8 January 2017

Matthew 3:13-17

“And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’” (v. 17)

Psalm: Psalm 29


The first three Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) all have an account of the Baptism of Jesus by John, but there are two distinctive features which only appear in Matthew. Firstly, John appeared to feel unworthy of performing the Baptism, and declared that it would be more appropriate for Jesus to baptize him (verse 14). Matthew may be defending Jesus against those who claimed that he must have been sinful, if he needed to be baptized to wash his sins away, or that by coming to John for Baptism, Jesus was in some way inferior to him. The response of Jesus was to say that for him to be baptized would "fulfil all righteousness" (v. 15). An important aspect of Matthew's Gospel is his desire to show that Jesus fulfilled Old Testament Scripture, but there is nothing in the Old Testament to suggest that the Messiah should be baptised. Rather Jesus was saying that being baptized was doing what God required. His words convinced John and in solidarity with sinful humanity, Jesus went through the waters of Baptism.

The words spoken by God as the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus in Matthew's account of the Baptism are the second distinctive feature in his Gospel. Whereas the Gospels of Mark and Luke describe those words as addressed to Jesus - "You are my Son, the Beloved" (Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22), Matthew has "This is my Son, the Beloved". Mark and Luke seem to be describing a personal experience for Jesus himself, confirming his status and his mission. The statement is based on Psalm 2:7 in which God is anointing a King of Israel as Messiah. By changing "you" to "this" Matthew seems to be making a proclamation to the crowds at the riverside, whilst not taking away the sense of vocation from Jesus. The significance of the occasion is for all.

In Matthew's Gospel Jesus is Messiah from the beginning, but at his Baptism he accepts his divine mission, and is empowered for all that lies ahead. In Acts 10:34-43 the Apostle Peter speaks to the Roman centurion Cornelius and his friends, and his words can be seen as a summary of the earliest Christian preaching. He says "that message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power" (Acts 10:37-38). This emphasises the importance of the Baptism as an important part of the Christian message.

To Ponder

  • His Baptism was a significant moment in the life of Jesus. How would you describe an experience in your life when you were especially aware of God?
  • Baptism has been a divisive issue in the history of the Church. What are your thoughts about its place in the Christian life? 

Bible notes author

The Revd Richard Bielby

Richard is a supernumerary Methodist presbyter in Stockton on Tees. He is a part-time prison chaplain and also serves as a voluntary chaplain at Durham Cathedral.