The baptism scene in Matthew is one of the most astonishing passages in the entire book. John the Baptist is baptizing in the Jordan River when suddenly Jesus appears and asks to be baptized. John, to say the least, is a bit taken aback by the request and pleads his case, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” Matthew 3:14
Jesus responded, “Let it be so now; for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Matthew 3:15 The Bible goes on to say that John “consented” and he baptized Jesus. It is when Jesus rose up out of the water that two amazing things happened.
“And when Jesus was baptized, He went up immediately from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and alighting on Him; and lo, a voice from heaven, saying, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’” Matthew 3:16-17
Why the baptism? I believe God was conveying something of great importance at Jesus’ baptism that has implications for our complete understanding of who Jesus is and what His mission is.
Let’s think back to the greatest event in the history of Israel – the Exodus. God took a group of slaves, led them out of bondage and delivered them to the Promised Land. We need to understand that the Exodus was much more than God transferring people from one local to another. It is true, He was bringing His people home, fulfilling an aspect of the covenant with Abraham, but the reason He was bringing them home was so they could freely worship. Surrounded by idols and false gods in Egypt the vision of the true God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was all but lost under the slave drivers whip.
Back in the Promised Land they could freely worship God, be a witness as a nation of God’s mighty power to save and as a result the pagan nations would be drawn to Him. But of course, Israel made a mess of everything and ended up in captivity and then a handful returned after 70 years in captivity to reestablish the nation, but it was nothing like what God envisioned for the nation. So, what happens next? Is God’s plan thwarted and His promises to Abraham of no effect?
Before I answer those questions, I would like us to remember something about the children of Israel and their experiences leaving Egypt. Their first big test was when they came to the Red Sea, and looking back over their shoulders they saw the Egyptian chariots charging towards them, and looking forward they saw the waves of the Red Sea beating upon the shoreline. They had to make a decision, trust God or be slaughtered by the Egyptians.
The people start grumbling and complaining, a trait that will stay with them for the next forty years. “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, in bringing us out of Egypt?” Exodus 14:11
“And Moses said to the people, ‘Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will work for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again,” Exodus 14:13 God then tells Moses, “lift up your rod, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the people of Israel may go on dry ground through the sea.” Exodus 14:15 Now that is a miracle!
The people cross over and begin their journey to the Land of milk and honey. But there was to be a further amazing miracle on behalf of this rag-tag group of ex-slaves that should encourage them and also provide practical guidance at the same time. “Whenever Moses went out to the tent, all the people rose up and every man stood at his tent door, and looked after Moses, until he had gone into the tent. When Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the door of the tent, and the Lord would speak with Moses.” Exodus 33:8-9
Before we get back to Jesus’ baptism, I want us to go back to Egypt for a moment and God giving directions to Moses about the final plague that would take the lives of all the first born sons in Egypt. “And you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘thus says the LORD, Israel is my first-born son, and I say to you let my son go that he may serve me.” Exodus 4:22a Did you notice that? Israel is called God’s son, His first-born.
I think we all know from this excursion into Exodus that the baptism of Jesus is the reenactment of the Exodus story. Matthew records the baptism scene in such a way that the Exodus experience is now Jesus’ experience. He is more than the new Moses, leading His people to the Promised Land—He is Israel.
The Israelites were baptized in the Red Sea and Jesus was baptized in the Jordan. The pillar of cloud that led them by day and the pillar of fire that led them by night was the Holy Spirit who descended to stand at the entrance of the tent in the wilderness while speaking to Moses. Jesus sees the Holy Spirit descend upon Him in the form of a dove in Matthew.
The Father calls the Israelites His Son, His first-born in Exodus 4 and He speaks from Heaven at the baptism of Jesus, calling out that Jesus is His Son (Matthew 3:16)
So, what is going on here? Jesus is not only Israel, but He is also the climax of the Exodus story. Everything, every promise made to Israel, every dream the people had about their nation is now all fulfilled in the true Exodus. Moses led the people to a piece of real estate, but Jesus is about to lead the people home to the Kingdom.
And what are the ramifications for the people? Anyone who attaches himself or herself to Jesus becomes part of the Exodus, but their journey is not physical but spiritual. Also they have rest from their wanderings because in a real sense they are home, they have arrived at their true destination – the arms of God.
All four gospel writers spend large amounts of their writings reworking the Exodus story into their plot lines, because of the significance for the Jews to understand Jesus, not them, is the true Israel – the true Messiah. It is through Jesus that they finally may have rest from their own Exodus wanderings and it is in Him that all their dreams come to final fulfillment.
Let me end on this note. At creation God put the world into being. He gave it order and purpose. When the plagues fell on Egypt God reversed the order and chaos came upon them. The very land, the air, the sky and the water turned against the people. And on the final day of creation, God made man. Now that creation of man is turned upside down in the final plague, God destroyed the first-born sons of the nation.
But with the coming of Jesus – the true Exodus, the true Israel, the true Messiah – the chaos of the world is pushed back. Through redemption we are re-created, born again and given new life. In Christ we are led by the Spirit, hear the voice of God speaking to us, and have our sins washed clean. When we understand the significance of Jesus as the fulfillment of the Old Covenant promises, the Exodus journey and the prophets’ pleas, the New Testament becomes a living book that impacts our lives with power and joy.
No, Jesus didn’t have to be baptized for any sins of His own, but He was baptized as the one greater than Moses, who takes away, “the sins of the world.”
* Folks, the persecution of Christians has not stopped. If anything it’s increased. The main stream media doesn’t talk about it much anymore but that doesn’t mean it’s not happening. Pray and stay informed and inform others. Please take the time to read some of their stories at http://thebeggardanced.com/nine-oclock-club/ there is much more on the internet…