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THE BAPTISM OF JESUS

BROTHER W. L. BEEBE: - I wish to submit to you for your consideration a question or two. If you have any light on the subject, please reply through the SIGNS OF THE TIMES. We read in Matthew iii, 11 that John baptized with water unto repentance for the remission of sins. We also learn from reading the Scriptures that Jesus came without sin unto salvation - that he had no sins of his own to repent of; then why was he baptized of John in Jordan unto repentance for the remission of sins? Was it only for example or pattern for his people to follow? Was it not more than an example for them to follow?

Yours to serve,
C. MARRS
FAYETTEVILLE, W. VA., July 19, 1886.


REPLY: In the revelation of salvation in our Lord Jesus Christ there is nothing which can be understood by natural reason. The visible organization of the church is not the pure spiritual body of Christ, for corruption and dissensions were discovered even in the apostolic age in the very churches organized under the inspired direction of those who were guided by the Holy Ghost. The literal fact that John baptized by divine authority is accepted by those who are satisfied of the truth of the records written by the evangelists, even though they receive that testimony only as history. Yet even at that time the most learned and zealous class of religionists confessed that they could not tell whence that baptism came, whether it was from heaven or of men. - Matt. xxi. 23-27. Literally the work of John was declared by Gabriel to Zacharias when his birth was announced, with the promise, “And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth. For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb. And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God. And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” - Luke i. 14-17. This work was fulfilled by the preaching and baptism of John.

Neither the truth preached nor the ordinance administered by that favored servant of God could make ready any others except that people who were “prepared for the Lord.” Hence, when many others came to his baptism he denounced them with their claim of merit on the ground of their natural relation to Abraham. If immersion had been all the preparation required, then John might have received them without requiring “fruits meet for repentance.” On the contrary, being “filled with the Holy Ghost,” John saw that they were not the prepared people whom it was his privilege to make ready. Their trust in their natural birth gave evidence that they were destitute of that preparation which was required before John’s baptism could make them ready for the Lord. How clearly does this record expose the presumptuous folly of all those who profess to have ability to prepare sinners for the reception of the salvation of the Lord! The hope of divine favor by reason of pious natural parentage is also here cut off, since none can bring a higher claim on this ground than those who were Abraham’s children naturally. As that plea was rejected, and the evidence of repentance was required of those who had trusted in it, clearly no other natural parentage can authorize a hope of acceptance in the sight of the holy God.

The repentance unto which John baptized the “people prepared for the Lord,” was not that grief on account of conscious sin which is often mistaken for repentance by the religious world; that repentance which Jesus gives to his Israel is wrought by godly sorrow. - See 2 Cor. vii. 10. This scriptural repentance is a turning away from that in which the penitent has formerly lived. Hence, those Jews whose trust had been in the legal covenant were not manifest as subjects of this repentance while they yet boasted in their natural relation to Abraham. Evidently the natural mind could not’ discern the peculiar qualification of those who were prepared for the Lord, else those eminent Jews would have known that they were not the people whom John was sent from God to make ready. On the other hand, if their natural mind could see in themselves this repentance, the saints would have no further warfare in themselves.

While John was by inspiration enabled to discover and reprove the vain confidence of those legalists who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others, he was not yet able to understand the wonderful mystery to which brother Marrs calls attention. He could comprehend the necessity of his work in giving expression to the repentance of his natural brethren the Jews, whose hopeless condemnation under the law forbade their trust in that covenant of works; but he needed a deeper lesson to enable him to see the propriety of the Lord himself receiving baptism at his hands. Jesus explained only that “Thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness.” It was indeed a very impressive example, which has by the Spirit been brought home to the experience of many of his doubting and lingering disciples in all the ages since he made Jordan glorious by bowing beneath its waters; but it was more than an example. It was the expression of the whole gospel of divine grace, in which the great Captain of our salvation through death destroyed him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and delivered them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. - Heb. ii. 14, 15. Neither in this ordinance nor in any other action or word of our Lord would we dare to limit his purpose merely to a ceremonial example. Only the blessed Comforter, the Spirit who searches even the deep things of God, can know the fathomless depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God, as contained in every word and deed of our Lord. As he was made under the law of Moses to redeem them that were under that law, so he was made a curse for us. “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” - 2 Cor. v. 21. As being holy and sinless in himself, Chirst Jesus was and is above all law, and can neither sin nor suffer; but in his unity with the church of his redeemed people “he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.” - Isa. lii. 12. As he was so identified with his people that their sins were justly laid on him, in that relation he must go down into death and be cut off in their transgressions. So he went down into the depth of all the condemnation which rested upon them for whom he died. This was expressed in the figure of baptism in Jordan; and it was then and there assigned by the Lord as his reason for requiring John to baptize him, that “Thus it becometh us.”

In taking upon him the form of a servant, Jesus recognized the authority of Moses even as vested in the Scribes and Pharisees; and while denouncing their hypocrisy, he taught obedience to their commandments. - Mathew xxiii. 3. By fulfilling every jot and tittle of that law of a carnal commandment, which was given by Moses, Jesus blotted “out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross.” - Col. ii. 14. To accomplish this work it was needful that he should be made under the law; and it is in this relation to his body, the church, that we understand there was propriety in his being baptized in declaration of his death under the law, and his resurrection by the glory of the Father to that eternal newness of life in which he leads captivity captive, and is glorified with the right hand of Omnipotence in all the glory which he had with the Father before the world was. There is no other being in whom that law is fulfilled in all its infinite perfection; therefore the name of Jesus is exalted above “every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come.” As he made himself of no reputation in coming under the law, it was needful that he should declare his death to that law by the divinely authorized ordinance of baptism before he began to preach the gospel of salvation by grace. The repentance unto which he was baptized was the turning away from the legal dispensation, with all its rites, to the gospel kingdom, in which he was about to bring to light that life and immortality which had been hid for ages under the darkness of the night of just condemnation, since sin had entered into the world. In this repentance the Lord Jesus had no sins to confess but the inconceivable burden of the iniquities of his people, which were laid on him by divine justice. In himself he was without sin;

“For he who could for sin atone
Must have no blemish of his own.”

It is not said of Jesus that he was baptized “unto the remission of sins.” His own explanation of it to John was that “Thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness.” It did indeed testify that he turned away from that legal bondage and left its weak and beggarly elements which could not give life. This was the most wonderful display of the superiority of the gospel dispensation; that he who alone was faultless in the sight of the law, yet resigned all claims to justification on that ground, that he might lead the way in the path of the just, “that shineth more and more unto the perfect day.” The righteousness which shines in the Lord Jesus is infinitely superior to the best obedience which could be rendered to the law, since they who are justified in Jesus are forever secure from condemnation, being no longer under the law of sin and death.

The covenant of works which was given to Israel was binding upon all who were born under its provisions; and no Jew could deliver himself from its requirements by any service rendered. It demanded perfect and perpetual obedience; so that he who had fulfilled its every injunction through a lifetime, was doomed to death in his first failure to meet all its demands. Hence it is called the ministration of death and of condemnation. - 2 Cor. iii. 7, 9. In his baptism Jesus turned away from all that gloomy system to the light and liberty of the gospel as embodied in himself. It was by this ordinance that he was made ready to preach the gospel to the poor. Having rendered to the law that perfect honor which was its due, he was now ready to enter upon the work of establishing his own everlasting kingdom by taking out of the way that heavy yoke of legal bondage. In the act of baptism he thus proclaimed the end of the law for righteousness, and the revelation of perfect justification in himself as the fullness of gospel grace.

It is a very limited view of the subject which would see in any word or act of Jesus nothing deeper than the mere ceremony which is visible to the natural eye. The observance of this ordinance by our Lord was the first step in the manifestation of his kingdom. Nothing in the law of Moses required that he should be baptized; but as John was sent directly from God to administer this ordinance, so every proper subject of it was by the Spirit prepared to receive it. In the case of the sinless Redeemer this was evident from the direct approval expressed on the occasion when the Spirit of God in bodily shape like a dove descended and lighted upon him, and a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” The law of Moses derived all its authority from that God who gave it. By the same divine direction John was sent to mark the end of that legal dispensation. “The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it.” - Luke xvi. 16. The higher glory of our Lord Jesus in his gospel kingdom exceeds the glory of Moses in the law as the day exceeds the night in the light of nature. “And Moses verily was ‘faithful in all his house, as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken after; but Christ as a son over his own house; whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end.” - Heb. Iii. 5, 6. All this was expressed in the baptism of our Lord by his servant John; for without divine power there was no provision for the abrogation of that Sinai covenant; and while it remained there was no room for the establishment of the kingdom of Christ. Even the perfect obedience of Jesus did not cancel the requirements of the holy law until he poured out his soul unto death, and in his precious blood the sword of infinite justice was “bathed in heaven.” Then in this terrible baptism he fulfilled all that was expressed in the sacred ordinance, when he was baptized in Jordan. When the waters closed over him there was the symbol of his death and burial, not merely in the new tomb of Joseph, but in that more dreadful burial where all the waves and all the billows of almighty vengeance covered him in the awful depth of death. Then the sword of justice was satisfied, and the law could ask nothing more. But this significant ordinance tells of more than all this; for if this were all, then indeed would the gloom of despair rest upon all the earth and heaven. As the burial beneath the wave tells of death to the law, so the rising body of our dying Lord proclaims the resurrection of all the members of his redeemed body; not to that old life of legal bondage, in which they were dead with him when he died for all, but in him they are risen to newness of life. “Therefore we are buried with him into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” - Rom. vi. 4. Under the legal and prophetic dispensations there was only the promise of that life which in the gospel day is clearly revealed in the resurrection of our Lord by the glory of the Father. In his baptism that life is manifested in a figure which declares it to be everlasting life, in contrast with that mortality which was under sentence of death. “Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God.” - Rom. vi. 9, 10. This is the glorious truth by which the subjects of his redemption are forever secured against falling under condemnation. They live in Christ Jesus by the power of that same endless life in which their Redeemer was raised by the glory of the Father; and as he has redeemed them from their bondage under the law, they can never again transgress its injunctions. Thus in Christ they are risen above all which could condemn them. This was testified in the baptism of our Lord Jesus in Jordan, when the waters of that river of judgment closed over his body, and gave way before his triumphant power as he rose from that liquid tomb. There in a figure divinely approved, our Deliverer asserted his power to lay down his life and to take it again. - John x. 18. In the privilege of following his example, he has given to us the same approval in the answer of a good conscience toward God. So, in every step in which we follow him our Lord has fixed the great reward of his divine pleasure, which is unknown even to the subjects of his redeeming grace so long as they walk in disobedience to his commandment and fail to follow him.

In his baptism the Lord Jesus turned away from all the attractions and allurements of earth, and became obedient unto death; so he led the way for all who love him. In no other way can any man be his disciple; and in no other way does he accept the claim of any who profess to love him. The test as Jesus has declared it is, “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.” - John xiv. 21.

Elder William L. Beebe
Signs of the Times - Editorial
November 15, 1888.

Republished:
Signs of the Times
Vol. 133, No. 7 – July, 1965