Why was Jesus baptized?

The reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew 3:13-17Image

Today is January 6, the great feast of Epiphany/Theophany.

John the baptist lived in the wilderness for a good portion of his life. We are told that he ate locusts and honey to survive. He preached and warned people that the messiah, the chosen one of Israel was coming soon and that it was time to repent, to get right with God. One of the other important activities that John did was to baptize everyone that came to him and repented of their sins. John provided a symbolic washing away of the sins of the past. So he must have been quite surprised when his own cousin, Jesus of Nazareth came to him asking to be baptized.

John knew that Jesus was special. He knew that Jesus was holy and so he was quite surprised when Jesus came to him asking to be baptized. John the baptist looked at the Lord Jesus and said “I need to be baptized by you and are you coming to me?” John was a man of God and a prophet but even he was no match for the godliness of Jesus. He was overwhelmed by the idea that he would baptize Jesus when it was really Jesus who should have baptized him.

But the Lord Jesus answered him saying “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” The question that we have to ask ourselves is, “what does it mean to fulfill all righteousness?” Does it mean that Jesus wouldn’t be righteousness without baptism? Of course not. Jesus is the only sinless one and He remains sinless whether or not He received baptism. So what could this mean? Did it mean that it was proper for Jesus to do this because it was a tradition of the Jewish people? Not at all. The Jews did not have a tradition of baptism. Was Jesus doing this to be an example for us? Maybe. So what else does this mean? Why did the Lord insist on being baptized?

The simplest answer to me is that Jesus forced John to baptize Him in order to make baptism special for us! Remember that the baptism of John was not really special in any way. It was merely a symbolic action. But Christians on the other hand, have never believed that baptism was symbolic. At least they never believed that until roughly the 16th century. If you don’t believe me read anything written by any Christian before the 15th or 16th century. This is also clear in many Bible passages including Acts chapter 22 when Ananias speaks to Paul saying “And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins” (Acts 22:16) No symbolic baptism could ever do such a thing!  Symbolic baptisms may wash away dirt, but they can’t wash away sins.  Jesus was baptized to sanctify baptism for us.

The Lord teaches that “He who believes and is baptized will be saved;” (Mark 16:16a). Baptism became powerful because Jesus Christ the Son of God was baptized. His baptism transformed the simple act of dunking a person in water. In fact this act is so important that it is expected that everyone who believes in Christ must be baptized. Baptism is not a mere symbol, it is full of power. Baptism makes us members of the Church, “the household of God.” Baptism washes away sins. Baptism is also death and burial with Christ so that we can be raised with Christ. Finally baptism is putting on Christ.

When we are baptized, God the Father doesn’t just see us, He sees Jesus Christ His beloved Son through each of us. When Jesus was baptized, God the Father spoke from heaven and declared “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” In our baptism each of us becomes son or daughter, each one of us becomes a child of God. God looks on us and He is pleased with us. It is up to us to strive to cooperate with the Holy Spirit, to always be well-pleasing to God just as we were that very day that we were baptized.

We don’t simply watch the baptism of Jesus like some story. We become a part of this story. All of the blessings of God become ours because Jesus went through baptism and blessed and sanctified it for the rest of us. We thank God the Father for all His rich blessings towards us. May He help us to grow in the likeness of His only Son through the grace of the Holy Spirit…..AMEN.

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