The baptism of Jesus is an important subject we need to study. As our example in all things (1 Peter 2:21) Jesus’ baptism should set the precedent for our attitude toward baptism.
Now, John the Baptist was a prophet sent by God and his message was God ordained. Two things stand out in the preaching of John and that is baptism and repentance. Just consider his name, “John the baptizer” and it will tell you how important he understood it to be. Read Mark 1:1–5.
One of the main things John preached was baptism. He preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. John baptized those who were willing to forsake their sins and be baptized for the forgiveness of those sins. Even at this early point, the message of God as preached by John was repentance and baptism for the forgiveness of your sins (Acts 2:38). All those in the country of Judea and Jerusalem came seeking forgiveness. Notice that vs. 5 says “… and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.” They traveled great distances for the sole purpose of being baptized by John. They seemed to understand that it was important.
Jesus also came to be baptized by John. He traveled from Galilee, about 60 miles journey, to Jerusalem just to be baptized by John in the Jordan River. Right away we can learn something from this. Jesus had to see this as really important because he was willing to walk for 2-3 days to be baptized.
Read Matthew 3:13–17. When Jesus came to John to be baptized John refused stating that he needed to be baptized by Jesus but Jesus encourages him to reconsider. John knew that the baptism he practiced was for the forgiveness of sins and conditioned upon someone being willing to repent. He also knew that Jesus did not have any sins to be forgiven (Heb. 4:14-15). Yet, Jesus instructed him to allow it for now. This tells us that a time was coming when John was absolutely correct but for now it was not correct. The time came when the baptism of Jesus superseded that of John’s but that was still 3 years away. Notice also what Jesus says about his request to be baptized. He tells John that the reason for his request for baptism was “… to fulfill all righteousness.” Jesus deliberately traveled by foot for days to be baptized because it was God’s will and if he wanted to continue to be righteous, meaning to be “right in the eyes of God” he would have to submit to baptism. If Jesus had refused the will of God in baptism he would have lost that rightness in God’s eyes (Heb. 5:8-9). For Jesus, baptism was a matter of righteousness, a necessity required by God that could not be rejected and remain right with Him.
Is it possible to be in rebellion to God, wrong in the eyes of God, and still be saved? Can we refuse what God has commanded and still be righteous? Jesus, God in the flesh (John 1:1-3, 14) didn’t think so and John didn’t think so either.
Notice what happened after Jesus’ baptism. Once he came up out of the water, the heavens opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him, and God spoke from heaven. Jesus received the Spirit and the approval of God once baptism was completed. Now, logic dictates that if the Spirit descended and stayed upon Jesus after his baptism it was not there before it. Thus we must conclude with Peter (Acts 2:38) that at baptism we receive forgiveness of sins and the Holy Spirit just as Jesus received it. After Jesus’ baptism, God spoke from heaven saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” and this shows us that what Jesus did was exactly what God wanted.
Anyone who wants to be righteous in the Father’s eyes must submit to baptism just like Jesus did. How can I refuse what Jesus said and practiced as necessary? Am I greater than He? Of course, we are not greater than our Lord and Master. Of course, we cannot refuse to submit to what He saw as necessary. Anyone who would teach otherwise must take that up with Jesus but for me, I will not risk being unrighteous in God’s eyes.