To understand this passage, we need to refer back to the previous one. John as come baptizing with water and preaching a message of repentance. Through that preaching, he is raising expectations for the one who is about to appear on the scene. This coming one will baptize not with water, but with the Spirit and with fire. This one who is about to appear will come in judgment. John has enormous expectations for Jesus (vv. 11-13).
But when Jesus arrives on the scene, he comes to John to be baptized. John is completely surprised. And we should be as well. With John’s announcement, we would expect that Jesus would burst onto the stage with great fanfare, ready to shake Israel up, ready to do some very dramatic things as God’s anointed one. Instead, Jesus with great humility, identifying with people, comes to John to be baptized. In solidarity with the people of Israel, this one who is Israel, is baptized.
John is horrified. This is not the way this drama is to play out. God’s ways are always surprising, out of the ordinary, baffling. So John, after a bit of persuasion, baptizes Jesus.
Throughout the gospels, we see indications of the intimate relationship between God the Father and Jesus. We see it in Jesus’ visit to the Temple when he was twelve. He had to be in the Temple. It was his Father’s house. We see it as Jesus turned to the Father in short prayer bursts and in extended times of prayer when Jesus performed miracles, or when he had decisions to make, or when he was weary. Jesus knew a profound intimacy with the Father. We see that played out in the Garden of Gethsemane as Jesus was about to face death. We see that intimate relationship with the Father here at Jesus’ baptism.
Jesus is baptized by John. As Jesus emerges from the baptismal waters, the heaven’s open, the Spirit of God descends like a dove (far from John’s imagery of fire and judgment), and Jesus hears the voice of the Father: “This is my son, whom I love, in whom I take delight.”
Scholars debate when Jesus knew his calling and vocation for certain. My hunch is that Jesus from an early age, in his spirit and because of the stories from his mother and others, knew that there was something unique and special about him. But it is at this moment, in the Jordan, humbly submitting to baptism, that Jesus knew for sure. This moment in the Jordan re-defined Jesus’ life. From this point, Jesus is tested in the wilderness and then begins his three year ministry of healing and teaching culminating at the cross.
We too as people connected to Jesus, the Israel of God, are called to a mission. Our task flows out of our identity in Jesus. Our task is to continue to work of Jesus. Our task is to bless the world in Jesus’ name. Some of my friends snicker at the cheap grace that is the hallmark of some Christians. This cheap grace is found in the bumper sticker theology of “Christians aren’t perfect—Just Forgiven.” It comes across and a do as you please mentality, because you’ve got the magic forgiveness card that you can throw down at any moment.
Jesus’ theology is a bit tougher. Jesus bumper sticker would say “Christians aren’t perfect—But they sure should be different.” That is the baptismal call of obedience on our lives.
That would be wonderfully surprising.