“Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ Jesus replied, ‘Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfil all righteousness.’ Then John consented” (Matthew 3:13-15).
“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are, yet he did not sin (he was without sin). Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:14-16).
“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that, in him, we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
John recognized that there was something very special about Jesus. We wonder what John was really saying, when he said to Jesus, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” Was he simply recognizing that Jesus was much holier than he was? or Is there a hint of something much more than that?
Hebrews 4:15 tells us that Jesus was “without sin.” “Without sin”: this is much more than being “much holier than John.” “Without sin”: since Jesus had no sin, there was no need for him to be baptized for the forgiveness of his own sins. If Jesus was “without sin”, why did he come to John for baptism? Jesus did more than showing us a sinless life, In 1 Timothy 1:15, we read these words, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”
“To save sinners”: What does this mean? When we read the words of 2 Corinthians 5:21, we catch a glimpse of what becoming the Saviour of sinners meant for Jesus Christ, the sinless Son of God. Jesus became sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God in him.
Taking together the phrases, “Christ Jesus came itno the world” and “so that, in him, we might become the righteousness of God”, we return to the brief conversation that took place between John and Jesus, just before Jesus was baptized in the River Jordan.
From the start of Jesus’ life on earth, there was this great purpose of God: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” How was he to save sinners? It was by “becoming sin for us.” What was to be the oucome of his becoming sin for us? In him, we become the righteousness of God. How does this help us to understand the deeper meaning of Jesus’ baptism? When we read Jesus’ words, “it is proper for us to fulfil all righteousness”, we may be inclined to think that all he was saying was this, “We need to be seen to be doing the right thing.” Was this all that there was to Jesus’ baptism: being seen to be doing the right thing? When we read Paul’s words, in 1 Timothy 1:15 and 2 Corinthians 5:21, we see things differently. The baptism of Jesus is viewed as part of God’s way of saving sinners, part of the process by which Jesus became sin for us so that, in him, we might become the righteousness of God.” What was Jesus doing at the time of his baptism? He was doing what needed to be done for the salvation of sinners. He was taking our sin upon himself so that, in him, we might become the righteousness of God in him. By viewing Jesus’ baptism, we are emphasizing the continuity that there is between Jesus’ baptism and his crucifixion and death.
How did Jesus come to his baptism? Did he come as a sinner in need of salvation? No. He came as the Saviour who brings salvation to sinners. How did he bring salvation to sinners? He did this by becoming sin for is so that, in him, we might become the righteousness of God. The full meaning of what he did for us is revealed at the cross, but it did not begin with Jesus’ suffering and death. We go back much further than that. His whole life was part of this work of providing salvation for sinners.To save sinners: that was why he came into this world, and that’s why he was baptized.