Click here for the reading: Matthew 3:13-17.
John’s confusion is understandable. What is a righteous man like Jesus doing in waters meant for sinners? John confesses that his baptism is inadequate in view of Jesus’s presence. The distinction between the baptism of John and the baptism of Jesus (cf. Acts 19:1-7) cannot be too clearly stated. John administers something that looks forward to the coming of Jesus and prepares the people for One stronger than John. He does not understand why Jesus would be at all involved.
The fulfillment of righteousness – a theme throughout Matthew’s gospel – is the purpose of Jesus’s baptism. If this is so, righteousness must be something more than the carrying out of explicit commands like a checking of boxes on a form. Jesus does not have to be in the waters of Jordan. He has no need of repentance or forgiveness. So why is He there? The event is sufficiently important to be in all four gospels along with the feeding of the 5,000 and Jesus’s death and resurrection. In His baptism, Jesus shows Himself where sinners are but where He does not have to be – in the waters of the Jordan and in the grip of death.
The opening of the heavens is a seal of the righteousness expressed in His baptism. Divine approbation follows divine righteousness. Heaven will be silent, and at the crucifixion of Jesus heaven will become dark. A man will have to find the knowledge of God from the words and works of God’s Son, and the knowledge of God’s Son will be revealed to whomever the Son chooses to reveal His Father.
Thus the baptism of Jesus is a rare glimpse into the divine life that brought Jesus to the Jordan and that will push Him to the cross. Here the Father blesses the Son, and the Spirit rests upon Jesus, not for a short time like the judges or prophets of old but remaining there to be with Him wherever He goes.
The benediction of the Father and the blessing of the Spirit are given Jesus in His baptism. Through Jesus’s baptism, they are also given us in our baptisms. Jesus’s baptism appears utterly unique, linking the preparatory baptism of John to the final baptism He commands His disciples to perform (28:19-20). Jesus ended the baptism of John in being baptized with sinners and coming in accordance with John’s preaching. Jesus began Christian baptism in giving sinners the Name that has been His own from all eternity. In Christian baptism sinners are identified with the Righteous One, forgiven for the sake of His righteousness and named in accordance with His Name.