Why was Jesus Baptised?

St. Patrick baptized King Aengus by full immersion in the Fifth Century AD. During the baptismal ceremony, (so the story goes) St. Patrick leaned on his sharp-pointed staff and inadvertently stabbed the king’s foot.

After the baptism was over, St. Patrick looked down at all the blood, realized what he had done, and begged the king’s forgiveness.

“Why did you suffer this pain in silence,” St Patrick asked.

The king replied, “I thought it was part of the ritual.” !

The story may make us chuckle, but there may be more truth in that than meets the eye. The Baptism of Jesus is one of the events that all three of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) describe and so was obviously an event that the early Church saw as of great importance.

St. Mark’s Gospel gives us the briefest details. Surprising the historian St. Luke doesn’t give us much more, but St. Matthew fills out the story a little bit more:

(Mt. 3:13-17). Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented. As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him, I am well pleased.

The story is well known. John the Baptist has been summoning people everywhere to repent and Jesus, amongst others, responds by being baptized. 

But have you ever wondered,

              Why did Jesus need to be baptized?”

Does Jesus, the incarnate Son of God need to repent? Well before I am accused of heresy let me say no I don’t think Jesus needed to repent.

But I do think that St. Matthew’s account gives us a clue why Jesus was baptized. In that account, we read that John the Baptist at first refused to baptize him, because John felt unworthy. However, Jesus said:

“Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.”

What did Jesus mean? I think theologian Michael Green hit the nail on the head when he said: “By submitting to baptism, Jesus acknowledged God’s claim on him, as on others, for total consecration of life and holiness of character” (The Message of Matthew – Michael Green p. 80).

This makes sense. I believe there are three reasons that Jesus was baptized.

1. The first reason that I believe Jesus was baptized is that Jesus’ baptism was a manifestation (epiphany) of his Godhood. This was shown when the Spirit of God manifested to Jesus and declared his sonship.

For everyone else who came to John for baptism, it was required of them, a change in direction in their lifestyle– hence the call for them to repent of their old ways and to turn to God’s way of life. 

But for Jesus baptism was also a public declaration of his love of God the Father and to acknowledge that he was following the will of God in His life.

And you will recall Jesus words in the garden of Gethsemane when he knew that he was going to die on the Cross, he prayed:
Father if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will but yours be done” (Lk 22:42) 

It was the ultimate submission to the Father’s will – to go to the cross for our sakes – to reconcile us to the Father. But following the Father’s will was going to be a painful experience.

Jesus’ baptism was a public declaration of his commitment to the Father. But Jesus baptism was more:

2. The second reason that I think Jesus was baptized was it announced the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Both John the Baptist and God the Father both confirmed Jesus’ unique calling publicly. Jesus’ baptism was a consecration for ministry. Perhaps you will remember the Father saying something similar at the mount of Transfiguration.

(Mk 9:7) Then a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”

3. The third reason that I think Jesus was baptized was as an example to us.

Jesus taught his followers to be baptized – and here he is giving a firm lead. His baptism was an example that we will do well to follow.

The Great Commission in Mt 28 reads as follows: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name Father Son and Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you “(Mt. 28:19-20)

And we see God the Father’s response: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him, I am well pleased.”

I think this is the nugget that we do well to apply to our own lives is that we should live so that the Father is pleased with us. For when God is pleased, nothing else matters- or does it?

It reminds me of a story that Jonathan Goforth (1859-1936) the great Canadian missionary in China, used to tell the story about his
 father who put him in charge of one of the family’s many farms. He drew special attention to one very large field, which had become choked with weeds. His father told Jonathan “Get that field clear and ready for planting. Then at harvest time, I’ll return and inspect it.”

Jonathan put a lot of time in plowing and reploughing, sunning the deadly roots and plowing again until the whole field was ready for seeding. He then went and procured the best seed for sowing. 

When all was finished, Jonathan invited his father over to inspect the field. When his father arrived, Jonathan led him to a high spot from which the whole field of beautiful waving corn could be seen. Jonathan didn’t say a word – he only waited for the words.. ” Well Done”.

His father stood for several minutes silently examining the field for any sign of weeds, but there were none. Turning to his son, he just smiled. Johnathan Goforth said that smile was all the reward I wanted. Goforth used to say “I knew my father was pleased. So, it will be if we are faithful to the trust our heavenly father”.

Can you relate to Johnathan Goforth in some way? If so – leave a comment- I  would love to hear from you!

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