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THE FEAST OF THE BAPTISM OF OUR LORD

WE SHALL NEVER UNDERSTAND the true appearance of John the Baptist, or of Him whose forerunner he was, nor the continuity of the Old and New Testaments, unless we bear in mind that the period of the Christian era was the culminating  point of the Prophetic ages of the Jewish Church. “The word of God came to John, the son of  Zechariah” (Lk 3: 2), as it had  come  before Isaiah, the son of Amos. The  people esteemed John as a prophet (Matt 14: 5).

In appearance, in language, in character, he was what Elijah was, during the reign of Ahab. Yet he was only the messenger of a Prophet greater than himself. John the Baptist knew this. At Christ’s baptism, he heard the voice from heaven. “You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased” (Lk 3: 22). John pointed Jesus out “Look, there is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (Jn 1: 29). When later he sent his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one we expect, or should we wait for another?” (Lk 7: 20), it was of the disciples, not of himself.

Jesus Christ came to John the Baptist at the Jordan and was baptised by him. Recognising that Jesus was superior to him (Mk 1: 7), John tried to dissuade him saying that it was appropriate that Jesus should baptise John, but Jesus persuaded John to baptise him saying “Let it be like that for now. We must do justice to God’s plan” (Matt 3: 15). God wanted His Messiah to be His servant par excellence, that in humility and hiddenness, he should sacrifice himself for all. Here, we see the fulfilment of the prophet’s words: “The Lord made the punishment fall on him, the punishment all of us deserved” (Is 53: 6), and “My devout servant, with whom I am pleased, will bear the punishment of many, and for his sake I will forgive them” (Is 53: 11).

The scene of Jesus’ baptism culminates in a theophany, a manifestation of God. Being a good and faithful Jew, Jesus does not singularise himself in any way. He too would have himself baptised. In Noah’s time, God had used the waters of the flood to destroy sinful humankind. Christ sanctifies the waters of baptism. This calls back the dead to life.

The people of Israel led by Joshua had to cross the river Jordan before entering the Promised Land where they would be totally free. Jesus is here representing the new Joshua leading the people of God. After crossing the Jordan, Joshua was filled with the spirit of God so that he could  accomplish  his  task  of leading the people that followed him into the Promised Land. On coming out of water, Jesus receives the Spirit, the power of God, to lead men to freedom.

“The heavens opened” (Mt 3: 16) refers to Is 63: 15-19 where the prophet asks God to “open up the heavens,” look down from heaven, that is to end his silence and not to stay far away from his people who have sinned. He pleads with him to open his heart again and to return to be the friend of mankind. The heavens are open and the Spirit of God is given to Jesus before being poured out abundantly on all those who in future will be baptised in the Holy Spirit. What place do you give  the Holy Spirit in your spiritual life? St Mark is telling us that the public life of Jesus  marked the beginning of the reconciliation between heaven and earth, between God and man.

In the Old Testament, the dove carried the olive branch in its beak, which brought solace to Noah and h is family, because the flood was over. At the baptism of Jesus, the Holy Spirit coming in the form of a dove reveals to us our merciful saviour. In Israel, dove is the symbol of sweetness and love. The Messiah will be kind to everybody and heal the wounds caused by sin.

A voice was heard from heaven - it was the Father speaking and He said: “This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.” God the Father gives testimony to the fact that Christ being His Son is the true Saviour of the world. According to the Jewish idea, God’s abode was in the heavens above. This was to signify the beginning of Jesus’ messianic mission. In the Old Testament, the Spirit (or power) of God is always given for a specific task (Jgs 3: 10; 6: 34; Num 11: 7 etc). Christ’s task, already indicated by the Baptist (Mk 1: 8), is declared also in the “voice from heaven.”

The novelty of John’s baptism was that he called on Jews, members of the covenant-people, to submit to baptism which was a purifying rite, a ceremonial cleansing more thorough and more solemn than the washing of hands, representing a “death to the old life and a birth to the new.” He preached repentance, a change of mind. However, there was no Christian baptism until after the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Day of the Pentecost. (Acts 1: 5, 2: 1-4; 8: 15-17, 11: 16; 19: 5-6). After that event, baptism was recognised as the necessary gateway for entry into the Christian Church. Jesus Christ had taught that necessity. “Except a man be born of water and the Holy Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (Jn 3: 5). John himself had said, “He shall baptise you with the Holy Spirit, and with fire” (Lk 3: 16) Christ’ baptism is real and effective internally, filling  men  with gifts of the Holy Spirit, and like fire,  purifying,  warming,  consuming  them with zeal and love of God. Jesus states: “He who believes and is baptised will be saved; he who  refuses  to  believe  will be condemned.” (Mk 16: 16).

“The feast of the Baptism of Our Lord is a good occasion to think of our own Baptism. We need to know that Baptism not only cleanses us from all sins, but also makes us “a new creature,” adopted child of God and a partaker of the divine nature.” The sanctifying grace that we receive at baptism enables us to believe in God, to hope in him and love him, gives us the power to live and act under the prompting of the Holy Spirit through the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and allows us to grow in goodness. The whole organism of the Christian’s supernatural life has its roots in baptism. A man becomes truly incorporated into the crucified and glorified Christ and is reborn to a sharing of the divine life, as the apostle says, “For you were buried together with Him in Baptism, and in Him also rose again through faith in the working of God who raised Him from the dead” (Col 2: 12).

As God’s child, every baptised person is His favourite. He wants to pour His favours into our life. Let us show our favours to all we come across daily. This life is a moment of transit, a short journey toward the glorious future he has earned for us. If we keep this future, our true life, always before our eyes and if we keep in mind all Christ suffered in order to win that true life for us, our earthly troubles, our worldly aches and pains will then appear in their true light - trivialities, which are well worth bearing because of the reward they will earn for us.

-FEMI ADEOGUN

femiadeogun@gmail.com

 


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