Detail of a stained glass window in the Nauvoo Illinois Temple depicting the baptism of Jesus, by Tom Holdman
Why did Jesus begin His ministry by being baptized? In all four of the gospels, this is the first event in His adult life. What is it about baptism that functioned as an appropriate inauguration for three years of teaching, performing miracles, and ultimately overcoming sin and death? Here are a few thoughts:
- Being baptized is an inherently humble action. It demonstrates the participant’s willingness to submit his or her will to the will of God, which was a central theme of the Savior’s ministry. See the following blog post: The Lamb of God Went Forth and Was Baptized – 1 Nephi 11:26-27.
- Baptism is a way of making public our most personal beliefs and commitments. That public declaration invites other people to support us. Here’s a post on that topic: There Were None Who Were Brought unto Repentance Who Were Not Baptized – 3 Nephi 7:24-25.
- Being immersed in water signifies that we are all in, that we are holding nothing back. As the Savior prepared to dedicate Himself fully to His ministry, the symbolism was appropriate. Here’s a post about the total commitment symbolized by this ordinance: Immersion.
It’s worth noting that Jesus also began His ministry on the American continent by teaching about baptism. (See 3 Nephi 11:18-41.)
Of course, we also associate baptism with repentance. John the Baptist admonished the people he taught to “bring forth fruits meet for repentance” (Matthew 3:8, Luke 3:8) and to be baptized “unto repentance” (Matthew 3:11), two phrases which appear multiple times in the Book of Mormon. He also emphasized that baptism by water was a precursor to receiving the Holy Ghost, which he called baptism “with fire” (Matthew 3:11, Luke 3:16). Here are a few blog posts about these aspects of baptism:
- What Is “Fruit Meet for Repentance?”
- What Does It Mean to Be “Baptized Unto Repentance?”
- What Does It Mean to Be “Baptized with Fire?”
Of course, the Savior didn’t need to repent, and only He could baptize with fire, so according to Matthew, John questioned Jesus’ request for baptism. “I have need to be baptized of thee,” he said, “and comest thou to me?” (Matthew 3:14). The Savior responded, “Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15). In the Book of Mormon, Nephi elaborates on that phrase as he explains why Jesus was baptized and what that means for us. (See 2 Nephi 31:4-10.) See also this blog post:
John’s humble ministry is an example to all of us. He knew his ministry was preparatory. “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance,” he told the people, “but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire” (Matthew 3:11, Mark 1:7-8, Luke 3:16). He also knew he was fulfilling in an important way an Old Testament prophecy: Isaiah 40:3. (See Matthew 3:3, John 1:23.) Here are two posts about him:
Jesus’ baptism also provided an opportunity for God the Father to bear record of Him: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17, Mark 1:11, Luke 3:22), which are essentially the same words He later used to introduce Jesus on the American continent following His death and resurrection. (See 3 Nephi 11:7.) The Holy Ghost also descended upon Jesus “like a dove” (Matthew 3:16, Mark 1:10, Luke 3:22). This scene demonstrates that the members of the Godhead are three distinct individuals, but it also emphasizes Their complete unity. As Jesus would later teach: “The Father, and I, and the Holy Ghost are one” (3 Nephi 11:36). Here’s a blog post on that topic:
Blog Posts January 23-29
A winnowing fan is a kind of basket used to throw chaff and grain into the air. The chaff blows away, and the heavier grain remains. Chaff can represent our sins. If we are willing to let them go, they will blow away as the Savior winnows us.
The Ax Is Laid at the Root of the Tree
Maturity requires awareness and honesty. John the Baptist and Alma both used a metaphor of an ax resting beside a tree to help their listeners overcome complacency and choose to repent.
“Exact No More…”
John the Baptist answered the same question asked by three groups of people: “What shall we do.” All three of his answers are based on the same underlying principle, a principle which King Benjamin also exemplified and taught: Don’t take more than you should. Discipline yourself to not abuse the power you have.
“My Beloved Son”
When our Father in Heaven has introduced Jesus Christ, He has consistently called Him, “my Beloved Son.” We can follow this example by expressing love for our family members regularly.
Mark tells us that when Jesus called Peter and Andrew to be His disciples, “They straightway left their nets and followed him.” We likewise often need to act straightway, without unnecessary delays or detours.
Baptized with Fire
John the Baptist described the effect of the Holy Ghost with a striking metaphor: I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire. Matthew 3:11; see also Luke 3:16 As far as I know, that is the only place…
Thanks Paul. I thought it was interesting to learn last year that the Jewish custom that still exists today is to essentially baptize a gentile who converts to Judaism. This “mikvah” or ritual bath could’ve been the basis of John’s baptism. I love the symbolism of baptism as we are born-again in the covenant and start a new life in Christ, and I am so grateful that Jesus showed us the way
Thanks for the additional perspective. I wasn’t aware of the Jewish practice of mikvah, and it sounds like the symbolism of full immersion has a similar meaning that baptism has for us. Thank you for sharing!