When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized to. And as He was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on Him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
This is one of those passages you read in Sunday school picture books. You see the picture of Jesus waste deep in water wearing a white robe looking up to parting skies and smiling at a dove descending. I don’t really remember what I thought of this as a kid, if I thought anything about it, but reading the story recently struck me as much more significant than it ever had before. I started with a pretty simple question; why did Jesus get baptized at all? Baptism is symbolic of a washing away of sins, of repentance; Jesus is without sin, so what was the point?
I think the key to understanding at least part of His purpose is in the phrase “when all the people were being baptized…” Jesus had come to be one of us, human, and in getting baptized by John, He was identifying with those He came to save. Amidst the rebellious crowd in desperate need of the baptism He would provide, Jesus humbles Himself and is baptized. This was scandalous in many ways. John himself tried to deter Him, saying that things should be the other way around (Matthew 4:14), but Jesus insisted.
I’m always amazed at the moments of humility Jesus displays in scripture. As if leaving perfect and close fellowship with the Father to become human was not enough, He lived in poverty, He lived perfectly, He lived like us, He suffered for us.
This is what changes us. God’s Law reveals our need but it can’t save. We become Pharisees, assured by false righteousness, or we become prodigals, burnt out with trying, choosing to live in any way we please. But for the love given by a God Who stepped out of heaven to live with His creatures we’re changed.