“In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens opening 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
Today a friend of mine was hit by a car. After looking both ways, Ed walked in the crosswalk only to be unexpectedly struck by a vehicle that never saw him. Fortunately, he’s going to be fine (the car was turning, and therefore not going very fast). But on top of going through chemo for the last six weeks, this seemed overwhelming for Ed. It’s amazing how things can come out of the blue when we least expect it, and mark us for the rest of our lives.
We don’t know how long John had been baptizing, but one day he had a surprise guest from out of the blue that would blindside the entire course of human history. Jesus shows up to be baptized. Though he’s not repenting of any sin, Jesus chooses to be baptized along with those who needed a second chance with God. But the question we must answer is why? If Jesus was truly sinless, why would he need to be baptized? And for what purpose? Are we missing something?
Perhaps it’s helpful to view this story through the lens of history. One of the landmark moments that forged the identity of Israel was when God delivered them from their tyrant-driven oppressors, the ancient Egyptians. Pressed with their backs to the Red Sea, God parted the waters, enabling them to walk through to the other side. And when the Egyptians tried to follow, the water closed upon them causing them to perish as the trembling Israelites watched. In a very real sense, this was a group-like baptism for the Israelites—they went through the waters united as God’s special people upon the earth.
Many years later when it was time to inherit the Promised Land, there was another parting of the waters. The Jordan River marked a natural barrier that they needed to cross. As they waded into the water, it also parted for them—allowing them to begin their conquest starting with the city of Jericho. Again, we see the same thing: just before God dawns a huge, new chapter for His people, He “baptizes” them.
And now we come to this new episode in the life of God’s people: the arrival of the promised Messiah (deliverer) who undergoes a baptism along with others who are humbly submitted in faith and repentance. As if to show this as a “super-chapter” that exceeds the other ones, God does more than split the waters. He splits the heavens, the source of all waters.
So how does this apply to me and you? What’s the tagline?
First, Jesus’ baptism assures us that he will never ask of us something that he wouldn’t do. He leads us as the Good Shepherd—and this means that he goes before us. Over and over again in the Gospel of Mark, he leads his disciples (see Mark 10.32, 52; 14.28; 16.7). When they try to lead the way, it leads to frustration and failure (Mark 6.45-52). Your job, no matter how low and menial it may be, is not below him. Your circumstances, no matter how depressing are not below his humiliation on the cross for you. He understands and really cares about the daily events in your life—preceding you in each and every one.
It also reminds us that God is doing something new, and it’s reflected in the lives of people who are trusting in Christ. Just as the Spirit of God hovered over the formless void of Genesis 1.2, now God’s Spirit hovers over the life of the person who embraces Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Just as God’s seal of approval is over Christ—that same approval is upon every human soul who places his/her trust in Jesus.
Finally, remember that when the waters of life overwhelm you—and you feel like you’re drowning in circumstances beyond your choosing—know that Jesus is breaking in a new chapter in your faith-journey. Each chapter builds on the last—and the key to moving forward is faith. Jesus is worthy of your faith—even when the waters of chaos surround you. Jesus is worthy of your trust, even when all hope seems invisible. Jesus is worthy—because ultimately he was baptized with the waters of death upon the cross—paving the way to new life for those who follow. He allowed the comprehensive evil of the universe to “drown” him upon the cross—so you never would.
In summary, can you see now why Jesus was baptized? Much more than ritual—it’s an object lesson showcasing his promise to you that a better life is in store and it’s centered in him. Your path to a brighter future is not found in something that can be washed away (money, success, career advancement, material possessions, etc). Instead, it is centered in Christ who washes away your sins by his blood upon the cross. Jesus was baptized so you could cross your Jordan to a new Promised Land of faith and hope in him.
1. Do you remember when you were baptized? Was it a special moment in your spiritual walk with Christ? If not, have you considered getting rebaptized so you can experience it in a deeper and more personal way?
2. Notice what didn’t happen in this story. The crowd didn’t seem to notice Jesus at all. Keep in mind that sometimes the crowds around you (friends, coworkers, even family) may not take much notice of your devotion to Christ. Why do you think this is so?
3. If Jesus had not been baptized, would it have changed any aspects of his ministry? Would it change your understanding of how deep his love is for you?