Jesus in Our River

Jesus showed up at the river. We read about this moment in all of the gospels.

He came and put Himself among those who saw themselves as sinners. His compassion as the Good Shepherd brought Him there. These lost ones were precisely the people He came to seek and to save.

These people had come to understand their need, as we can read in the early part of Luke 3. The message that had come pierced the tenderhearted. They sensed the opportunity presented and they asked questions. They wanted to know what to do. They responded with the meager measures of faith that were alive in them.

Many crowded on the shore to hear and heed the exhortation to repentance as preached by John the Baptist. Clean, they wanted to be clean. They sought the washing that John offered them, and those who went into the river came out feeling new and fresh again.

This desire to be clean was not a new concept. Even the Psalmist cried out:  “My soul clings to the dust; give me life according to Your Word!” (See Psalm 119:25).

Now here comes the most intriguing part of the story.

Jesus got into the water. That seems like a strange thing for Him to do.

The Son was sinless. There was no repenting for Him to do; never would He think, nor do, anything out of order to the will of the Father. His whole life was devoted to righteousness. His humanity, His perfect life as He lived it on earth, was intended to be the offering for the sins of the world.

And here He was in the river, submitting Himself to baptism. John, reluctant and aware of Jesus as Lord, at first refused Him, saying, “’I need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?’ But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then John consented” (Matthew 3:15).

Initiation and Validation

There are a couple of ways to understand this baptism of Jesus.

One explanation involves the nature of the Son’s varied roles in the eternal plan of world redemption. Jesus took on the flesh of Man and entered our world to be Prophet, Priest, and King.

As Prophet, Jesus spoke the words that are Spirit and are life. What He said was Truth and the Truth sets us free from the bondage that came with the fear of death (see Hebrews 2:15).

His role as King is one that is in process. Christ’s rule and reign shall be displayed in its proper order. For now, He sits at the right hand of glory, “far above all principalities and powers” (see Ephesians 1:20-21). The Day will arrive when He shall take His place as “the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords” and all earth’s “government shall be upon His shoulders” (see 1 Timothy 6:15 and Isaiah 9:6).

It is this third role, the role of Jesus as Priest that I connect to this moment of His baptism.

In the book of Leviticus, we read of all the rules related to the operation of the Tabernacle, the worship center that the Lord had instructed Moses and the people of Israel to create and assemble.

The members of the tribe of Levi were chosen to serve in this setting. Before the sons of this tribe took up their duties in the priesthood they needed to get a bath. “And Moses brought Aaron and his sons and washed them with water” (Leviticus 8:6)

Did Jesus need a bath? He did not, in the spiritual sense, for He had never done anything wrong. But His baptism was a point of order for His initiation in becoming Priest, the great High Priest who lives as our Advocate.

His baptism was a point of order for His initiation in becoming Priest, the great High Priest who lives as our Advocate. Click To Tweet

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus testified that the Law was not something He came to erase. Rather, He came to fulfill it in every detail. “For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished” (Matthew 5:18).

Jesus’ baptism by John, a descendant of the tribe of Levi, marked a validation of His priestly service. Through this moment in the river, Jesus and John did, as the Son said, “fulfill all righteousness.”

A response came from above to bring verification to the occasion:  “…and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on Him in bodily form, like a dove; and a Voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son; with You I am well pleased’” (Luke 3:21-22).

That last phrase should catch us:  “With You, I am well pleased.” This may seem odd to us that the Father would say such a thing to the Son who had never done anything wrong.

What was there not to like about Jesus? Jesus was and is God after all.

Yes, this is true. But Jesus is also Man – absolutely, unequivocally human in every respect. “And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8).

Full Identification

The other reason Jesus got into the Jordan with John was to identify with us, to show Himself as the Friend of sinners. This is where Luke 3 serves to take us deep beneath the surface of the Leviticus point of order involved in the priesthood of the Son.

Right after the mention of the Voice and the pronouncement, Luke supplies a genealogy of Jesus. This second “family tree” of the Son is very different from the one that opens the New Testament.

The gospel of Matthew’s lineage begins this way:  “The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham …” It does so for a reason. Matthew’s record of the Savior was crafted to present Christ as the one true King of Israel, and the writing’s tone was direct toward a target audience — the Jewish community. Therefore, the record features the predecessors of Joseph, the head of the household into which Jesus was born.

Luke’s genealogy is the line of Mary that demonstrates the connectivity of the Son to His human relatives. This genealogy works backward, going past Abraham, all the way to Noah, to Enoch, and finally to Adam.

This genetic line points to Jesus in His identification with the whole of humanity. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). He was at the water for baptism to identify with those who were with Him then and there.  However, His identification with us stretches from eternity to eternity with all those who had come before and with all those who would come afterward.

What a comfort this reality should be to us. The Lord of glory came to know us in all that we are. His life was not one of detachment. The Son, our Savior, sat among the least of us.

Jesus presented Himself as truly human, not as super-human. He possessed all power and all knowledge. He only exercised these according to the guidance of the Holy Spirit to His humanity. He took on flesh to reveal salvation to all flesh (Luke 3:6). This He could not do without humility to the ordinances of life as we live it.

This is the remarkable accomplishment of the Finished Work. This last Adam, this true Son of Man, this anointed One, gave all that He was to His purpose as the Lamb to be slain. The death that entered through the Fall of Man in the Garden was conquered by the death the Son of Man died on the tree of Calvary.

Death was swallowed up. Victory was given by the Lord Jesus Christ (see 1 Corinthians 15:54-56).

Jesus got in the river, our river, and He brought us to salvation in Him.





Steve Andrulonis
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