“But John tried to prevent Him, saying, ‘I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?’ But Jesus answering said to him, ‘Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.’… After being baptized… behold the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him, and behold a voice out of the heavens said, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.'”
Two events dovetail (literally!) the baptism of Jesus – the descending of the Spirit, and the proclamation of the Lord from the Heavens. He tells John to baptize Him as a fulfillment of righteousness, either as a model for humanity or a fulfillment in His own life. But I think the whole experience is a model for humanity–not the physical baptism only.
We know baptism as the tangible symbol of the death and resurrection of Jesus, and our own participation with His death. We know of baptism as our cleansing, our restoration. In this sense, this is the fulfillment of righteousness in our lives – we are new creations in Christ. We are clothed with His righteousness. And we’re done, right?
However, Jesus models here the whole package for the new believer. When we are made new, our renewed spirit becomes a home for the Holy Spirit. We are restored to what The Lord intended – complete connection with His presence. Righteousness is both given and enacted through the empowering presence through the Holy Spirit.
Finally, The Lord makes a declaration over His son. This is an integral part of fulfilling righteousness, which is not merely working out the details of behaving rightly, but of being right. I am only “right” before the Lord when I am conformed to the truth of what He says about me. And that is that I am His. I am beloved. I am someone whom He is well pleased in. When rooted in my identity as the Lord’s, my activities are not the primary confirmation or denial of my righteousness before Him–they are affirmations of the growth of my heart in the process of sanctification, but my status before The Lord does not rise and fall with my faithfulness (or lack therof).
Paul expresses this to the Corinthians:
“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is anew creature; the old things passed away; behold new things have come” (2nd Cor. 5:7).
This is a simple message that we know — grace vs. works — but this encounter with Jesus reveals that to us the precious source of this grace — God the Father’s loving pronouncement upon us as sons.
What the Father says is true, whether we feel it or not. As we receive sonship, belovedness, and His pleasure from the sacrifice of the Son, we are continually renewed and made righteous.