"Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him. But John forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me? And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffered him" (Matthew 3:13-15).
The question has been asked: Since baptism is for the remission of past sins (and we have to repent of those sins before we can be baptized), then why did Jesus have to be baptized seeing how he never committed any sin? John, the Baptist preached the doctrine of repentance and baptism for the remission of sins (luke 3:3; Mark 1:4) which is why when Jesus asked to be baptized by him, John didn't want to do it because Jesus was sinless and therefore had no need to repent or to be baptized.
The answer that Jesus gave to John's question has also been puzzling to biblical scholars. What did Jesus mean when he said, "For thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness"? How was righteousness being fulfilled by John baptizing a sinless man?
Later in His ministry Jesus told Nicodemus, "Except a man be born of the water and the spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven" (John 3:5). Many Christians understand this statement as referring to baptism and the Holy Spirit, and indeed, Jesus was baptized by immersion in water and the Holy Ghost did descend upon Him, thereby fulfilling both of these requirements necessary to enter into heaven.
This raises yet another question: Since Jesus came down from heaven, did His statement to Nicodemus include Himself as well? And if so, why couldn't Jesus return to heaven without being born again of the water and of the Spirit? Or was Jesus excluded from this requirement?
It's been said that the reason Jesus was baptized was not because He needed to but to show us the importance of keeping this commandment In other words, if even Jesus was baptized then how much more important is it for us to likewise be baptized? It has been explained that since we are to emulate Christ and He was baptized, then so should we. However, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints not only teaches that baptism is for the remission of sins but it is also about something else that is perhaps even more important. They teach that at the time of our baptism we make certain, specific covenants with God.
Each week member of the LDS church partake of "the sacrament" (which is known as communion in most Protestant churches). However, when LDS members take the sacrament they often say that in doing so they are renewing their baptismal covenants. And in the prayer said on the bread and water we are reminded of what those covenants are. They include taking upon us the name of Christ, to always remember Him, and to keep His commandments which He has given us.
The reason why Jesus was baptized is because it was necessary for Him to take upon Himself these same covenants, except His covenant wasn't with Himself but with His Father in heaven. By being baptized Jesus made a commitment to take upon Himself His Father's name, to remember Him always, and to keep the commandments His Father had given Him.
The scriptures tell us that no unclean thing can dwell in the presence of God, and since baptism cleanses us of our past sins and repentance cleanses us of our current sins, it has been said that baptism is the gateway into the celestial kingdom. Without being baptized by the proper authority, no one can enter into even the lowest degree of the celestial kingdom. But there is more to living in the celestial kingdom than just being sinless. The Lord has revealed that every kingdom has a law given to it and in order to live in a particular kingdom we have to be willing to abide by the laws that govern that kingdom (D&C 88:38).
Since this is just as true of the celestial kingdom, we not only have to be cleansed of our sins in order to live there but we have to also pledge or covenant to live by the laws of that kingdom, and that is exactly what happens when we are baptized. Even though Jesus was sinless and had nothing to repent of, he still had to pledge His obedience and loyalty to living the laws of the celestial kingdom. Then, just like us, He had to prove His loyalty to that pledge in the way He lived his life here on earth.
Thus, once Jesus had entered into mortality, it was necessary for Him to be baptized in order to covenant to obey the laws that governs the kingdom of heaven. This is why Jesus said, "Except a man be born of the water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven," and that law applied to Him as well as to everyone else.
During His mortal ministry Jesus fulfilled the covenants He made at the time of His baptism. He took upon Himself the Father's name and throughout His life remembered Him always, and kept the commandments which the Father had given Him.
He taught, "My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work" (John 4:34). "The Son can do nothing of himself but what he seeth the Father do; for what things soever he doeth" (John 5:19). "I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will but the will of him that sent me" (John 6:38). "As the Father gave me commandments, even so I do" (John 14:31). "If any man will do [God's] will he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God or whether I speak of myself. He that speaketh of himself seeketh his own glory. But he that seekth the glory that sent him, the same is true" (John 7:17,18). "Father, glorify thy name. Then came there a voice from heaven, saying, I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again" (John 12:28).
When His disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray He taught them to pray, not to himself but to "Our Father which art in heaven." The scriptures record many instances where Jesus prayed often to His Father in heaven, the most famous of which was when He spent forty days and forty nights in the wilderness, fasting and praying. When he was in the garden of Gethsemane, suffering in so much agony that He sweat great drops of blood, He plead, "Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me, nevertheless, not my will but thine be done" (Luke 22:42).
When Jesus visited the Nephites after His resurrection, ten times He told the people that He was doing only what His Father had commanded Him, saying "Verily, verily, I say unto you, thus hath the Father commanded me-that I should give unto this people this land for their inheritance" (3 Nephi 16:16; 20:14). "Therefore blessed are ye if ye shall keep my commandments, which the Father hath commanded me that I should give unto you" (3 Nephi 18:14). "And he saith: These scriptures, which ye had not with you, the Father commanded that I should give unto you; for it was wisdom in him that they should be given unto future generations" (3 Nephi 26:2). "Behold now I finish the commandment which the Father hath commanded me concerning this people, who are a remnant of the house of Israel" (3 Nephi 20:10).
It was the Father's will that Jesus taught the people to obey saying, "Not everyone that saith to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven but he that doeth the will of my father which is in heaven" (Matthew7:21). "For whosever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven the same is my brother and sister, and mother" (Matthew 12:50).
Even at the age of twelve Jesus was about doing the business of His Father in heaven as He stayed behind at the temple to both ask questions and hear what the doctors of the law had to say (Luke 2:46).
Jesus completely fulfilled the covenants He had made at the time of His baptism and for that reason, He was exalted to sit on the right hand of God "having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost" (Acts 2:33). And that is the same promise we are given if we keep our baptismal covenants (see Revelation 3:21).
It could be argued that the covenants Christ made were different from ours in that He covenanted with His Father whereas the covenants we make are with Christ, not the Father. On a cursory glance, one might come to that conclusion but we have to remember that everything that Christ taught was not his doctrine but that of the Father. In other words, what we call the gospel of Jesus Christ is, in reality, the gospel of the Father.
The "plan of salvation" was not conceived by the Son but was presented to us by the Father. Jesus is merely following the plan that the Father had already put forth. It was the Father who chose Jesus to be the savior and Jesus merely carried out the assignment the Father had given him. As we have already seen, while Jesus was on the earth everything He taught was simply repeating what the Father had told Him to say. As such, the words He spoke were not His own but were those of the father. This is why Jesus is referred to as "the Word of God."
Thus, the commandments of Christ are the exact same commandments given by the Father. There is no difference between the two. So, when we covenant to keep the commandments that Christ has given us, we are really covenanting to keep the commandments that the Father has given.
This understanding may lead some to wonder why we covenant to take upon ourselves the name of Christ and to keep His commandments rather than making our covenants with the Father?
There are two reasons. The first is that the Father has put all things under Christ's direction (see 1 Cor. 15:27; Eph. 1:22; Heb. 2:8). As such, He now has dominion over all things. It was the Father who has placed Christ at the head of the Church, therefore, it is Christ who has been guiding and directing it from the time of Adam. It was Jesus who was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It was Jesus whom the Israelites worshipped as Jehovah. Jesus Christ was placed as the chief cornerstone of the Church by the Father and it is through the Son that we have access to the Father. Therefore, while Christ is working under the direction of the Father, we are serving under the direction of Christ.
This helps explain the second reason. Christ has been exalted by the Father precisely because He lived a sinless life and therefore is worthy to be exalted. On the other hand, none of us have lived a sinless life and are therefore worthy of inheriting outer darkness where we will share the same fate as the devils (2 Nephi 9:9). But, because Jesus bought us with his blood, we are permitted (allowed), into heaven but only through the mercy of Christ and not because of anything we've done to deserve it. Thus, we are subjects or servants of Jesus, not of the Father. For this reason Jesus is our Master, not the Father. It is Jesus who is our advocate with the Father therefore our fate is in the hands of Jesus, not the Father. As much as the Father loves us, it is Jesus who paid the price for our sins, not the Father, and therefore it is Jesus to whom we must appeal if we want to inherit the celestial kingdom and all that the Father has.
Perhaps we can understand this principle by looking at a similar situation here on earth. When someone from a foreign country comes here to America and wants to become a citizen there are several things they have to do. The first is to take classes to learn about America, its history, government, laws, and culture. When they have completed this part of their preparation they go before a judge who interviews them to see if they understand what they have learned.
If they do understand what it means to be an American citizen and the rights and responsibilities that go along with it, the judge then asks them a series of questions such as, "Is it your desire to become an American citizen?" If the answer is yes then they are asked, "Do you promise to obey and live by the laws of our land?" If they answer yes, they are asked, "Are you willing to renounce your citizenship of the country you come from and pledge your allegiance to the United States of America?" If they promise to do this, then the judge will say something to the effect, "By the authority invested in me, I pronounce you to be a citizen of the United States of America."
At the time of our birth we were born into the kingdom of the world and, as such, are foreigners and strangers to the kingdom of God. But there came a point in our life when it became our desire to become a citizen of God's kingdom. But before that could happen we had to be taught about it - its culture, its laws, rules, and commandments.
The act of being baptized indicates our willingness to renounce our citizenship in the kingdom of the world and pledge our allegiance to the kingdom of God. At the time of our baptism we make a solemn promise that we will no longer live our life according to the ways of the world but will live our life as Christ commands us to.
As a citizen in the kingdom of God, we are entitled to certain rights and privileges but with those rights come certain duties, responsibilities, and obligations that we also take upon our self. Some of these responsibilities include helping to carry one another's burdens and make them light, to mourn with those who mourn, and to comfort those who stand in need of comfort (Mosiah 18:8,9).
Another responsibility is to be a witness of Christ in all places and at all times. That responsibility includes letting our light so shine that others will see that we are followers of Christ and by our actions, words, and behavior bring glory to Him and His church.
To pledge our allegiance to Christ means being willing to serve Him with all of our heart, mind, and strength for the rest of our life and to do our part in helping to build up His kingdom. If we are faithful in keeping these promises then Christ promises to give us eternal life.
Christ made these same promises to His heavenly Father at the time He was baptized, and because He was completely faithful in keeping those promises He was exalted by His Father. Since we are not as faithful as He was, if we strive to keep the covenants we make at the time of our baptism, we can still inherit eternal life because of the mercy and merits of Christ.
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