Baptism for whoever receives it is a form of public declaration. Those whom John normally baptised were stating two things: the first was that they were sinful and the second was that they wanted to prepare for the imminent arrival of the Messiah. Although John baptised Jesus, he was not baptised for those reasons. First, he was sinless and, second, he was not preparing for the coming for the Messiah because he was the Messiah. So we need to find other reasons why Jesus was baptised, and here are two of them.
First, his baptism was a moment of dedication for Jesus to do the Father’s will. Of course, he had been doing the will of God since he was born, but we could describe that period of obedience as private. Now he was going to engage in a more public commitment to God’s will. I wonder if this was the occasion mentioned by Paul in Philippians 2 when he says that having become a man the Son of God humbled himself for the death of the cross. His baptism was the commencement of a stage in his life that would climax at Calvary.
Second, his baptism was a moment of identification with those whom John had baptised. We have already mentioned that Jesus was sinless, which means that he was very different from everyone else that John had baptised. Still he identified himself with them when he underwent the baptism of John. In some way, he was connected to them because of his baptism.
I would suggest that we get a clue regarding this dedication and identification when we notice the title that John used for Jesus after he had been baptised. The apostle John, in his gospel, does not describe the actual baptism, but chronologically John the Baptist speaks about Jesus as the Lamb of God after the baptism (John 1:29). Jesus was the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world, and in that twofold title we see his dedication to be God’s Lamb and we see his identification with sinners because he was going to take their sins away.
Both aspects – his dedication and his identification – were expressions of his love both to God and to man. It was his love for God that had caused him to come into the world as the Saviour, and it was his love for God and man that led him to identify himself with the sinners who were the objects of divine love.
Another detail about the baptism of Jesus that Luke mentions is that Jesus was praying. It is impossible for us to know what he was praying about, although many suggestions have been made, such as for a sign from heaven that he was approved, with the signs being the dove and the voice from heaven. Of course, that suggestion may be true; nevertheless, what we are being asked to notice by Luke is that Jesus engaged in his act of dedication and identification prayerfully. Here is a reminder that the perfect man prayed when important things involving himself took place.