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Baptism of Christ 10

When Jesus declared that His baptism would "fulfill all righteousness," it was in the very sound a striking utterance: but it is not quite clear what the Master intended. Baptism was not an ancient regulation of Judaism, and had no binding force: it was a voluntary rite. And it cannot be suggested that Jesus had any moral need for such a cleansing, for it was His bright holiness against their dark sinfulness which moved the Baptist to indignant refusal. Nor could the baptism of the Jordan be a ceremony introducing Jesus to His Messianic office, since the greater could not be blessed of the lesser; nor the servant install his Lord.

 

It was not possible that Jesus could gain by this rite of humility, but it is possible that He could give. As Jesus submits to the waters of the Jordan in the company of sinners, we see an act of utter self-surrender and a public acceptance of His calling. It was a deliberate emptying of Himself: and a first step to the Cross.

 

What the Baptist saw was the Son of God: spotless and separate amid the sin which blackened the land. What John expected was that this holiness should be declared in the sight of all men. John may have been delivered from vain delusions of an imperial throne, but his imagination still saw the holy throne that was high and lifted up in Isaiah's vision. John expected a Messiah who would rear a sacred throne: not a Messiah who would rear an altar and then lay Himself upon it. This was as yet beyond the Baptist, as it has often been beyond the Church of later ages.

 

What Jesus desired was to forget His perfect purity and Divine dignity, and to plunge into the very depths of ordinary sinning, sorrowful human life. In His pity and sympathy, Jesus desired to lift the burden, which would be on His own shoulders, but could be no part of Himself.

 

According to the excusable idea of the Baptist, his Lord should have gathered His white garments around Him with fastidious care and stood alone on the banks, while at His feet the waters were stained with the sins of poor struggling humanity. But the heart of the Christ compelled Him to descend into the midst of the river so He could "fulfill all righteousness." Not the waters of the Jordan - nor any other river - had any power to change men's hearts. But what the Jordan could not do, would eventually be accomplished and finished by the Holy One who waded into the Jordan and stood before John expectantly.

 

This is the way of the Messiah and Heaven bends over it with open approval. Jesus accepted His calling without reserve that day. When He came up from the river the Spirit of God was resting on Him like a dove and a voice from the Highest declared that He who had stooped so low for mercy's sake was God's Beloved Son.

 

Excerpt from "The Life of the Master"

Published 1901

By John Watson DD

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Taken on March 30, 2004