I’m not sure we (and by we, I mean good conservative evangelicals) think all that much about Jesus’ Baptism. Now, I’m sure some people do, but I tend to find it’s something that almost seems to get skipped over. We love to talk about His birth (after all, Carol Services are one of the evangelistic highlights of the year), and we don’t really neglect His temptations. His miracles and His teaching are both quite big deals to the pens and pulpits of we evangelicals. And of course, His cross and resurrection are ‘of first importance’ (1 Cor. 15:3). But (apart from children’s Bible lessons) Jesus’ baptism (and probably His transfiguration as well) don’t seem to get a lot of attention from us.
And that’s a bit odd. Here’s a moment where we catch a glimpse of the life of the Trinity. Here we see something of that eternal love and fellowship. Here we see the unity of will and purpose. And yet, on the rare occasions on which we do talk about it, the main focus seems to be on settling arguments over the correct mode of baptism.
As I’ve been teaching a series on basic theology recently, I keep coming back to Jesus’ baptism over and over again. We’ve looked at it as we’ve talked about the Trinity. We’ve looked at it as we’ve talked about Christ’s substitutionary life. And we’ve touched on it in relation to assurance of God’s love and union with Christ. No doubt we’ll speak about it more in the weeks to come (after all, we haven’t even got to baptism yet!).
And one of the things I keep finding myself saying as we talk about it is that Jesus’ baptism is the real baptism. You see, I think in many ways that’s why we don’t talk too much about Jesus’ baptism – because we just don’t talk all that much about baptism full stop. Although evangelical paedo-baptists tend to have a strong theology of baptism, we credo-baptists tend not to. We tend to be more concerned about the when, the who and how of baptism and often don’t give quite so much attention to the what. In other words, our interests tend to lie more in the mode of baptism (full immersion) and the proper candidates (those who have professed faith in Christ) than in what baptism actually means. And when we do talk about what it actually means, what baptism actually is, sometimes it’s merely in terms of ‘the believer’s first obedience’ or something like that.
In that case, if we see any link at all with Jesus’ baptism, it tends to be as our example. And hence perhaps Jesus’ baptism doesn’t look all that important in comparison to a lot of the other aspects of His life and ministry, and so we don’t give it much attention.
But what if Jesus’ baptism is much more than an example? And what if our baptism isn’t so much our action of obedience, but God’s action? In fact, there are no ‘what ifs’ about it – that’s exactly what we see in the Bible. Jesus isn’t baptised to remind us to get baptised sometime, but ‘to fulfil all righteousness’ (Matt. 3:15). Jesus entered the waters of baptism as our substitute and Head. His baptism is the real baptism.
But if His baptism is the real baptism, what about our baptism? Well, our baptism is a baptism in union with Christ. We are baptised into His baptism. United to Christ, we are buried with Him (Col. 2:12), we pass safely through the waters of judgement in Him, and then we are raised with Him. United to Him we enter the water ‘in Him’, and just as surely as we feel the waters envelop us, we know that we are washed in His blood, we know the bond of the Spirit who unites us the Christ, as well beloved sons in the well beloved Son, and we know the Father’s declaration of love for us in Jesus. Just as surely as we are embraced by the waters of baptism, so we are embraced by the overflowing love of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
It’s not that Jesus’ baptism is merely an example for us to follow. Nor did Jesus in His baptism hallow the waters so that they’d be a blessing to us. No. It’s that Jesus’ Baptism is the real baptism, and in our baptism we’re joined to Him in His double baptism – the one in the Jordan, and the one on Calvary (Luke 12:50). Remember Ephesians 4:5 – ‘One Lord, one faith, one baptism’. Jesus’ baptism is the real baptism.