But Jesus answered and said to him, “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he allowed Him.
John and Jesus fulfilled all righteousness when John baptized Him. That’s a bold statement. Not when a bunch of people started acting right, nor when there was a renewal of love for the Lord’s commandments, nor when justice and mercy flowed throughout the land, but when this man Jesus got into the Jordan to be baptized by John, that’s when all righteousness was fulfilled.
All righteousness. Not the beginning of all righteousness, not the first half of righteousness to be completed by our response, but all righteousness.
And what of the cross? Surely the cross is the fulfillment of all righteousness, no? “It is finished,” right? It would be hard to cancel out the cross’ role in our righteousness, but evidently, because Jesus says so, His baptism fulfilled all righteousness, and the cross supports that truth. Not vice versa.
And isn’t this how it’s true for us? Every time I’ve seen someone saved, I’ve never seen blood dripping from a man on a cross onto a sinner. But I have seen water pour on someone’s head. Baptism is primary; the cross supports it. That’s because Jesus and John fulfill all righteousness – all of it! – by the latter baptizing the former.
Baptism is the waters in which sinners and Savior were joined together, over which the Lord declared His love for His Son, a status extended to everyone in the waters. The Lord had a “communal son” in Israel before, and will do so again with a New Israel. And throughout the Gospel, we see Jesus sharing this status – this status of sonship – with others. Twelve times in the Sermon on the Mount He referred to God as “Your heavenly Father.” Or, to Mary Jesus said, “I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.’ ”
He’s sharing what He possesses with others. He promised the Holy Spirit would continue this activity, for “He will take what is mine [His status as God’s Son] and declare it to you.” This is the “baptism in the Spirit,” the same Spirit by which we cry out “Abba Father.”
Baptism is where the Triune God is revealed. The Father speaks; the Holy Spirit delivers; the Son brings everything and everyone together, for all the creation was created in Him. If Christianity has anything to do with the Triune God – and in fact it has everything to do with the Triune God – then where the Triune God is first revealed as something to be witnessed is a moment that can never be stressed enough as important, that is, a place where “all righteousness” would in fact happen.
Baptism is of water, and water is what the Lord creates out of. When first the Triune God appeared in Scripture – although not as fully revealed in the incarnate man, Christ, yet – it was around the “face of the waters.” Here are the exact words: “the Spirit of God [Holy Spirit] was hovering over the face of the waters. Then God [Father] said, ‘Let there be…’ [the Word, the Son]. ”
The Lord created out of the misty, watery mud – how else do you form mud to look like Jesus, the image of God? The Lord created a new people from Noah out of the flood waters. The Lord created an entire people, His “son,” out of the Red Sea, the moment when His people were “birthed” out of Egypt. The Jordan became the “resurrection” side of that birthing, even as baptism is fulfilled in our death, when we enter the Promised Land. Or, even as Jesus Himself referred to the baptism He still had to complete: “Are you able to…be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?”
The cross was the completion of baptism. When we think of baptism, we shouldn’t think of it as an event that “symbolizes” or even “delivers” the cross of Christ, as if the cross of Christ is the signature event and baptism supports it. Rather, it’s the other way around. The cross of Christ supports Christ’s fulfillment of all righteousness in baptism. If you push the point, that is, if we’re forced to use the language of “symbol,” the cross of Christ is more a symbol of baptism than vice versa. I don’t die on crosses, but the symbol of the cross hangs on my wall. But I was baptized, in real water.
Baptism works because of the cross of Christ, for the cross of Christ put forgiveness into baptism. And the cross of Christ explains and fills an important aspect of Baptism, that is, it’s watery chaos, as in the Psalm, “Save me, O God! For the waters have come up to my neck.” That’s why when we’re baptized we’re baptized into the cross of Christ. But as far as our righteousness goes, Christ’s fate – His fate as the final death of the old world, its sinful status and its sinful inhabitants – was sealed when He went into the Jordan. The cross completed His baptism.
In fact, it would be perfectly acceptable to translate St. Paul’s “as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death” as “baptized [in view of] His death.” Christ’s baptism was the beginning of His death, which is why immediately after it He was thrust into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan. Baptism is primary; the cross supports it.
Which is why Jesus said He and John fulfilled “All righteousness.”
And what of this righteousness? We’ll leave this for next devotion.