Jesus’ Baptism in the Jordan

Jesus came … and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.’ ”

- Mark 1:9-11

Enemies of Christ frequently attack the four Gospels, accusing them of not giving us an accurate account of Jesus’ life. In response to these charges, one of the strongest arguments for the historical veracity of the Gospels is their inclusion of stories that would have been set aside if these books had been designed as propaganda. For example, we find in today’s passage the account of Jesus’ baptism by John in the Jordan River. Given that John preached “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4), this story raises questions that someone with no interest in history would want to avoid. Christians have always confessed the sinlessness of Christ (see 1 Peter 2:22), so Jesus’ baptism introduces potential problems, as on first glance it seems to imply that Jesus needed to repent. Certainly, no believer would have purposely invented such an episode, for to do so introduces unnecessary difficulties. The account of Jesus’ baptism indicates that the Evangelists felt bound to tell us what really happened in the life of Christ even if it might raise questions. They were historians as much as they were theologians.

Still, we need to discern why Jesus was baptized if He is, in fact, sinless. First, in light of everything the Bible teaches about our Lord, we must agree with John Calvin that “the general reason why Christ received baptism was, that he might render full obedience to the Father.” Jesus saw His baptism as fulfilling “all righteousness” (Matt. 3:15); it was part of His vocation to obey every commandment God gave Israel. As Dr. R.C. Sproul has frequently noted, Christ had to keep every stipulation the Lord has given His people in order to secure a perfect righteousness for us before God. God sent John the Baptist to command the Jews to be baptized in preparation for the arrival of His kingdom, so Jesus, as our Savior, had to keep that command.

Christ’s perfectly keeping the law of God falls under the category of what theologians call His “active obedience.” It was not enough for Jesus to suffer and die as the substitute for sinners. The atonement provides for our forgiveness, which is of course necessary, but the Lord demands more than a clean slate from us. Just as Adam had to actively obey God in order to pass His probation in the garden (Gen. 2–3), so men and women must have a positive record of righteous obedience in order to be citizens of heaven. By faith alone, Christ’s perfect record is credited to us (2 Cor. 5:21).

Coram Deo

Jesus not only died for us; He also lived for our sake. His death on the cross is meaningless without His perfect life of obedience that qualifies Him as the spotless Lamb of God and attains the righteousness for believers that we could never attain for ourselves. Jesus has done what we cannot do, so we can be confident of our salvation if we trust in Him. God the Father sees us in Christ, His Son who never failed, so He cannot cast us out of His kingdom if we receive and rest on Christ alone.

Passages for Further Study

Deuteronomy 5:32
Matthew 5:17
Luke 3:21–22
John 1:24–28

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