Summary: Baptism of Christ - Epiphany 1 (B). The act of baptism was already part of Jewish worship and culture, but it brought only ritual purification. By His baptism Christ united Himself to baptism, so that in and through baptism we would be united with Him.
May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts, be acceptable in Thy sight,
O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
In Advent we heard of John the Baptist. How he was in the Judean wilderness outside of Jerusalem, and that he was proclaiming the way of the Lord, and baptizing the people for the repentance of sins. Today, we return to John, and go down by the riverside. What do we see?
We see a man. Rough. Weather-worn. Big as all outdoors, and dressed like it, too. Wearing camel’s hair. Not what most would call a professional. Certainly not a city-slicker. Whatever he is, he is not a suit. What else do we see? People. Lots of them. And all kinds. Mark writes the whole Judean countryside was there. Farming people, country people. Good people. You know who they are.
And who else? Mark writes that not only was the Judean countryside there, but also “all of Jerusalem” was coming out there too. All of Jerusalem means not only that there were many people from Jerusalem, but that all kinds and types of people were there. Merchants, laborers, and craftsmen. Men, women, and children. But also the society and cultural types: The priests and the Levites, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Zealots. All of Jerusalem was coming out there. From high to low, all kinds were there. So this was some kind of happening. It was some kind of happening to draw all. It was some kind of happening that all were there.
What was happening? A call to preparation and repentance. A baptism for the repentance of sins. This wild man, this prophet, was new, and was saying new things, “prepare the way of the Lord.” But baptism was not new. Oh, for sure, this baptism, “for the repentance of sins,” was different. But baptism itself was not new. You will recall how the Jews were commanded to avoid all uncleanness. And part of that was washing, or baptism, for purification. One had to wash, or be baptized, to enter the temple area. The priests in particular had to be baptized in the Great Bronze Sea before they could go into the temple itself. And baptism was part of everyday life. Pots and pans had to be baptized before using them. And so it is that in the account of Christ’s miracle of turning water into wine at the wedding of Cana, there were large stone jars of waters, for the washing, or baptizing, of pots according the law of purification.
It was not an entirely new concept to the people that washing or baptizing would have a religious or spiritual meaning. So they received from John a baptism for the repentance of sins. Like the people of Judea and Jerusalem, we, too, have received a baptism with spiritual significance. A baptism for the remission of sins. John himself says that he does not have the last word; he is not the final authority on baptism. He says, “After me comes He who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 1:7-8 ESV)
And so it is that this greater one, this one whose sandal’s John cannot untie, arrives at the Jordan river. And He was baptized by John. We must ask ourselves, Why was Jesus baptized? We know that John was baptizing for the repentance of sins, and that we have been baptized for the remission of sins. But this is Jesus. He has no sins. Why then get baptized? We don’t wash a pot that is already clean. Was He baptized for the repentance of sins?
In verse 5 we see that the people are baptized for the repentance of sin, and that they confessed their sin. They “were being baptized by [John] in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.” (Mark1:5 ESV). But of Jesus, Mark does not write about confessing sin, or repenting of sin. His baptism was not a baptism for repentance of His sin. And this is not a surprise, as Jesus had no sin to confess, no sins to repent of. So, to what end, or for what purpose was Christ baptized?
This is why: By His baptism, Christ united Himself to baptism, so that, in and through baptism we should be united with Him. Let me repeat that. By His baptism, Christ united Himself to baptism, so that, in and through baptism, we should be united with Him.
As St. Paul writes,
“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” (Romans 6:3-5)