Notes on Matthew 3.13-17   The Baptism of Jesus    12 January 2014

Jesus and his family returned from Egypt and settled in Nazareth, in Galilee (2.23). John the Baptist  ministered in the wilderness of Judea and baptised people in the Jordan river (3.1,6). Jesus then came from Galilee to the Jordan (about 120 km) to be baptised by John (3.13). After the baptism Jesus was led into  the wilderness to be tested (4.1). After the testing in the wilderness, when he heard that John had been arrested, he returned to Galilee (4.12). This seems to be a special trip south and focusses our attention on the two big events that happened there.

The baptism and testing of Jesus come at the beginning of Jesus ministry. This helps us understand what happened at his baptism. We have been told already that John was calling on people to repent, to confess their sins and to be baptised (3.2,5). Jesus wants to be baptised as well. But John has told the crowds that Jesus will baptise with the Holy Spirit and fire (3.11). John doesn’t think Jesus should be baptised in water by John. Especially since John’s baptism is about repentance.

This is one of our problems with it too. Why would Jesus, who did not sin, want to be baptised? What sins would he have to repent of?

There are two important things in this passage.

First, Jesus says his baptism is to “fulfill all righteousness” (3.15). John has already begun the task of bring the people back into the righteous ways of the kingdom (3.2-3). But true righteousness will need more than repentance and baptism. It will need what baptism points to: a death to the sinful life and a resurrection to a new life. And it will need a sinless person to take the whole race to that death and resurrection. Jesus is showing, in advance, by way of an acted picture, what he will do to fully bring God’s people to the righteousness of the kingdom of God.

Second, the baptism is the occasion when the Holy Spirit comes on Jesus.  This is also a puzzle. The voice from heaven says, “This is my Son…” But if he is the Son of God, why does he need the Holy Spirit to come on him? From one point of view he doesn’t. However from the point of view of being the Messiah, he does. This could be understood as the anointing of the Messiah (Messiah, and Christ mean “anointed”). The Spirit will be the one who leads and gives power to his ministry. Straight after this we are told that the Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness to be tested (4.1). In this case Father Son and Holy Spirit are all involved at the start of Jesus’ ministry. What he will do is being done together with Father and Holy Spirit.