But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. Matthew 3:15
In the blink of an eye twenty years have passed in the life of Jesus. We know nothing of his life after his encounter in the Temple at age twelve. We can assume some things. As the oldest son he would have worked with his father Joseph in construction. We know Joseph as a carpenter but in the first century that is a catch all for a contractor. He would have built houses, furniture, worked with wood and stone and would have taught his sons his trade. We don’t hear anything of Jospeh after the events when Jesus was twelve and can assume that he passed away at some point. Jesus would have stayed and run the family business until his younger brothers would take over. So with that he begins his public ministry by going to be baptized by John, his cousin.
We are told that John was the forerunner of the Messiah, one crying in the wilderness to make the path straight. He was baptizing people and calling for them to repent, turn from their sin and back to God. Thousands came out to the wilderness to hear him and many repented and were baptized as a public sign of that repentance. When Jesus presents himself to be baptized, John objects. Why would Jesus come to be baptized? He is the Messiah, the Unblemished Lamb. He has no need to repent. John is confused but Jesus insists that it is the right thing to do. He must do this to fulfill all righteousness and so John relents and Jesus is baptized.
But now we are left confused. What in the world did Jesus mean by this? We have the same questions John had, why does Jesus want to be baptized. That is supposed to be for sinners who need to repent. For centuries biblical commentators have wrestled with the same questions. But I think there is an answer that is actually very moving and compelling. It all has to do with Isaiah 53:11-12.
In Matthews Gospel, the word fulfill is typically used when talking about prophecy. Isaiah 53 is one of the most important prophecies about the Messiah in the Old Testament. verse 11 & 12 we are told that the Messiah will be a righteous servant of the Lord and as such he will take on our iniquities. Jesus is telling John that he is the righteous one and this is the right thing to do in order to take on our sins. But it is verse 12 that drives the point home, “he will be numbered among the transgressors”. Jesus is being baptized as the opening act of his ministry in order to identify with you and me. By his baptism he is saying, “I am one of you, I am experiencing life with you in order to be the one who brings eternal life to you”. From the very beginning Jesus is saying, “I am here for you”.
I have to wonder if Jesus didn’t direct his gaze at the thousands who gathered to hear John. I wonder if there wasn’t a knowing look between the two of them. They shared an understanding in that moment that Jesus had come to be the one who would give himself for those thousands and many more. And in that moment, John relented and baptized the one person in all of history who didn’t need it, but who did it to let you an me know that he was here for us.