For a long time, I never really understood why Jesus was baptized. I grew up being taught that baptism was pretty much exclusively about the forgiveness of sins. What I struggled with was that if Jesus was sinless, as the Bible teaches, then why did he need to be baptised when he had no sin to be washed away? I sort of understood when people explained that Jesus’ baptism was also God the Father commissioning him for his ministry ahead and identifying him as his Son for the crowds that witnessed the event, but I was still stuck with the connection between Jesus’ baptism and our baptism.
Then I found the idea that through faith we are united with Jesus. For example, in Romans 6:3-5 the Apostle Paul writes,
Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. (NIV)
Baptism doesn’t just wash our sins away, even though forgiveness is a key part of baptism. Baptism also unites us with Christ through faith so that we participate in his death and resurrection. That’s why our sins are washed away – we are made one with Christ through baptism so his death becomes our death to remove our sin, and his resurrection becomes our resurrection to new life by the power of God’s life-giving Holy Spirit. According to this idea, faith isn’t just agreeing with a doctrinal idea about Jesus. Faith is more about living in the life of Christ with whom we are one through faith.
Suddenly, Jesus’ baptism made a lot more sense. If we are united with Jesus through baptism, then the voice that spoke over Jesus also speaks over us because we are united with Jesus in his baptism. Just as the voice of our heavenly Father identified Jesus as his Son whom he loved and with whom he is please, in the same way that same voice speaks over us, identifying us as God’s children whom he loves and with whom he is pleased!
This can become significant for anyone who has struggled with their own sense of identity and worth. We can spend our whole lives trying to find a sense of who we are and our value by trying to please others. The problem with being a people-pleaser is that when we try to find our identity and worth in trying to please others, we can easily lose the identity and value that we are searching for.
Imagine what it would be like to live believing what the voice from heaven said – that you are God’s child whom he loves and with whom he is pleased. The promise that we have in Jesus’ baptism is that God does in fact love us and is pleased with us, not because of the good things we do or the wrong things we avoid. God loves us just because we are his children. Through baptism into Christ, God fills us with everything that is loveable and pleasing to him. Nothing can shake his view of us because Christ fills us and we have God’s promise that nothing in all creation can separate us from Jesus (Romans 8:38,39). So God’s opinion of us is set and nothing will change that.
What’s more amazing is that God pronounces this over Jesus before he had done anything! Jesus’ baptism and the Father’s pronouncement over him comes at the start of his ministry to show us that God’s love for us and his pleasure in us does not depend on what we do or how well we do it. Instead, God’s love and pleasure give us the ability to live in ways that are pleasing to him. Jesus could go into his ministry confident in his Father’s love and pleasure and was shown in all he said and did. In the same way, when we live in God’s love and pleasure, is shapes and forms us and is revealed in everything we say and do. What difference could it make to your day to trust that you go into is as God’s child whom he loves and with whom he is pleased, and nothing can change that? No matter what might happen, no matter what people might say or do, no matter whether other people are pleased with us or not, we can live each and every day of our lives in the confidence that God loves us and is please with us because we are one with Jesus through faith. We can find the freedom and the strength to do what is good, right and true, living as children of God in faith and love as Jesus’ disciples, bringing the goodness of Jesus into the lives of the people around us.
Jesus’ baptism is vitally important for our sense of who we are and what we are here to do. Yes, baptism washes our sin away and adopts us as God’s children. Baptism also unites us with Jesus and fills us with his goodness. My hope and prayer is that these words spoken over Jesus would be the foundation of our understanding of who we are and what we are worth, so we can live every day in the freedom and joy that comes through the faith that we are God’s children, he loves us more than we will ever know in this life, and no matter what we do or others might do to us, our Father in heaven is pleased with us because of what Jesus has done for us in his life, death and resurrection.