The Baptism of Our Lord
“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 fulfil 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.”
Our Lord Jesus spent the first thirty years of his life on this earth in obscurity. But the time had come for him to embark upon his public ministry and prophetic office. He did so by coming from Galilee to Jordan to be baptized by John the Baptist. We have Matthew’s account of this momentous event in this passage. As the Jewish priest of the Old Testament, when they entered the priestly office, consecrated themselves to God by being washed with water (Ex. 29:4), so our great High Priest began the great work, which he came into the world to accomplish, by consecrating himself to God in public baptism. Being baptized by John the Baptist, our Lord Jesus here sits before us an example of obedience to God, which he later commanded all his disciples to follow.
An Honored Ordinance
“Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him” (v. 13). — Do any imagine that baptism is an insignificant thing? Do any dare assert that this ordinance of Christ is a “non-essential”? The Son of God did not look upon it as such. The journey from Nazareth to Jerusalem took three days. Yet, our Savior took that long journey so that he might be baptized by John the Baptist. I take it, from such an example, that this ordinance of divine worship is not to be lightly esteemed. If Christ our Lord, the Head of the Church, honored the ordinance of baptism by submitting to it, surely all who profess to follow him must do the same.
Two words of caution are necessary because this ordinance has been greatly perverted by lost religious men. (1.) Let us throw away the creeds and confessions of men and simply obey the Word of God as it stands, without addition or alteration. Whenever men begin to tamper with the Word of God souls are ruined. (2.) We must never attach any idolatrous, superstitious importance to the ordinance of baptism. Baptism is a picture of redemption; but baptism is not redemption. Baptism is a picture of the remission of sins; but baptism is not the remission of sins. Baptism is a picture of salvation; but baptism is not salvation.
We are redeemed by the blood of Christ. We are born again by the Spirit of God. We are saved by the grace of God. Baptism pictures and confesses these blessings of grace. But baptism has absolutely no redeeming, saving merit and efficacy!
Yet, we must never dishonor the ordinance of baptism by refusing to submit to it, by making it a mere ritual without meaning, or by altering its form. And we must never allow inconvenience or trouble to keep us from the worship of our God, or from observing this ordinance of divine worship as prescribed and practiced by our Savior.
The Lord Jesus went to considerable trouble and inconvenience to observe this ordinance of worship. Today, multitudes who call themselves believers and followers of Christ quickly justify themselves in the neglect of worship. But you will find no justification for it in the Word of God. — The Shunammite woman rode on horseback every sabbath day to hear God’s prophet at Carmel, though her husband hindered her (2 Kings 4:23). — In David’s time the saints of God “passed through the valley of Baca” to worship God at Zion (Ps. 84:6). — In Daniel’s day believers ran to and fro “to increase knowledge,” to know more of the Lord God (Dan. 12:4). — In Zechariah’s day the inhabitants of one city went to another, saying, “Let us go speedily to pray before the Lord and to seek the Lord of hosts” (Zech. 8:21). — In the Book of Acts we read of the eunuch who journeyed from Ethiopia to Jerusalem to worship God (Acts 8:25). Any man or woman who talks about being a Christian, who talks about worshipping God, who talks about being a believer and yet willfully neglects the worship of God ought to blush with shame!
“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 fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffered him” (vv. 14-15). — It was a great act of condescension and humility for the Son of God to come to John the Baptist to be baptized.
In all things our Savior constantly strikes a blow at our foolish pride. He never misses an opportunity to expose and condemn it, both by his words and by his actions. He constantly teaches all who follow him to walk in humility. Our Savior was ever the meek and lowly one. He was born to lowly parents, laid in a manger, and raised in obscurity. When he rode into Jerusalem as the King of Zion, he rode not upon a white charger, but a lowly ass. And when he began his public ministry, it was not with pomp and pageantry, but by being immersed by a man in a muddy river (2Cor. 8:9).
His servant, John the Baptist, though bold as a lion, was also a man of true humility. When the Lord came to John for baptism, John forbad him. He strenuously objected, not out of a spirit of rebellion, but out of a spirit of reverence and awe. John knew who Christ is. He knew that the man standing before him was the infinite God, his Redeemer and Savior. And he knew himself, too. He knew that he was a sinner in need of grace and a sinner saved by grace, through the merits of the Lamb of God who stood before him.
Though he was conscious of his personal sin and unworthiness to do so, when the Lord commanded him to do it, John baptized him. No man is worthy to do anything in the worship and service of the holy Lord God. Our only worthiness before God is Christ. It is his blood and righteousness alone that makes us “meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light” (Col. 1:12). And it is Christ who makes us worthy to approach our God in all acts of worship. We have no right, in a pretense of humility, to refuse any command or duty clearly set before us by our God.
Why did the Lord Jesus insist upon being baptized by John? He had no sins to confess. He had no transgressions of which to repent. He had no iniquities to be washed away. Yet, he told John that it was necessary for him to be baptized “to fulfil all righteousness.” But what did his baptism have to do with the fulfillment of all righteousness?
We know that our blessed Savior fulfilled all the righteous requirements of God’s holy law for us as our Representative, freeing us from its curse and condemnation by his obedience unto death (Rom. 5:18-21). And he fulfilled all the will of God as the God-man, our Mediator, by which we are forever sanctified (Heb. 10:5-14).
By his baptism, our Savior symbolically fulfilled all righteousness and established as a standing ordinance in his Church that by which believing men and women publicly confess the fulfillment of all righteousness by him. By his baptism the Lord Jesus symbolically demonstrated how he would fulfil all righteousness as our sin-atoning Substitute. And by our baptism we confess the same. “The baptism of Christ,” wrote C. H. Spurgeon, “was the picture, the type, the symbol of the work, which he afterwards accomplished. He was immersed in suffering; he died, and was buried in the tomb; he rose again from the grave; and all that is set forth in the outward symbol of his baptism in the River Jordan.”
Believer’s baptism typically fulfills “all righteousness.” It is an ordinance full of meaning when rightly observed. It is to be reverently observed by all who follow Christ. If our Lord himself submitted to it, we cannot follow him and refuse to submit to it. I quote Spurgeon again. — “Shall I refuse to follow my Lord? Shall I think that there is nothing in an ordinance of which he said, ‘Thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness’?”
When the Lord Jesus was made sin for us, he was slain under the wrath of God, and buried.
When he had put away sin, he rose from the dead because he had accomplished our justification. When believers follow Christ into the watery grave, we publicly acknowledge that our only hope before God is that which he accomplished for us in his death and resurrection as our Substitute. Rising up out of the watery grave, we symbolically avow our allegiance to Christ, walking with him in the newness of life, in hope of the resurrection (Rom. 6:4-6).
“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” (v. 16). While I fully recognize that many oppose our insistence upon baptism as an ordinance for believers only and upon the fact that baptism can only be performed by immersion, it would be treasonous of me not to declare the obvious from this verse. Baptism is immersion. Immersion is not “the Baptists’ mode of baptism.” Immersion is baptism. “Sprinkling” is sprinkling. And “pouring” is pouring. Baptism is immersion.
“Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water.” There is absolutely no reason for Matthew to make that statement except to show us that baptism must be performed by immersion. Without immersion, there is no baptism. John Gill argues…
“We learn this from it, that since it is said, that he came up out of the water, he must first have gone down into it; must have been in it, and was baptized in it…That Christ should go down into the river, more or less deep, to the ankles, or up to the knees, in order that John should sprinkle water on his face, or pour it on his head, as is ridiculously represented, can hardly obtain any credit with persons of thought and sense.”
Baptism is always represented in the Scriptures as a burial (Rom. 6:3-6; Col. 2:12; 1 Cor. 15:1, 29). When you bury a corpse in the earth, you do not throw a few grains of sand in his face. You put him beneath the ground. And a man is not buried in baptism by sprinkling a few drops of water in his face. He must be immersed in water. Any alternation of the baptismal mode is a perversion of the ordinance and a denial of what it represents — The gospel of redemption and righteousness by Christ alone.
“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: (17) And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (vv. 16-17). Here we see the interest of the triune God in the work of redemption (vv. 16-17). Here is a display of the Holy Trinity, an identification of our Lord Jesus as the Messiah, and a declaration from heaven, “this is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.”
Here is everything that is solemn, sublime, and glorious. The scene before us ought to be contemplated with utmost reverence, awe, and adoration. — “For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one” (1 John 5:7). Here the three Persons of the triune God distinctly manifest themselves. God the Father speaks by a voice from heaven. God the Son, incarnate in human flesh, stoops to the watery grave. And God the Holy Spirit descends from heaven in the form of a Dove, lighting upon our blessed Savior.
Here we have a most majestic meeting of the three Persons of the Holy Trinity about the work of redemption. As in the beginning of creation, the triune God said, “Let us make man;” so in the beginning of redemption, he said, “Let us redeem man!” (Eph. 1:3-14). The salvation of our souls is the united work of the Triune God. It was planned and purposed by God the Father. It was purchased and obtained for us by God the Son. And it is performed and sealed in us by God the Holy Spirit.
It is very significant that the man Christ Jesus is here declared to be God the Son, even as he portrays his death, burial and resurrection as our Substitute. He is as fully God in his lowest humiliation as he is in his highest eternal glory. The glory and perfection of our Savior as God in his essential divinity was not even slightly diminished by his incarnation, obedience, and death as our Surety. Whenever we read anything about him in the Book of God that appears to limit his knowledge, power, or being, we must never fail to recognize that such limitations only reflect genuineness of his humanity and his voluntary subjection to the will of God as Jehovah’s righteous Servant for the accomplishment of our redemption. He who is God our Savior is God and man in one glorious person. He is truly and fully and perfectly God. And he is truly and fully and perfectly man. It is he, the GODMAN our Mediator, in whom, and through whom, and by whom we have access to and everlasting acceptance with the eternal God.
There is one more sweet and rapturous fact revealed in verse 17. The declaration of God on this occasion is, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well-pleased.” God the Father is well-pleased with Christ and only with Christ. He is well-pleased with his person, with his obedience, and with his sacrifice pictured in his baptism. God the Father is eternally and infinitely pleased with his Son as his Son. He is eternally pleased and satisfied with his Son as his Servant (Isa. 42:1). He is infinitely and eternally well-pleased with the sacrifice of his Son as the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8). He was well pleased with his assumption of our nature, with his obedience to the law, bringing everlasting righteousness, with him being made sin for us, bearing our sins in his own body on the tree, enduring the penalty and curse of his holy law against sin to the full satisfaction of justice as our Substitute. Yes, the Father is well-pleased with his person, his righteousness, his satisfaction, and his atonement, by which his law is magnified and honored an his justice is satisfied.
But the Voice from heaven did not say, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased.” The Voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well-pleased.” How thankful we ought to be for that. The God of Glory is well-pleased with all who are in his Son because of his Son. He is well pleased with us in Christ, for he has made us “the righteousness of God in him.” God is not only well pleased with his Son and in his Son, he is well-pleased with all his people in his Son. In him he loves us with an everlasting love. As the Son, our Surety, was delighted with us from eternity (Pro. 8:31), so the Father took delight in us, rejoiced over us, accepted us, and blessed us with all spiritual blessings in his Son before the world began (Eph. 1:3-6). And as the Father’s delight in his Son is immutable, so his delight with and pleasure with his elect in his Son is immutable. He shall rejoice over them with joy and singing forever, resting in his love (Zeph. 3:17). Robert Hawker’s reflections on this passage are ought to be the reflections of our hearts after reading it.
“May the Lord mercifully grant, that the whole church of God, through divine teaching, may be enabled to keep in unceasing remembrance, the Father’s testimony to his dear Son. And while my soul, and the souls of all his redeemed, are thus continually hearing, and receiving, the precious assurance of God’s being well pleased with his dear Son, for his redeeming love to his church, and his finished salvation for his people; oh, for grace to love him, whom JEHOVAH, in all the persons of the Godhead, loves; and to delight in Him, in whom JEHOVAH delighteth. Precious Lord Jesus! I would say, ‘Whom have I in heaven but thee; and there is none upon earth my soul desireth but thee. My flesh and my heart faileth: but thou art the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever.’”