IN THOSE DAYS, Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, 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 it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as He came up from the water, behold the heavens were opened to Him and John saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on Jesus. And behold a Voice from heaven said, “This is My Beloved Son, with Whom I am well pleased.”
This Sunday we celebrate the Great Feast of Theophany, the Baptism of the Lord. At this Feast, Christ is revealed as the Messiah, God is revealed as the Trinity, and baptism is revealed as the entrance into the life in Christ.
As we see from the reading, Jesus came to John to be baptized. Baptism was not something John invented. The Jews, as well as pagans, practiced baptism in water. For the Jews, anyone who wanted to convert to Judaism from the Gentiles, was baptized and circumcised. Baptism was done for the forgiveness of sins - just like the body is washed in the water to be cleansed from filth, so our souls are cleansed from sins. The Jews themselves were not baptized, as that would have been scandalous to them to go through the same process as the Gentiles.
But, in the Gospel accounts, we see John baptizing the Jews. What gives? For one, some of them were definitely not happy at the suggestion that they need to be baptized for the remission of sins. Yet, that's exactly what John called people to do, and they flocked to him at the Jordan river. John began his public ministry with, "Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand," so people came to him repenting and being baptized. They accepted his message that in order to be forgiven, they had to be baptized.
Then Jesus comes to John to be baptized as well. Why would the Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, need to be baptized for the forgiveness of sins? For the same reason God decided to become incarnate, become a human being like us, in order to save us - God decided to identify with us as fully as He could, and that included being physically born, experiencing hunger, thirst, pain and suffering, joy and sorrow, and death itself. In other words, God experienced everything we experience, except for sin because by His nature He can't sin, just like by our nature, for example, we can't fly or live under water.
John's baptism was the final preparation of the people for the Messiah. And baptism for Christ was one of those things that identified Him with us. Jesus is showing that this is the way the Kingdom of God will come - by Him humbly identifying Himself with sinners and voluntarily humbling Himself to our lowliness. People expected, and probably still do, the Messiah to be above humility, they want Him to exert His authority and to rule. God's Kingdom is not like that. Messiah came not to be served, but to serve. He came in humility, not in pride and pomp. He came to show that those who exert authority are worthless, because true authority is in servitude and selfless acts.
So, Christ came to be baptized in order to identify with sinners, whom He came to save. His baptism was also the beginning of His public ministry. In other words, Jesus was revealed as the Messiah, even if not that many people got the hint.
Also, as we sing during Theophany, "When You, O Lord were baptized in the Jordan, the worship of the Trinity was made manifest..." We find out that God is Trinity - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. One God, yet Three Persons; united in nature, yet unique in actions (don't ask me to explain more on the Trinity. It is said that the easiest way to fall into heresy is to try to explain the Trinity). While it is true that the word Trinity is never mentioned in the Bible, yet we get more than enough of hints that God is indeed Trinity. One such hint, a full blown manifestation, according the teaching of the Church, is during Christ's baptism.
After Christ was baptized, John the Baptist witnessed to the Holy Spirit, in the form of a dove, descend on Him. The dove is an image of purity and innocence, and so its presence singles out Jesus as the One innocent of sin. And then the Voice of the Father spoke and identified Christ as the Beloved Son, in Whom He is well pleased, and therefore the promised Messiah. Therefore, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit make an appearance at Theophany.
And one more revelation happened during Theophany. The baptism that happens today in Church is not John's baptism. Christ wasn't baptized with the same baptism as we do for one simple reason - we are baptized and enter into His Body, His Church. His baptism, however, enabled our baptism because by descending into the waters of Jordan, Jesus sanctified all the waters, and this sanctification is still true today. The waters of today's baptism have transformative power because Christ physically sanctified them. This is also the reason why we bring the holy water to our homes on Theophany and invite a priest to bless our homes - so that everything will be sanctified by Christ.
Yours in the Lord,
Father Aleksey - your friendly Singac priest