Baptism of the Lord

“You are my Son, the Beloved; my favor rests on you.”

The Christmas season, celebrating the Self-revelation of God through Jesus, comes to an end with the feast of the Baptism of Our Lord. Christmas is the feast of God’s Self-revelation to the Jews, and Epiphany celebrates God’s Self-revelation to the Gentiles. At his Baptism in the Jordan, Christ reveals himself to repentant sinners. The Baptism of the Lord Jesus is the great event celebrated by the Eastern churches on the feast of Epiphany because it is the occasion of the first public revelation of all the Three Persons in the Holy Trinity, and the official revelation of Jesus as the Son of God to the world by God the Father.  

What was the need of baptism for Jesus?

Jesus of Nazarethby Pope Benedict, pp. 17-23 will help us to answer this question. Sinless Jesus did not have any sins of his own to take down into the river Jordan, therefore it could only have been our sins that he took down into the river Jordan. Naturally no one would understand this at that time but they would realize this later when they understood that Jesus died on the cross for our sins. So Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan and his dying on the cross go together; he did both for our sins. He took our sins on his shoulders as he went down into the Jordan and as he died on the cross.

We can see that there is a close connection between Jesus’ baptism and his cross in the Scriptures. Jesus, when speaking in prophecy about his Passion, described it as a baptism. “There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished!” (Luke 12:50) 

When James and John wanted to sit in glory beside Jesus he spoke about his Passion to them but we can be sure that they understand only later. Jesus said, “You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” (Mark 10:38)

The Gospel of John tells us that when John the Baptist saw Jesus approaching him in the river Jordan he proclaimed, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29) It is interesting that as Jesus appears at the river Jordan John the Baptist mentions that Jesus takes away the sin of the world. It is also interesting that John the Baptist describes Jesus as the Lamb of God. In the Gospel of John Jesus dies on the cross as the Passover lambs are being slaughtered in the temple. The Passover lambs were slaughtered in remembrance of the first Passover lambs whose blood was smeared on the doorposts the last night the Hebrews spent in Egypt to protect them from death. Jesus is the new Passover Lamb of the New Covenant who shed his blood for us to save us from our sins and already at his baptism he is proclaimed by John to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. 

Just as there is a close link between Jesus’ baptism and his cross there is a close link between our baptism and Jesus’ cross. Paul in his letter to the Romans tells us,

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. (Rom 6:3-4)

When we were baptized we buried sin by spiritually entering the tomb with Jesus and we rose again with the new life of Jesus just as Jesus rose to new life out of the tomb. Our baptism is a sharing in the effects and salvation of Jesus’ death and resurrection, a sharing in the new life of Jesus we receive from his death and resurrection. Jesus was baptized so that all righteousness might be fulfilled and this happens when we live our baptism by turning from sin to live the life of Jesus and all righteousness is fulfilled. We are children of God through the Holy Spirit, who burns and destroys Original Sin and restores us to grace. “Think of to what dignity Baptism elevates us! ‘See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are!’ (1 Jn 3:1) ” This stupendous reality of being children of God involves a responsibility of following Jesus, the obedient Servant, and to reproduce in ourselves His features: those of meekness, humility, tenderness.” 

Each of us has received that fire of the Spirit through Baptism and Confirmation. The same Holy Spirit who came down upon Jesus was given to us. We were granted the forgiveness of our sins and the promise that the One who raised Jesus would raise us up to everlasting life. The same Spirit who ignited a fire in the Apostles has been given to us so that we can live and spread his word, not with our puny efforts but with the very power of God. All this is given to us who have believed in the name of Jesus and have been baptized in his Spirit. It is a Spirit that leads us out of fear and slavery into freedom. The baptism of Jesus is dying to our self-centered endeavors and being resurrected into a life marked by grace and love. When we live in the baptism of Jesus, we touch the hearts of others and help open them to the Holy Spirit and new life in Christ. 

Today’s manifestation invites us to contemplate and to live 3 things:

Christ’s humility. He is the God made Man who, as a sign of penance and conversion, goes to another man to be baptized. He is the innocent Lamb who humbly carries the sin of the world. With his incarnation as a baby, the Son of God, infinite power and absolute greatness, become a humble weakness. Receiving the baptism, Jesus lowers himself even more: he presents himself almost as a sinner. He enters Jordan’s waters like a public sinner and a penitent. He loves us with infinite love and doesn’t hesitate to descend into the deepest bottom of our poverty, humiliation, and sin.

Christ’s” solidarity.” He, who is without sin, joins his sinner brothers and sisters to partake of their sufferings. He brings on himself the punishment of every sin to let mankind be part of His life and of His Holiness. Nothing shows better the divine mercy than the fact that He acquired our own misery. This mercy is not a sign of weakness. On the contrary, it is a passionate regenerating love.

The “testimony” of God as the Father who opens the sky of His Heart, sends His Spirit sweet as a dove and says:” This is my beloved Son. Listen to His words”. Mankind does not have any reason for unbelieving: God makes himself understandable to all of us and His testimony is truly believable. In the Gospels, we find two episodes in which God recognizes Jesus as His Son: at Baptism and during Transfiguration. John the Baptist and the people who saw Jesus descend in the waters together with the sinners were the witnesses of the Father’s testimony. They saw the sky open, heard the words of the Father and were able to recognize God’s greatness and His supreme humility. Jesus is the humility that goes below anyone to guide everyone to the Father.