In the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,
Today we begin our journey through the ministry of Jesus, with His baptism. In the passage we see that the people were wondering whether John the Baptist might be the Messiah. This is quite a commendation of his ministry – being mistaken for the Messiah. St. Gregory the Great, tells us that it is because of his humility that he was mistaken for the Messiah. For it is through humility that he was full of the grace of the Spirit, and it is because of his humility that he couldn’t claim such a title for himself.
Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, was coming in the same manner as John i.e. he was going to come to baptise. However, his baptism would be much different, for he would baptise with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Jesus was able to baptise with the Holy Spirit because it is part of his substance. He as God and part of the Trinity is able to impart the Holy Spirit, while John the Baptist was merely man and could only baptise with water.
He was also to baptise with fire. “Why fire?”, St. Cyril of Jerusalem asks, “Because the descent of the Holy Spirit was in fiery tongues. Concerning this the Lord says with joy, ‘I have come to cast fire upon the earth, and how I wish it would be kindled!’”1 Jesus was awaiting the resurrection when the Holy Spirit could be conferred upon all men. He desired to give us this special gift.
Our baptism, which is conducted through the instrumentation of men, is actually performed by God. In other words, we are baptised by God and not men. This pattern of God baptising we see here begun in Jesus’ baptism. While John baptised Jesus, the Father declared Jesus His Son and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him.
“For this reason,” St. Chrysostom tells us, “when the priest is baptising he doesn’t say, ‘I baptise so-and-so,’ but ‘So-and-so is baptised by the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.’ In this way he shows that is not he who baptises but those whose names have been invoked, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit”2
Jesus will burn the chaff with unquenchable fire. We see here that fire is both a good thing and a bad thing. To the righteous the fire cleanses and is a blessing, but to the wicked it is judgement. St. Ambrose tells us,
“So he confers very many fruits on us, hated by chaff and no friend of worthless merits. And therefore, a fire that is not harmful by its nature will burn before him. For he who burns up the evils of wickedness adds to the radiance of goodness.”3
Fire, therefore, serves as a warning to us. If we are pursuing the Lord, then it is our friend that cleanses and empowers us. However, if we are choosing the way of evil and destruction, it will be our punishment.
Jesus’ baptism was the pattern for us. As it is our second birth in baptism, so it was Christs and a more excellent birth than His first as Maximus of Turin explains,
The one brought forth Christ in silence and without a witness. The other baptised the Lord gloriously with a profession of divinity. From the one, Joseph, thought to be the father absents himself. At the other, God the Father, not believed in, manifests himself. In the one the mother labours under suspicion because in her condition she lacked a father. In the other she is honoured, because God attests to his Son.4
This final point, about the Virgin Mary, I wonder how often we consider. She was honoured in the baptism of Christ. I think that I probably never really considered this point because of my uneasiness about the Virgin Mary (which Father Pat warned us against a few weeks ago) and my individualism. It is the baptism of Jesus, therefore, no one else is really involved.
However, his recognition honours his greater family unit. Is it any wonder then that Elisabeth declared, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” If Elisabeth who was only part of the first covenant gives such honour to the family of our Saviour, how much more should we?
The heavens were opened at the time of Jesus’ baptism along with the plan for the forgiveness of sins. This is when the Holy Spirit came down for the forgiveness of sins. The Holy Spirit would not be given to all men until after Jesus had ascended on high and gave the Holy Spirit to the apostles, but this was the beginning. Forgiveness and salvation is imminent and the process of it being available for all men is just about here.
The Holy Spirit descends like a dove. St. Ambrose asks the question,
Why like a dove? For the grace of washing sins requires simplicity, so that we may be innocent like doves. The grace of the washing requires peace, as in an earlier image the dove brought to the ark that alone was inviolable [not profaned] by the flood. He of whom the dove was the image, who now deigned to descend in the form of a dove, taught men that in the branch, in that ark, was the image of peace and of the church.5
He came as a dove that we might know without a shadow of a doubt that he was bringing peace and salvation as the Ark branch did to Noah and his family. It is in the ark i.e. in the church we can have rest and safety.
Let us now turn our attention to the prophecy of Isaiah to learn more about the work of the Holy Spirit. Historically this passage is speaking of return of the exiles from Babylon. Figuratively, it tells us so much more.
One of the Fathers tells us that we are Jacob and Israel because God has formed us in our souls after His image and have been bought back by His blood. We are, therefore, to go and preach the gospel with the assurance that God will be with us always no matter what the opposition.
This Father also states of the phrase, “You are mine.”,
For we are said to have been Christ’s, even before the separation from God that occurred when we as sinners went out from the garden, though by nature we were always God’s. But he has made us once more to be his own through the Holy Spirit making us strong through every trial.6
Through baptism, through receiving the Holy Spirit, we are restored to where God has intended us to be. He has made us strong, so that now we can face every trial. He does not give us salvation without the ability to live it out, and he gives us everything that we need for life and godliness.
St. Ambrose tells us that if we make a good passage i.e. if we are living a godly life, pursuing virtue loving the Lord then we can pass through fire and flood and any obstacle because Jesus is walking with us. However, if we keep fire closed up in our body i.e. lust, immoderate desire, worldly affections etc. it will burn through the very covering of our soul. We are safe when we pursue God.
God works such deliverance because He loves his people, because He loves us. He did this in the restoration of Israel from Babylon and he does it in our lives. As Theodoret of Cyr tells us, “it is with truth and precision that the text clearly indicates the people that the holy apostles have called from the entire world and who have obtained salvation.7” God saved the nation of Israel in history and he saves His church.
One of the Fathers sees the building up of the church in the words, “I will bring back your offspring”. He says, “I shall raise up your offspring to be my children through their being reborn in the church, and all those called by name Christians are welcomed.8” The offspring, the church is now greater than the ethnic people of Israel. It is everyone in the world who puts their trust in the Lord. These will be called by the name of the Lord. This is the name Christian as Eusebius of Caesarea tells us,
If it is necessary for to be marked by name, then I’ll make it clear to them all that they are all they are now “those who have been called by my name.” From where else did the name of Christians come from than from the name of Christ? For it was he who foretold such a thing through the prophet.9
We are literally called after the Name of our Saviour. What a fulfillment!
In the beginning of the Psalm, we are exhorted to ascribe to the Lord or give to the Lord glory. Practically speaking how do we do this? The Fathers related this back to St. Matthew 5:16 i.e. allowing our deeds and also our words to glorify God. Theodoret of Cyr takes it a step further and relates it to the great commission,
Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.
We have been given the Holy Spirit, we have been restored and we are now equipped to bring the news of salvation to the world. It is in this way that we bring glory to God. Not in our deeds alone, but through the praises of those who receive salvation through our obedience to God.
The Fathers understand two fulfillments from the phrase, “The voice of the Lord is over the waters;”. First and foremost they recognised this was speaking of Jesus’ baptism as we have looked at this morning. The Father spoke over the waters of Jesus’ baptism.
Secondly, they saw the waters as figuratively speaking of the saints i.e. of us. Citing St. John’s record of Jesus words that rivers of living water would flow out of anyone who believes on Christ. The Holy Spirit is within them and the Lord is on them.
“The voice of the Lord is power” this is referring to the power imparted to the apostles. As we read earlier and will take a closer look in a few minutes. The apostles were needed to impart the gift of the Holy Spirit to the new believers in Samaria. The deacon Philip was unable to do so.
St. Jerome sees the desert of Kadesh as a picture of the Church. For generations the Church was bare and empty awaiting the resurrection and the proclamation of the gospel.
We have seen in theory and admonition that those who receive the Holy Spirit are to go out and proclaim the good news of Christ. We now have a case study of this being done. Philip the deacon went and proclaimed the gospel to those in Samaria who accepted the word and were baptised.
However, there was a problem Philip was unable to impart the Holy Spirit to them. He had the Holy Spirit, but he could not give it to them, only the apostles could do so. Today, this has been passed on to the Bishops. We see from this that the baptism that Philip gave was good since the apostles did not rebaptise the converts but only imparted the Holy Spirit. They had obtained lawful baptism and Peter and John supplied only what they lacked.
For us today, let us remember to give honour to the Blessed Virgin Mary as she was honoured through our Lord’s baptism. We have received the Holy Spirit, we are, therefore, to pursue the Christian virtues, and endeavour to follow Christ in all our actions. In this way, God will preserve us from all trouble and bring us safely to heaven. Let us proclaim the Gospel of Christ both near and far and give glory to God through all our words and actions.
~ Dn. Fr. Matthew
1 Thomas C. Oden and Arthur A. Just Jr., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture New Testament III (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 64
4 Thomas C. Oden and Arthur A. Just Jr., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture New Testament III (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 66
5 Thomas C. Oden and Arthur A. Just Jr., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture New Testament III (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 67
6 Thomas C. Oden and Mark W. Elliot, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture Old Testament XI (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2007), 46
7 Thomas C. Oden and Mark W. Elliot, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture Old Testament XI (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2007), 48
Angelico, fra, ca. 1400-1455. Baptism of Christ, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=49585 [retrieved April 16, 2019]. Original source: www.yorckproject.de.