They were two very special cousins, Jesus and John the Baptist. It seems inconceivable they would have grown up unaware of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth some three decades earlier, and the miraculous nature of their births. Now, a crucial meeting between them occurs. Matthew writes in his gospel:
Then Jesus came from Galilee to John to be baptized by him in the Jordan River. But John tried to prevent him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and yet you come to me?” So Jesus replied to him, “Let it happen now, for it is right for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John yielded to him. After Jesus was baptized, just as he was coming up out of the water, the heavens opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my [beloved] Son; in whom I am well pleased.” (Matt. 3:13-17)
Many of us know what it’s like to be buried with work and some of us also know what it’s like to be buried under a mountain of grief. There’s another kind of burial that isn’t burdensome, though. In fact, it’s life-giving: the Bible calls it being buried with Christ in baptism.
One writer paraphrases Romans 6:3-11 this way:
[This is] what baptism into the life of Jesus means. When we are lowered into the water, it is like the burial of Jesus; when we are raised up out of the water, it is like the resurrection of Jesus. Each of us is raised into a light-filled world by our Father so that we can see where we’re going in our new grace-sovereign country.
Could it be any clearer? Our old way of life was nailed to the cross with Christ, a decisive end to that sin-miserable life—no longer at sin’s every beck and call! What we believe is this: If we get included in Christ’s sin-conquering death, we also get included in his life-saving resurrection. We know that when Jesus was raised from the dead it was a signal of the end of death-as-the-end. Never again will death have the last word. When Jesus died, he took sin down with him, but alive he brings God down to us. From now on, think of it this way: Sin speaks a dead language that means nothing to you; God speaks your mother tongue, and you hang on every word. You are dead to sin and alive to God. That’s what Jesus did. (Peterson, 2002)
“Righteousness” means living in harmony with the will of God. At baptism, the Holy Spirit wonderfully moves, much like Paul writes: “testifying with our spirit that we are God’s children” (Rom. 8:16). And the Lord is surely pleased!
Lent has been traditionally linked to preparing people for baptism. These are services when we can celebrate with those who publically declare “passing over” with Jesus from death to sin into a new life in Christ. Let us do this as well, that we may fulfil all righteousness.
Peterson, E. H. (2002). The Message: The Bible in contemporary language (Rom 6:3–11). Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.