The Baptism of Our Lord; John protests, Jesus presents– Matthew 3:13-17
The Baptism of our Lord in the Gospel of Matthew, sees Jesus speak his first words and make his entry into the Gospel narrative as an adult. Stepping out of obscurity, his first act is to travel from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized.
John was not the first to baptize people. Jews baptized proselytes into their faith, but did not baptize other Jews. Jews couldn’t imagine themselves as needing baptism because they were the chosen ones. Yet here is Jesus standing with sinful humanity asking for a Baptism being given to sinners as a mark or a sign of their repentance.
Jesus is the sinless one and standing in line with sinners seems to send the wrong signals to those around; or so it may seem. This was an act of humility. Jesus did not need to be baptized but he does this to identify with sinful humanity. This is not the first time he will be associated with sinners for the Gospels tell us that his detractors accuse him of keeping the company of tax collectors, prostitutes and sinners. The Son of God, appears to the religious establishment of the day, out of place and out of step in such company.
But the Jews were not the only ones who would have been left puzzled by Jesus actions that day. We are told that John put up quite a resistance, preventing Jesus from going ahead with what could only seem to others as strange, if not scandalous action by one who was the lamb of God, come to take away the sins of the world.
It is clear that Jesus is emphatic on the role that John must play. Jesus imposes his authority with his demand for immediate baptism; “let it be so now.” The righteous will of God had to be fulfilled. In the Gospel of Matthew, it is not as if this one action of Baptism makes all things righteous. ‘Righteousness’ in the Gospel of Matthew is not an act but an attitude; it is in doing the will of God. The initial phase of that plan required Jesus to empty himself of his Godly majesty to be born in human likeness (Philippians 2:7). The final part of God’s plan will involve Jesus being “obedient to death, yes, the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:8).
To all of this that transpires at the Jordan, God agrees and his agreement is seen in the climax of this Gospel text. One would think that the Baptism of Jesus is the climax of this text. In reality it is the vision that Jesus encounters when he comes up from the water.