This is My Beloved Son: The Curious Case of the Baptism of God's Sinless Saviour
In Mark 1, verses 9-12, we find what really is a rather strange picture, if you think about it. Jesus Christ, who we confess to be sinless and perfect in all his ways, undergoes immersion, water baptism, at the hands of John. That’s a remarkable thing, because John’s baptism was for repentance. It was a sign of rededication and turning away from evil. Why, then, was Jesus baptized?
Jesus came to be baptized not for repentance, because he had nothing to repent! No, in baptism Jesus identified himself with us. We as Christians are baptized into Christ’s death and raised with him in newness of life. Jesus’ baptism is his assurance to us that this union, which our own baptism signifies, has truly and actually taken place.
Jesus’ baptism called to mind another “baptism.” Mark was a Jew, and his Jewish readers would have remembered how their ancestors arrived in the wilderness, how they entered the place of their testing and preparation for entering the land. How did Israel enter the wilderness? They entered it through the water. Peter calls the passage through the Red Sea a “baptism,” because this passage through water pointed toward the same thing that Christian baptism points to. Israel left the land of slavery and bondage, and on the way to the Promised Land they passed through the water of salvation. The water itself didn’t save them – God did – and the water of baptism didn’t save any of us; God did through our faith. But that water is the dividing line between the people of God and the world. It separated Pharaoh’s armies from the people of God, and it marks a line of separation between us and the world. So when Jesus was baptized, he was doing what Israel did – but not out of fear or terror, like Israel at the Red Sea, not with complaining or despair, like their crying to Moses displayed. Jesus did it better. Jesus did it willingly and voluntarily.
So, Jesus was baptized. As he is emerging from beneath the water, rising up, he sees the skies tear open. The clouds roll back as a scroll, light pours down upon him, and the Spirit comes down like a dove upon him. Mark describes this scene to make a point: Jesus pleased his Father. Jesus was special to God the Father, and was marked out for a special mission.
Why was Jesus special? Let’s ask that question a different way. Remember, this is the first time Jesus appears in Mark’s story. Let’s ask it this way. Who is this Jesus? Who does Mark say Jesus is? The first hint comes as the voice from heaven speaks. “You are my beloved Son,” Jesus hears. It’s so easy to fly over these words: “Awww, his dad loves him.” No, no, no. It’s so much more than that! This is no mere sappy or sentimental statement!
Like so many of the events and statements we find in the New Testament, this is actually an allusion to the Old Testament. “You are my beloved Son” recalls two vital passages from the Jewish Scriptures, and each of them told Mark’s readers something about what this man Jesus was destined to become.
We find the first, and most obvious, in Psalm 2. This psalm is what is called an enthronement psalm – what that means, is that when Israel crowned a king, it seems this psalm was part of the ceremony. David, in this psalm, describes God’s decree, saying: “The LORD said to me: You are my Son; today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel.” David, inspired by God, records God’s words to the kings of Israel: they were like his sons, acting with his authority and on his behalf, with his blessing and power. This psalm was also a crucial prophecy of the coming Messiah. And so any Jew hearing the words from heaven to Jesus would have got the point: this man Jesus – he’s King. The Son of God – he is the King. As the unique, only true Son of God, Jesus is the unique and only true King of all things.
There’s an immediate application here. Jesus is the Son of God. What does that mean to you? It’s far too common these days to look at Jesus as just a friend, to treat him as if he’s on a level with us. And in one sense, he is – he’s human, just like us. But that’s not all he is. Jesus is God’s Son – and that means Jesus is our King. Not a distant and merely ceremonial monarch, like Queen Elizabeth. Jesus is a real King, with real power and authority. If you are a Christian, do you ever stop to think what that means? Jesus is your King! He is Lord! He is your Master! You owe him your allegiance! You owe him your obedience! Following Jesus is not a favour we do him, as if he were a candidate running in a democratic election!
Remember this: the Kingdom of God is not a democracy! In God’s Kingdom, we are not so much citizens as we are subjects! Jesus does not woo us and beg us like a desperate boy proposing to the girl of his dreams – no, he commands us as our rightful King to repent and believe and follow and obey him! Do you treat your relationship with God like that? Do you remember Jesus is the King of your life in the way you look at a pretty girl or a handsome man? Is Jesus honoured as your Lord in the movies you watch, or in the music you listen to? Do the words that come from your mouth show others that Christ rules your life? Do you seek to submit to his will in all things, to obey him even when it’s inconvenient to you, even when it’s the last thing you feel like doing? Jesus is your King, because he is God’s Son. That’s the first point the voice from heaven is making.
There is a second Old Testament allusion in the statement, “You are my beloved Son.” Notice in Psalm 2, God doesn’t address the king as beloved. That concept comes from elsewhere. We find it not in the Psalms but in Genesis 22. In fact, it’s the only place in the Bible that I could find where someone other than Jesus himself is described as a beloved son. Let me read it to you. Verse 2: He said, "Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you."
Jesus is God’s Son, and to the Jews that said Jesus was King. Jesus is a beloved son – what did that mean to the Jews? It would suggest the story of Abraham’s offering of Isaac. This Jesus is God’s beloved Son, just like Isaac was Abraham’s beloved son. And just like Isaac, the Father of Jesus Christ would place his only Son, his beloved Son, upon the altar of the Cross and offer him up as a sacrifice.
The difference, though, is this. Abraham didn’t wind up going through with that sacrifice. God stopped him. And God provided another sacrifice – a substitute sacrifice. But this time, God would not intervene. God stepped in to save Isaac, but he would not do so for Jesus. There would be no substitute to take Jesus’ place, because Jesus was the substitute. Though Abraham burned that ram upon the altar, it didn’t really take Isaac’s place. It only pointed to the one who did. And that was Jesus.
So this Jesus is not only the King. He’s also the Lamb. He’s the sacrifice to take away the sins of the world. The application is obvious – do you believe this? Do you trust in Jesus as the bearer of the punishment for your sins? This is what he came for. If you don’t believe in Jesus, if you are counting on something other than Christ alone to save you from sin and hell, listen: there is no other way. And for those of you who do believe, don’t take this for granted! Remind yourself: “Christ took the punishment for me.” Jesus did it all on your behalf. Remember that!
Want to be a faithful servant? Obey this Lamb who is your King. Trust in Christ as the one who took your sin away. Remember what Christ did for you.