Jesus’ Baptism and Ours: I should be baptized by you

In both Matthew and Luke, John the Baptist protests Jesus’ request to be baptized. “I need to be baptized by you. And do you come to me?” We understand John’s reluctance. Jesus seems to us an unlikely candidate for a baptism of repentance and forgiveness of sins. For John, though, Jesus’ desire to be baptized seems to be more tied to their relative status regarding the restoration of Israel. John is the forerunner, the path straightener, the warm-up act. As Luke records John’s response, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, whose sandals I am unworthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” Jesus is greater than John and his baptism is greater. The roles here are reversed.

The one who is greater is making himself the least. And this is the shape of the coming Kingdom of God.

In the movie, The Apostle, Robert Duvall plays a pentecostal preacher who commits a murder and escapes Texas for Louisiana to avoid the law. Duval’s character has done a terrible thing and needs forgiveness from God to be restored to his calling. So, in an amazing scene, he baptizes himself–three times–and emerges from the river, not only forgiven, but promoted. He is now an apostle. I’m not sure which is more audacious, calling yourself an apostle or baptizing yourself.

Baptism requires someone besides you. It’s a mediated act. Our way to God passes through another’s life. This is the way salvation would have to be if our besetting sin is self-centeredness. It’s different than saying a prayer or some other act that is only internal to us. Jesus can’t be only in our hearts, but must be external to us as well, calling us out of our selves and into life with and through others. In this sense, baptism is not something we do, but something we receive. In fact, in baptism we completely rely and trust another to bring us up from the watery grave. We are vulnerable and submissive (in the easiest baptisms, at least. I’ve had a few fighters). We are not the active agents in the act of baptism. Someone else is. 

When my father baptized me, he represented both Christ and the community of Christ. I did not originate this story and it’s truth doesn’t depend on me. In baptism, I am being claimed by realities greater than myself.

And this is the way of the Kingdom of God. As I argued in the last post, John’s summons to repentance and forgiveness of sins would have been heard as an end to Israel’s long exile and the coming nearness of the Kingdom of God. Israel will be restored to a central place in God’s covenantal purposes for all of creation. But the nature and shape of participating in the Kingdom of God will be surprising and require repentance. Namely, it will require God’s chosen one to submit to God in everything, including death on a cross. This is not just so that God can get God’s way. This is because loving submission and covenantal trust are God’s way. This is what the world looks like when God’s rule and reign are operative.

So, it is not surprising to see Jesus come to John for baptism. First, he is aligning himself with a movement that anticipates the coming Kingdom of God. Second, the very nature and shape of that movement is based on those who are great becoming the least. The baptism of Jesus echoes throughout the rest of the gospel story. “If you want to find your life, you must lose it… The greatest will be the least, the servant of all…the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve… not my will, but yours be done.”

When we are baptized, hopefully we are saying the same things. We are aligning our lives with the good news of God’s coming kingdom and are recognizing that power in this kingdom is expressed as submission and service. 

 

About Mark Love

I am the Dean for the School of Theology and Ministry and Director of the Resource Center for Missional Leadership at Rochester College. Part of my job includes directing a master's degree in missional leadership, a situated learning degree. I am married to Donna and have a son, Josh Love, who is a practicing new monastic in Abilene, TX. With Donna, I have also inherited three great daughters and two amazing granddaughters.
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10 Responses to Jesus’ Baptism and Ours: I should be baptized by you

  1. Logan Cowart says:

    But when you think about it, the emphasis in the New Testament on baptism is never on who is doing the baptizing. Paul said so. It does not matter who is doing the baptizing. Jesus said that the least person in the kingdom of God is greater than John. So, you have someone (John the baptist) who is less than anyone in the kingdom, baptizing the one who is greatest in the kingdom. I thought it odd for the character in the movie “The Apostle” to be baptizing himself because the phrase “be baptized” is passive. The Bible never says “baptize yourself,” but is it therefore wrong if there is no one able to do it for you? What if you believed in the center of a Muslim country where the penalty is death for suggesting that someone baptize you? If there is no one in the church to do the baptizing, it would not be wrong for people to baptize each other. Just because you were fortunate enough to be baptized by someone in the church, does not make your baptism any more or less legitimate than anyone else’s — assuming you were doing it in obedience to God’s word.

    • Logan Cowart says:

      P.S. I think it is God who is the active agent in the process of baptism, not the person doing the dunking.

    • Mark Love says:

      Logan, my point about baptism is that someone baptizes you, always, and we take this to be God’s action that we receive.The identity of the person is not the issue, but simply that it requires another who mediates the realities of baptism, including God’s activity. The story of Jesus’ baptism centers around the question of who in this case should do the baptizing, or more properly, should anyone baptize Jesus?

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  6. Hi Mark, I just posted on Jesus’ baptism (http://alogoslife.wordpress.com/?p=117&preview=true). I was searching to see who else included NT Wright tags and came across your posts on Jesus’ baptism. It seems like we have some similar thoughts, although you have gone into a great deal more detail. Influenced by the thinking of NT Wright on God’s righteousness, in my post, I posed a different thought about the meaning of Jesus’ statement: “it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” It could be the righteousness Jesus is referring to is God’s righteousness in that with Jesus’ baptism God is being faithful to his promises and covenants with Israel and for the world. According to NT Wright, God’s righteousness (at one level) is his faithfulness.

    Your blog looks very good and I hope to spend some more time looking around.

    Is your son Josh associated with Randy Harris?

    • Mark Love says:

      Jody, I love your suggestion on God’s righteousness. I’m glad you found the blog and my Josh is associated with Randy Harris.

  7. THE BAPTISM OF JOHN VERSUS CHRISTIAN BAPTISM BY STEVE FINNELL
    POINT: Those who reject the Scriptures concerning the purpose of Christian baptism, readily accepts the Biblical account as to the purpose of water baptism performed by John the Baptist.

    Christian Baptism: Men are told to believe in Jesus Christ, repent, and be baptized in water for the forgiveness of their sins and they will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

    Mark 16:16 He who has believed and who has been baptized shall be saved..
    Acts 2:38…”Repent, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins;and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

    In Christian baptism men are clothed with Christ.
    Galatians 3:27 For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.

    John’s Baptism: Men are told to repent and be baptized in water for the forgiveness of their sins and to believe in Jesus who was to come. (The Holy Spirit had yet been given).

    Luke 3:3 And he came into all the district around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins;
    Acts 19:4 Paul said, “John baptized with a baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus.”

    Christian baptism follows believing in Jesus, and repentance, (repentance means to make the commitment to turn away from sin and turn toward God).

    The baptism of John followed repentance, (resolving to sin no more).

    Luke 7:30 But the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected God’s purpose for themselves, not having been baptized by John.

    If the Pharisees and lawyers rejected God’s purpose by failing to be baptized by John the Baptist; what will be the consequences for those who reject the baptism commanded by Jesus?

    Did you ever notice that the proponents of the “faith only” doctrine no not say that “for” in Luke 3:3 means “because of”?

    John’s baptism was not because their sin were already forgiven. Christian baptism preached on the Day of Pentecost was not because their sins were already forgiven. (Acts 2:38)

    Luke 3:7 So he began saying to the crowds who were going to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come.

    John’s baptism in water was essential to spare them of the wrath to come.

    Christian baptism in water is essential to spare us all, of the wrath to come.(Mark 16:16…baptized shall be saved….)

    The baptism of John became obsolete on the Day of Pentecost.

    CHRISTIAN BAPTISM IS AVAILABLE UNTIL JESUS RETURNS.

    YOU ARE INVITED TO FOLLOW MY BLOG. http://steve-finnell.blogspot.com

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