Matthew 3; Luke 3; & Mark 1:1-11
Dunk or sprinkle? Dunk or sprinkle? That is the question.
To start, it’d be wise to give an introduction to the crew that’s going to pop up in opposition during the rest of Jesus’ life: the Pharisees. I’ll elaborate on their wonderful attributes as they are relevant to the stories as we go, but suffice it at this time to say that they are a non-priestly group of enthusiasts who went about enforcing both Mosaic law and extra-scriptural traditions of rites and duties. Think of them as sort of a Red Guard or Taliban of Roman Judea.
Now, specific to this story, why is Jesus getting baptized? Does Jesus need to be reborn? Does He need to be cleansed? Of course not. This emphasizes to me the notion that baptism is not a means of spiritual renewal but a symbol. There are Christian-esque groups that claim baptism is an essential element of salvation, but that’s too works-based. Jesus underwent baptism not as a means of cleaning sin but as a living symbol both that we should be cleansed and that He would descend into Hell on our behalf only to rise again.
Add this baptism also to the list of actions Jesus takes that parallel phases of Israel’s history. Here, He wades into the Jordan as a step towards bringing forth the Kingdom of God in the same way that the Jews crossed the Jordan to enter the promised land.
Lastly, this is the first moment where all three persons of the Godhead are simultaneously present and explicitly mentioned. Jesus rises from the water, the Spirit descends upon Him, and the Father speaks out His approval of Jesus’ ensuing ministry. I’ve always envisioned this moment as the point where God revealed that He was three.
It’s as if He were a cube, oriented in such a way that only one side (the Father) was visible to humanity. For all intents and purposes, He was a 2-d square. This moment is where He rotates in such a way that now they see three sides for the first time and realize that God is 3-d.
Notice that, in my diagram, New Testament God is not different from Old Testament God; He has just revealed new aspects of Himself to us. Also, the diagram suggests that there may be other aspects that we have yet to see. Now, I’m certainly not arguing that the Trinity is an incomplete picture of the Godhead (especially since there’s so much emphasis on the perfection of the number 3 in the Bible), but I am open to the idea that there are elements of God that are unfathomable to us on this side of Heaven.