This is what John the Baptist proclaimed: “One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” It happened in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John. On coming up out of the water he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him. And a voice came from the heavens, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
John the Baptist was the link between the Old and the New Testaments. He was the last of the Old Testament prophets and the first witness to Christ and the New Covenant. His preaching in the desert led many to desire the baptism of repentance he offered, a baptism that demonstrated a sincere desire to be renewed by God, to turn to a new path toward righteousness.
Christ did not require a turn toward righteousness or the baptism of repentance. Rather, in His baptism He desired to be one with His people in all things, like us in every way except sin (Heb 4:15). John baptized with water. Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit, a pouring out of God’s Spirit that will be truly life-changing, transforming us from ones corrupted by sin and trapped in its chains to children of God freed from sin who share in the very life of God. This is what grace is, a sharing in the very life of God.
Isaiah the prophet prayed, “O that thou wouldst rend the heavens and come down” (Is 64:1). This is what Christ has done! He has torn open the curtain that separated earth from heaven. He came down to earth to be Emmanuel — “God with us” — that we might be renewed and enter heaven. St. Hippolytus of Rome (martyred c. 235) wrote: “Before, the gates of heaven were closed, and heaven beyond us. We could fall to the lowest depths, but we could not rise to the greatest heights. The Baptism of the Lord was not his baptism alone: at the same time, the old man was wholly renewed. … The visible was reconciled with the invisible. All heaven rejoiced, and the illnesses and infirmities of this world were healed; what had been hidden was brought out into the light, and those who were once enemies were reconciled.”
Mark emphasizes in his baptism account the relationship between Christ and the Holy Spirit and the Father. The Holy Spirit descends upon Him as a dove, a bird of peace. The Father announces to Him, “with you I am well pleased.” The Holy Trinity is about the work of reconciliation between God and humankind. The Baptism of the Lord initiates Christ’s public ministry, a ministry that will take Him through the suffering of His crucifixion to the glory of His Resurrection and Ascension into heaven. He will lead the way for all to follow. May we respond with eagerness to the grace Christ extends.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.