Why did Jesus get baptized by John? Why would Jesus even “need” to be baptized? What was the point for Him? I have always been puzzled by this.
Most theologians suggest that Jesus did this to symbolically identify with sinners that would one day follow Him, and that it was a symbolic foretelling of His death, burial, and resurrection. This is good, but the problem for me is that Jesus always did things that had a basis in present need. Everything He did contained a present-moment application and not just pure symbolism or identification.
The result of His baptism was the very vocal affirmation from His heavenly Father. “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.”–Matt. 3:17. This was not a symbolic voice! It was a real voice for a very real and vitally important event! This very real voice from heaven gave a huge stamp of approval concerning the baptism of Jesus.
What was so important about this baptism that it caused the heavens to speak? Are you still going to maintain that it was just a symbolic act of obedience, or will you open your eyes to a heaven-shaking event? As I have pondered Matthew chapter 3, the dots started connecting, and I would like to present why I think Jesus submitted to John’s baptism.
First, we need to change our thinking and begin to whittle down our thoughts about the essential basic meaning of John’s baptism. The Apostle Paul convincingly draws the most narrow line and gives us a one-word border to John’s baptism by saying in Acts 19:4, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance”. Get this into your head. Paul is explaining John’s baptism in its most elemental form and uses one word by itself; repentance: nothing more, nothing less. If it was ALWAYS a “baptism of repentance from sin” then Jesus would neither qualify or be able to submit Himself to such contradiction. God is not the author of confusion. Jesus was sinless. Jesus was not submitting to something that would tell everyone, “I’m turning from my sin”. So for Jesus, it was not a baptism of repentance from sin, (but it was for everyone else Luke 3:3). However, you would not be wrong if you said that Jesus was doing something to tell everyone that a big turn or a “metanoia”was taking place.
We often associate the word “repentance” with sin and condemnation. The actual word by itself has nothing to do with either sin or condemnation. Can you repent without having to repent of a sin? Yes! Let me explain: Do you ever change your mind? Have you ever changed your job? Do you ever change from what you are doing? That is repentance! That is “metanoia”! The Greek word for repentance is “metanoia”. That means “to change your mind”. In the Greek, John’s baptism was a baptism of “metanoia”. It was a baptism of changing your mind, which results in a change of action.
Jesus didn’t need to turn from sin like everyone else, but He did need to “metanoia” in order “to fulfill all righteousness” (Matt. 3:15). What is the antonym for the word “fulfill”? The opposite of fulfill is to halt. Something had been halted or delayed that prevented the “fulfilling of all righteousness”. In order to fulfill righteousness, He had to change from what He had been doing in the past, and now do the business that needed to be done.
What had Jesus been doing in the past? When Jesus was twelve, He knew that He was made to fulfill the Father’s business, but He discovered that the timing was wrong. The story goes like this:
And when He became twelve, they went up there according to the custom of the Feast; 43and as they were returning, after spending the full number of days, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. But His parents were unaware of it, 44but supposed Him to be in the caravan, and went a day’s journey; and they began looking for Him among their relatives and acquaintances. 45When they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem looking for Him. 46Then, after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. 47And all who heard Him were amazed at His understanding and His answers. 48When they saw Him, they were astonished; and His mother said to Him, “Son, why have You treated us this way? Behold, Your father and I have been anxiously looking for You.” 49And He said to them, “Why is it that you were looking for Me? Did you not know that I had to be in My Father’s house?” 50But they did not understand the statement which He had made to them.
He found that He needed to go home and stay in submission to the will of His parents. He needed to make it His business to think about pleasing them and not keep them in terror and worry. From that point, His mind was set on pleasing them. Listen to the rest of the story:
51And He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and He continued in subjection to them. His mind was set on staying in Nazareth and doing what needed to be done to live under their roof.
What was the purpose of John the Baptist? Part of it was to “make His paths straight”. the Greek word for “straight” is euthus. Euthus means “without delay” “without detour”. John’s purpose was to move Jesus out of the delay, out of the detour.
Jesus had now been settled in Nazareth for many years as the carpenter’s son, but it was time for Him to move out of the comfort zone. Making a change or performing “metanoia” is repentance. Jesus repented. You may be saying, “Brother Dan, I’m not comfortable with saying that Jesus repented.” Well then, you are not comfortable with the many Old Testament scriptures which say that God repented, God relented, changed His mind, God backed-off, changed plans. God’s character never changes, but directions and plans do get tweaked.
If you say that Jesus didn’t undergo a “metanoia”, then the baptism of Jesus by John was a useless sham, a political crowd-identifying ploy, a fraudulent display, and a huge contradiction of terms.
The change in direction was immediate! Mark 1:12 tells us that after His baptism, the Spirit “immediately” led him into the wilderness. I don’t think this was something Jesus had marked in advance on his daily list of things-to-do. The directional change was immediate! I don’t think that Jesus had been packing his suitcase for days in advance. This leading was “immediate”. He was given a moment’s notice. The rudder in Jesus ship had just set Him on a new course.
If Jesus didn’t metanoia or repent, then he didn’t stop being a carpenter; he never switched jobs to become a traveling messenger; he remained quietly obscure and didn’t become a lightening-rod public figure; he stayed in Nazareth living with his mother and never left home to go about recruiting followers. If Jesus didn’t undergo “metanoia” (repentance), then He continued to use His hands to pound nails with hammers instead of giving up those precious hands to be pounded with nails by hammers. If Jesus didn’t repent (metanoia), then He doesn’t know what it is like to give up everything you are comfortable with doing, and launch into the uncharted. If Jesus didn’t change, then he went immediately back to Nazareth instead of following the Spirit directly into the harsh Wilderness for forty days. If Jesus didn’t repent, then He is not your High Priest who understands your weaknesses and knows what it is like to have to undergo the drastic changes that come with repentance.
Jesus understands drastic life changes. Jesus understands repentance. Jesus underwent the utter baptism of metanoia. Jesus epitomized the meaning of John’s baptism. Jesus showed us what metanoia really looks like. He showed us how to do it.
The Baptism of Jesus wasn’t a symbolic event. It was a deep and drastic repentance or change for Him. It was leaving the comforts of home, financial security, and a normal life free from persecution. It was repenting from drinking Mom’s soup in Nazareth to eventually facing a cup in Gethsemane that He would rather pass up.
Are you facing hard changes and choices? Jesus experienced metanoia. Take courage, Jesus gets it! He will walk with you and show the way. No one understands drastic changes and hardships any better than Jesus Christ. NOW you understand.
Are you addicted? Jesus went through the baptism of metanoia followed by a 40 day, cold-turkey, withdrawl period from food, water, and comfort. He gets it. NOW you understand.
Do you need to repent from something? Jesus KNOWS the experience. Do you want to follow Jesus? He’s knows your path.
What do you need? He knows the way, and He is the Way. Be bold and step forward in the power of His might. Follow this Man. My desire is that everyone would know why He was baptized and how much He understands the changes that we all must make. Maybe you will share this with others who need to know this level of His understanding.