And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in Jordan.…
I. DIFFICULTY. There is something singular, to say the least, in the baptism of our Lord. In that solemn inauguration of the Saviour, as he entered on his public ministry, a difficulty is encountered. That difficulty respects the significance of the rite in relation to the spotless Son of God. Water, when applied to the person or used in the way of ablution, is employed as an element of cleansing. But the idea of cleansing necessarily carries along with it the notion of defilement. The thought of pollution, from whatever source derived, or in whatever way contracted, or in whatever it may consist, is inseparably connected with it. Cleansing has as its natural and necessary correlative uncleanness either expressed or implied.
II. INAPPLICABLE TO OUR LORD. Yet the Saviour was not only holy, harmless, and undefiled in life; but at his birth and in the very nature of his humanity, he was free from every taint and unsullied by the least stain of sin, as it is written, "Therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God," or more literally, "Therefore also that which is born of thee, being holy, shall be called the Son of God." It is probable that the Baptist felt at once the awkwardness of his own position, and the incongruity of administering to One so perfectly pure and undefiled a rite which, as the symbol of cleansing, implied a previous condition or natural state of impurity and defilement.
III. THE BAPTIST'S RELUCTANCE. In view of the circumstance just mentioned, as well as of the overwhelming superiority of the Divine applicant, John expressed such extreme lothness to administer the rite. Nay more, that reluctance took the form of a somewhat firm refusal: "But John," we read, "forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?" The imperfect διεκώλυεν may imply the commencement, that is, began to prevent, or be used de conatu of the endeavor to prevent, while the prepositional element imports activity and earnestness in the effort. It was only after a remonstrance on the part of the Saviour, and after he had pointed out to John the propriety of the course, that the Baptist yielded. The reason alleged by our Lord, while it was sufficient to overcome the scruples of the Baptist, is serviceable to us in inquiring into the nature of the ordinance then administered. True, that reason is expressed in somewhat general terms, as follows: - "Thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness;" but wherein this righteousness consisted, and holy it was fulfilled, we proceed briefly to investigate.
IV. PRIESTHOOD OF CHRIST. It will be borne in mind that our Lord, though a priest after the order of Melchisedec, and superior to that of Aaron, was nevertheless the great Antitype of the Aaronic priesthood. The priest of the Aaronic order was typical of the great High Priest of our profession. The rites of consecration in the one case may, therefore, be regarded as helpful in elucidating the mode of inauguration in the other.
V. CEREMONIAL OF CONSECRATIONS. At the ceremonial of consecrating the Aaronic priest, there was
(1) anointing with oil, and
(2) washing with water.
The oil was emblematical of the Spirit, the water of separation from all that would unfit for the service of the Holy One; the anointing with oil signified the bestowal of the needful endowments, the washing with water the impartation of the necessary moral qualities; the one has reference to the gifts, the other to the graces, required for the proper and efficient discharge of the priestly functions. It was thus with the type, while, in the case of the Antitype, the figure was realized in the fact; the sign gave place to the thing signified. In other words, the unction of the Spirit took the place of the anointing with oil; the washing with water, which in reference to the Levitical priest denoted the necessity for purity in the service of God, and entire separation from anything that would defile, implied, in relation to the Redeemer, the actual possession of that purity in its highest perfection, and of that separation from all possibility of defiling or contaminating influence.
VI. REFERENCE TO PRIESTLY CHARACTER.
1. Accordingly, the baptism of our Lord had respect to the priestly character he sustained, not to any human imperfection that required to be repented of, or impurity that needed to be removed; so that the righteousness which it behoved to fulfill was conformity to the rite of priestly consecration; while the type merged in the antitype, and the figure gave place to fact. He was now about thirty years of age (the Levitical period) when he began his ministry.
2. Another explanation solves the difficulty by giving prominence to the representative character of Christ. He came as the representative of a people guilty in God's sight, and morally unclean; and as he afterwards bore their sins in his own body on the tree in order to expiate their guilt, so now he was baptized vicariously because of their uncleanness, in token of his purpose to purge away their filth. "He was baptized," not as though in need of it himself, but on behalf of the human race; and such is the opinion of Justin Martyr. He was made in the likeness of sinful flesh - made sin for us, and so numbered with and treated as a transgressor.
3. Other explanations of the matter, still less probable, have been given, as for example
(1) that it was the perfection and proof of humility; and
(2) that it was for the purpose of being made manifest to the people, and that in presence of so great a concourse the Baptist might bear testimony to his Messiahship; which appears to be the view of Theophylact.
VII. THE PRESENCE OF THE TRINITY. At the baptism of our Lord the three Persons of the blessed Trinity were present or represented. The voice of the eternal Father came ringing down out of the cleaving heavens as they were rending asunder; the Holy Spirit in dove-like form descended; the beloved Sou was the subject of the former, and the recipient of the latter. Thus Father, Son, and Holy Spirit inaugurated the Christian dispensation at its commencement; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit impart the grace and bestow the blessings of this dispensation during its continuance; while Father, Son, and Holy Spirit shall share the glory at its close. And so in the beautiful words of the TeDeum -
"The holy Church throughout all the world doth acknowledge thee;
The Father of an infinite majesty;
Thine honorable, true, and only Son
Also the Holy Ghost, the Comforter."
VIII. THREEFOLD TESTIMONY. Thrice during our Lord's public ministry a voice from heaven testified to his Messiahship - once at his baptism as just noticed; once on the Mount of Transfiguration; and once during Passion week, in the courts of the temple, as we read in the Gospel of St. John, John 12:28, "Father, glorify thy name. Then came there a voice from heaven, saying, I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again."
IX. TRIPLE RECORD. Again this acknowledgment of the Father puts honor on the Divine Word, for, from the three leading divisions of it - the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms - that acknowledgment is taken. The words, "Thou art my Son," are taken from the second Psalm; from Genesis, the first book of the Law, Genesis 22:28, we have the expression, "My beloved Son;" while in the Prophets, namely, Isaiah 42:1, we find the remaining clause, "In whom I am well pleased."
X. CHANGE IN THE BAPTIST'S PREACHING. The Galilean valley and the Judaean desert were far separate. Though closely allied by kinship, and more closely still by oneness of spirit, John and Jesus had grown up apart; their first actual contact was at the baptism of the latter. Personal acquaintance there had been none; or if there had, it did not contribute to the Baptist's recognition of his Messiah. Either by a conversation of which we have no record, or by direct revelation immediately before the baptism, the important fact was made known to the Baptist. Be this as it may, one very remarkable effect resulted from it. The style, and indeed the subject, of the Baptist underwent an entire change. Previously his manner had been denunciatory; subsequently it became conciliatory. Before he had borrowed his imagery from the harsh features of the surrounding desert - the rude rocks, the poisonous vipers, the barren tree; or from the rough ways and works of agricultural life, such as may have existed on the verge of the wilderness - the threshing-floor, the winnowing implement and the worthless chaff. But now he tempers and softens his mode of speech with figures from the sanctuary and its service - the lamb slain, the sin sacrifice, and the expiation. We hear no more of viperous broods - vipers themselves and sprung from vipers; no more of fruitless trees, fit only for the fire; no more of stones taking the place of sons, that is, of abanim becoming banira; no more of the sifting and separating process by which the good groin would be garnered and the worthless residue gathered into heaps for burning. On the other hand, we read of the Lamb as the Sin-bearer, and salvation as the blessedness secured; in other words, we have the blessed truth first uttered by the Baptist's lips, "Behold, the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world!" The legal has given place to the evangelical. The first phase - equally needful and equally useful, it is true - of the Baptist's preaching is exhibited by the synoptists; the second - softer, sweeter, and superior in tone and tendency - by the penman of the fourth Gospel, the evangelist and beloved apostle John.
XI. THE BAPTIST'S FUNCTION THREEFOLD. The commission of the Baptist embraced three functions:
1. Herald-like, he was to prepare the way for the coming King by calling men to repentance.
2. He administered, on their full confession equivalent to making a clean breast of it), the rite which served as a pledge that their conviction of sin was real and their service sincere - that, in fact, they wished to act in conformity with such a direction as that of the prophet, "Wash you, make you clean, put away the evil of your doings from before my eyes." In all this, however, they might merely have an eye to the penal consequences of sin, and to that sweeping storm of coming wrath to which sin exposed them; and thus proceed no further than legal repentance.
3. But a yet higher office was to announce the kingdom of heaven as come down on earth, and point to the advent of its King; in other words, to direct the eye of faith to Messiah as the great Sin-sacrifice and the only Saviour. Repentance alone, especially of the legal kind referred to, could not merit the remission of sins; neither could baptism, nor yet the combination of both together: the real meritorious cause was the atoning sacrifice of the Son of God - the Lamb slain; while faith, that faith from which true evangelical repentance is never separate, was the link of union between the soul of the penitent and his Saviour. Thus John virtually preached faith as well as repentance; for his repentance-baptism derived its whole meaning and validity from faith in Christ. Evangelical repentance commences with Christ, the cross, Calvary, and is "the tear in the eye of faith" directed thereto, for, looking to him whom we have pierced, we mourn. Of this we have tolerably plain proof in the words of St. Paul (Acts 19:4), "Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, in Christ Jesus." - J.J.G.
Parallel VersesKJV: And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in Jordan.