It’s easy to look at Christ’s baptism and think it’s primarily an example to teach us about how we ought to do baptism. Of course Christ’s baptism has something to teach us about our baptism. But before we can understand our baptism we really need to understand his.
John the Baptist camped out in the desert, preaching and baptizing crowds of people for the forgiveness of their sins. His ministry had laser-beam focus. The task of preparing God’s people for the coming Messiah consumed him.
And then the Messiah arrives! And he is baptized like everyone else? Why would the already holy Son of God need to be baptized for the forgiveness of his sins? He doesn’t have sin. And wasn’t everyone being baptized and forgiven precisely because the Holy Messiah King was coming?
It makes no sense. And that’s why we see John’s brain short-circuit in Matthew’s account of this story (Matt 3:14). John, like us, can’t figure out why the King needs baptism.
Yet, after Jesus has been baptized, heaven’s door swings open, God speaks and the the Holy Spirit descends, anointing Jesus. Indeed this is the Holy Messiah (Anointed One), the King that Israel has been waiting for!
But he was revealed as King through being baptized like everyone else, like a sinner. Unlike any king before him, his path to kingship was through intimate identification with sinners. Instead of arriving with a glorious army to crush his enemies, he was plunged (aka baptized) into the sinful condition of his enemies and in doing so, was coronated as King.
This mystery is solved when we realize that Jesus’ baptism points forward to the cross. In fact, Jesus specifically calls the cross a baptism. “I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished (Luke 12:50)!” On the cross the Holy One, the Anointed King, was plunged into your sin, grave, and death. And three days later God spoke again. Instead of heaven, this time it was the grave’s iron clad door that was unlocked and opened. The Spirit that had descended before, now empowered Jesus to rise as King over sin and death. Indeed Jesus is the Holy Messiah, the King that we have been waiting for!
Father Kurt is the Pastor of Light of Christ Anglican Church in Georgetown, TX