Baptism of Jesus

THE FEAST OF EPIPHANY / BAPTISM OF JESUS
January 6 (Matthew 3:13-17)

INTRODUCTION

In the baptism of Jesus by John, we notice the humility of Jesus and the reward for being humble. Though John’ baptism was for repentance, Jesus received it for the manifestation of God’s glory and confirmation to John that Jesus was the Messiah. Instead of circumcision for Jewish initiation, Jesus established baptism for Christian initiation. We, who are baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, are the dwelling places of God and so we need to keep up the righteousness of God in our lives so that we enter God’s glory in heaven at the end of this earthly life. “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” (Romans 6:4)

Bible Text

(Matthew 3:13-17) (13) Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him.(14) John tried to prevent him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?” (15) Jesus said to him in reply, “Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he allowed him. (16) After Jesus was baptized, he came up from the water and behold, the heavens were opened [for him], and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove [and] coming upon him. (17) And a voice came from the heavens, saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

Interpretation

Preparations for a consecration

Incarnation of Jesus was not taking the form of a human person as an adult like the creation of Adam or Eve. He humbled himself:
1) to be in the womb of a virgin for nine plus months.
2) born in a manger among animals identifying with the homelessness of the less fortunate in the society.
3) faced life threat like that of Moses.
4) rescued by the providence of God by fleeing to Egypt.
5) lived a humble life of childhood and teenage obeying human parents, and
6) as a youth helping his family through human labor until he was 30 years of age.

When Moses received his call from God to liberate his people in Egypt, he was 80 years of age and he continued his mission for 40 years. Jesus was only 30 when he started his mission and took only three years and few months to complete his mission.

Jesus was already circumcised as a Jew when he was eight days old. Baptism of John was a ritual for the conversion of pagans and Jewish sinners in preparation for receiving the redeemer. Since Jesus was God and sinless, there was no need for him to be baptized. But in Jesus’ mind, there were reasons for subjecting himself to line up for the baptism. It was like a holy person lining up among the penitents for confession. Jesus was last in the queue for baptism because, according to Luke 3:21, his was the last baptism done. Though Jesus was among sinners, his baptism was distinct with divine intervention.

In the previous verses of this Bible passage, John the Baptist had been preaching about how Jesus was going to baptize people with Spirit and fire. While he was proclaiming this to the people, Jesus joined the crowd.

(13) Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him.

Date of Visit by Magi and Baptism of Jesus
The traditional belief is that Christ was baptized on January 6th. The Magi from the East also came on the same date to adore Jesus 30 years before. So, church commemorates both the events on the same day.

Arrival of Jesus from Galilee to John
Jesus was living at Nazareth in Galilee. He had to travel around 80 miles to reach River Jordan where John was baptizing. So, it was a well-planned journey as a part of Jesus’ mission.

Jordan River
The Israelites had crossed River Jordan when they had entered the promised land under the leadership of Joshua. Every entry through water was a washing up of the old sinful life and entering a spiritual renewal. Flood during the time of Noah and crossing the Red Sea under the leadership of Moses were the previous experiences of the people giving up the old and taking up a renewed life.

Baptism of John
John’s baptism was not like the Christian baptism. It was not an initiation to any religion but an act of penitence and preparation to receive the Messiah. So, it was like the Sacrament of Reconciliation in preparation for the reception of Holy Communion. Jews had never used baptism for themselves except for converts from other faith. But with the preaching of John, they began to get baptized as a sign of repentance and preparation for welcoming the Messiah.

Jesus received baptism from John for some specific reasons:
1) Since Jesus took the form of a human, he wanted to show the humility of identifying with other humans and showing himself as a model for them.
2) Jesus wanted to fulfill the prophesies about him.
3) Jesus wanted to honor John’s baptism.
4) Jesus wanted to upgrade John’s baptism with the descend of the Holy Spirit. Whether Jesus baptized any is not sure (John 3:22), though his disciples did that during Jesus’ public ministry after his baptism by John. (John 4:2).
5) Jesus wanted John to have the supernatural experience that followed his baptism so that John got the certainty that Jesus was the Messiah.

(14) John tried to prevent him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?”

John was aware of his inferiority to Jesus. He knew Jesus’ mission from his parents and from God, “the one who sent me.” John was preaching that the one who was coming after him was mightier than him and that he would baptize with Holy Spirit and fire. (Mathew 3:11). John witnessed the descend of this Holy Spirit upon Jesus in the form of dove. The descendent of the Holy Spirit in the form of fire happened on the day of Pentecost. (Acts 2:1-4).

John’s objection to baptize Jesus reminds us of a similar situation at the last supper. While Jesus was going to wash the feet of Peter, he objected saying: “You will never wash my feet.” (John 13:8).

(15) Jesus said to him in reply, “Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he allowed him.

To fulfill all righteousness
In our modern understanding, righteousness means moral or sinless living. In the Biblical times, fulfilling the righteousness meant fulfilling the terms of a covenant or a promise. In that context, Jesus meant on fulfilling the promise and prophecy concerning the Messiah. Jesus had to submit to the plan of God for the salvation of sinful humanity by identifying himself with sinners and representing them. So, Jesus humbled himself like a sinner at the baptism and at his crucifixion.

The prophesy to be fulfilled
The Jewish leaders had associated baptism with the coming of the Messiah. That was why they sent priests and Levites to John asking him whether he was the Messiah, Elijah or the Prophet. (John 1:19-28). Only these three were supposed to baptize. When John said none of them, they questioned him for the reason of his act of baptism. John’s reply was based on Isaiah 40:3. “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.” Jesus later identified John with the second coming of Prophet Elijah (Mathew 17: 12-13) as prophesied by Malachi in 4:5-6.

Besides Messiah and Elijah both representing Jesus and John, the reference of “the prophet” was based on Deuteronomy 18:15 where Moses said: “A prophet like me will the LORD, your God, raise up for you from among your own kindred; that is the one to whom you shall listen.” In the transfiguration scene in Mathew 17:5, we read: “then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” Hence, that prophecy was also fulfilled in Jesus.

Since act of baptism was associated with the coming of the Messiah, the baptism of Jesus and John were signs of the imminent coming of the Messiah. John confirmed this by his proclamation that he was preparing the way for the one who was coming after him.

Fitting for us
Here “us” stands for Jesus and John. Both had to act together to fulfill the prophesy and set the stage for the presence of the Most Holy Trinity. Jesus’ response changed the reluctance of John to baptize Jesus.

(16) After Jesus was baptized, he came up from the water and behold, the heavens were opened [for him], and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove [and] coming upon him.

He came up from the water
The Holy Spirit came upon Jesus when he came out from water to the dry land. According to Luke 3:21, Jesus was praying after baptism when the Holy Spirit came upon Jesus.\

The heavens were opened
There are several references in the Bible on the opening of the heavens. Here are some of them.

In Old Testament:
1) The floodgates of the sky (heaven) were opened during the flood at the time of Noah. (Genesis 7:11).

2) Prophet Ezekiel, while he was by the river Chebar among the exiles, saw the heavens opened. (Ezekiel 1:1).

In the New Testament:
1) The first mention of the heavens opened was when Jesus was baptized. (Mathew 3:1; Mark 1:10; Luke 3:21).

2) St. Stephen, while he was on trial by the Sanhedrin, saw the heaven opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” (Acts 7:56).

3) St. Peter saw the sky opened, and an object like a great sheet coming down, lowered by four corners to the ground (Acts 10:11).

4) John the Evangelist saw the heaven opened while he was in the Island of Patmos based on which he wrote the book of Revelation. (Revelation 4:1; 19:11).

Heavens
Why the plural “heavens” is used? Bible begins saying: “In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth.” (Gen. 1:1). The Bible speaks of three heavens that are to be distinguished from the context.

1) The firmament or immediate atmosphere that surrounds the earth.

2) The outer space of sun, moon and stars as far as it stretches.

3) The place where God, the holy angels and souls of just men dwell. It is called “The heaven of heavens,” or “the third heaven” (2 Cor.12:2).

He saw the Spirit of God descending
Only John saw the Spirit of God descending. The Evangelist did not say “they” saw because it was not visible to the public.

Spirit of God descending
The coming of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus was prophesied in Isaiah 42:1.

Like a dove
In Luke 3:22 we read: “the holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove.” The Holy Spirit took the physical shape of a dove. Dove is a symbol of peace and purity, which signifies the purity and peace the Holy Spirit brings.

In John 1:32, the Baptist testified saying, “I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from the sky and remain upon him.” So, the Holy Spirit remained with Jesus as prophesied by Isaiah: “The spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him.” (Isaiah 11:2).

(17) And a voice came from the heavens, saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

The prophesy of Isaiah 42:1 is fulfilled in the voice that came from the heavens at the baptism of Jesus: “Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased. Upon him I have put my spirit; he shall bring forth justice to the nations.”

The baptism of Jesus became an occasion for the empowerment of Jesus for his public ministry. Besides, it was necessary for the fulfillment of the prophecies recognizing him as the Messiah and revealing him to John and those who were present.

 Message

1. The baptism of Jesus was a pre-enactment of what was going to happen at the end of his public ministry. The immersion of Jesus in the water of River Jordan represented his death and burial, his rising from the water represented his resurrection, and the descend of the Holy Spirit and the opening of the heaven and voice from there are the acceptance of his sacrifice from heaven.

2. Jesus instituted the Sacrament of Baptism by subjecting himself for baptism. He asked his disciples to baptize in the Trinitarian formula (Mathew 28:19) because every Christian when baptized is accepted by the Most Holy Trinity as it happened for the baptism of Jesus.

3. Baptism is a requirement for salvation. Jesus told Nicodemus, “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.” (John 3:4). Faith in God or in Jesus is not enough. We have to be members of the mystical body of Christ and practice our Christian faith.

4. Just as Jesus started his public ministry with baptism, a Christian life starts with baptism. We, as Christians, are the dwelling place of God. St. Paul reminds in 1 Corinthians 3:16-17: “Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for the temple of God, which you are, is holy.”