Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented. As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” – Matthew 3:13-17
This passage marks the beginning of Jesus’ overt sharing about the coming Kingdom of God and His role in bringing this about. Jesus has traveled to the Jordan River from Galilee, which is the region near the Sea of Galilee, also known as Lake Kinneret. John understands who this young man from Galilee is and what His role will be in the future. He felt uncomfortable baptizing Jesus because he knew that Jesus was in fact the long awaited Messiah. God in the flesh.
Jesus explains this seeming paradox to John by saying “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.”. These are the first words of Jesus recorded by Matthew so it is probably worth a closer look. It strikes me that there are three parts to Jesus’ explanation: 1) Let it be so now; 2) it is proper for us to do this; 3) to fulfill all righteousness.
The first part is letting John, and everyone nearby, know that this baptism by John is a beginning; even more radical changes are coming. John is clearly pushing the Pharisees and the Sadducees to rebuild the temple, but this time using some of the unsavory “adopted stones” that he was baptizing in the Jordan River. Jesus will take this one step further by selecting and training twelve unlikely and imperfect followers to deliver His message of repentance and forgiveness of sins to the world.
The second part is getting at whether John should even being doing what he is doing, in essence baptizing God. Since God is the asking Him to do it it is probably OK, but I can see how John would be potentially confused and conflicted. God is asking Him to do something which must have seemed somewhat blasphemous and scandalous. This is just the beginning of the scandalous changes and claims that accompany Jesus. Changes that will make many who encounter Jesus very uncomfortable. Jesus was a radical called for radical changes both in the lives of those that choose to follow Him and the ones that were supposed to be leading people to God.
The last part of the explanation is an intimation that there is an underlying spiritual reality and laws that even God must abide by on this earth. This “righteousness” that Jesus is referring to in my mind means repentance and cleansing from sins. Much of the old testament was concerned with how one could become clean, and stay clean, so that they could be in God’s presence. This is the beginning of a new way to enter God’s presence, no entrails or animal legs required. All that is required is a choice to wade into the One River and following the Living Water wherever He leads.
At the end of this passage God makes it clear that He has arrived in the form of this man Jesus “At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” All the three manifestations of God, The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are present as the “Heavens are opened.”
This opening of the heavens will be for all people and for all time. There will be no requirement or need for a temple built of stones because God will be with us, first as Jesus, then as the Holy Spirit and Christ in us. Jesus waded into Jordan River, and into this Land of Oblivion, so that we could get across the river that no one could cross.
Prayer: God thank You for sending Your Son to show us the way of righteousness and the Kingdom of Heaven on earth.