We need to have an understanding of how significant this event is. When Jesus chose to be baptized, He was doing 3 very important things.
1. He Was Identifying With Us.
Although Jesus was never guilty of sin, He submitted to baptism as a means of recognizing the fact that He was fully human. Jesus didn’t come to earth to be above us, but to be "God with us." So when Jesus approached John and allowed Himself to be baptized, He identified with the average person who sought the direction and will of God. That made Him different than the religious leaders who saw themselves as "over" the common people, and who believed that they were the sole authority on what the will of God was.
2. He Was Being An Example To Us.
Not only do Christians believe that God entered into a human body and lived as a man, but we also believe that He lived His life as an example for us. Jesus’ constant command to people while He was here on earth wasn’t "Go and do this or that." He constantly told people, "Follow me." Jesus came to earth to model the way we should live our life. One aspect of His model was that He was baptized. Because Jesus was sinless, it would not have been wrong for Him to skip baptism. However, it was right for Him to be baptized. I think that’s what Jesus meant when he explained to John "it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness."
I am always amazed at those who are bold enough to say, "You don’t have to be baptized to have salvation." The biggest problem with that thought is that it places the emphasis on the wrong side of the issue. It is looking at salvation from the perspective "What is the least I can do to get to heaven." That isn’t a godly perspective at all. Jesus said, "If you want to follow me, you have to take up a cross." Becoming a follower of Christ means that you turn your life over to Him. Paul says we become a "living sacrifice." There is no room here for a half-hearted commitment. It is all or nothing.
Now just so that I’m not misunderstood, I am also amazed at those who are bold enough to say, "Nobody will get to heaven without being baptized." Those people must have some inside track on God’s entrance requirements to heaven that I haven’t seen. I am not the gatekeeper of heaven, and I will not presume to take God’s job. However, I am responsible to teach the plan of salvation that God revealed about how to be a follower of Jesus.
In the second chapter of Acts, Peter preached the first sermon after Jesus had been resurrected from the dead. He ended his message with these words. "Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ."
Evidently the people agreed with him, because of the way they responded.
When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?"
Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off--for all whom the Lord our God will call."
With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, "Save yourselves from this corrupt generation." Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.
I hope nobody misunderstands what I am saying here. The Bible clearly teaches that we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. If somebody trusts water baptism for their salvation then there is no doubt in my mind that they have done nothing more than gone for a swim. Our salvation is the work of God. Jesus did the work for our salvation by going to a cross and dying in our place. It’s His blood that covers our sin and makes us clean.
However, God gives us a choice whether we accept the free gift of salvation or not. The Bible portrays baptism as the defining moment when we determine whether we accept the gift or not. It is the physical response to the question "Do you want to follow Jesus?" I cannot fathom how one could say yes to that question and yet not respond by being obedient to His command and His example of baptism.
3. He Was Ending One Life To Begin Another.
To this point in Jesus’ life, he was probably a construction worker, a craftsman, a carpenter, or maybe a stone mason. But this marked a change in direction. From this point on Jesus, in a very intentional manner, began to live out His role as Messiah. Baptism marks that kind of radical change in direction. For Jesus it was a change in role. For us it is a total change in the direction of our life.
Listen to what Paul wrote in Romans 6 as he challenges his readers to understand what it means to be a follower of Jesus.
We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin--because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.
Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.
In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.
This passage is the only place in the entire Bible that explains how a person can be identified with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and it says that reality occurs at baptism. As I talk to people about being baptized, I always explain to them the symbolism of the event. When someone accepts Jesus as their Lord and Savior. That means they are saying that the life they live is not their own any more, it belongs to Christ. The Bible uses the language "Dying to self."
So what do you do with a dead person? You bury them. The waters of baptism symbolize that truth. A person dies to themselves, they are buried, but we don’t leave them under the water till they bubble. They are resurrected from their watery grave to live a new life. However, they are a new person, "born again" to use biblical terminology. It is an end and a beginning all wrapped into one event.
This morning if you have never followed Jesus example and responded in obedience to Him by being baptized, then you can experience the hope of salvation that comes by being a follower of the Son of God. It isn’t a hard thing to do, God has done all the work for salvation, and the one who baptizes you will do all the hard work in the water. However, it is a difficult thing to do because it means giving your life away. But the promise of God is that when you give your life to Him, He will give you a new life that lasts forever. Will you obey Him?