Jesus said that He had to be baptized “to fulfil all righteousness.“ (Matthew 3: 5) He was the Son of Man and the Son of God; He was flesh and He was Spirit. For all righteousness to be fulfilled, the flesh has to be in total submission to the spirit. As Paul wrote, John’s baptism “was a baptism of repentance.” (Acts 19:4) Sin brings corruption to all flesh, even the flesh of Jesus, and brings it under the law of sin and death, so Jesus submitted His flesh to righteousness in order to demonstrate that all flesh has to repent of the sin that dwells within it. The end of Christ’s journey as a man walking one hundred percent in the Spirit was Calvary; the beginning of this journey was not His birth, but His baptism.
Righteousness dwells with God. It was when Jesus was baptized that the Voice from Heaven came and audibly declared His divine Sonship with the words: “This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” At the same time the Holy Spirit visibly came and settled on Him. The coming kingdom that John had prophesied was born in this moment, when repentant flesh, Holy Spirit empowerment, and divine Sonship were sealed together in one act of righteousness.
Repentance is more than an idea or a decision, it’s an act. This is what Jesus demonstrated by being baptized. For Abraham to leave Ur of the Chaldees he had to actually pack his bags, step outside the city and go and dwell in tents. For us to demonstrate our repentance to our Heavenly Father we have to live differently, not just think about it. As has often been said, in order to walk on water we need to step out of the boat; we have to leave our comfortable habits behind and put our feet were they haven’t been before, where only the power of God can sustain them. Because righteousness only comes by faith: the Scriptures declare it (Romans 3: 21-26), and Abraham demonstrated it. Peter’s walk on water is a picture of righteousness as well as a picture of trust and obedience, because righteousness and faith cannot be separated from each other.
Jesus taught that the one who is called great in the kingdom of heaven is the one who “does and teaches these things.” (Matthew 5:19) There is always a temptation amongst those of us who teach others to want to appear great in the kingdom because of the inspiring content of what we teach. However God will call us “great” because of what we do and teach, not because of what we teach. Just as faith has to work through love, so too does all ministry, as Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 13. When Jesus allowed himself to be baptized so that “all righteousness would be fulfilled,” he was introducing the foundational truth that the sermon on the mount went on to expound: the life and ministry of the Kingdom only operates when the flesh is immersed in submission to the ways of God’s love.
Divine empowerment and sonship are ours in Christ, but they begin with active repentance, demonstrated by the daily habit of loving and preferring others. It is when the three work together that the Kingdom of Heaven comes to Earth: as it began in the life of the King, so it continues with us.