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The Power of a God Who Is Humble
From the time Jesus first presented himself for baptism by John until today, Christians have puzzled over why Jesus had to be baptized. The act of baptism was understood to be an act of repentance and the cleansing of one’s sins. John does not understand why Jesus, whose sandals John is “not worthy to carry” (Matt. 3:11) should seek to be baptized. Instead, John declares to Jesus, “I need to be baptized by you” (Matt. 3:14). Why should the Son of God, who is without sin, need to be baptized?
Frederick Dale Bruner, in Matthew: A Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004), says that he considers Jesus’ first miracle to have occurred at his baptism. The miracle is that Jesus was humble. The divine Son of God humbles himself by allowing John to baptize him. This act of humility is an act of obedience to God and solidarity with all humankind. Jesus has no sins to be forgiven. However, for us, he goes down to the river of repentance with all the other sinners to be baptized. Jesus’ baptism, his first adult act as recorded in Matthew’s gospel, gives us a clear indication of how Jesus will act for his entire life. The Son of God will come down with us, on our level, identifying with our needs. His baptism, then, foreshadows how his life will end, on the cross. In his death, Jesus experiences the worst we could ever experience as mortal humans. But, because Jesus united with us in baptism, we are united with him in both his death and resurrection. The barriers that separate us from God, including the barriers of sinfulness, mortality, and death, are broken by Jesus’ obedience to God, through his humility to come down to us in the depths of our humanity.
Gospel: Matthew 3:13-17
Before Jesus begins his ministry, he is baptized by John, touched by the Spirit, and identified publicly as God’s child.
13Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16And 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. 17And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”