Thursday, March 25, 2010

Christ's Baptism of Repentance

Here’s an interesting thought: when Christ was baptized by John the Baptist, was He merely setting an example for us to do the same, or was He actually entering into a baptism of repentance? Perhaps you have never thought about it before. Or perhaps you don’t really care to think about it because you don’t see the relevance to the question.

Either way, let’s be clear: both Luke and Mark tell us that John was “preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins” (Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3). All those who came to him were to repent of their sins. They couldn’t simply come and say they wanted to be baptized and not repent for the wrong they had done in their lives. It wasn’t a careless or casual exercise that people engaged in because it was the “cool” thing to do. John required that he see actual evidence of actual repentance. This is, after all, why he took exception to the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to be baptized and forcefully said to them that they needed to “bear fruits worthy of repentance” (Matthew 3:8).

Thus, when Jesus came to be baptized, I doubt that John and Jesus got together on the sidelines before taking the plunge so Jesus could say to him, “I am not really going to repent of anything, but baptize me anyway. I want to set a good example for others.” No such “deal” was struck between the two of them.

And yet, there is an obvious dilemma: John required people to repent of their sins and yet Jesus had never sinned. So how could Jesus repent and thus be baptized?

Could it be that He did, in fact, repent but that He repented on our behalf? Fortunately for us, the fog is cleared a little bit by some clarification from a wise woman:

“Many had come to him [John] to receive the baptism of repentance, confessing their sins,” Ellen White writes, “Christ came not confessing His own sins; but guilt was imputed to Him as the sinner’s substitute. He came not to repent on His own account; but in behalf of the sinner.” She goes on to write that “Christ honored the ordinance of baptism by submitting to this rite. In this act He identified Himself with His people as their representative and head. As their substitute, He takes upon Him their sins, numbering Himself with the transgressors, taking the steps the sinner is required to take, and doing the work the sinner must do” (Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 2, p. 60).

What a beautiful picture! Christ was baptized on our behalf. He confessed sins on our behalf. Even at His own baptism, He was bearing the sins of the world—sins that you and I had not even committed yet.

Of course, not only is this a beautiful picture of what Christ has done on our behalf, but perhaps it has implications for what we are to do on others behalf as well. Not that we have any merit that can be substituted for others, but we can repent for others—plead for their forgiveness and salvation. And, by so doing, perhaps our attitudes will be winsome to them and they will, indeed, come to repentance on their own.


Guercie said...

This is indeed an interesting thought. Jesus Christ repented before his baptism and his repentance must have been on my behalf as he had no sins to repent from. He repented for my sins even before I came to existence and I know he prayed for me (John 17:20) before I was formed. My salvation therefore is a "complete gift" from God. There is NOTHING that I MUST do to be saved. Jesus did it all. See I am not a pastor nor am I a Theologian. I am a mere church member who feels most of the times that even my feeble attempts at repentance are all but "filthy rags" and certainly not deserving of forgiveness. Now if Christ himself repented on my behalf, what a relief! and most importantly what an awesome God he is. I can not help but feel a wave of gratitude and Love toward HIM. How can I now not love and forgive my fellow human beings for whom Jesus also repented and whom Jesus also loved to crucifixion. "Master, what must I do to be saved?" May be, just may be... this is the whole point of the gospel. This message in its simplicity will bring peace and hope to a dying SDA church.

Anonymous said...

Spot on!

Andrey Arkhipov said...

I don't think you realize the implications of what you are saying in this post, although I do have to say that this is an interesting though.

The act of repentance constitutes turning away from one's sins and following God's righteous ways. It's an act that no-one but us can do.

The act of Baptism in itself does not equal the act of repentance in either case, just like act of walking down the isle to "accept Jesus as your personal savior" does not constitute act of repentance or salvation.

The act of repentance constitutes the act of repentance. It might be an obvious statement to make, but it's likewise a simple one that does not require us to reach for any "deeper meaning". It's an act that no-one can make, or to impute upon yourself. Without your own repentance, the act of "accepting Christ as your personal Lord and Savior" is meaningless.

Repentance is not equal confession. Likewise, you can't repent of someone else's sins. That would be contrary to definition of repentance. Otherwise we should light up those candles and get our prayers for the dead going ;)

Likewise, sin is not something that you can "take on" in literal sense of the word. Sin is a transgression of the law... a thought that results in physical act, that in it's turn results in damage. Can you explain to me the literal mechanics of taking on sin? We love to literalize the NT language and metaphors without underlying understanding of how it can work.

Sin is not an object. Sin could be described as an act, perhaps a mental condition, or a lifestyle. None of these definitions would be categorized as transferable. You simply can't transfer sin from one place to another. That's not what sin is :). So, when we read the NT and OT metaphors about sin, we have to understand these in context of metaphors. When we begin to literalize (not a real word) metaphors... we can come up with all kinds of weird stuff.

Christ was in no need to repent, neither could he repent on our behalf. We tend to throw the substitution into everything that Christ did. Part of Christ's ministry was to live out righteousness in human body. So He himself gives that as a reason for His baptism. It was a requirement for OT believers, so He would not be doing anything contrary to that... because righteousness had to be fulfilled in his physical body.