Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from an Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal
Epiphany - Denho Special, John The Baptist
Volume 6 No. 323 January 5, 2015
III. Denho - The Baptism of The Lord

To Fulfill All Righteousness - The Baptism of Our Lord

by The Rev. Dr. Charles Henrickson

Gospel: Matthew 3:13-17

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" But Jesus answered him, "Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness." Then he consented. And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased."
- Matthew 3:13-17 (ESV)

The Baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ is an event recorded in, or referred to, in all four gospels. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the account of the baptism itself is recorded. In John's gospel, it is referred to. Clearly God wants us to know that this is an important event in the life and career of Christ, an important event for us to know about. And so it is.

As I say, this event comes up in each of the four gospels, and it comes up early. For this baptism really marks the launching of Christ's public ministry. From here in the Jordan, Jesus will set out to do what he came to do, which is to bring in the kingdom of heaven by saving his people from their sins. This is Jesus' inauguration day, if you will, the day when he takes up his office as the promised Messiah. The Spirit comes upon Jesus, anointing him with power and blessing for the performance of his office. The Father's voice attests to Jesus as his beloved Son, with whom he is well pleased--his chosen one, in whom he delights.

The other gospel writers, Mark, Luke, and John, bring out these points about the Spirit's descent and the Father's voice, as does Matthew in our text today. But it is only in Matthew's account that we find the little dialogue that goes on between John the Baptist and Jesus, before John consents to baptize him. And so we will give some added emphasis to this part of our text this morning, under the theme, "To Fulfill All Righteousness."

First, let's set the scene. What was going on, when Jesus comes to be baptized? Well, John the Baptist was baptizing lots of people out at the Jordan River at that time. John was preaching, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." And people from all around were heeding that message, and they were coming to John at the Jordan, to be baptized, and they were confessing their sins.

There were also some others coming out to see what was going on, some Pharisees and Sadducees. Whether or not they actually wanted to be baptized, since that seemed to be the popular thing to do, and they wanted to look good in front of others--in any case, John called them out and stopped them in their tracks: "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance!" John spoke of a coming end-time judgment, as well as an end-time salvation, and he saw both connected to the person coming after him, the Mightier One, whose sandals he was not worthy to carry. John was speaking of course of Christ, the mighty end-time Judge and Savior.

So here comes Jesus, that Mightier One himself. Only Jesus is coming, not as the mighty end-time Judge. He's not wielding an axe to chop down trees or carrying his winnowing fork in his hand, to cast the chaff into the fire. He's not doing that. He's not coming as the mighty Lord. Instead, he comes as . . . well, just another Israelite, needing to be baptized. Huh? This throws John off. He doesn't understand. This does not compute.

"John would have prevented him," our text says. How come? Why did he want to prevent Jesus from being baptized? Was it because he was not bearing fruit fit for repentance, like the Pharisees and the Sadducees? No, that wasn't it. Quite the opposite. The thing was, Jesus didn't have any sins to repent of! That's what threw John off. Why would Jesus need to be baptized? He was no sinner. He didn't have any sins to confess.

However, in the presence of Jesus' holiness and sinlessness, John is painfully aware of his own unholiness and sinfulness: "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" John asks incredulously.

How is it with you? Are you aware of your own sinfulness, as John was? Here was John, "the greatest born among women," as Jesus would later describe him--John, a man set apart for the Lord and filled with the Holy Spirit even from before his birth--and if John declares his need in this way, how much more should we! For you and I do have sins to confess, many of them. How deeply and desperately do we need God's forgiveness!

But Jesus? No way! That's why John tries to prevent him. But Jesus is gently insistent. He answers John: "Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness." What's going on here? What does Jesus mean by this? Why does he want to be baptized?

He starts by saying, "Let it be so now." In other words, "Permit it for now, at this time." You see, John was expecting a mighty entrance from this Mighty One, the Christ, the omnipotent end-time Judge. And Jesus is saying: "Yes, John, you will see that. Just not at this time. For right now, I've got something else to do. In fact, what I'm about to do is what will lead to that final, end-time judgment and salvation. It is necessary for me to do what I'm about to do, in order to get to that final point. This is how I'm going to bring in the kingdom of heaven and do the judgment-and-salvation thing. It's just going to take a little different route from what you were expecting. Bear with me on this, John. I know what I'm doing."

"Let it be so now," Jesus says. And then he continues, "for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness." "It is fitting." It fits what I'm doing to be baptized in this way. To be baptized, standing in with sinners. This is how I am going to save these sinners, by standing in with them, standing in for them, acting as their substitute.

Remember what the angel told Joseph years earlier about why this child was to be named Jesus? "You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." And so now, thirty years later, here comes Jesus, living up to his name. He's embarking on his saving mission, to save people from their sins, precisely by standing in for us, taking our place, beginning with this baptism and aiming for--yes, aiming for the cross. That's why this baptism is so fitting.

"Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness." You know, there's been a lot of "fulfilling" going on in Matthew's gospel so far. Jesus' birth fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies. And now Jesus says that his being baptized and going forward as the substitute for sinners--that this is to fulfill all righteousness. It fulfills God's righteousness, God's purpose and plan to save and rescue and redeem his people.

The Old Testament speaks much about God's righteousness in this way. Psalm 71 is a classic example. The psalmist prays: "In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me"; and "My mouth will tell of your righteous acts, of your deeds of salvation all the day."

Likewise, the prophet Jeremiah foresees the day when the Messiah will come and execute righteousness in the land, and the people will be saved, and his name will be called "The Lord is our righteousness." These Old Testament passages are all fulfilled in Christ, of course. And this is why Jesus can say that his being baptized and setting out on his mission in this way is fitting to "fulfill all righteousness."

"To fulfill all righteousness." To fulfill God's righteousness. God's righteousness is shown in keeping his promise, in his acting in history to deliver on his promises by delivering us from our sins. And this is what Christ has come to do. And now it begins in earnest, here at his baptism. What is so fitting about this is that it is precisely in his standing in for sinners that Christ will accomplish this. And just as the Father voiced his approval of Christ at his baptism, so the Father will approve of Christ's substitutionary death on the cross, when the Father then raises Christ from the dead on the third day.

And all of this now--God's righteousness, Christ's substitutionary death, his resurrection, God's forgiveness and eternal salvation--all of this now gets delivered to you, applied to you, with your name on it, in your baptism. In the waters of Holy Baptism you were joined to the Jesus who stood in the waters of the Jordan and stood in your place on the cross.

Do you need to be baptized by Christ, as John the Baptist confessed? Well, yes you do. And that is what Christ has done when he baptized you. All your sins were washed away, by virtue of the man standing in the river and going to the cross. The Spirit of God came down on you, giving you a new heart, and bestowing God's favor and blessing upon you. The Father's voice came from heaven, declaring you to be his beloved child.

Yes, dear Christian, in your baptism you are joined to Jesus, connected to Christ in his death and resurrection, buried with him into death, and raised with him in his resurrection. You are a new person now by baptism. You have a real purpose to your life, and you have a bright hope ahead of you. It's a great thing to be baptized by Christ, which you are.

"To fulfill all righteousness." That's why it was fitting for Jesus to be baptized. For this righteousness, God's righteousness, is fulfilled as Jesus goes forward from the Jordan to save you from your sins and to bring you all the blessings of the kingdom of heaven. And therefore that's a fitting way for you to think of the Baptism of Our Lord and to live in the joy and blessing of your own baptism.

Christ the Baptized and Baptizer - The Baptism of Our Lord

by The Rev. Dr. Charles Henrickson

Gospel: Luke 3:15-22

As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ, John answered them all, saying, "I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire." ...

Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased."
- Luke 3:15-22 (ESV)

Today in the church year is the Baptism of Our Lord, which we always celebrate on January 6. The Baptism of Our Lord is that auspicious occasion when our Lord Jesus Christ, as he was about to start his public ministry, was baptized by John in the Jordan, and the Spirit descended on him like a dove, and a voice came from heaven, attesting to Jesus as God's beloved Son, with whom he is well pleased. And so every year on this day the Holy Gospel is the account of Christ's baptism, as we have it in either Matthew, Mark, or Luke, depending on the year. This year it's the account in St. Luke, reading especially these verses.

"Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.'"

But notice that today's reading is prefaced with some words from John the Baptist about the Christ and what he will do, particularly these words: "He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire."

So, taking these two sections together, what we find in our text is that Christ was baptized and that he will do some baptizing of his own--he will baptize us. Thus our theme this morning: "Christ the Baptized and Baptizer."

We start with Christ himself being baptized. It says that "all the people" were being baptized. That would be all the people who were coming out to John the Baptist in the wilderness, to hear his preaching and to be baptized by him. John was proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. That's what makes Jesus being baptized seem a little strange. Because Jesus had nothing to repent of. He had no sins that needed to be forgiven. Nevertheless, he too is baptized. What's going on here?

This is Jesus identifying with us poor sinners. He, the sinless Son of God come in the flesh, comes to bear our sins and suffer the judgment we deserve. And this he will do on the cross. But even here, at his baptism, Jesus begins the journey that will take him to the cross. He is baptized with us.

Then, having been baptized, and while Jesus is praying, three things happen: the heavens are opened, the Spirit descends, and the voice comes from heaven. Each part is significant.

The heavens are opened. This means that here in Christ's baptism there is going on an intersection between heaven and earth. There is open access. No barrier. God is going to do something now. What will it be?

The heavens are opened, and the Holy Spirit descends on Jesus--"in bodily form, like a dove," it says. Why just this? This remarkable manifestation of the Holy Spirit has a lot to say about who Jesus is and what he came to do. The descent of this dove speaks much about the person and the work of Christ.

Now you might ask: Why does Jesus need the Holy Spirit coming upon him? Is not Jesus the very Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, already in perfect communion with the Holy Spirit from eternity? Oh, yes, he is indeed. But remember this is the Son of God now come in the flesh. Jesus is both true God and true man. And so we can say that, according to his human nature, Jesus is anointed with the Holy Spirit at his baptism--which is pretty much what the Apostle Peter says in the Book of Acts: "how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power."

In his baptism Jesus is anointed with the Holy Spirit to empower him for his ministry, for his office as the Christ. In fact, the word "Christ" means "the Anointed One," the Messiah. The Holy Spirit here is marking out Jesus as the Christ, empowering him for his office, showing that God's choice, God's blessing, God's favor and power are resting upon him, upon this man Jesus. He is taking up his office as the Christ now, as he's about to begin his public ministry. That's what the Spirit's descent at his baptism is doing and saying.

And there's even more going on here. Think back all the way to the beginning. I mean, the literal beginning, the creation of the heavens and the earth, Genesis 1. There we read that "the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters." So also here at the baptism in the Jordan: The Spirit of God is coming down over the waters. Creation, new creation--yeah, I think that too is the message being sent here. Jesus, the one being baptized, is going to bring in a new creation, restoring all that has been damaged and lost by our fall into sin.

Or think of the significance of the Spirit coming down over the water in the form of a dove. Think of Noah, at the end of the flood, and there's a dove that comes, letting him know that now there's brand new start for the earth, after the destruction that sin brought. So again, at Christ's baptism: dove, Spirit, water--a new creation. Jesus, the Christ, baptized in the water of the Jordan, anointed with the Holy Spirit, the dove descending upon him--this Jesus is here to do the ultimate new-creation job.

The heavens are opened, the Spirit descends, and now, a third thing, a voice comes from heaven, saying, "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased." This of course is the voice of God the Father, attesting to his love for his Son and his choice of his Son to carry out the mission on which he sent him. Again, Christ has always been God's Son from eternity, but now as he sets out on this journey that will take him to the cross, the Father assures Jesus of his love. God was well pleased to send his Son into the world to take on this mission that will win salvation for the world. Recall, even at Jesus' birth the angel choir sang of God's good will, his good pleasure, in sending Christ to bring peace on earth.

"You are my beloved Son," the Father tells Jesus. How mysterious, how profound, then, when later the Father will forsake his beloved Son as he is hanging on the cross. It is like--but in an infinitely greater way--it is like when God told Abraham: "Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and offer him up as a sacrifice." And just as Abraham was about to sacrifice his beloved son, the Lord called him back at the last moment and provided a substitute. This was a picture of how God would not spare his own Son, his only Son Jesus, whom he loves. For God so loved the world, loved us, that he gave his one and only Son for us, that we might not perish but instead be saved, through faith in him. Friends, how much God must love us that the one he forsakes on the cross is this same Jesus, to whom he says here at his baptism: "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased."

Yes, this is God's own Son who sets out on this journey now, beginning from his baptism. He is Christ the Baptized. But he is also Christ the Baptizer. Remember what John said: "He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire." Christ our Lord baptizes us. What a difference this makes for us!

"He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire." Now I think we can understand the Holy Spirit part pretty well, as we will see in a moment. But what about this "and fire"? Well, I think there are two possibilities here, both of which would accord with the teaching of Scripture elsewhere. One is that "and fire" refers to end-time judgment. Remember, John was speaking to the whole crowd that was coming out, which included both the repentant and the hypocrites. And he said the Christ would clear his threshing floor and burn the chaff "with unquenchable fire." So "fire," in this context, could refer to the coming judgment.

The other possibility for "He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire" is that it refers to what Christ will do on the Day of Pentecost, when our ascended Lord pours out the Holy Spirit on his church, and tongues of fire rest on each one, and the Spirit empowers their witness, as they speak of the wonderful works of God. That would fit, too. In either case, it is Christ the Baptizer who baptizes us, and for us who are baptized by Christ and believe in him and receive the Holy Spirit from him, that is a good thing.

Christ the Baptized is also Christ the Baptizer. He baptizes us. In our baptism we are joined to Jesus. All the benefits Christ won for us--by his ministry, by his suffering and dying for us on the cross, by his victorious resurrection--all those wonderful gifts are given to us and applied to us in Holy Baptism. We receive Christ's righteousness and the forgiveness of sins. We are buried with Christ and raised to newness of life. We are given the Holy Spirit, who creates faith in our hearts and empowers us for a life of Christian service and witness. The heavenly Father's voice comes from heaven and says to each one of us: "You are my beloved child. Because of my Son Jesus Christ, I am well pleased with you."

Beloved, in the waters of Holy Baptism, the heavens are opened and the Spirit descends upon you and makes of you a new creation. "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come." You are a new creation, meaning you are a new person in Christ. You walk in newness of life, and this is life everlasting. You are united with Christ in his resurrection. God has claimed your body, as well as your soul, and you will be raised, bodily, to eternal life, when Christ comes again and wonderfully restores all of creation.

Dear friends, the Baptism of Our Lord is one of the most significant events in all of the Bible. It tells us so much about our Savior, Jesus Christ, about his person and his work. It speaks such wonderful things for us, we who are baptized into Christ. For in the Baptism of Our Lord, we see Christ, both the Baptized and the Baptizer.

Beloved – A Reflection

by Rick Morley

Gospel: Luke 3:15-17,21-22

'You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.'
- Luke 3:22

This incredible Divine statement is made in the context of Jesus being baptized in the Jordan River by John the Baptist. But, it's also important to keep reading on for a verse or two.

For no sooner is Jesus proclaimed to be God's Son, than Luke launches into his genealogy of Jesus. Unlike Matthew's genealogy, which is a list of "begats," Luke's is a telling of who is who's "son." And, while Matthew's genealogy runs from oldest ancestor (Abraham) to the Holy Family, Luke does the exact opposite. He starts with Jesus and Joseph and moves back from there.

Doing the genealogy in this direction is startling I think especially because of where Luke ends Jesus' family tree, not at Abraham, but with: Adam, son of God.

This whole Lukan genealogy is brimming with "sons" and is dramatically bookended by two of God's sons - Jesus and Adam.

Both genealogies serve to ground the story of Jesus into the ancient story of God's people - the saints and the sinners of Israel. But, Luke's version also serves to ground the story of Jesus into the story of creation and the fall.

Jesus and Adam are the sons of God. Jesus is the new Adam.

Of course, Luke isn't the only one to make this connection. John the Evangelist does it in his prologue. John the Divine does it throughout the Book of Revelation, but especially in the final chapters. Paul does it in Romans 5 and First Corinthians 15.

For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.
- 1st Corinthians 15:22

We could go deep into the rabbit-hole, looking at the mirror-image counterpunches of Adam and Jesus.

But, I think, especially in this season of Epiphany, it's important to just remember that the story of God's love for us - the story of God's intimate involvement with His Children - goes back deep, so deep, into the molten center of cosmic history. From that moment God spoke "light" and it was so. From that moment when we were drawn out of the primordial mud and formed into the Divine Image. From the moment when we were cast out of the Garden, brining the Tree of Life so far out of our reach. From the many moments when patriarchs, judges, kings and prophets were called forth to do God's work.

To the moment when God became flesh, and dwelt among us, living as one of us, living for us. And dying for us.

And right up to this moment. Now.

For in Baptism we are counted as God's Sons and Daughters too, through adoption. That long list of fathers and children in Luke's Gospel is not just a dead family tree, but a living one, that stretches not only backward but forward. To us.

We are part of the story of Redemption, and we are recipients of it.

Beloved of God.

Source: A Garden Path by Rick Morley

Poem - To Jordan Came the Christ, Our Lord
1. To Jordan came the Christ, our Lord,
To do His Father's pleasure;
Baptized by John, the Father's Word
Was given us to treasure.
This heav'nly washing now shall be
A cleansing from transgression
And by His blood and agony
Release from death's oppression.
A new life now awaits us.

2. O hear and mark the message well,
For God Himself has spoken.
Let faith, not doubt, among us dwell
And so receive this token.
Our Lord here with His Word endows
Pure water, freely flowing.
God's Holy Spirit here avows
Our kinship while bestowing
The Baptism of His blessing.

3. These truths on Jordan's banks were shown
By mighty word and wonder.
The Father's voice from heav'n came down,
Which we do well to ponder:
"This man is My beloved Son,
In whom My heart has pleasure.
Him you must hear, and Him alone,
And trust in fullest measure
The word that He has spoken."

4. There stood the Son of God in love,
His grace to us extending;
The Holy Spirit like a dove
Upon the scene descending;
The triune God assuring us,
With promises compelling,
That in our Baptism He will thus
Among us find a dwelling
To comfort and sustain us.

5. To His disciples spoke the Lord,
"Go out to ev'ry nation,
And bring to them the living Word
And this My invitation:
Let ev'ryone abandon sin
And come in true contrition
To be baptized and thereby win
Full pardon and remission
And heav'nly bliss inherit."

6. But woe to those who cast aside
This grace so freely given;
They shall in sin and shame abide
And to despair be driven.
For born in sin, their works must fail,
Their striving saves them never;
Their pious acts do not avail,
And they are lost forever,
Eternal death their portion.

7. All that the mortal eye beholds
Is water as we pour it.
Before the eye of faith unfolds
The pow'r of Jesus' merit.
For here it sees the crimson flood
To all our ills bring healing;
The wonders of His precious blood
The love of God revealing
Assuring His own pardon.

The Anointing: Meditation on the Baptism of the Lord

by Dr. Scott Hahn


Isaiah 42:1-4,6-7
Psalm 29:1-4, 9-10
Acts 10:34-38
Luke 3:15-16, 21-22

The Liturgy for Epiphany revealed the mystery of God's plan - that in Jesus all peoples, symbolized by the Magi, have been made "co-heirs" to the blessings promised Israel. Today, we're shown how we claim our inheritance.

Jesus doesn't submit to John's baptism as a sinner in need of purification. He humbles Himself to pass through Jordan's waters in order to lead a new "exodus" - opening up the promised land of heaven so that all peoples can hear the words pronounced over Jesus today, words once reserved only for Israel and its king: that each of us is a beloved son or daughter of God (see Genesis 22:2; Exodus 4:22; Psalm 2:7).

Jesus is the chosen servant Isaiah prophesies in today's First Reading, anointed with the Spirit to make things right and just on earth. God puts His Spirit upon Jesus to make Him "a covenant of the people," the liberator of the captives, the light to the nations. Jesus, today's Second Reading tells us, is the One long expected in Israel, "anointed…with the Holy Spirit and power."

The word Messiah means "one anointed" with God's Spirit. King David was "the anointed of the God of Jacob" (see 2 Samuel 23:1-17; Psalm 18:51; 132:10,17). The prophets taught Israel to await a royal offshoot of David, upon whom the Spirit would rest (see Isaiah 11:1-2; Daniel 9:25).

That's why the crowds are so anxious at the start of today's Gospel. But it isn't John they're looking for. God confirms with His own voice what the Angel earlier told Mary - Jesus is the Son of the Most High, come to claim the throne of David forever (see Luke 1:32-33).

In the Baptism that He brings, the voice of God will hover over the waters as fiery flame, as we sing in today's Psalm. He has sanctified the waters, made them a passage-way to healing and freedom - a fountain of new birth and everlasting life.

Source: St. Paul Center Blog


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