When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. (Luke 3:21)
One of the gifts of baptism is the promise that we “drown the old Adam,” “wash away our sin,” and inherit the promise of eternal life with God. These are central to our teachings about baptism. So, if baptism is about the death of the old, sinful self and the cleansing of our lives from sin – why was Jesus baptized? Even John’s baptism, a different understanding of baptism than the one we hold as Christians today was a baptism of repentance. If Jesus was “pure and without sin” then what did Jesus need to repent of and what sins could he need washing of?
It is helpful to remember that John the Baptist’s offer of baptism was not the same kind of baptism that we share in Christian community today. While today, we are baptized in order to be “joined with Christ in a death like his” (Romans 6), there was no death of Jesus at this point. He was alive and well and just starting his ministry while John was out baptizing people and pointing the way toward Jesus. But John’s baptism was still connected to sin, repentance and forgiveness – not in the same ways as Christian baptism today, but still connected.
Jesus gets in line to be baptized with everyone else for the opposite reason. While we are baptized to associate our lives with the sinless Son of God, Jesus is baptized in order to associate his life with the sinful life of sinners. In other words, Jesus does this to continue his descent from heaven into life and to emphasize God’s full participation with humanity. Jesus, sinless Son of God, is one of us. He is fully immersed in more than water. He is fully immersed in the messy stuff of our lives.
For each of this, this is good news. Our lives are often chaotic and filled with places that feel like we are disconnected and out of step, even with ourselves. But Jesus has come to ensure us that we are never out of step with God, for God will come and walk with us in all things. Jesus’ baptism announces this for all humanity in one way. Our baptisms declare it to be true for each of us as well.