Have you ever wondered why Jesus was baptized? I have. Just last month, when we began studying the gospel of Mark, I realized – again - that I really didn't have a good answer to the question "Why was Jesus baptized?"
In class we reviewed the facts about His baptism:
1. His cousin John baptized Him in the Jordan River.
2. John was reluctant to baptize Him.
3. Jesus insisted, "To fulfill all righteousness."
4. As soon as He was baptized, He left the river.
5. The heavens opened and the Spirit of God descended on Him.
6. A voice from heaven was heard saying, "This is my Son whom I love; with Him I am well please."
7. His baptism appears to be the formal beginning of His ministry.
Knowing the facts didn't get me any closer to understanding the reason He was baptized. As is my custom when I fail to understand something in the Bible, I asked God for help in understanding what was going on. Nothing happened at that time, but several days later, while I was reading the ESV Study Bible, the Holy Spirit light went on in my head.
For this story to make sense, I need to tell you what I was learning as I read my way through Psalms and Proverbs with the ESV study notes. The Hebrew authors used a rich set of literary devices in writing the Bible. They used ones we would recognize like similes and metaphors and some we would not recognize like inclusio.
Let me give you a word picture of inclusio. Picture several Bible verses as paperback books placed on an open shelf. To keep them from falling over, a couple of "books" are laid on their side and placed at either end. The "books" holding all the other "books" on the shelf are the inclusio.
Hebrew writers really liked using this literary device. The Hebrew Old Testament contains an abundance of them. Many instances of its use are lost in translation, but some of them made it into the English translations. Let me give you two examples. Psalm 8 has nine verses. Verses 1 & 9 are the inclusio for the Psalm. They both say, "Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!" (NIV)
The whole book of Ecclesiastes is held together by an inclusio. Ecclesiastes 1:2 states, " Meaningless! Meaningless!" says the Teacher. "Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless." (NIV) Twelve chapters later, Ecclesiastes 12:8 proclaims, "Meaningless! Meaningless!" says the Teacher. "Everything is meaningless!" (NIV)
I'm sure that you can see where I'm going with this. If we look for bookends in Jesus ministry, we have the picture of His death, burial and resurrection at the beginning of His ministry and His actual death, burial, and resurrection at the end of His ministry.
That day, without preaching one word, Jesus proclaimed His dedication to fulfilling the purpose for which He had come to earth. He said in effect, "I know what You have planned for me, God, and I am willing to obey." By His actions that day, He proclaimed the same prayer He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane before He was arrested, "May Your will be done." To which God responded, "This is my Son whom I love; with Him I am well please."
When I saw this beautiful harmony in the testimony of Jesus, I was amazed. Even the most obvious events in His life have depths of meaning we cannot understand without divine illumination. May we have a hunger to see His beauty in every Word.