The Baptism of Our Lord
The Baptism of Our Lord
Grace, Mercy and Peace to you from God our Father and His only Son, Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, Amen.
The Gospel for this Sunday relates the narrative of the baptism of Our Lord, Jesus Christ. Although it is a mere six sentences long, it contains much revelation of our incarnate Lord here on earth and holds great meaning for our faith.
In these passages, we have the institution of baptism through which we are all cleansed to be made members of the body of Christ and inheritors to the kingdom of heaven.
In these passages we also have the revelation of the Trinity of our God. Here we are witness to the three persons of one substance that is the one true God.
I begin with the first part of our Gospel reading of Matthew 3:13-15.
John the Baptist was baptizing people in the Jordan River. This baptism was for the repentance of sins. Earlier in the narrative, John had rebuked the Pharisees and the Sadducees for trying to be baptized without repenting. He called them a ‘brood of vipers’. And in verse 11, he explains why he is baptizing people.
“I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” [Mt 3:11]
Then Jesus came to be baptized by John. Seeing Jesus, John tried to work out a way to respectfully refuse the breach in protocol. Jesus was the Messiah. Jesus was the Savior of the world. John was not worthy to even tie Christ’s sandals, how could he baptize him for the repentance of his sins? In addition, Jesus had no sin! By refusing to baptize Jesus, John is declaring Jesus sinless.
John says to Jesus, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”
Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.
This is a very important point in history for all Christians. Many things are happening all at once in this act. Firstly, the sinless one, has nothing to repent, yet by this act, Christ is fulfilling the first part of His mission that leads to the crucifixion on the cross. In order to be forgiven for our sins, we must first repent. We must first acknowledge the sin and then turn away from the sin. In our repentance, through the grace of God, we are forgiven.
Christ bore our sins unto death on the cross. These were the sins of all humankind. These were not only the sins of the people that existed up until the time of Christ, these sins were of all people of all time, past present and future. If it were not so, we would not be free from death and eternal damnation.
Christ bore the sins of you and me – all of them. This means the sins we committed in the past, the sins we will commit in the future, the sins we know about and confess and the sins of which we are unaware. Just as Jesus bore these sins unto death, he also repented those sins for us. This is how He fulfilled all righteousness. He began our salvation by confessing our sins through the baptism of repentance.
Secondly, He is subjugating himself to the will of our Father in heaven. This baptism begins Christ’s saving work here on Earth. From this moment on, he is to heal the sick, cure the lame, make the blind see and forgive sin in all authority of God.
Thirdly, by being baptized, Christ is giving the sacrament of baptism the saving grace of God. In order for our baptism to be imbued with the power of the Holy Spirit, it was to be consecrated by God himself. Christ verifies the importance of this baptism in Luke 12:50, “But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is completed!” Why was he distressed? Because without this consecration, all people were under the penalty of the law, with this baptism, all people could be cleansed of all sin.
It was at this point that the act of baptism became more than the sprinkling of water, it became a life saving act for the salvation of all human beings. Jesus sanctified the baptism so as to be used in the world. Through the actions of Jesus Christ, baptism truly became the forgiveness of sins.
John the Baptist bore witness as it is related to us in John 1:32-34
“I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”
This leads us to the second three sentences of today’s Gospel, where we become witnesses to the Trinity of God.
‘As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”’ [Mt. 3:16-17]
Any parent can relate to the joy of the birth of a son or daughter. It is an elated feeling of wondrous love and happiness. I’m sure every parent can look at their newborn and say with all honesty, “This is my beloved son / daughter with whom I am well pleased.” Who wouldn’t be pleased with such a gift of life that is the very embodiment of a man and a woman who love each other?
This feeling lasts a long time, but not consistently. In a short time, the once cute little bundle of joy begins to show its true human and thus, sinful nature. At these times, our joy turns to displeasure with the child and the parent now becomes the disciplinarian.
When I was a child, it seemed my older brother and I were in constant struggle against each other. Sometimes our verbal spats or physical wrestling would become loud enough for our father to intercede.
I can still remember the opening of the door at the top of the stairs and our father’s voice bellowing like thunder, “What are going on down there?” We would stop everything we were doing, hearing the displeasure in our father’s voice, and stare at each other in fear.
“You’d better behave!” He would say, and then, “Don’t make me come down there!” We had experienced his wrath and punishment in the past and we did not want to incur it again.
In the past, the opening of the heavens would be a terrible and frightening thing. It is written in Isaiah 64:1-3
Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence— as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil—
to make your name known to your adversaries, and that the nations might tremble at your presence! When you did awesome things that we did not look for, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.
As Ezekiel saw in when he was with the captive Israelites:
Now it came to pass… that the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God…
Then I looked, and behold, a whirlwind was coming out of the north, a great cloud with raging fire engulfing itself; and brightness was all around it and radiating out of its midst like the color of amber, out of the midst of the fire.
Or, as St. John witnessed in Revelation 4:1
“After this I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, ‘Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.’
Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, [Rev 1:12]
When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead.” [Rev 1:17]
This time, on the banks of the river Jordan, it was different. When the doors of the heavens opened it was not followed by the right hand of God bringing his wrath to his people, it was instead the Spirit of God descending like a dove. The same Spirit of God that hovered over the face of the waters in Genesis 1:2. The Spirit of God in the form of a dove inaugurating the Son who will bring peace to the turmoil of all people’s souls is like the dove that brought the olive branch to Noah after the great flood.
Just as God brought His people through the waters of the flood, as He brought His chosen people through the waters of the Red Sea, He now brings His elect through the waters of baptism by the sacrifice of His Son.
God’s words speak to us in our Old Testament reading of Isaiah 42:
“Behold! My Servant whom I uphold,
My Elect One in whom My soul delights!
I have put My Spirit upon Him;
He will bring forth justice to the Nations.”
God speaks again to us on the day of the baptism of His Son. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” God has fulfilled His promise spoken in Isaiah. “I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the nations.”
In this we can be sure. In this promise we can hold our faith. Through the baptism of our Lord and Savior we are baptized into his death. We are buried with Him into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead in the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. [Rom 6:4]
By being saved by Christ, we are no longer slaves to sin for the one who has died has been set free from sin. This salvation was given to us by the grace and mercy of God our Father. Through Christ we are alive in him and death has no dominion over us. Therefore we must consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. [Rom 6:11]
All praise to God the Father, the Holy Spirit and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen