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If Jesus Never Sinned, Why Was He Baptized? Featuring Judah Chapman

Ask Pastor Alex, Episode. 47

This is the Ask Pastor Alex podcast with your host, Pastor Alex. All right, everybody, welcome back to the podcast. We are here with another episode and another question. And the question for this episode is, if Jesus never sinned, why did he get baptized? And that adorable voice belongs to future preacher and theologian Judah Chapman. He is my four-year-old son, and he won’t know the answer to this question. His mommy was reading him the story of Jesus’s baptism the other night, and he was curious, well, hey, if Jesus never sinned, then why did he need to be baptized? And now an answer from my daddy. 

You see, in the New Testament, baptism only ever occurs after repentance and faith. Also, something we need to understand right at the start is that there’s a difference between Christian baptism today and the baptism of John the Baptist. Christian baptism today is an outward sign of an inner reality. You see, the word baptism comes from the Greek word baptizo, which means to immerse. So the reason why we baptize by immersion is because that’s how John and the apostles practiced it, and that’s also what the word actually means. It just means to immerse. And Christian baptism today is a picture of our union with Christ. We go into the waters symbolizing that we have died with Christ, and we rise out of the waters to symbolize being raised to new life in Christ. But we need to understand that that’s not what John the Baptist’s baptism was about. 

John the Baptist even told us the purpose of his baptism in Matthew chapter 3 verse 11. He said, “I baptize you with water for repentance.” Even when John saw the Pharisees and the Sadducees coming to him and while he was baptizing in the Jordan, he asked them, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? And he went on to say, bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And so the idea was that people would be convicted of their sins and they would repent of their sins, meaning they would turn from their sins and they would commit themselves fully to God in his ways. John would then baptize that person to symbolically show that the person had been washed clean of their sins. And so John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. And so we should see the problem, as my very wise four-year-old did. If John baptized people who had repented of their sins, but Jesus was sinless, then why was Jesus baptized? And it’s hard to assign only one reason for Jesus’s baptism because there are actually multiple reasons for it and multiple reasons why it was necessary. So it’s best not to think that he was baptized for only one reason. So then the question is, well, why was Jesus baptized?

 And the first reason he was baptized was to fulfill all righteousness. You’ll remember that when Jesus did go to John to be baptized, John the Baptist protested and told Jesus, you should be the one baptizing me. But Jesus responded in Matthew chapter three, verse 15, let it be so now, for thus it is fitting to fulfill all righteousness. You see, you have to understand, in the book of Matthew, the word righteousness is used to refer to whole person behavior that accords with God’s will, ways, and coming kingdom. It’s this idea throughout Matthew of inner righteousness that starts in the heart and manifests itself outwardly. This was the standard of righteousness that God sent John the Baptist to preach and proclaim to the people. That’s also why John scolded the religious leaders of Israel, who primarily focused on outward acts of religion. They were all about the outward appearance, even though their hearts were far from God. It’s why John told them to bear fruit in keeping with repentance, rather than just going through the motions of their religious activities, rather than just participating in these things and having this outward appearance of righteousness. John was calling them to this inner righteousness that begins in the heart and then manifests itself outwardly. This is the standard of righteousness that God actually requires of all people. You see, God is not primarily looking at people and saying, okay, well, who is the most religious person and who’s attending church and who’s done this and who’s done that? God is looking at the heart. Who has truly turned from their sins and stopped trusting in themselves for salvation and cast all of their hope and all of their trust and put that in Jesus? 

And Jesus actually came to obtain and earn that righteousness for His people. You see, we benefit not just from the death and resurrection of Christ, but also from His life. Through His life, Jesus committed Himself to perfect obedience to the Father’s will, and He obtained the righteousness that we all need. He was doing it for the Father, and He was doing it for us as well. This is also further verified by the context in which this passage of Jesus’s baptism actually occurs. You see, Jesus’s baptism occurs at a crucial point in the Gospel of Matthew, where the whole theme so far revolves around the question, who is Jesus? Matthew spends the first few chapters of his gospel showing that Jesus is the true obedient Son of God that all others had failed to be. And we’ve actually talked about this in another episode, but if you just go through Matthew chapters two through four, you will literally see that Jesus is reliving Adam’s history and Israel’s history. 

Everywhere that Adam, who was called the Son of God, and Israel, who was also called the Son of God, failed, Jesus, the true Son of God, succeeds. Everywhere they were disobedient, Jesus was perfectly obedient, and through His perfect obedient life, He is obtaining and living up to the standard of righteousness that God requires for His people. It’s no surprise then that immediately after Jesus comes up out of the waters, do you remember what the Father says from heaven? He says, This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased. It’s also no surprise that immediately after Jesus’s baptism, He is sent out into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan. And throughout the entire temptation story, Satan repeatedly tries to get Jesus to doubt His sonship. He constantly asks Him the question, If you are the Son of God, then do this. Yet, Jesus does not give in as Adam did or as Israel did. Instead, His obedience proves His sonship. So for Jesus’s baptism to fulfill all righteousness, it means first and foremost that by submitting to this baptism, He is confirming to the world that the standard of righteousness that John proclaimed, you remember that whole person in her righteousness, that is in fact God’s true standard of righteousness. 

But secondly, it means that Jesus is continuing to be the perfect obedient Son of God by submitting Himself to God’s standard of righteousness and committing Himself to living out that standard. And third, it means that He was continuing on the path of righteousness for His people who would also obtain this righteousness, not by works of their own, but through faith in Him. When we come to faith in Christ, God credits the righteousness of Christ to us through faith. But there is at least one other reason. So Jesus, He goes through with His baptism to fulfill all righteousness, but there’s at least another reason for His baptism, and that was to foreshadow His work on the cross. Jesus Himself said in Luke chapter 12 verse 50, “I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished.” Now He was obviously talking about the cross there. 

You see, baptism is also a picture of God’s judgment. The waters represent God’s judgment. I mean, think about the story of the great flood. The Bible tells us in 1 Peter chapter 3 verse 21 that the flood story literally corresponds to baptism. How? Well, God judged the world and the means of His judgment was the waters, of the flood. The overwhelming majority of the world had turned away from God and they refused to repent of their sins and turn in faith to Him, and so they died in the judgment of God. However, there was one family who was brought safely through the waters of God’s judgment, not because they had merited it, but through their faith in Yahweh. They were brought safely through the waters of the flood by the ark, which was their means of security in the midst of judgment. So how does that correspond to baptism? Well, the waters of baptism, once again, they represent God’s judgment. We deserve to die for our sins. The Bible says the wages of sin is death. So in baptism, we go into the waters of God’s judgment, but we are brought safely through those waters through Christ, who is our ark. Jesus is our ark, just as the ark was the means of safety and security for Noah and his family. And so then we rise up out of the waters, having put our faith in Christ, having died with Him, and now having been raised to new life in Him. And so Jesus, as He was baptized, His baptism was a picture of what He would ultimately do on the cross to save us for our sins. Though He had no sin of His own to repent of, though He had no sins of His own to warrant judgment and death, He takes on the sins of His people and submits Himself to the judgment of God on our behalf. And as He rises out of the waters, there’s a promise that not only will He rise again after suffering the wrath of God, but also that He will be saved from the sin, but also that through faith in Him, we too will rise again. 

So that’s why Jesus was baptized. It was to fulfill all righteousness and confirm God’s standard of righteousness for the world, and it was also to point us forward to and give us a picture of His salvific work on the cross. Now, I did give Judah a version of this answer that a four-year-old can understand, but if you’ve ever had this question as well, I hope that this answer has helped you. I really do appreciate the question for my little man, and I look forward to answering more in the future.