It’s unlikely that anyone reading this post today needs to be reminded that it is Inauguration Day in the United States of America, when the 45th President will be sworn in and assume office. The eyes of the world’s media will be fixed on Washington D.C. as this most controversial of figures begins work. As of today he will, in a sense, hold the lives of countless millions of human beings in his hands.
But I’d like us to think, at least for a few minutes today, about a far more significant ‘Inauguration Day’ – the most momentous one in the history not of the USA but of the whole world. It wasn’t witnessed by millions but just a few handfuls of people, and its significance was largely lost on those who did see it. It didn’t take place in the centre of a national capital but in some of the most inhospitable wilderness territory in the world. It was the baptism of Jesus of Nazareth in the Jordan River. This day for Jesus was like his Inauguration as Messiah. He was the Messiah already, but on this day Jesus was beginning his public ministry, he was officially, formally assuming his responsibilities. Just as the decision that Donald Trump should be the 45th President of the USA was made months ago, so the decision that the second Person of the Godhead should come and save his people from their sins was taken long before, in the eternal intra-Trinitarian covenant of redemption. But on this calendar day Jesus began his ‘public service.’
For Donald Trump, Inauguration will involve the taking of a solemn oath, his formal investiture in office, an inaugural address and, no doubt, a party. What was involved in Jesus’ Inauguration?
Mark tells us in 1.9 that he was baptized by John in the Jordan. This is hugely surprising. John proclaimed ‘a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.’ (Mk 1.4). When people were baptized by him in the river they did so ‘confessing their sins’ (Mk 1.5). Why then does Jesus need to be baptized by John? He didn’t have a single sin to repent of! It’s like a perfectly healthy man putting himself through a course of chemotherapy—he doesn’t need it!
The answer to this question is the key to understanding Jesus’ whole mission. Why does the sinless Lamb of God go down into the Jordan and stand in the place where sinners stand? It’s precisely because he came into the world to stand in the place of sinners—to take our place. To live the life of perfect obedience that we can’t live and then to die to cursed death under the wrath of God that we deserve. He came to be our substitute. And here, as he begins his public ministry on ‘Inauguration Day’, Jesus formally accepts the task of being the Saviour of the world. He is baptized because he is identifying with those he has come to save. He is accepting the task of being the sin-bearer and is symbolically assuming responsibility for—liability for—the sins of his people.
I hope Donald Trump is trembling today as the weight of the responsibility he assumes today comes home to him. But the responsibility of a President for a nation is nothing compared to the responsibility Jesus accepted as the water of the Jordan ran over his head. The eternal fate of the souls of a countless multitude was in his hands, and to save them—to see through his mission to the end—will cost Jesus the most terrible sacrifice. He will come into the presence of God the holy Judge bearing the sins of his people as if they are his own, and the Judge will pour out upon him the undiluted force of his righteous wrath against those sins. That is what Jesus is committing himself to as he stands in the Jordan on Inauguration Day. What courage it must have taken. Surely a fearful shudder must have coursed through his soul. The holy Son of God standing in the place of sinners! And yet he did it willingly, for you, if you are trusting him as your Saviour today.
President Trump may well surpass all the expectations—or the fears—that people have for him and his Presidency today. His time in office may be a triumph or a disaster. Who knows what his legacy will be to America and to the rest of the world. How thankful we can be for that greatest Inauguration Day when Jesus Christ stood in the Jordan for his people and began his ministry which ended in the greatest triumph the world has ever seen—whose legacy continues to this day and grows ever greater and whose kingdom will never end.