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The Baptism of the Sin-Bearer


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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.

—Matthew 3:13–15

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This testimony is replete with meaning, whether we consider the occasion of it or the import of the terms. It may be called a key to that large class of passages which speak of Christ’s obedience as the righteousness of His people, or represent Him as made of God unto us righteousness, because He was first of all made sin for us (2 Cor. v. 21).

As to the occasion which called forth this saying, we find it uttered on the memorable day of Christ’s baptism, when he came to the Baptist, the new Elias*, the culminating point of the Old Testament prophecy, and its voice. John may be regarded here as the living expression of the law and of the prophets, which had during many ages witnessed to the coming Messiah, and which now, by their greatest representative, were to introduce the Christ into His office. As the Lord Jesus recognised them, so they were to inaugurate Him as the truth of the prophecies, and as the substance of the types or shadows. So close in every point of view is the connection, rightly apprehended, of the old and new economy, that the one is incomplete without the other. But though Jesus was fully conscious of His mission from the day when the boy of twelve first trod the courts of the temple, and declared that He must be about His Father’s business, He would take no steps towards the public discharge of His office till He was formally inaugurated into it by an authorized prophet on the one hand, and by divine testimony on the other . . .

The Baptist, as a sinner, feeling that it rather became him to exchange places with Jesus, and to be not the giver but the receiver in the interview, refused, for a time, to confer his baptism on the Redeemer. He could not conceive what the Christ had to do with a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins,—what it was to Him, or He to it. But that reluctance was overcome by the explanation which our Lord subjoined:—”suffer it to be so now”—that is (for the now is emphatic), in my present state of humiliation, and as an action suited only to my state of substitution in the room of sinners. . . .

But the Lord subjoins an explanation as to the principle and end for which He sought John’s baptism: “For thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness.” It is not the special act of baptism to which alone allusion is here made. The language is more general, though the occasion was particular. There is nothing to warrant the limitation of the words, which must be accepted in the full force of the phraseology. The Lord had a public confession to make; and the words here used furnish a key to the whole action. We must then, first of all, notice the import of these His words of confession: it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. The Lord virtually says, “It is not unworthy of the Son of God to go down so far; for it is not a question of dignity or pre-eminence, but of fulfilling all righteousness.” The reception of baptism was only a voluntary act, and not a service personally necessary or required on His own account; for He acted of free choice when He became incarnate. But it became Him to fulfil His undertaking, and in doing so He was not free to omit this or any part of His work; for though he was under no obligation to take the flesh, yet there arose a certain duty from His engagement to the Father, from His mediatorial office, and from the old prophecies. There was a certain hypothetical necessity or propriety which required His acting as He now did, if the end was to be gained. It may be thus put: “It becometh me to appear in the likeness of a sinner, and to fulfil all righteousness.”

—George Smeaton, Christ’s Doctrine of the Atonement (Banner of Truth, 2009), 128–130.

* Elijah



Posted 2018·05·14 by David Kjos
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Posted in: Atonement · Baptism · Christ’s Doctrine of the Atonement · George Smeaton · Imputation · Substitution

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