Baptism of the Lord

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Luke 3:15-16, 21-22

The people were filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Christ. John answered them all, saying, “I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” After all the people had been baptized and Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, 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.”

Luke the Evangelist separates salvation history into three epochs: the time of the promise (the period of Israel), the time of fulfillment (the life, ministry, sacrifice, and resurrection of Jesus), and the time of the Church. John the Baptist represents the end of the time of the promise. He is the last of the Old Testament prophets. His is the voice that cries out: “In the desert prepare the way of the Lord! Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!” John is to prepare the way for Jesus and, as such, his is a baptism of water, one in which those baptized are forgiven of their sins and commit themselves to live more faithfully according to the law of God. Jesus’ baptism is one of the Holy Spirit and fire, a purifying baptism that prepares one for the life of the kingdom of God.

The Spirit of God descends upon Jesus in the form of a dove, and a voice is heard announcing to Jesus: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” This is an allusion to the Servant Song of Isaiah 42: “Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased, upon whom I have put my spirit” (Is 42:1). Luke would later refer to this episode as an anointing of Jesus (Lk 4:18; Acts 10:38). Christ means “anointed one.” John prepared the way for Jesus by announcing the coming of the Messiah. At the baptism of Jesus, the Father and Spirit prepare Him for His ministry by announcing Jesus as God’s own Son and anointing Him with the Holy Spirit. From this point, Jesus will initiate His ministry of healing and proclaiming the kingdom.

Why was Jesus baptized? We understand baptism as the means by which our sins are forgiven and we are infused with the life of God. John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Mk 1:4). Jesus is God, He was without sin and had always done His Father’s will, so He did not require baptism. So, why be baptized at all? Water has, for time immemorial, been a symbol of death and new life. The flood meant death for all except those in the ark, for whom it was a new beginning. Passing through the separated waters of the Red Sea meant new life for the Hebrews escaping Egypt, a passage from slavery to freedom. Jesus’ own descent into the waters of the Jordan represented His death and Resurrection. St. John Chrysostom wrote: “Going down into the water and emerging again are the image of the descent into hell and the Resurrection.” Jesus’ baptism was a symbol of His mission: to descend into death, and to rise again.

In our baptism, we die to sin and rise from the waters a new creation. In His baptism and in the life He lived as a sacrifice to redeem the world, Jesus shows us our own mission: to follow Him into death so to rise to new life.

Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.

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