BY FR VALENTINE NNAMDI EGBUONU, MSP
A woman came to me and asked:
- Fr, if Jesus was the Son of God and had no sin, why would he go to John to be baptised in the River Jordon?
- How can you explain the difference between the baptism of John and the baptism we celebrate today in the Church?
This was my little lecture to her:
First of all, I will answer your second question and from there answer the first.
With the baptism of Jesus at the Jordon, Jesus initiated a different form of baptism which will subsequently bring an end to the baptism of John (the baptism of repentance). This new form of baptism was what John prophesied about speaking of Jesus: “I baptise you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry; he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” (Mt 3:11).
We see this prophecy fulfilled at Jesus’ baptism. After he was immersed in the water, we saw the Trinitarian action when the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus in the form of a dove and the voice of the Father was heard from heaven: “Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased.” (Mk 1:10-11). This manifestation was the beginning of a shift to a new form of baptism which will become invalid and ineffective when ministered without water and if not done in the name of the Trinity. Subsequently, Jesus will send out his disciple after his resurrection saying: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Mt 28:19).
This sign of a new form of baptism was revealed with the presence of the Jesus in the waters of the Jordan. And it was of Jesus that John said: “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29). So Jesus is the sole initiator, the principal celebrant, the action itself of this new form of baptism by his subsequent death on the cross and his resurrection. “For this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mt 26:28). St Paul also recounts that Christ’s death on the cross was a sign of baptismal immersion and his resurrection a sign of newness of life. (Rm 6:4).
So this new form of baptism is not like the baptism of repentance which John was the celebrant. It is the baptism for the forgiveness of original sin which was made possible in Christ Jesus. We therefore learn a lesson from this teaching, that if Christ is the initiator of this baptism that washes away original sin, it then means that it cannot be said that Jesus went to John to be cleansed. This is because:
- John’s baptism does not wash away sins.
- John’s baptism and Jesus’ baptism is not one and the same.
- Jesus cannot be said to be cleansed by the baptism of which he is the originator. Because following the principle of the ‘Unmoved Mover’, the first mover in every genus is unmoved in regard to that movement. For example: If I initiate a movement by pushing a standing candle which is the first in the line of several standing candles, they will all fall one after the other starting from the first candle. But “I” who initiated the move is not affected by the movement. So Christ cannot be said to need the baptism which he initiated.
- Jesus is God and God is synonymous to Holiness.
So Jesus went to John for baptism for these reasons:
- To show us that to be baptised (not the baptism of repentance) was necessary for salvation.
- To reveal to us that he is the Lamb of God who has come to take away our sins. (Jn 1:29).
- He would become sin for our sake so that we can become righteous. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2Cor 5:21).
- To fulfil all righteousness (Mt 3:15). “A righteous man does first, that which he wants another to do, and so encourage others by example.” (St Ambrose). So when Jesus asked John to baptise him to fulfil all righteousness, he meant he wants to show example for others to follow.
- To cleanse baptismal water. Christ entered the waters of the Jordan not to be cleansed by it but that he might sanctify the waters for those who were to be baptised afterwards (St Ambrose & St Chrysostom).
So Madam, I hope I have answered your questions?