Jesus then appeared, arriving at the Jordan River from Galilee. He wanted John to baptize him. John objected, “I’m the one who needs to be baptized, not you!” But Jesus insisted. “Do it. God’s work, putting things right all these centuries, is coming together right now in this baptism.” So John did it. (Matthew 3:13-15 MSG)
It must have been a huge shock for John when Jesus came to him to be baptized. Here, the forerunner of the messiah is asked by the messiah to be baptized; the Master “submitting” to the disciple. It was definitely a major reversal in the discipleship/master role of the day.
Jesus has no need to be baptized. So why did he do it? “to fulfill all righteousness.” was the Master’s response. But what does that mean?
As a master, Jesus set the example for the disciples. He shows them that he too, is willing to submit. The key word here is submission. In fact, it is a key concept through the scriptures. It is also the most difficult action we Christians, especially in the West, struggle with. It is a “righteousness” we need to learn.
Submit. The very word conjures a good argument. We do not like to be told by others what to do. Yet submission was what our Master did and taught during his days on earth. And the baptism at the river was a physical example to show others this important spiritual discipline.
I find it very interesting that the two times in which Jesus’ disciples balk at doing something for him involve water: Jesus’ baptism and Jesus washing the feet of the disciples. Both involve a washing. However, they both show submission on Jesus’ part. All righteousness begins with submission. We either submit to the Master or we don’t.
But perhaps the biggest lesson in this event is not just Jesus submitting to baptism, it is John learning righteousness. I believe Jesus was teaching John to learn to submit just as Peter was learning to submit when Jesus washed his feet. The removal of all pride is needed to fully become a mature disciple. Our struggle is not against flesh and blood. It is against the spiritual darkness. A darkness that is armed to the teeth with pride.
As a disciple, I must learn to submit. Not only to the Master, but to my earthly authorities too. The peace of God rests on the pillars of righteousness. And one of those is the pillar of submission.