JESUS AND HIS BAPTISM
Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John to be baptized by him. But John tried to prevent him. “It is I,” he said, “who need to be baptized by you, and are you coming to me?” Jesus answered him, “Let it be just now, for so it befits us to fulfil all righteousness.” Then he allowed Jesus to be baptized. After Jesus had been baptized he came up immediately from the water and, lo, the heavens were opened for John, and he saw the Spirit of God descending, like a dove, and coming upon him. And, lo, there came a voice from heaven, saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved One, in whom I am well pleased.”
When Jesus came to John to be baptized, John was startled and unwilling to baptize him. It was John’s conviction that it was he who needed what Jesus could give, not Jesus who needed what he could give.
Ever since men began to think about the gospel story at all, they have found the baptism of Jesus difficult to understand. In John’s baptism there was a summons to repentance, and the offer of a way to the forgiveness of sins. But, if Jesus is who we believe him to be, he did not stand in need of repentance, and did not need forgiveness from God. John’s baptism was for sinners conscious of their sin, and therefore it does not seem applicable to Jesus at all.
A very early writer suggested that Jesus came to be baptized only to please his mother and his brothers, and that it was in answer to their entreaties that he was almost compelled to let this thing be done. The Gospel according to the Hebrews, which is one of the gospels which failed to be included in the New Testament, has a passage like this: “Behold the mother of the Lord and his brethren said to him, `John the Baptist baptizeth for the remission of sins; let us go and be baptized by him.’ But he said to them, `What sin have I committed, that I should go and be baptized by him? Except perchance this very thing that I have said is ignorance.'”
From the earliest times thinkers were puzzled by the fact that Jesus submitted to be baptized. But there were reasons, and good reasons, why he did.
(i) For thirty years Jesus had waited in Nazareth, faithfully performing the simple duties of the home and of the carpenter’s shop. All the time he knew that a world was waiting for him. All the time he grew increasingly conscious of his waiting task. The success of any undertaking is determined by the wisdom with which the moment to embark upon it is chosen. Jesus must have waited for the hour to strike, for the moment to come, for the summons to sound. And when John emerged Jesus knew that the time had arrived.
(ii) Why should that be so? There was one very simple and very vital reason. It is the fact that never in all history before this had any Jew submitted to being baptized. The Jews knew and used baptism, but only for proselytes who came into Judaism from some other faith. It was natural that the sin-stained, polluted proselyte should be baptized, but no Jew had ever conceived that he, a member of the chosen people, a son of Abraham, assured of God’s salvation, could ever need baptism. Baptism was for sinners, and no Jew ever conceived of himself as a sinner shut out from God. Now for the first time in their national history the Jews realized their own sin and their own clamant need of God. Never before had there been such a unique national movement of penitence and of search for God.
This was the very moment for which Jesus had been waiting. Men were conscious of their sin and conscious of their need of God as never before. This was his opportunity, and in his baptism he identified himself with the men he came to save, in the hour of their new consciousness of their sin, and of their search for God.
The voice which Jesus heard at the baptism is of supreme importance.” This is my beloved Son,” it said, “with whom I am well pleased.” That sentence is composed of two quotations. “This is my beloved Son,” is a quotation from Ps.2:7. Every Jew accepted that Psalm as a description of the Messiah, the mighty King of God who was to come. “With whom I am well pleased” is a quotation from Isa.42:1, which is a description of the Suffering Servant, a description which culminates in Isa.53.
So in the baptism there came to Jesus two certainties–the certainty that he was indeed the chosen One of God, and the certainty that the way in front of him was the way of the Cross. in that moment he knew that he was chosen to be King, but he also knew that his throne must be a Cross. In that moment he knew that he was destined to be a conqueror, but that his conquest must have as its only weapon the power of suffering love. In that moment there was set before Jesus both his task and the only way to the fulfilling of it.
THE TESTING TIME
Step by step Matthew unfolds the story of Jesus. He begins by showing us how Jesus was born into this world. He goes on to show us, at least by implication, that Jesus had to perform faithfully his duties to his home before he began on his duty to the world, that he had to show himself faithful in the smaller tasks before God gave to him the greatest task in all the world.
He goes on to show us how, with the emergence of John the Baptist, Jesus knew that the hour had struck. and that the time had come to enter upon his work. He shows us Jesus identifying himself with a people’s unprecedented search for God. In that moment he shows us Jesus’ realization that he was indeed the chosen one of God, but that his way to victory lay through the Cross.
If any man has a vision, his immediate problem is how to turn that vision into fact; he has to find some way to turn the dream into reality. That is precisely the problem which faced Jesus. He had come to lead men home to God. How was he to do it? What method was he to adopt? Was he to adopt the method of a mighty conqueror, or was he to adopt the method of patient, sacrificial love? That was the problem which faced Jesus in his temptations. The task had been committed into his hands. What method was he to choose to work out the task which God had given him to do?
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