Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:13–17)
Symbols are important because they are intended to communicate something. We do well to know what they communicate and to remember it. The ring that I wear on my left hand is not just a ring. It isn’t even just a wedding ring. It is a promise; it is a vow; it is a covenant; it is a constant reminder of the pure and unending nature of the love that I pledged to my wife and my wife alone.
So too the symbols that God gives us are reminders of his great covenant with us and are not just signs or just symbols. Like my ring, they remind me that my life is forever changed. Baptism is one of these signs.
It serves to remind us that we identify with Christ’s death, putting to death our sin and being resurrected into new life in obedience to our heavenly Father. It is a powerful symbol – a powerful reminder. It is a shadow, if you will, of what Christ did.
But why was Jesus baptized? He had no sin to bury. Even John the Baptist didn’t understand why Jesus needed to be baptized and tried to convince Jesus to baptize him instead. The writer of Acts reminds us that John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance of sin. So again, why would Jesus, the perfect Lamb of God, unblemished by sin, need to be baptized?
If my baptism is a shadow of what Jesus did, then Jesus’s baptism is a foreshadow of what he would do. At the very beginning of Jesus’s ministry, he identifies with the sins of humanity – not being baptized for repentance of his sin, but already identifying and repenting for my sin, for your sin, and for the sins of all of humanity. The baptism of Jesus is a sign that foreshadows the cross, and our baptism is a sign that shadows or echoes the cross. It serves as a constant reminder that God sent his Son, his one beloved Son, not to condemn the world but rather that through his own condemnation we might be saved. The shadow of the cross hovers over the waters of Jesus’s baptism.
Heavenly Father, thank for the sign of baptism. May it constantly remind me of your great love and willingness to identify with my sin and death in order that I may identify with your righteousness and life. In the name of Jesus, my Redeemer, amen.