Bible Reading on the Baptism of the Lord: Luke 3:15-16, 21-22 Our Own Baptism
GUIDING LIGHT - Rev. Fr. Benjamin Sim sj (The Freeman) - January 13, 2019 - 12:00am

With today’s feast of the Baptism of the Lord we bring the Christmas season to a close.  Many of us may ask, “Why does Jesus have to be baptized?”


The baptism of Jesus by John is not the same as the Sacrament of Baptism we received as Christians.  We understand the Sacrament of Baptism as the washing away of original sin.

Baptism is dying to sin and rising to new life in Jesus Christ.  It is becoming a member of his Body by uniting ourselves to the Christian community.  It is becoming a child of God in and through Jesus Christ.  Our understanding of baptism has a direct relation to Christ himself – who He was and what He did.  For us, our baptism says that we are united with Christ.

The Baptism of the Lord by John, as told us through the Gospels and explained to us through the Apostles, is very different from this.  It is a central point in the life of Jesus Christ.  It was the inauguration of his mission, his public ministry.

For Jesus, his baptism was the beginning of his mission, which would challenge the religious leaders – the scribes and the Pharisees.  It was a beginning, which would ultimately lead to the cross.

It was a difficult time for Jesus.  He knew what he had to do.  He knew that what he would do would be rejected.  He knew that eventually it would cost him his life.

Yet, this simple action of being immersed in water so beautifully said to the world, “Your Lord is here!  Now the reign of God is upon the world.”

There are three kinds of baptisms in the Gospels.  First, there is John’s baptism with water.  The Gospel tells us he was baptizing in the river Jordan.  John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance.  It was a sign that people repented their sins and wanted to wash them away.

John’s baptism was only the first step in a journey.  John made this perfectly clear when he said, “I baptize you with water to show that you have repented, but the One who will come after me will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.  He is much greater than I am; and I am not good enough even to carry his sandals.” (Luke 3:16)

Now, the Second Baptism.  It is the Sacramental Baptism with the Holy Spirit.  Toward the end of his life, Jesus told his disciples: “Go… to all peoples everywhere and make them my disciples, baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:19)

The Sacrament of Baptism is a baptism of rebirth.  It communicates to people a whole new life.  Commenting on this new life, St. Paul wrote to the newly baptized Christians: “When you were baptized, you were buried with Christ, and in baptism you were also raised with Christ… But God has now brought you to life with Christ” (Colossians 2:12-13).

And so Jesus’ Sacrament of Baptism communicates to people a share of his own life.

And this brings us to the Third Baptism.  It is John’s baptism of Jesus himself.  What took place when John baptized Jesus:  First, the sky opened.  Second, the Spirit descended.  Third, a voice from heaven said, “You are my own dear Son.”

The image of the sky opening. The ancient Jews pictured God as living somewhere above the sky.  This explains Isaiah’s words when he asks God to save the world from sin.  “Tear the sky open and come down.”  (Isaiah 64:1)  The image of the sky opening suggests that God has heard the prophet’s prayer and is coming down to save the world.

The image of the Spirit hovering over Jesus and the water.  It is almost identical with the image in the Book of Genesis in describing the beginning of creation.  Genesis states: “God’s spirit hovered over the water.” (Genesis 1:2)  And so the image of the Spirit suggests that the new era is to be a “new creation” or “re-creation” of the world.

Finally, the image of the voice from heaven saying, “You are my own dear Son.”  These words of God the Father identify Jesus as His Son.  Jesus is the “new Adam” of the new creation.

The Sacrament of Baptism is unique.  John baptized as a sign of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  In the case of Jesus, John’s baptism anointed him as the one who would usher in God’s rule.  Jesus or his followers would baptize others in the Holy Spirit.

For us, Baptism becomes the means through which God comes into our life to establish a loving relationship, which is eternal.  In our baptism we are brought into the community of the forgiven and the forgiving, which we call the Church.

Our Baptism signifies that we are part of God’s family.  Even though we may wander and perhaps even try to turn away from God, the Church never re-baptizes.  Baptism is once-for-all because God remains faithful and keeps the promise to love us and accept us in Jesus Christ.

How about the “Baptism of the Spirit,” which we often hear from the charismatic movement?  It is, strictly speaking, not a baptism, because as Catholics we were already baptized in the Holy Spirit.  And our baptism is valid and forever.

“Baptism of the Spirit” is a time of peak spiritual experience; we may call it a “spiritual high,” which calls from us a deep spiritual commitment to our baptismal promises.  It would be a mistake to think that it replaces our Sacramental Baptism, because when we were baptized we already received the Holy Spirit.

The most important point of all for us to consider is that the new creation began with John’s baptism of Jesus, which became a personal reality for each one of us at our own baptism.

When we were baptized, in a very true sense, the sky opened above us, the Spirit of God descended upon us, and a voice said to us, “You are my son or daughter; today I have become your Father.”

At Baptism, every Christian is sent forth to spread God’s kingdom until it is fulfilled at the end of time.  Every Christian is a missionary by virtue of our baptism.  God gives us the talents, potentials and skills needed to carry out our part of the mission.

We don’t have to be eloquent preachers.  We just have to be good Christians: Parents are entrusted with the minds and hearts of their children to help their faith grow and their characters develop.  Teachers contribute to the growth of children in faith and Christian values.  Friends help one another to discern God’s call to live a life that fosters God’s reign, a life based on the Beatitudes.

One of the greatest privileges of being baptized is the power to participate in the Eucharist.  With Jesus we offer ourselves in love to the Father.  We receive Jesus and he comes to transform us into himself.

Someone once said that Baptism unites us to Christ and the Eucharist identifies us with Christ.  Certainly we can appreciate that Baptism leads us to the Eucharist.  If Baptism is our birth into Christ, the Eucharist is our nourishment for our daily lives.

Let’s conclude with the words of St. Paul as he describes our baptism:

“When you were baptized, you were buried with Christ,

   and in baptism you were also raised with Christ…

  You were at one time spiritually dead because of sins…

  But God has now brought you to life with Christ.”

And Paul concludes:

“You have been raised to life with Christ,

  so set your hearts on the things that are in heaven…

  Keep your minds fixed on things there,

  not on things here on earth…

  Your real life is Christ and when He appears,

  then you too will appear with Him and share His glory!” (Colossians 2:12-13)

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