Here’s a question: why did Jesus, the presence of God in our lives, ask to participate in baptism, a ritual cleansing from sin? Without claiming access into his private thoughts, we can answer that Jesus began his public life immersed in the universal human struggle with evil and ended his life immersed in the universal human struggle with death. Between these bookends of his life it was his faith that kept evil from defining him. It was faith that freed him to heal and forgive, love and rejoice in God’s promise to us all.
When life turns dark and tragic we ask, where is God? Jesus was God’s answer: I am with you – always; no matter how hopeless, how absurd, how painful the situation, I am at your side.
Often, however, we aren’t asking where God is located; we’re asking why God allows chaos to reign in life. Biology observes that without death there is no evolution, psychology observes that without pain there is no growth or learning, geography observes that without destruction, the earth is static and dead. But these answers offer whats not whys. When my child is hurt, my relationships broken, my dreams shattered, my security evaporated, these facts tell me nothing.
In response God offers us no why. Instead God offers God’s self in the person of Jesus. Between his baptism and his death Jesus faced evil as every human does and in the end he bowed to the inevitable absurdity of death. In Jesus God revealed that God’s self-love is inseparable from God’s love for us. I can’t explain evil to you, God said in Jesus, I can only demonstrate that it will never be my last word to you.
When Jesus asked John for baptism, he wasn’t play acting. The issue wasn’t his personal guilt for this or that immoral action; it was his involvement in the tragedy of human weakness that plagues us all. Jesus needed Baptism because he was immersed in and struggled with evil as we all do. It wasn’t just a figure of speech when Paul wrote to the Christians of Corinth that Jesus became sin for us [2 Corinthians 5:21].