In India on Friday, hundreds of Hindu holy men with their bodies smeared with ashes rushed naked into the frigid Ganges river before dawn marking the start of the holiest bathing day of an Indian festival, according to organizers of the event.
More than 20-million people were expected to bathe Friday. Five million people entered the northern city of Allahabad close to the Ganges on Wednesday and Thursday alone, he said. By the time the current festival ends on February 16, more than 70-million pilgrims are expected to have taken a dip in the river.
Hindus believe that a dip in the river during the Ardh Kumbh Mela, or the Half Pitcher festival, will relieve them of the cycle of birth and death they have to undergo because of their sins.
I share this with you this morning, not as a point of comparison, but of contrast to Jesus’ baptism. This cleansing ritual could not be more foreign to the baptism that Jesus underwent in Matthew 3:13-17. But what is the meaning of Jesus baptism?
Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. 14 And John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?” 15 But Jesus answered and said to him, “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he allowed Him. 16 When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. 17 And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Matthew 3:13-17
I. Why Was Jesus Baptized?, vv. 13-15.
Verse 13 begins with the word “then” which links the events of the first 12 verses with what follows. While John was preaching repentance and baptizing as a symbol of that repentance in the Jordan River, Jesus came to be baptized.
If John’s baptism symbolized the confession and repentance of sin, then why was Jesus baptized? This problem was acknowledged by John himself when he stated, “I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me? (v. 14). Just as John had recognized that the Pharisees and Sadducees who had come to him in verse seven were unworthy to undergo his baptism, now John recognizes himself to be unworthy of baptizing Jesus!
John’s reluctance to baptize Jesus was not based upon his knowledge that Jesus was the Messiah. According to the Gospel of John, John did not recognize Jesus as the Messiah until after the baptism when the Spirit descended like a dove.
The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30 “This is He of whom I said, ‘After me comes a Man who is preferred before me, for He was before me.’ 31 “I did not know Him; but that He should be revealed to Israel, therefore I came baptizing with water.” 32 And John bore witness, saying, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him. 33 “I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 “And I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God.” John 1:29-34
Instead, I believe John recognized him as his second cousin (the son of his mother’s cousin Elizabeth). They probably knew each other from their childhood and John knew Jesus to be a holy man who was mighty in the Scriptures from an early age (cf. Luke 2:41-52). Even before John knew that Jesus was the Messiah, he recognized his moral superiority.
Jesus’ answer to why John should baptize him was simply, “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” (v. 15). By this I believe that Jesus was referring to his submission to his humble role as the Suffering Servant who identifies with sinful humans “He was numbered with the transgressors.” (Isaiah 53:12). Jesus was also conscious that He was on a divinely ordained timetable and it was at this baptism that He would be anointed by His Father with the Holy Spirit to begin His Messianic ministry.
Excursus: The Doctrine of the Trinity
Although it is not the main point of the passage to teach it, the doctrine of the Trinity is evident in verses 16 and 17. Here we see the three distinct persons present in whose name the disciples are instructed to baptize in Matthew 28:19. The Son of God is coming up out of the water, the Spirit of God is descending from heaven like a dove, and the Father’s voice is heard from heaven. This text rules out any form of the heresy of modalism which says that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are only three different manifestations or modes of God’s activity rather than distinct persons. But the Bible teaches there is one God who exists in three distinct persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. These three persons are co-existent, co-equal, and co-eternal. They have distinct roles which they perform, but all three exist simultaneously and all three are God. This text shows this very well.
II. The Anointing of the King, vv. 16-17.
Now it is finally time to discuss the main point of this text. This text is all about the anointing of Jesus as the Messianic King. To understand what this text is all about we have to remember the anointing of David as king in 1 Samuel 16:13 and the prophecies which follow the reign of David of a descendent of David who will rule forever.
Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers; and the Spirit of the LORD came upon David from that day forward. So Samuel arose and went to Ramah. 1 Samuel 16:13
And it shall be, when your days are fulfilled, when you must go to be with your fathers, that I will set up your seed after you, who will be of your sons; and I will establish his kingdom. 12 He shall build Me a house, and I will establish his throne forever. 13 I will be his Father, and he shall be My son; and I will not take My mercy away from him, as I took it from him who was before you. 14 And I will establish him in My house and in My kingdom forever; and his throne shall be established forever. 1 Chronicles 17:11-14
I will declare the decree: The LORD has said to Me, ‘You are My Son, Today I have begotten You. 8 Ask of Me, and I will give You The nations for Your inheritance, And the ends of the earth for Your possession. Psalm 2:7-8
For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 Of the increase of His government and peace There will be no end, Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, To order it and establish it with judgment and justice From that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this. Isaiah 9:6-7
There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, And a Branch shall grow out of his roots. 2 The Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon Him, The Spirit of wisdom and understanding, The Spirit of counsel and might, The Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD. Isaiah 11:1-2
“Comfort, yes, comfort My people!” Says your God. 2 “Speak comfort to Jerusalem, and cry out to her, That her warfare is ended, That her iniquity is pardoned; For she has received from the LORD’s hand Double for all her sins.” 3 The voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the LORD; Make straight in the desert A highway for our God. 4 Every valley shall be exalted And every mountain and hill brought low; The crooked places shall be made straight And the rough places smooth; 5 The glory of the LORD shall be revealed, And all flesh shall see it together; For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” Isaiah 40:1-5
“Behold! My Servant whom I uphold, My Elect One in whom My soul delights! I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the Gentiles. 2 He will not cry out, nor raise His voice, Nor cause His voice to be heard in the street. 3 A bruised reed He will not break, And smoking flax He will not quench; He will bring forth justice for truth. 4 He will not fail nor be discouraged, Till He has established justice in the earth; And the coastlands shall wait for His law.” 5 Thus says God the LORD, Who created the heavens and stretched them out, Who spread forth the earth and that which comes from it, Who gives breath to the people on it, And spirit to those who walk on it: 6 “I, the LORD, have called You in righteousness, And will hold Your hand; I will keep You and give You as a covenant to the people, As a light to the Gentiles, 7 To open blind eyes, To bring out prisoners from the prison, Those who sit in darkness from the prison house. Isaiah 42:1-7
The Old Testament ends with a sense of expectancy, unfulfilled longing for this Davidic King upon whom the Spirit of the Lord will rest and who will be called the Son of God. In this morning’s text, those expectations are met when at the baptism of Jesus, the Spirit descends upon Him and God’s voice from Heaven declares Him to be His Son! What does this mean? It means that Jesus has been established in His house and kingdom forever! His throne has been established forever!
He is the Child who was born, the Son who was given! The government is upon His shoulders! His name is called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace! The increase of His government and peace will never end!
And He sits upon the throne of David and over His kingdom! He orders and establishes it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever!
He is the One who comforts God’s people by ending her warfare and pardoning her iniquity! He is the King whose way was prepared in the desert by John the Baptist!
He is the Servant whom the Father upholds and the Elect One in whom His soul delights! He is the One upon whom the Father has put His Spirit, who brings justice to the Gentiles and whose purposes will not fail!
This is the Jewish Messiah who brings light to the Gentiles, opens blind eyes and releases the prisoners from prison. This is King Jesus! And he now sits enthroned at His Father’s right hand, waiting for his enemies to be made his footstool! And He is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords who is coming again! He is Jesus and this is the meaning of His baptism!
Millions of Hindus believe that by bathing in the Ganges River during the celebration they would wash away their sins and would renounce the material world in the hope of breaking the cycle of life and death.
But we know that it was only because the King has come as a Suffering Servant that our sins can be washed away by the blood of Jesus.
What can wash away my sin?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
What can make me whole again?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
(HT: Kerux Noemata for alerting me to the “Hindu Bath” and the idea of using “Nothing But the Blood of Jesus”)