The baptism of Jesus. 3:13-17

Crowds had flocked to John the Baptist as he baptized beside the river Jordan and now Matthew recounts how Jesus joined the crowds and was himself baptized by John. This is an interesting story in that it pictures Jesus involved in an activity that seems quite unnecessary. Why would Jesus bother to be baptized?

The passage

v13. Jesus journeys from Galilee (Mark tells us specifically "Nazareth") to be baptized by John in the Jordan. Some suggest that Matthew wants us to see this as a private event, but the "then" is most likely indicating that the baptism took place while John was involved in his public ministry, v1-12. As Luke puts it, "when all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too."

v14. Although John the Baptist, at this point in time, probably didn't understand that Jesus was the messiah (John the evangelist explicitly says he didn't, Jn.1:31-34), he certainly knew of Jesus - his wondrous conception and birth, and most probably his early life which was marked by a knowledge of the scriptures, Lk.2:41-52. Jesus and John were related and so John was certainly not ignorant of Jesus. John's reluctance to baptize Jesus is probably driven by a knowledge of his character. John is a humble man and so defers to a more worthy man.

v15. John's objection is reasonable, but he consents when Jesus says "it is proper for us to fulfill all righteousness." By "fulfill", Matthew means "accomplish" and by "righteousness" he means something like "conformity to God's will", so Jesus is telling John that it is fitting for both of them to accomplish God's will as it is revealed in the scriptures. Jesus is the suffering servant who represents lost Israel (this inevitably means all believers). Like Israel's baptism in the Red Sea, Jesus must be baptized, he too must strive in the wilderness, battle in the land, and be victorious over the powers of darkness in the city of Zion. Israel has failed in this task and Jesus must do it as the obedient son, on behalf of the disobedient sons.

v16. Immediately, after leaving the water, the Spirit descends on Jesus, dove like. Matthew doesn't say whether it is a vision, or not. Luke says he descends "in bodily form." "He saw", refers to Jesus, but the Baptist too may have witnessed the event. So the Spirit, dove like, oversees the new creation in Christ, just as he moved over the face of the waters at the creation of the world, Gen.1:2. God then speaks, possibly for all to hear.

v17. The Lord God breaks his silence and so ushers in the messianic age. The words join Isaiah 42:1 with Psalm 2:7 ("You are my Son"). Jesus is announced as the suffering servant, messiah, the Davidic king, so defining his messiahship and how, as messiah, he will represent God's people Israel. So, God declares that Jesus is his one and only Son ("beloved", "whom I love"), the one "on whom my favor rests."

The compromise of life

It is said that politics is the art of compromise, the art of achieving the possible, but actually life itself is the art of compromise. Yes, even for a believer. Consider just three examples:

1. Being all things to all people, 1Cor.9:22

This is a compromise in matters of form. We do things which have little import in themselves, but which are important to others. Therefore, we act in a way that seeks not to cause offence; we act for the sake of the weaker brother.

2. Being as wise as serpents, Matt.10:16

This is a compromise in matters of degree. Choosing the best option, within a range of imperfect options, goes hand in hand with our participation in a sinful world.

3. It's better to marry than burn, 1Cor.7:9

This is a compromise in matters of the flesh. We are constantly forced to choose options which, although not evil in themselves, are not necessarily the best options. This is the problem we face by our being in the world, but not of the world.

It's possible to argue that Jesus' willingness to be baptized by John is an example of compromise. Jesus certainly didn't need a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. That's why John initially refused. Nor did his baptism preempt the forgiveness that is ours in the baptism of his death. Still, for our sake, passing through the waters in fulfillment of Exodus typology is a very powerful image of the dawning of the new age. If an image, rather than substance, then we could say it was an example of "all things to all men." Jesus payment of the temple tax in Matthew 17:24-27, is a perfect example of this type of compromise.

Mark 1:36-38 is a good example of the second compromise, and Jesus' request that the "cup" be taken from him at Gethsemane is an example of the third. It is no great mystery that with one foot in heaven and one foot on earth, compromise remains an inevitable part of our daily walk. Yet remember, the art of compromise is found in attaining the possible, and let that be the better option!


1. The dove (possibly a sign of Israel), and the words of the Father (Psalm 2:7 and Isaiah 42:1, again referring to the Servant Israel), depict Jesus' particular messianic role. How does this role affect us?

2. Discuss the three types of compromise outlined above.