January 13, 2019
The Baptism of Our Lord
(Acts 10:34-38; Luke 3:15-16, 21-22)
Billy Graham was once asked, “If Jesus was without sin, then why was He baptized by John the Baptist? I thought baptism was a sign of repentance and our faith, but Jesus didn't need to repent, did He?” His answer was the following:
“No, Jesus didn’t need to repent of his sins, because in all the history of the human race He alone was completely sinless. The reason is because He was God in human flesh, sent from heaven on that first Christmas to save us from our sins.
Why, then, did Jesus seek out John and be baptized by him in the Jordan River? The reason is because Jesus — who was the sinless Son of God — took upon Himself your sins and my sins, and the sins of the whole human race. Just as He didn’t have to die, so He didn’t have to be baptized — until He became the bearer of all our sins. This He did by coming to earth for us.
In other words, from the very beginning of His ministry Jesus demonstrated that He was the promised Messiah, and (in the words of John the Baptist) “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). His baptism was a sign of this great truth — and it was confirmed immediately by a voice from heaven declaring, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17).”
Although, today many ask this same question, this question was raised by Christians already in the first century.
Jesus did not have the same motivation to be baptized as the people immediately ahead of him or behind him at the Jordan River; they were baptized as a sign of repentance. By being baptized, Jesus identified himself with sinful humanity. His prayer and the revelation of Father and Spirit tell us that Baptism unites us with the Trinity and makes us beloved children of God. In a sense, by being baptized, especially after the many John had already baptized, Jesus took the sins of those left in the water and those who had not yet, and took them upon himself to erase and eliminate them upon the cross.
Jesus was baptized to encourage his later followers to be baptized. That action began his public ministry; similarly, that act begins the new life of every follower of Jesus. Jesus’ baptism resembles in some ways the key visions of Old Testament prophets. The Jewish Christians for whom Matthew wrote would have made that connection readily.
Additionally, his baptism that he wanted us to follow in his example, was meant to illustrate the rebirth we would experience in our Baptisms. And further still, Jesus’ choice to be baptized prior to starting his ministry was to be a preeminent example of infant baptism at the start of their lives. Paul, who declared that we become children of God at the point of our baptism into Christ (Gal. 3:26-27). Jesus’ life on earth as God officially started with his baptism, just as our life in God starts with ours.
The baptism of Jesus Christ is one of the truly epochal events within the Gospel records. It is chronicled by the synoptic writers in a total of only ten verses (five in Matthew, three in Mark, and two in Luke), and yet it is pivotal in that it signals the commencement of the Lord’s preaching ministry.
One thing is certain. Jesus was not baptized by John in the vein of the prophet’s ordinary sphere of operation. John immersed folks who penitently confessed their sins, and the purpose of his baptism was “for the remission of sins.”
The preposition “for” (Greek, eis) means “to obtain.” The phrase may be rendered: “so that sins might be forgiven.”
Since Jesus had no sin, it is obvious that his immersion by John was of a unique sort. He did not approach John seeking pardon. Thus, except for the fact that Jesus’ baptism reflected a willingness to obey the Father, as does ours, there is little relationship between the Lord’s immersion and that required of all accountable people today.
From Matthew 3:15, in his argument to persuade John to administer baptism, Christ said: “thus it becomes [i.e., is proper] us to fulfill all righteousness.”
We cannot plumb the full depth of this abbreviated clause. One thing is certain though: it is an affirmation of the submissive disposition of the Lord Jesus to the Father’s will.
“Righteousness” is associated with the commands of God (Psa. 119:172). To fulfill righteousness, therefore, is to be obedient to The Lord God.
The life of Jesus is a commentary on what obedience is about. In Psalm 40, which is clearly messianic in its import, the submissive demeanor of Christ is prophetically set forth. Jesus, through David, a thousand years before his own birth, affirms:
“I delight to do thy will, O my God; Yea, thy law is in my heart” (Ps. 40:8).
It is one thing to begrudgingly go through a form of service. It is quite another to “delight” in doing the Father’s will.
Again, while some may have the elements of divine “law” in their heads, the issue is: Do we have, as did Jesus, the law in our hearts?
Christ demonstrated by his baptism, therefore, on the very first day of his public ministry, that he was committed to doing his Father’s will. In this regard, as in all others, he is our perfect model.
One cannot but wonder at what point, in his mental and physical maturation, the blessed Savior became aware of his ultimate destiny at Calvary. We know that by the age of twelve Jesus was cognizant of his unique status as the Son of God (Luke. 2:49). From the time of his infancy, Mary was privy to the dark shadows that loomed in her Son’s future (Luke. 2:35).
One thing seems clear. By the time he submitted to immersion at the hands of John, he knew of his appointment with the cross — and likely long before that.
It is commonly suggested by commentators that Christ was baptized in order to “solidify” himself with sinners, since he, by his death, would bear away the penalty for sin.
I want to finish up with another possible reason.
It is because of John’s message of baptism and separation from the corruption of Judaism that many scholars believe that John may have been part of a Jewish sect called the Essenes. The Essenes lived in the Judean desert wilderness, and they too believed that Judaism had become corrupt. To separate themselves from the corruption, they moved out into the wilderness to live, work, and worship in a holy community.
They were part of an ancient Jewish ascetic sect of the 2nd century BC–2nd century AD in Palestine, who lived in highly organized groups and held property in common. The Essenes are widely regarded as the authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
The writings of the Essenes sound similar to some of the things preached by John the Baptist, and their writings also contain instructions for the baptisms of people who join them. Archeologists have uncovered large baptismal pools where the Essenes would have undergone these ritual baptisms of separation.
But whether John was an Essene or not, the point that in the days of John, Jesus, Peter, Paul, and the early church, people knew what baptism meant. Not only did every religion in the area practice some form of baptism for various reasons and purposes, but within Judaism, baptisms were a central practice. They indicated a death to the past and a rising to a new life.
So, when Jesus came to be baptized by John in the Jordan, He was making a public declaration about which type of Judaism He thought was best. The baptism of Jesus was not so He could get forgiveness of sin, for, as we have already said, Jesus had not sinned. Nor was the baptism of Jesus for conversion, or to be saved, or to receive eternal life, or any such thing.
No, through baptism, Jesus was rejecting the corruption that had entered the religious and political spheres of Judaism, and was choosing to side with those who sought generosity, honesty, peace, and grace.
The baptism of Jesus by John in the Jordan has nothing to do with repenting of sin or getting saved, but everything to do with making a public declaration about which side Jesus is on and what He will live His life for.
John was calling the people to turn away from the corruption, and be restored to a new life of faithful obedience to God, and Jesus responded to that call by getting baptized by John in the Jordan River. Jesus wanted to be fully immersed and identified in the values of the Kingdom of God that John was preaching.
The Lesson here? We should do nothing less.
Let us pray.
We pray for the parents and sponsors of the baptized, that they be mindful of their obligations to keep their children close to the message of Christ. We pray to the Lord.
We pray for the baptized throughout the world who suffer persecution for their beliefs, that God’s power and love may sustain them. We pray to the Lord.
For each of us here: that we may renew the commitment of our own baptism and live in God’s presence, trusting in his loving care. We pray to the Lord.
We pray for those who are sick and unwell, particularly those with cancer and for those currently undergoing treatment. We pray for their recovery and that in their darkest moments the care of friends and neighbors may bring them hope and peace. We pray to the Lord.
For our legislators and president that through divine intervention they be inspired to do what is right, to work together, pass legislation that the constituents actually want, all in true bipartisanship – and most importantly, put our government employees back to work. We pray to the Lord.
For those on our parish prayer list: that they may feel the Father’s love through the efforts of our prayers and the help of caring professionals. We pray to the Lord.
We bow our heads and remember in silence our own personal intentions and the intentions of those who have asked for our prayers (pause). We pray to the Lord.
Father God as we celebrate the Baptism of your Son and our Lord, we are reminded that through our own baptism we become your children. We pray for the grace, wisdom and commitment to live the message of Christ and become living apostles proclaiming his love and goodness through word and example. We thank you, Lord, for the gift of our faith. May we always be true to the commitments of our baptism. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, CA