Today's post is an excerpt from The Way: Walking in the Footsteps of Jesus. The picture above was taken at the Jordan River at the approximate location where John baptized Jesus. Here it is less than 20 feet across and about 4 feet deep.
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. —Mark 1:9-13 NRSV
As we start our Lenten journey walking with Jesus, we will first begin where the Gospels begin, with John the Baptist and Jesus’ baptism.
One day, as John was baptizing in the Jordan, he looked up to see a familiar face. He smiled as Jesus approached, and the two men embraced. These men had known one another their entire lives. They had played together as boys and dreamed together as young men. John was six months older, but he always knew it was his younger cousin who would play the greater role in God’s plans.
The two had shared long walks and conversations both in Jerusalem and in the monastery by the Salt Sea. They had stayed up long into the night discussing the Scriptures and the kingdom of God. John’s preaching and baptism at the Jordan would officially set in motion a chain of events that would lead to John’s own death in a matter of months, and to Jesus’ crucifixion just three years later.
Jesus took off his sandals and robe and said to John, “Baptize me, brother!” John stepped back, confused, protesting: “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” Jesus insisted, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:14, 15 NRSV).
With his baptism, the three-year public ministry of Jesus began. From this time on, the die was cast. The prospect was exciting, and terrifying. Jesus was thirty years of age when he waded into the waters of the Jordan to be baptized by his older cousin.
Even in the first century, Christians were unsettled by John’s baptism of Jesus. They wondered, as modern-day disciples do, why one who “knew no sin” received a baptism, indicating a repentance of sin.
In Jesus’ baptism, the sinless man chose to identify with sinful people. He stepped into the water not out off his need but for ours. Later he would tell his disciples that “the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10 NIV). He wasn’t embarrassed to identify with sinners by wading into the waters of repentance. He didn’t announce to everyone present, “I don’t really need this; it’s for you.” He chose to let others think what they would—he was walking into the water with us and for us. In the days ahead, he would eat with sinners and tax collectors. He would befriend prostitutes and adulterers. This was his mission. In his baptism, Jesus identified with sinners.
At the church that I serve, we have support groups for people with various addictions. If you had friends who struggled with sexual addiction, and you knew they might find help and deliverance by attending a support group, would you offer to go with them to the group? Would you worry what others might think as they saw you enter the room? Would you feel the need to say, “I’m with them. I don’t really have a sexual addiction. I’m just their friend”? Or would you sit quietly with your friends, hoping and praying that because you were there with them, they might find help? In essence, this is what Jesus did when he was baptized. He identified with sinners, not only joining them in the water, but also inviting all who would follow him to wade in.
Baptism has many meanings. Like a kaleidoscope, it presents a different picture with each turn. As Jesus stepped into the water to identify with sinful humanity and become the Son of Man, the Holy Spirit descended upon him like a dove. He heard the voice of God announcing that he was God’s beloved son, with whom God was “well pleased” (Luke 3:22).
Thus, in that moment Jesus was declaring that he was the Son of Man while God was declaring that he was the Son of God. Jesus also received power from the Spirit for the ministry that lay ahead.
Here at the Jordan, we see the first glimpse of what Christians would come to call the Trinity. The Son came to be baptized. The Father spoke. The Spirit descended.