Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the 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 Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
Today we commemorate the Baptism of our Lord Jesus. Why did our Lord need to be baptized? He certainly had no sin to be cleansed. He knew that he was one with God the Father and God the Spirit.
In fact, we know from the Scripture we heard this morning that the Father claimed him and pronounced his pleasure in his Son:
In verse 22, we read, “…the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form, as a dove, and a voice came from heaven, “Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased.”
Claiming a son as his own is what a father does. Jesus continues to call God his Father during his life on the earth, and taught us to address him as Father when we pray.
St. Paul confirmed it, writing to the Galatians;
“Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.””
This has been orthodoxy for a little less than 2000 years, and is likely to stay that way despite the misguided attempts of those who have no imagination.
So, why did our Lord need to be baptized?
In verse 23, which we did not hear today, this was the beginning of Jesus public ministry, when he was about 30 years old. We heard from Luke again in the Acts of the Apostles, that God anointed Jesus with the Holy Spirit and with power.
To anoint, from the Greek language, is to chrismate. This is where we get the word Christ as is associated with Jesus. In Hebrew, the word is messiah. It is at this momemt that Jesus is proclaimed to the world as the Messiah, the Christ, the anointed one.
I think another reason for the baptism was that Jesus was the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. As such, he showed us the way to follow him.
He was baptized, so we are baptized. Jesus was anointed with the Holy Spirit, and we his followers are anointed with the Holy Spirit. He died and rose again, and we will die and rise again. We believe in the resurrection of the body.
Baptism is the first step that every Christian must take. Jesus told Nicodemus that one must be born again, that is born of the flesh, and then born of the Spirit.
Baptism is one of the two sacraments given to us by Jesus, the Holy Eucharist being the other. Once we are baptized, we are able to partake in his body and blood to the nourishment of our souls.
Is Baptism necessary for salvation? This is one of those questions about which many have opinions. Some say it is not necessary, because they believe that only faith in Jesus is required.
While we can learn most of what we need from reading the Bible, we can also take the advice of those learned Fathers of the Church.
St. Augustine of Hippo wrote about baptism and the consequences of original sin. He wrote:
“Hence men are on the one hand born in the flesh liable to sin and death from the first Adam, and on the other hand are born again in baptism associated with the righteousness and eternal life of the second Adam,” that is Jesus Christ.
Because of the sin of Adam, whoever is born of the flesh is in need of spiritual regeneration.
Jesus told his disciples,
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” (Matthew 28:19.)
We are trying to be obedient to this the best we can.
Baptism is not something we do to earn righteousness and eternal life. It is not a work of the law. It is not some test we have to pass.
Instead, it is something that our Father does through us.
More than just a symbol of a person’s belief in Jesus as Lord and savior, it is the regeneration of one who is spiritually dead because of original sin into someone who is spiritually alive in Christ Jesus.
In the letter of St. Paul to Titus, he wrote:
“[Jesus] saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration (baptism) and renewal of the Holy Spirit”
What about the baptism of infants? We know from the Bible that the apostles baptized entire households full of people. And we know from the Old Testament that households generally consisted of the parents, the grandparents, the children, the grand children, plus all of the servants families, as well.
St. Augustine wrote:
“Because they (infants) in a certain sense profess faith by the words of their parents, and they renounce the devil and this world by the profession again of the same parents.” (On Merit and the Forgiveness of Sins, and the Baptism of Infants, Book 1:25)
From the time of the apostles until this day, the elders of the church have baptized all who came to them, or were brought to them, following the commandment of Jesus.
“Unless a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God,” said Jesus, and always “let the children come to me.”
The sacrament of Baptism conveys the grace of God the Father to us through this ritual cleansing of our souls, and makes us his children and heirs of his kingdom.
This is our hope of everlasting life. This is our hope of fellowship with the communion of saints. This is our hope of being reunited with our loved ones who have gone before.
On this day when we remember the Baptism of our Lord, we give thanks that he loved us enough to be born and baptized to show us the way to the Father. Amen.