A question people sometimes ask, “If Jesus was sinless why did He need to be baptized by John the Baptist?”
Matthew 3:13-15 states, “Then Jesus arrived from Galilee at the Jordan coming to John to be baptized by him. But John tried to prevent Him, saying, ‘I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?’ But Jesus answering said to him, ‘Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then he permitted Him.”
This question goes unanswered, I think, because we have an incorrect understanding of what baptism meant to Jesus and John the Baptist. Today we baptize someone after they professes Jesus, choose to follow Him and then they try to live a righteous life, but in Jesus’ day, when one was baptized, it was after they had displayed their right living.
Found among Israel’s first century historian, Josephus writings, is a statement of what John the Baptists intent was as he baptized.
“For Herod had put him to death though he was a good man and had exhorted the Jews to live righteous lives, to practice justice towards their fellows and piety towards God, and in so doing to join in baptism. In his view this was a necessary preliminary if baptism was to be acceptable to God. They must not employ it to gain pardon for whatever sins they committed but as a consecration of the body implying that the soul was already thoroughly cleansed by right behavior.” Antiquities 18.116-119
Notice Josephus states, ‘The soul was already thoroughly cleansed by right behavior.”
So we see, according to Josephus, Jesus was not in need of repentance of sins as we practice today, but was baptized as a outward symbol of the inward righteousness He had already displayed.
Many today have walked away from the Christian faith because they have unanswered questions that they can not reconcile, but God chooses not to answer every question in order to build our faith in Him. We are to live by faith, faith that God’s word is true, faith that He is able to keep it pure and undefiled, and faith that He will lead you into all truth. Living by faith, most of the time, means He will not give us all the answers but we trust anyway, knowing that He will lead us down the right path.
Father, please help us to have the faith to believe that you are in complete control, even if we do not have all the answers. In Jesus name, amen.