Today’s feast of the Baptism of the Lord is a moment to reflect not only on the Lord’s baptism, but also on our own. For 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. And in these waters he acquires gifts to give us, as we shall see below.

Let’s examine this text in three stages:

1. The Fraternity of Baptism – The text says After all the people had been baptized and Jesus also had been baptized”

Luke puts the fact of Jesus’ baptism in the middle of a sentence. Perhaps he mentions it in passing because he, like many of us  is puzzled about Jesus requesting baptism.  Why? John’s baptism of repentance presumes the presence of sin. But the scriptures are clear, Jesus had no sin.

  1. 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 ).
  2. You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin (1 John 3:5 ).

Jesus identifies with sinners, even if he never sinned. As he comes to the riverside he has no ego concerns. He is not embarrassed or ashamed that some might think him a sinner even though he was not. It is a remarkable humiliation he accepts to be found in the company of sinners like us, and even to be seen as one of us. He freely enters the waters and, to any outsider who knew him not, he would simply be numbered among the sinners, which he was not.

Consider how amazing this is. The Scripture says He is not ashamed to call us his Brethren (Heb 2:11). It also 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 to the scandal of many of the religious leaders: -This man welcomes sinners and eats with them!” (Lk 15:2). Jesus was known as a friend of sinners, had pity on the woman caught in adultery, 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 the way reserved for the worst criminals. He was crucified between two thieves and He 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. Again, 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)

2. 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. He the Head of the Body, 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 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. But 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. Hence Jesus says, in his baptism and all it signifies (his death and resurrection) he has come to fulfill all righteous and he thus fulfills the promises made by God at the Red Sea and throughout the Old Testament.

3. 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.

Eph 5:30 says we are members of Christ’s body. Thus when Jesus goes into the water we go with him. And in going there he acquires four gifts on our behalf as this text sets them forth. Lets look at the four gifts he acquires on our behalf:

  1. Access - the heavens are opened . The heavens and paradise had been closed to us after Original Sin. But now, at Jesus’ baptism, the text says the heavens are opened. Jesus acquires this gift for us. So, 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) It 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). Hence the heavens are opened also at our own Baptism and we have access to the Father.
  2. Anointing - the Spirit of God descends on him like a dove – Here too, Jesus acquires the Gift of the Holy Spirit for us. In Baptism we are not just washed of sins, but we also become temples of the Holy Spirit. After baptism there is the anointing with chrism which signifies the presence of the Holy Spirit. For adults this is 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)
  3. AcknowledgmentYou are my beloved Son. Jesus receives this acknowledgment from his Father for the faith of those who heard, but also to acquire this gift for us. In our own Baptism we become the children of God. Since 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 acknowledged 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)
  4. ApprovalWith you I am pleased . Jesus had always pleased his Father. But now he acquires this gift for you as well. Our own Baptism gives us sanctifying grace. Sanctifying grace is 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 acquired these gifts for us so that our own Baptism we could receive them. Consider well the glorious gift of your Baptism. Perhaps you know the exact day. It should be a day as highly celebrated as your birthday. Christ is baptized for our sakes, not his own. All these gifts had always been his. Now, in his baptism he fulfills God’s righteousness by going into the water to get them for you. It’s alright to say, “Hallelujah!”

10 Responses

  1. RichardC says:

    Neat video.

    Beautiful reflection and St. Maximus quote.

    Another way to read, “the heavens opened” is that in Genesis 1:7-8: “. . . God made the dome, and it separated the water above the dome from the water below it. God called the dome ‘the sky.’ Evening came, and morning followed–the second day.” The second day is the only day that God doesn’t look upon His work as “good”. So, one could look on Jesus’ Baptism and “the heavens opened” as undoing the work of the second day, as the first step for the pouring forth of the Holy Spirit on Pentacost.

  2. Annette Strachan says:

    I did not appreciate being Baptised at the time, at St. John the Baptist Church, I was nearly nine, and reading ahead, the salt was a worry to me, the month would have been January.

  3. Eileen McGinnis says:

    This should be a must read for every Christian, the more often the better.

  4. Donna says:

    The belief that baptism makes us members of Christ’s body brings me much comfort when I consider all the friends and family members who have wandered away from God and the Catholic Church. I trust that our Lord, the Good Shepherd, will leave the 99 to go after the one that has been lost. This has been my own experience!

    What is perplexing to me, however, is that although one of the gifts of baptism is “sanctifying grace”, we see that rarely does anyone remain in this state. Even the Hebrews, who had just witnessed a the miracle of the parting of the Red Sea (their baptism), were soon after worshiping a golden calf. Don’t mean to be negative here – just sharing a thought. I know there is a battle going on, and ALL the sacraments are needed to thrive.

  5. edracruz says:

    And we are reminded of this baptism everytime we enter our Church and dip our fingers in the font of Holy Water at the entrance and in making the Holy Sign of the Cross on our forehead, declaring The FATHER, as Our FATHER, on our chest redeemed by The SON, because of The SON, we become sons of GOD, on our shoulders by the Power of the HOLY SPIRIT so that we can soar, sursum corda, go in flight to touch the Hand of GOD as the heavens open. What a profound legacy of the Church in giving us the very simple Sign of the Cross. I am really better of than my Protestant brethren for I am renewed and born again and again, and baptized everytime I enter the Church.
    As usual, thank you Monsignor for this article, most profound indeed. This made our Sunday even more sacred.

  6. [...] the water, he makes holy the water that will baptize us. He enters the water and we follow. Jesus did not go into the Jordan River alone. He took you with Him… __________________ Your socks stink. To view links or images in signatures your post count [...]

  7. Ginny K. Allen says:

    73 years ago tomorrow I was baptized.

  8. [...] more on this feast and the mystery of baptism, read Msgr. Charles Pope’s blog entry. Share [...]

  9. yan says:

    Great piece! Thx Msgr.

  10. David C. Inman says:

    Here is an excerpt from (St. Maximus of Turin, 423 AD): “Therefore the Lord Jesus came to baptism, and willed to have his body washed with water. Perhaps someone will say: “He who is holy, why did he wish to be baptized?” Pay attention therefore! Christ is baptized, not that he may be sanctified in the waters, but that he himself may sanctify the waters, and by his own purification may purify those streams which he touches. For the consecration of Christ is the greater consecration of another element. For when the Savior is washed, then already for our baptism all water is cleansed and the fount purified, that the grace of the laver may be administered to the peoples that come after. Christ therefore takes the lead in baptism, so that Christian peoples may follow after him with confidence.”

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