Episode 41 - The Baptism of Jesus - Opening Up the Gospels

In Episode 40 I gave an introduction to the major section of the Gospels we’re going to be looking at for the rest of the series – the public ministry of Jesus. I talked about how we’re going to look at it in six distinct periods, each just named after the time period within the whole of his ministry and the general location He is ministering in. Today I want look at first time we see Jesus since He was twelve years old. I want to look at His baptism from Matthew 3 and Luke 3. And as I said in the last episode about this event, we have to remember that there was a real morning in history where Jesus really woke up, put on clothes, and began his walk to the Jordan river to be baptized. And it was because of that moment that everything changed and the human story from that point forward would be different. As we approach the Gospels in this episode, let’s not forget that fact. Let’s begin reading today in Matthew 3: “Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented.” (Matthew 3:13–15 ESV) Before we start looking at the scene, I want to place it chronologically and geographically. To me it seems like this would have occurred sometime at the beginning of the year 27AD. I don’t have time to do all the math and give you all the facts in this episode, but you can check out all of the scholarship on your own if that interests you. The key timing indicators to keep in mind would be the death of Herod in 4BC, which again meant that Jesus was born perhaps in 5BC, the notice in John 2 that says it had been 46 years since the Temple construction had begun, and also what Luke 3:23 says – that Jesus was about 30 when he began his ministry. Now I think this date of 27AD is likely, but by no means do I want to be definitive or dogmatic about it. I just think that it has to be close to that time. Now what about geographically, what do the Gospels tell us? Well I’ve already mentioned this briefly in Episode 33, but John 1:28 placed John the Baptist in Bethany beyond the Jordan when the priests and Levites came to him. As you can see, this is an area at the mouth of the Jordan north of the Dead Sea. This area is the most probable site for Jesus’ baptism. Now as we begin to look at the scene, let’s talk about the two main characters for a second – Jesus and John. What sort of interaction did they have before this day? Remember the last 30 years of Jesus’ life – his birth, his upbringing. There’s real context to this day. And don’t forget that both of these guys’ moms were related, which of course means Jesus and John are related in some way. I talked about that back in Episode 14 with Mary and Elizabeth. Jesus and John were born probably less than a half a year apart. But we have no information from the Gospels on if or how these two interacted as they grew up. And there is a slight tension between Matthew’s account and John’s account of Jesus’ baptism. Matthew gives the impression that John knew Jesus, but John gives the impression that he didn’t know him. Regardless of that, John must have at least known the story of Jesus’ birth, perhaps because his parents Zechariah and Elizabeth had told him what Mary said about who Jesus was going to be. Again this is speculation, but if this is true, it seems to resolve the tension between Matthew and John’s gospel if we presume that John knew the promises of Jesus’ birth but hadn’t yet received the sign of the Spirit descending like a dove that would confirm that Jesus was in fact the one whom he was called to prepare the way for. Let’s talk about the significance of Jesus’ baptism for a second. There’s been so much confusion about why Jesus was baptized. But here I think we can dispel much of that confusion by remembering two points that I’ve emphasized much in past episodes: first, that this is God in the flesh we’re looking at, and Jesus didn’t need to repent of anything. And second, the significance of John’s ministry that I talked about in episode 36, 37, and 38. Remember, John is baptizing and saying “someone is coming who will bring division to Israel and will be the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit and who baptizes with fire, so bear the fruits of repentance.” As the one to whom John was pointing, it makes sense that Jesus, through his baptism, would authenticate John’s ministry, that he would show it forth to be from heaven and ordained by God. Jesus is truly the elect of God, the true seed of Abraham, the one who would both receive and enact the promises God made. And in light of that, His baptism was a sign to the people of Israel who had been baptized by John that these things were actually true. This is why Jesus says ““Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” If you put those words in context to the Old Testament, the story of Israel, and the idea of election and God winnowing down humanity and clarifying those who would inherit the promises, it make so much more sense. Jesus is clarifying who the elect are and who He was as the seed of Abraham. Let’s keep going in Matthew 3: “And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”” (Matthew 3:16–17 ESV) I love this part of Jesus’ baptism. As He’s coming up from the water, the heavens are opened and the Father not only declares his pleasure over Him but also confirms that Jesus is indeed His son. I’ll talk about that specifically in a moment, but I think there are a couple important points we have to see here beyond a general statement from the Father saying “I really like you Jesus, you’re pretty awesome.” First, this is only one of three occurrences in the Gospels where the Father speaks from the heavens. So this automatically adds weight to what is being spoken. It’s important to note that at this point, Jesus had not yet done one miracle or preached one sermon, at least that we know of. So some of this pleasure could be related to the way Jesus has carried Himself in humility and meekness for the last 30 years. But we also can’t forget that this is God in the flesh we’re looking at. So the pleasure the Father is expressing is a pleasure and delight that the Godhead has had together from before the foundation of the world. Remember Jesus’ words in John 17:24? He said to the Father: “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.” (John 17:24 ESV) Now what about the words “this is my beloved Son”? I think the divine identity of Jesus is surely in view here, but I think there’s something just as important that many have missed because we’ve lost the context of Jesus’ first coming and we’ve obscured the meaning of the word “Christ”, as I talked about in the supplemental episode entitled Biblical Foundations of Messiah and Christ. You can find that episode on my website. Go back and watch it if you haven’t seen it because it’s critical for understanding this scene. Now we have to remember the covenant that God made with David, because there in 2 Samuel 7 He said to David: “… I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son.” (2 Samuel 7:12–14 ESV) Do you see that last phrase? God said about the king of Israel who would come from David’s line: “I will be a father to him and he will be a son to me.” In other words, the relationship between God and this king from David’s line would be like the relationship between a father and a son. Now I don’t think David would have understood that his descendant would be divine because of this statement. Of course we know Jesus to be both the Christ, the king of Israel, and the Lord, God in the flesh, but we can’t let His identity make the Father’s words here at the baptism just be an ambiguous statement and have it disconnected from the story of the the Old Testament. As we’ll see more in some future episodes, here God is confirming the messianic identity of Jesus, calling Him the one who will sit on David’s throne in Jerusalem as the king of Israel per the Davidic covenant. This is one of the main things that the Gospels have been telling us up to this point, and it’s powerfully confirmed again here. Now what happens along with the Father’s voice here is only even more confirming to what I’m saying. Matthew and Luke say that the Spirit descended on Jesus like a dove. This has significant meaning from the Old Testament, specifically from Isaiah 42: “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.” (Isaiah 42:1 ESV) So both the voice of the Father and the Spirit resting on Jesus are confirmations of His identity as both the king of Israel from David’s line who will sit on the throne in Jerusalem and the Servant of Isaiah 42 who will bring justice to the nations. Do you see that? We’ll get to this more later, but it’s so significant that Isaiah would go on to say that this servant would be crushed and bruised. Clearly Jesus isn’t ruling the nations from Jerusalem and bringing forth justice right now, right? It’s because He had to be crushed first. But here at the baptism we can strengthen our confidence that He is the one who will do all that God has promised. I want to mention one more thing that I think is important to understand with this scene, and that has to do with Jesus being “anointed” by the Spirit here at His baptism. I just want to underscore the fact that there is no indication that somehow Jesus was “empowered” at His baptism and could subsequently do miracles because He had the Spirit. As God in the flesh, His relationship to the Spirit is nothing like ours, and I think many have misunderstood the whole idea of Jesus being “anointed”. It’s not like in the Charismatic context, like someone on a platform being “anointed”. We have to go back to the Old Testament in 1 Samuel 16 and remember the picture of Samuel pouring the oil all over David’s head when he was just a young shepherd. Samuel was designating David as the one whom God had chosen to be king of Israel. David didn’t suddenly have superpowers after that day, right? So just as David was designated to be the messiah by the pouring of oil, Jesus receives the anointing from the Spirit as an outward, public designation of His identity. I want to make clear that the idea that Jesus couldn’t do any miracles before his “anointing” at His baptism is absolutely mistaken. That line of thought completely undermines the identity of who Jesus is as God in the flesh and there are so many problems with it.