Recently, I got into a discussion over the validity of infant baptism and, from there, made the leap into the meaning of baptism in general. Like many things with God, it has meaning on multiple levels. Many people associate baptism with cleansing and a profession of faith. While I agree with that position in many ways, it makes me wonder why Jesus needed baptism.
The obvious answer is to demonstrate obedience to God for the rest of us. However, as I said, it has meaning on multiple levels. One level I want to explore is the use of baptism as ordination.
In Jewish tradition, a man could not become a priest in the temple until the age of 30. Recall that he told Mary at the wedding that it was not his appointed time. Further, a candidate for priesthood must be washed by an existing priest (Exodus 29:4, Leviticus 8:6). We know that Jesus’ formal ministry began after his baptism, so was he ordained at this point? YES! John the Baptist was a priest by lineage (Exodus 29:9, Numbers 25:13, Luke 1). In fact, he only began his ministry a short time before Christ. Remember, he is only a few weeks or months older than Jesus — it was John who jumped in the womb of his mother when Mary came to visit. Jesus approached John for baptism even though scripture indicates that others were present and performing baptisms in the river that day.
However, according to prophecy (I just love saying that) Jesus was a priest of the order of Melchizedek – a priesthood not based on lineage and without beginning or end. So, although Christ was dedicated as a child, he accepted adult baptism as an ordination. All believers are called to ministry based on our spiritual gifts.
What did this have to do with the original discussion on infant baptism? Well, Paul likened circumcision to baptism and Joseph and Mary had Jesus circumcised on the 8th day (according to the law of Moses) and also presented him in the temple and made a sacrifice on his behalf during which he was washed by the priest. So, if circumcision is the equal of baptism according to Paul, Jesus did not need to be baptized – having been circumcised already. Therefore, it was far more than a statement of faith (although it certainly was one).
Jesus was not in need of a cleansing – being the sinless savior of us all. Certainly, Christ’s actions that day were a statement of faith, but they were also done in obedience to the laws of ordination.
The Bible says “he that believes and is baptized shall be saved.” So, while baptism is an important profession of faith, I think it is fallacy to suggest that someone must be baptized again as an adult upon a profession of faith if they have been baptized already as a child. That’s another article for another day, however. Hint: the Apostles baptized entire households including paidia which means “babes in arms”.
Baptism does not remove the sin nature. Grace washes away our sins but every day is a choice to follow Christ. Remember that Grace precedes faith.
If we can accept that baptism is an ordination, Christ’s example set for us that day is that we must all be ordained into the priesthood of all believers. We are all called to spread his word and to reach others in his name. Baptism is not some water ritual we perform in the church hot tub, Baptism is a covenant with God.