Q. If Jesus was without sin, then why was He baptized by John the Baptist?
A. John the Baptist offered a baptism that was a radical sign of repentance from a previous life of sin to a life of righteousness. Many were moved by John’s preaching and good example, and were, therefore, moved to take this profound step in their lives. John’s baptism preceded and prefigured the baptism by fire and the Holy Spirit that would come from the one who was greater than he, Jesus.
Jesus perplexes John the Baptist with his request for baptism. John tried to prevent Him, telling him earnestly, “I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me” (Mt 3:14). However, Our Lord insists on it “to fulfill all righteousness” (Mt 3:15).
Jesus begins His public ministry through this religious action, and it expresses who He is and His mission. After the baptism, a dove descends upon Jesus, symbolizing the anointing by the Holy Spirit, and the voice of the Heavenly Father is heard saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Mt 3:17). So, from the very beginning, Christ’s public ministry is situated within the context of the Trinitarian relationship.
In the Old Testament, the prophet Isaiah prophesies about the messiah saying: “He shall bring justice to the nations, not crying out, not shouting, not making his voice heard in the street…” (Is 42:2). Through His Baptism, Jesus gently and quietly speaks of the humility of God that can be seen throughout His entire life.
The King of Kings was born in a manger next to barnyard animals. Simple shepherds were His first visitors. He didn’t reside in a huge palace, but rather “had nowhere to lay his head” (Lk 9:58). The omnipotent God-man submitted himself to the powers of this world, and suffered torture and death for the sake of our salvation. And His presence remains among us under the appearance of bread and wine in the sacrament of the Eucharist.
Jesus did not have to be baptized. In strict justice, He would go nowhere near the waters of baptism because He was always free from any kind of sin. However, through His baptism, Jesus shows his humble submission to the Father’s will, and appears to be a sinner and therefore identifies with all sinners.
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