In Matthew 3:13, “Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John.” Which seems a bit odd because John was baptizing “for repentance,” verse 11, and what did Jesus need to repent of? John also told the Pharisees and Sadducees in verses 7-8 to “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance,” and if they didn’t, verse 10, they’d be “cut down and thrown into the fire.”
Repentance, then, was very much what John’s baptism was about, so when Jesus comes to be baptized it surprises John, because, being cousins of similar age growing up together, John had never seen Jesus do anything he needed to repent of.
Knowing Jesus as well he did, then, John says to Jesus in verse 14, “Why do you come to me to be baptized? I should be baptized by you.“ But Jesus replies in verse 15, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.”
But what did “fulfill all righteousness” mean? There’s a hint in the context, because as Jesus rises up from the water after John baptizes him, “heaven was opened” and “the Spirit of God descended like a dove and came to rest on Jesus” – the exact sign John had been given back in John 1:32-34 to help him identify Jesus as the “Son of God” (verse 34). Jesus being the Son of God is then confirmed in Matthew 3:17,when “a voice from heaven” says, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”
It makes total sense, then, that being the Father’s much loved Son, Jesus wanted to fulfill everything his Father sent him to do. Which is exactly what Jesus did, because at the end of his ministry he was able to say to his Father in John 17:4, “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.” Everything Jesus said and did was directed toward that end, of completing and fulfilling his Father’s wishes.
And note in verse 25, that Jesus addresses his Father as “Righteous Father.”
As the Son of a “righteous” Father, therefore, Jesus wanted to complete, or fulfill, all the “righteousness” his righteous Father wanted him to do. Which explains why Jesus said at his baptism it was “proper” for him to fulfill all righteousness, because it was his greatest wish, as it was his Father’s greatest wish, that he complete every righteous thing his righteous Father had sent him for. No wonder the Father said at Jesus’ baptism, “This is my Son, whom I love,” because Jesus’ reason for all that he said and did was to complete and fulfill all the righteous work his righteous Father had sent him to do.
But why would his Father include Jesus being baptized in “fulfilling all righteousness” as well, when John’s baptism was all about repentance?
Jesus had no need to repent. But we do, because we fallway short of fulfilling the Father’s righteousness, and well short of acting like his children too. So Jesus going through a baptism of repentance was meant for us, not him, to show us what needs to be done for us to become proper sons and children of the Father too. And for us it begins with repentance, admitting that in both our words and actions we weren’t even close to fulfilling all the righteousness that a righteous God created us for, and we weren’t acting like his children either.
And when that dawns on us, as it did on those stunned Jews in Acts 2:37 when they realized they’d just killed their Messiah, and they asked, “Brothers, what on earth do we do now?” – the first word that came out of Peter’s mouth was “Repent.”
That’s because repentance is how the restoration of our relationship as our Father’s children begins, which leads to us wanting to live the righteous life he created us for, the ultimate goal being to hear our Father say of us, like he said of Jesus, “You are my children, whom I love; with you I’m well pleased.”
This is what Jesus set his heart on fulfilling too, John 17:26, “I made you (Father) known….in order that the love you have for me may be in them.” In the fulfilling of all his Father’s righteousness, then, the desired result is us experiencing the same love of the Father that he’s always had for his Son. We realize, at last, just how much we are the loved children of a loving Father.
And that’s the journey the Father has us on. And to show us that the journey for every one of us begins with repentance, Jesus went through a baptism of repentance at the very beginning of his ministry too.