Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, 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 it is proper for us in this way to fulfil all righteousness.’ Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’ (NRSV).
It is an extra-ordinary though that Jesus, the very Son of God, was baptised.
John the Baptist made quite a career from this strange ritual. As he explained it, immersion in the Jordan River was symbolic of the people’s repentance and required their confession of sin. It seems to have overtones of soul-washing and new beginnings.
So it all seems quite strange when Jesus turns up with his request. Even John, Jesus’ cousin, believes there is no need for this Messiah to undergo any cleansing ritual. His: ‘I need to be baptised by you, and do you come to me?’ seems to be quite genuinely asked.
Why on earth is Jesus here?
I read something of obedience to God in his motive. Jesus believes it is ‘proper’ and somehow a fulfillment of the demand for ‘righteousness’.
But the surprise of Jesus coming for baptism must have faded in significance as the heavens parted, the Spirit descended, and the voice of God spoke to the crowd: ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’
It certainly amounts to a game-changer – both for the crowds and for the gospel reader. Somehow we cannot read Jesus’ story with indifferent detachment. This is clearly a marked and special life.
Indeed, the community of God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – are all at work in this emerging life.
And, staggeringly, they have chosen to reveal this through the voluntary association of God with the confontingly human symbols of repentance.
This scene always leaves me with a renewed amazement at the humble nature of the world’s Messiah.