky or controversial thing? What gave you courage to obey? What do you need in order to obey more consistently today?
  3. In order to obey in this instance, Jesus needed John’s cooperation. Have you ever been in a situation in which you needed someone else’s cooperation in order to do what you thought God wanted you to do?