Have you ever wondered why Jesus was baptized at the onset of His public ministry for He was one who knew no sin and was not in need of repentance like that of sinful mankind? This even took John the Baptist by surprise for he clearly recognized his need to be baptized by Jesus for though Jesus was without sin, John knew he was one among sinners. In reading the passage of scripture, one can easily see John’s feeling of being inadequate to baptize the One whom he knows to be the Messiah – the Lamb of God.
John said, “I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?” (Matthew 3:14)
John is truly perplexed by what the Lord is about to do and he tries to prevent Jesus from going through with it as if to say, “Lord, why do you come to me for baptism, as I am a mere sinner who is in dire need of being baptize by You!”
Jesus Himself tells us why He was baptized when He said to John, “Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” (Matthew 3:15)
When we research the word “righteousness” in the original Greek language, we learn that it translates to the word “dikaiosune” and is pronounced “dik-ah-yos-oo'-nay.” It is defined as being the condition acceptable to God or the doctrine concerning the way in which man may attain a state approved of God.
This begs the question being what condition is Jesus referring to and to answer this, we must turn back the pages of scripture to the Book of Exodus. Chapter 29 teaches us about the consecration of men who were about to enter into the Priesthood to serve God.
As we know Jesus was about to begin His public ministry and odd as it might sound, enter into the Priesthood. Thus, He proceeded to fulfill the legal requirements set forth by God under Old Testament Law being washed with water and anointed with oil.
“Then you shall bring Aaron and his sons to the doorway of the tent of meeting and wash them with water.” (Exodus 29:4)
Notice that Aaron and his sons did not wash themselves, but were washed by others at the doorway of the tent of meeting, which was a public setting. This was no doubt a humbling experience for who can come before the Lord without first being humble and is not a humbled nature a change in a person’s inward self?
“Then you shall take the anointing oil and pour it on his head and anoint him.” (Exodus 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 upon the Priest.
We see these requirements fulfilled in the baptism of Jesus where He first humbles Himself by partaking in John’s baptism. He did so right along with the crowd of repentant sinners also being baptized though Jesus Himself was sinless.
“After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as 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.’” (Matthew3:16-17)
Now hold the phone there Darryl you 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, I agree being Jesus was fully God, but He was also fully man and thereby fulfilled the legal requirements for a man to enter the priesthood.
Jesus was and 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.” (Psalm 110:4)
Jesus told John that His baptism was fitting to fulfill the righteousness of God. In doing so, we see, or rather read, that God the Father immediately acknowledged satisfaction with His beloved Son of whom He said He was well-pleased.
Under the Old Testament Law, the ordained priest would perform the various sacrificial offerings to the Lord – the spilling of blood. He did this on behalf of himself, his family and all the people for it was through the shedding of blood that atonement was made for the sins of the people.
The high priest would enter the inner-most room of the tabernacle called the holy of holies once a year and make the sacrificial atonement for all the people of Israel. This served to remind the people that the day in and day out sacrifices only covered their sins temporarily. It also served to point the way towards the promised Messiah – the One who would save the people from their sins forever.
As we have noted, Jesus fulfilled the legal requirements for a man to enter the priesthood and He not only became, but is our High Priest. He went on to offer Himself as the perfect sacrifice on an old rugged cross whereby the spilling of His precious blood made atonement for the sins of all people of all generations. For you and for me He did this once and for all - Yes, Jesus paid it all and all to Him we owe.
Let us now answer the overarching question being what is the meaning of baptism today?
There seems to be 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 one to be saved whereas the other cites it as an act of obedience to what the Lord 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.” (Matthew 3:11)
John’s baptism was one that served as an outward sign of an individual’s inward penitent heart and true desire to be obedient to the Lord. John clearly alludes to the fact that Jesus will baptize believers not with water, but with the Holy Spirit and fire.
You see, when a person accepts Jesus as Savior and Lord, he/she is baptized with the Holy Spirit who then indwells within and guides them in their Christian walk for as the Apostle Paul said we are of one Lord, one faith, and one baptism. (Ephesians 4:5)
Then why do we baptize by immersion in water you might ask, and it is because Jesus commanded it to be so in 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.” (Matthew 28:19)
A new believer is baptized, that is by immersion in water, because this unites that person with Jesus in his/her death to sin and resurrection to his/her new life. It signifies his/her submission to the Lord and inner-desire to be obedient to what He commands.
One might even say it is so we might also fulfill the righteousness of Christ i.e. attain a state approved of Him. I mean after all Jesus commanded this of us and like He was obedient to what God commanded for a man to enter the priesthood, so we should also be obedient to what Christ commands of us for it is fitting that we do so – would you not agree?
Water baptism is not a necessity for one to be saved for it is only by the atoning work of Christ on the cross that is the shedding of His blood that can wash away the crimson stain of sin.
Do not be deceived by those who throw out a few scriptures here and few there claiming that water baptism is necessary for you to be saved, as this is simply not congruent with the context of God’s word.
About the Author: My name is Darryl and I am an aspiring pastor, a writer and dedicated servant of God sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. I write/publish a weekly devotional study titled, "Thought of the Week" and you can find me on the web at http://thoughtof-theweek.blogspot.com. I hope you can visit soon and God bless.