We seek happiness; we seek to please God. These two things go hand in hand.
From our point-of-view: What can really give us peaceful delight? Only the friendship of God. And we know that to have that friendship, we must please Him, rather than displease Him. He is our almighty Father; we are not His equals, but His little children. The only peace, the only happiness I can really have comes with my confidence that the invisible God smiles on me, blesses me, takes pleasure in the fact that He has a child like me.
From His point-of-view: He needs nothing from us. His fatherhood has absolute strength and sovereignty. Human parents naturally rely on the love, affection, and reasonable obedience of their children—and become stricken if this love, affection, and obedience is not forthcoming.
But God has no needs like that. He has everything to give and nothing to lose. Out of His infinite goodness, He has made all creatures, that we might by our goodness give Him glory. What pleases Him? That we be happy—truly happy, peacefully happy, as His friends.
Okay. So: Why did Christ submit to baptism? Let’s try to understand it by considering the two “offices” which the Christ possesses.
On the one hand, the Lord Jesus occupies the “office” of the eternal, divine Son. He is God from God, light from light, true God from true God.
Insofar as He has this office, Jesus obviously does not need to be baptized. After all, as we know, Holy Baptism has an effect on a human soul. The sacrament cleanses a soul spiritually, so as to unite the person in friendship with God. God the eternal Son enjoys the friendship of the eternal Father without any sacraments. Right?
But let’s consider the Christ’s second “office.” He also stands as the Head of the redeemed human race. He has, by becoming man, become the new and everlasting Adam.
Therefore, the imperatives of human nature fall on Him, like they do on us. He seeks happiness. He seeks to please the Father. He has a human life to live, like we do. His fundamental goals, inseparable from each other—to please the Father to find happiness—these goals animate Christ from the depths of His soul, just like they animate us from the depths of our souls.
Now, still we don’t have an answer as to why he submitted to baptism, because He had no sins of His own to cleanse, and He was already as friendly with the Father as a man can be, even before He stepped into the Jordan River. But I think we are getting closer to an answer.
The Lord Jesus began His human life in the womb of the Virgin. Then He lived thirty years quietly. By the time He came to be baptized, He had already done much more than would have had to be done, strictly speaking, to save us. After all, when He lost a drop of His Precious Blood at His circumcision, when He was an infant, that one drop itself could have satisfied for all the sins of human history.
But the Christ had a mission to fulfill, and it involved more than just “the minimum.” He was sent to reveal the love of God in full. When He reached the age of thirty, the decisive stage of His mission began. His trip to the Jordan River marked that beginning.
What began at the Jordan could end only one way: The cross. Jesus had been the new Adam from the moment of His conception; He had been the High Priest of the human race, even in the womb. But at the river’s edge, the Lord girded Himself with His priestly cincture, as it were, and began walking toward the altar for the sacrifice. He would offer Himself. His offering to the Father would be the infinite divine love, offered by a man, the new Adam.
Without God’s help we have no idea how to make sense of life. So God shows us how to make sense of it. Unlike Jesus, we enter the world as ignorant sinners. By receiving Holy Baptism into His grace, we begin to live as God’s friends, as His living temples. In other words, baptism begins our exercise of a sacred priesthood as well. We rise from the font girded with a cincture of holiness so that our whole lives can serve as an altar on which we offer God our love.
Like the Lord Jesus, we have been given a grand mission to fulfill. And our mission, too, can end only one way: with a death, a death offered upwards.
This is what pleases the Father. This is what gives peace and happiness. To walk as priests of creation from the waters of baptism unto the altar of death, offing ourselves to God, day in and day out.
This is the sacrifice of the anointed Christ; it is our sacrifice, too; it is the only sacrifice which the heavenly Father accepts, the only one that pleases Him.
How do we know how much this sacrifice pleases the Father? He has shown us. The old Adam’s dead jawbone lies moldering in the soil somewhere right now. But the new Adam does not lie in His tomb. Death did not conquer Him; He conquered death. Now He reigns in heaven, and the Father could not be more pleased. It will also please Him when, by His grace, we come to reign there, too.