St. Matthew 3:13-17; Isaiah 42:1-9; Psalm 29; Acts 10:34-43
Glory be to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit
As we have begun journeying through the life of Christ this year, we have come to His baptism. Our Orthodox brothers and sisters have celebrated this on the sixth of January. As we look at this event this morning, a crucial question to ask is why was He baptised?
The baptism of John was one of repentance and the baptism we practise is one of regeneration. For both of these purposes, Jesus was not in need of baptism. He was a complete man. In His incarnation, the body that He assumed had fulfilled every sacrament of our salvation. He had committed no sin therefore a baptism repentance would be needless.
There are three reasons that the Fathers give to us for our Saviour choosing to be baptised. First, to completely fulfill both the law and the instructions of the prophets. Jesus had fulfilled everything and now there was just one last instruction to fulfill. John the Baptist had come as the final prophet instructing the people to repentance and baptism. Jesus is the complete man is the one who would fulfill all the prophecies and instructions concluding with John the Baptist’s ministry. He completed all the demands of the old covenant in the baptism.
Second, He was baptised to give credence to the ministry and baptism of John. Through His being baptised by John the Baptist, He was placing divine approval upon John’s ministry.
Third, He was baptised for us. John the Baptist’s baptism was merely one of repentance while the baptism that we practise in the church today and the one that the Apostles practised was one of regeneration. What made the difference?
When Christ entered the waters as the sinless one, as the one who had fulfilled all the demands of the old covenant, He hallowed or sanctified the waters of His baptism. Today, when the church baptises a new believer, we understand that in a mystery that the baptismal water becomes the water in which Christ was baptised. In much the same way as bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ for us in the Eucharist. It is something beyond our comprehension, but we know that it happens.
The water becomes the water of Christ’s baptism, but what difference does that make? Without the sanctifying presence of Christ in the baptismal water, baptism can accomplish nothing. It is water. Water can’t wash away sins or raise us up to newness of life. We must have the hallowing, the sanctifying presence of the Lord in the waters.
This fulfills all righteousness as Jesus said to John all those years ago. He not only completed all that was needed for a single man to be righteous, Him, but He also opened the way that all men could become righteous through Him. He fulfilled all righteousness for us.
Verse sixteen of St. Matthew 3 states that Jesus came up immediately from the water. In a spiritual sense this teaches us how we are to live after our own baptism. We are to immediately come up from the water and advance in virtue, then we are to put to death the deeds of the flesh and seek to live according to the Spirit. Having been washed from our sin and raised to new life in the Spirit, we are now to continue to walk in this manner of life. We went down into the water as carnal children of Adam, but we come out of the water transformed into the spiritual children of God. Let us praise God for this wonderful mystery of transformation.
The dove descends upon Christ after His baptism prefiguring to us that the Holy Spirit will descend upon us after we are raised to new life through baptism. We become God’s children through adoption, and we are sealed by the Holy Spirit. In the actual event we see the Trinity. The Lord is baptised, the Spirit descends, and the Father speaks giving testimony of His Son.
Let us now take a look at our first testament reading. We see that the servant of God, who is God the Son, desires to bring justice to the nations. He desires to save all people. We have been born anew through the Holy Spirit regenerating us and God desires this for all people. This is why he came to us and united himself to our flesh.
The fathers tell us that Christ not only did not break a bruised reed or snuff out a smouldering wick, but he also bound up and healed the bruised and broken. He healed the sick and did not bruise the repentant. Even those who were content to remain in their wickedness, he allowed them to follow their own choice. As long as they are in this world, he withholds judgement from them. They will not receive judgement until the Great Judgement on the last day. Until then our Lord treats them with compassion and allows them their choice. We must follow our Lord in showing compassion.
He has given sight to the blind. While he did physically give sight to many blind men during his lifetime, Christ has also restored spiritual sight. All of us with whom he has treated gently and have turned to Him have had our sight restored. He has broken the bonds of sin that have held us and led us to the light of truth.
Just as he has led us out of darkness into light, out of bondage into freedom, in our Psalm reading He has commissioned us to share this wonderful news. We are the means through which the whole world can give to the Lord glory. It is through the Gospel being spread to the ends of the earth that they can give him glory.
In verse three we see a prophecy of our Lord’s baptism. The voice of the Lord is over the waters. God’s voice was heard from heaven over the waters of our Saviour’s baptism.
Waters also figuratively speaks of the nations. we have seen that the waters of Christ’s baptism are also the waters of our own baptism. He speaks over the nations that have and will be baptised in those waters so that they will be made complete in virtue and the greatness of Christ.
Furthermore, it is a prophecy of the first apostles and all those who have carried the message of Christ to the ends of the earth. The voice speaks figuratively of the Holy Spirit and the grace that fell at Pentecost giving those first apostles the power and the might to lead many to Christ. They have passed that grace onto many succeeding generations through the laying on of hands.
We see also the creation of the Church in verse eight. The desert or wilderness of Kadesh was shaken. The desert or the church originally had no children and was barren, but through the preaching of Christ it was shaken and gave birth and in a single day an entire nation was born. It was an empty wilderness and now the deer dance in it by his voice. The church rushes throughout the world unmindful of the opposition and persecution proclaiming the Gospel of Christ so that all in His Temple can say, “Glory”.
Finally, as we look at our epistle reading we see that salvation is for all or in the words of St. Peter, “I see that God shows no partiality”. God is no respecter of persons, whether the person is a Jew or a Gentile like us, he is looking to see if that person is doing what pleases him. He will show more concern and care for the one who has chosen the way of virtue at a time when many are determined to do evil.
Cornelius up to this time had been seeking to worship God as best he knew. He did not have the revelation that Jesus Christ was the same God as the God of the Old Testament. St. Peter was sent to instruct him that Jesus was the fulfillment of the Old Testament.
God had anointed Jesus with grace. In our baptism we remember that both God anointed Jesus with grace and that we are anointed with oil signifying that we receive His grace as well.
Let us praise our Lord and Saviour that he has fulfilled all righteousness and made the way for us to be holy as well. We have been raised to new life, let us seek the things above. Let us endeavour to acquire all the virtues of the Christian life – love, joy, peace etc.
We must also have the compassion our Saviour has for all men. If we do not desire that all men to be saved, let us take some time to pray this week that God would change our hearts. Let us seek to as full of compassion as our blessed Saviour. God has commissioned us to spread his gospel to the ends of the earth. We can do that as a Church by sponsoring the church missionary. On our own we can commit to praying for the work of missionaries and Christian workers throughout the world. We can share with our friends and neighbours who do not know Christ. We can give to the cause of spreading his name abroad.
Finally, we have received grace through baptism to live Godly. In a few moments we will also receive grace through the Eucharist. Let us partake and receive from the Lord the grace to pursue Him with all of our hearts.
In the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,
~ Fr. Matthew
Xačʿatur. 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=56383 [retrieved April 17, 2020]. Original source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/medmss/8614784984.