This Sunday’s Feast of the Baptism of the Lord is a time to reflect on not only the Lord’s Baptism but our own. In an extended sense, when Christ is baptized, so are we, for we are members of His Body. As Christ enters the water, He makes holy the water that will baptize us. He enters the water and we follow. In these waters, He acquires gifts to give us.
Let’s examine the Gospel in three stages.
The Fraternity of Baptism – The text says, After all the people had been baptized and Jesus also had been baptized …
Luke mentions Jesus’ Baptism in passing, in the middle of a sentence. Perhaps he, like many of us, is puzzled as to why Jesus would request baptism. John’s baptism of repentance presumes the presence of sin, but the scriptures are clear that Jesus had no sin.
For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin (Heb 4:15).
You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin (1 John 3:5).
Even though He never sinned, Jesus identifies with sinners. As He comes to the bank of the river, He has no ego concerns. He is not embarrassed or ashamed that some might think Him a sinner (though He was not). He accepts the humiliation of being seen in the company of sinners. Jesus freely enters the waters knowing that anyone who does not know Him will count Him among the sinners.
Consider how amazing this is. Scripture says, He is not ashamed to call us his Brethren (Heb 2:11). Elsewhere it says, God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor 5:21).
Jesus ate with sinners, something many of the religious leaders found scandalous. This man welcomes sinners and eats with them (Lk 15:2). Jesus was known as a friend of sinners. He had pity on the woman caught in adultery. He allowed a sinful woman to touch Him and anoint His feet. He cast out demons and fought for sinners. He suffered and died for sinners in a manner reserved for the worst of criminals. He was crucified between two thieves and was assigned a grave among the wicked (Is 53).
Praise God, Jesus is not ashamed to be found in our presence and to share a brotherhood with us. There is a great shedding of His glory in doing this. Scripture says, [Jesus], being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself (Phil 1:3).
The Foreshadowing of our Baptism – In accepting baptism, Jesus does not enter the water alone. He takes us with Him, for we are members of His Body. As the Head of the Body, He goes where the members will follow. St. Maximus says,
I understand the mystery as this. The column of fire went before the sons of Israel through the Red Sea so that they could follow on their brave journey; the column went first through the waters to prepare a path for those who followed … But Christ the Lord does all these things: in the column of fire He went through the sea before the sons of Israel; so now in the column of his body he goes through baptism before the Christian people … At the time of the Exodus the column … made a pathway through the waters; now it strengthens the footsteps of faith in the bath of baptism (de sancta Epiphania 1.3).
So what God promised in the Old Testament by way of prefigurement, He now fulfills in Christ. They were delivered from the slavery of Egypt as the column led them through the waters. More wonderfully, we are delivered from the slavery to sin as the column of Christ’s Body leads us through the waters of baptism. God’s righteousness is His fidelity to His promises. In His Baptism and all it signifies (His death and resurrection), Jesus has come to fulfill all righteousness, and thus fulfills the promises made by God at the Red Sea and throughout the Old Testament.
The Four Gifts of Baptism – The text says, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
Scripture says, we are members of Christ’s body (Eph 5:30). Thus, when Jesus goes into the water, we go with Him. In going there, He acquires four gifts on our behalf:
Access – The heavens are opened. The heavens and paradise were closed to us after Original Sin, but at Jesus’ Baptism, they are opened. Jesus acquires this gift for us. At our Baptism, the heavens open for us and we have access to the Father and to the heavenly places. Scripture says, Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand (Romans 5:1). Scripture also says, For through Jesus we have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God (Eph 2:17).
Anointing –The Spirit of God descends on him like a dove. Here, too, Jesus acquires the gift of the Holy Spirit for us. At our Baptism we are not just washed of sins, but we also become temples of the Holy Spirit. After our Baptism we are anointed with chrism, signifying the presence of the Holy Spirit. For adults, this happens at Confirmation, but even for infants there is an anointing at Baptism to recognize that the Spirit of God dwells in the baptized as in a temple. Scripture says, Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?(1 Cor 3:16)
Acknowledgment – You are my beloved Son. Jesus receives this acknowledgment from His Father for the faith of those who heard it and to acquire this gift for us. In our own Baptism we become the children of God. Because we become members of Christ’s Body, we now have the status of sons of God. On the day of your Baptism, the heavenly Father acknowledges you as His own dear child. Scripture says, You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ (Gal 3:26).
Approval – With you I am well pleased. Jesus had always pleased His Father, but now He acquires this gift for us as well. Our own Baptism gives us sanctifying grace, the grace to be holy and pleasing to God. Scripture says, Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens, as he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless in his sight (Eph 1:1-3).
Thus, at His Baptism Christ acquires these gifts for us so that we can receive them at our own Baptism. Consider well the glorious gift of your Baptism. If you don’t know the date, find out. It should be a day as highly celebrated as your birthday. Christ was baptized for our sake, not His own. All these gifts had always been His. In His Baptism, Jesus fulfilled God’s righteousness by going into the water to get them for you. It’s all right to say, “Hallelujah!”