The God Who Identifies with Sinners
Identifying with Sinners
“Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”
John the Baptist was perplexed. Throughout his ministry, he had been calling people to repentance and to demonstrate the genuineness of their repentance through baptism. During this time, the Jews priced water baptism for those who were coming from a pagan background and desire to become part of the Jewish faith. Furthermore, the Jews often used ritual bathing to symbolize the cleansing of Sin. However, John's baptism was unique in that John called for baptism as an outward act to demonstrate one's repentance for sin. Through baptism, they acknowledged that merely being a jew was not enough for a person to stand favorably before God. Salvation could only come through repentance, and this repentance was symbolized in baptism.
Because of the association of baptism and repentance, John is surprised that Jesus came to him to be baptized. John recognized that Jesus was untainted by sin and thus did not need repentance. Instead, it was John who needed to be cleansed by Jesus. Surprisingly, Jesus responds, "It is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” In this statement, Jesus is pointing to the purpose of his coming. Jesus did not come as God to merely walk among his creation to engage his people. Jesus came to identify with sinners. Jesus had every right to stand up with John and pronounce the coming judgment upon sin and the need for people to repent. Instead, he came to affirm his solidarity with the sinner. He came not only to walk among us but also to identify with us fully. Through his baptism, Jesus announced his purpose, to be “numbered with the transgressors” (Isa. 53:12).
After his baptism, two things immediately happened. First, the Holy Spirit came upon Jesus in the visible form of a dove. Jesus did not come to perform his acts and miracles in his strength but in the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. This same empowerment is available to us today. Just as the Holy Spirit worked through Christ to accomplish the Father’s purpose, the Holy Spirit also works through us. In this, we see Christ again illustrating to us his identification with our sins, weakness, and our need for divine empowerment.
The second event was an audible voice from the Father affirming His love for his son. Not only does this demonstrate that Jesus is God’s son and thus divine, but it affirms that God is again communicating with Israel after the silent years after the prophecy of Malachi. However, unlike the prophets who merely conveyed God’s word, Jesus is God’s word (John 1:1). Jesus is the complete revelation of God.
That event, which inaugurates the beginning of the public ministry, serves to identify Jesus as both the Messiah (the one anointed by God to be king) and the Suffering Servant ( who came to identify with sinful humanity and suffer for our sins). In this event, Jesus identifies with us in our sinful state. This becomes the divine ministry, that Jesus, who is God himself, would come to convey God’s word and identify with us in our sinfulness so that he might become our substitutionary death. By identifying with us in our sin, he became our sympathetic High Priest who sympathizes with our weaknesses and one we can draw near with confidence to receive mercy and grace (Hebrews 4:15-16). No matter how entrenched and devastating our sin is or how often we have rejected his rule in our life, Christ identifies with us in our struggle. Because he identifies with us, he is willing to offer us forgiveness and newness of life. All we have to do is ask (1 John 1:9). He identified with us to deliver us from the very punishment we deserved. That is something we cannot fully grasp. All we can do is stand in wonder of a God who cares and identifies with us.