Jesus and the Baptism for the Forgiveness of Sins: Part One

The Baptism of Christ by Saint John the Baptist.
Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images

This is the first post in what will probably be a total of three, and is acting as an introduction, and because it’s an intro, it’ll be short. Truthfully, I have no idea how these will be received because it is something I am working through, and I know not only will people not agree with it, but I’m sure a few may dust the old “h” word off again. Back in October I was reading the Gospel of Mark and I noticed something that I had either never gave any thought to, or if I had just brushed it aside and it is where the title of this blog entry comes from.

And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins… at that time Jesus came from nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.

Mark 1:4,9 (NIV)

In three of the four synoptic Gospels, John hosts a baptism in the name of repentance and the forgiveness of sins, and Jesus participates in it. Unlike in Matthew, in Luke and Marks Gospels, John does not refute or try to deter baptizing Jesus. And in all three of these stories, after the job is done a the Holy Spirit descends from the heavens like a dove and God says something to the effects of, “this is my son, whom I love and am well pleased.”

Growing up I was taught that Jesus had to be baptized by John in order to validate and affirm his ministry and prophetic status. However, what was always left out of the conversation was that Jesus participated in a baptism that was focused around the forgiveness of sins. Probably because the evangelical view is that he cannot do such a thing. Being both human and God would not allow such a dichotomy (which is ironic considering the state we have elevated Jesus to). Now, if one were to google Jesus and his ability to sin, I have no doubt people would quickly find articles or posts the Gospel Coalition and others have written extensively about his inability to do such a thing.

But what I am going to explore over these next few months through these posts is whether or not that is likely the case. Of course there are Christian Bible quotes that support a sinless messiah. Yesterday morning I had the honor to host discussion at Dust Toledo, and I chose to talk about this. One of the members of the congregation told me when I introduced the subject about whether or not Jesus could sin his mind went to Hebrews 4:15 (NIV), “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.”

But what does it mean to sin? To sin is to miss the mark. The Greek word hamartia which is used for the sin describing the baptism means missing the mark. If you are unfamiliar with this concept, imagine you’re standing at a dart board and you’re trying to hit the bullseye. You throw the dart and you hit the board, but not where you were trying to, which is essentially the example of missing the mark. The framework is, as long as you’re hitting the target, you’re not missing the mark. We had gotten this far in the conversation when my friend, the one that pointed out the Hebrews verse, had again pointed out that we were approaching this from a Western mindset.

So, I will be working on a few posts over the next few months that will explore this topic more. Is it likely that Jesus’ sins were washed away and forgiven in that baptism in the Jordan? After all, someone who spent so much of his ministry connecting and engaging in community with others, it seems disingenuous to participate in a ritual like this without needing it himself.

Looking forward for the journey ahead, and I hope you are too. When I think of the “fear and trembling” that working my faith out, this is what comes to mind. Asking questions of what is written in the text, walking it out, and being okay with coming back realizing you were right or wrong the entire time.

Grace and peace.

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