Today’s feast of the Baptism of the Lord provides 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.
Why was Jesus baptized? It has been asked in every generation why Christ sought baptism. The baptism of John surely pointed to sin, of which Christ had none. The question has been well answered by the Father and many others. In effect, Christ descended into those waters; He troubled those waters, stirring them up to make them holy for our sakes. And by this descent, which points to the Paschal mystery, obtained manifold blessings for us. St. Maximus of Turin speaks of Christ’s baptism this way:
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 Christ, as it were, opens a way for us by troubling the waters, just as He did at the Red Sea, and obtains for us victory over our spiritual enemies. He brings us forth to freedom on the other side. He is baptized for us. Ephesians 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 stirs up the water; He troubles the water for us, acquiring gifts on our behalf.
Don’t be afraid of troubled waters; there is a blessing on the other side. A songwriter once spoke of seeking a bridge over troubled waters. Biblically, this is poor advice. For it is only by going through, or wading into, the troubled waters that the blessing is found. More on this in a moment. For now, simply observe that Christ wades in, troubles the water, and obtains blessings for us out of the troubled waters.
And what are the gifts He obtains for us? The texts speak of them somewhat figuratively, but clearly. In effect, there are four gifts spoken of in the Gospel descriptions of Jesus’ baptism:
- 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 that the heavens are opened. Jesus acquires the gift of sanctifying grace for us. And by this grace, 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 also opened at our own baptism and we have access to the Father.
- 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, 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)
- Acknowledgment – this is my beloved Son. Jesus receives this acknowledgment from His Father. He allowed this to be heard by some of the bystanders for the sake of their own faith. But He also acquires 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).
- Approval – I am well pleased. Jesus had always pleased His Father. But now He acquires this gift for you as well. Here, too, is another acknowledgment of the sanctifying grace that the Lord gives us in baptism. Sanctifying grace is the gift 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 at the troubled, stirred up water of 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!”
This video I put together shows that God has a way of bringing blessings when He troubles the water.
He troubled the waters in the great flood to cleanse the earth,
He troubled the waters at the Red Sea to bring forth victorious escape and freedom from oppression,
He troubled the waters in the desert to satisfy the Israelites,
He troubled the waters of the Jordan so they could enter the promised land,
Jesus troubled the waters at His baptism and obtained many a gift for us,
And from the troubled waters of His pierced side came salvation and the Holy Spirit.
So don’t build a bridge over troubled waters; wade on in! There’s a blessing on the other side.