Matthew 3:12-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22; John 1:29-34
The Story in Brief
When John the Baptist was preaching and baptizing at the Jordan River, Jesus came from Galilee to be baptized. This didn't suit John at all. He had a good idea Who Jesus was (they were kinsmen after all), and he knew that Jesus should be baptizing him instead of the other way around. Jesus assured John that His baptism was part of God's plan, and John consented. When Jesus was coming up out of the water, praying, the heavens opened above Him, the Holy Spirit descended in the form of a dove and landed on Jesus, and a voice boomed out, “This is My Son, the Beloved, with Whom I am well pleased” (see Matthew's account). After the baptism, John provided his testimony to the event, declaring that Jesus was indeed the Lamb of God and the Son of God Who would take away the sins of the world and baptize with the Holy Spirit.
Points to Ponder
1. Look up the passages about John the Baptist in Matthew 3:1-12; Mark 1:1-8; and Luke 1:5-24, 1:39-45, 1:57-80, and 3:1-20. Who was John the Baptist as a person? What was he like? Why and how was he preaching? What was his message? What was his role in the divine plan of salvation history? How did people react to him?
2. John was baptizing at the Jordan River, which is mentioned about 175 in the Old Testament and about 15 times in the New Testament. The Jordan was the site of more than one miracle (the crossing of the Israelites in Joshua 3:15-17, the healing of Naaman in 2 Kings 5, and the floating axehead in 2 Kings 6:1-7). Why did John choose to baptize in the Jordan River?
3. John's baptism was one of repentance. It was a precursor to Christian baptism. Why was such a preparation needed?
4. Jesus came from Galilee specifically to be baptized by John. Why?
5. John humbly tried to prevent Jesus from being baptized. The Baptist understood his own role, and he knew at least a little bit about Jesus' identity. Think about John's response to Jesus' request.
6. Jesus said, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Ponder this command over the next few points.
7. “Let it be” or “suffer it to be” has connotations of permitting but also of letting go. John had to let go of his thinking and accept Jesus' way of doing things.
8. “Let it be so now....” God was doing something new at that time, right then at that moment in the history of salvation. Jesus focused John's attention on the present moment, and His role just then was to share in the human condition. Baptism was a part of that sharing.
9. “It is proper” means that an act is fitting. It is the right thing to do. It suits the situation. Jesus was reassuring John that His baptism was the right way to respond to God's will.
10. “In this way to fulfill all righteousness...” The Navarre Bible commentary notes, “'Righteousness (or 'justice') has a very deep meaning in the Bible; it refers to the plan which God, in His infinite goodness and wisdom, has marked out for man's salvation. Consequently, 'to fulfill all righteousness' should be understood as fulfilling God's will and designs. Thus we could translate 'fulfill all righteousness' as; 'fulfill everything laid down by God'. Jesus comes to receive John's baptism and hence recognizes it as a stage in salvation history – a stage foreseen by God as a final and immediate preparation for the messianic era....Jesus, Who has come to fulfill His Father's will, is careful to fulfill that saving plan in all its aspects.”
11. John agreed and baptized Jesus. He accepted a mystery. He couldn't see the whole situation clearly, but he let go of his ideas and followed the will of God. Meditate on John's trust and obedience.
12. Reflect on Jesus' actual baptism. Picture yourself floating down into the peaceful waters with Jesus.
13. Ponder Jesus at prayer. The baptism was a spiritual experience for Jesus, a deep, intimate point of communion with the Father.
14. The Holy Spirit descended and the Father spoke just as Jesus was coming up out of the water. Think about this immediate response from God.
15. The heavens were opened. Mark's word choice suggests that they were “torn apart.” The same Greek word is used in Matthew 27:51, Mark 15:38, and Luke 23:45 to describe the tearing of the Temple curtain when Jesus died. Ponder the significance of this.
16. The Holy Spirit descended like a dove and landed on Jesus. Why did the Spirit choose the form of a dove? Meditate on the symbolism of the dove.
17. The voice from Heaven spoke: “This is my Son, the Beloved, with Whom I am well pleased” (in Matthew). Mark and Luke portray the Father as speaking directly to Jesus “You are My Son, the Beloved; with You I am well pleased.” Why the difference?
18. The Greek word for “beloved,” agapetos, suggests a relationship between the Father and the Son that is pure love, more love than we can wrap our minds around. Ponder this extreme love.
19. What does the title “Beloved Son” tell us about Jesus?
20. The Father was well-pleased with Jesus, for Jesus was following the Father's will in detail. The Greek verb for “am well pleased” eudokeo can also mean “delighted.” Meditate on the truth that because of Jesus, we can be the beloved children of God with whom He is well pleased and even delighted.
21. Ponder the Baptism as an epiphany, a revelation of God, and a portrait of the Trinity.
22. Picture the baptism scene. Did others hear the voice from Heaven or see the dove? How did they react?
23. St. John does not depict the baptism, but he relates John the Baptist's later testimony about Jesus. Reflect on that testimony over the next few points.
24. John saw Jesus coming toward him and proclaimed to all who could hear that He was the Lamb of God Who would take away the sins of the world. Ponder this sacrificial language that looks ahead to the cross.
25. John said that he was baptizing because of Jesus so that He might be revealed to Israel. How did John's baptism reveal Jesus to Israel?
26. Meditate on John's humility as he proclaimed that Jesus ranked ahead of him because He was before him.
27. This about John as our role model. His eyes were always on Jesus, and he moved out of the way so that Jesus could take control.
28. John had received a prophecy from God. When he saw the Spirit descending from Heaven and remaining on Someone, he would know that this was the One Who would baptize with the Holy Spirit. Ponder this prophecy and its fulfillment. What does it mean to be baptized with the Holy Spirit?
29. Reflect on John's God-guided testimony that Jesus is the Son of God.
30. John interpreted the events he witnessed, bringing together history and mystery. Think deeply about his interpretation of Jesus' baptism.
31. Meditate on how God broke into the world at the baptism of Jesus. Eternity broke into time, the divine into the mundane.
32. Benedict XVI offers an interpretation of Jesus' baptism that focuses on Jesus' solidarity with men. At the baptism, Benedict says, Jesus took upon Himself all our burdens and brought them down into the Jordan. He accepted “death for the sins of humanity” in a foreshadowing the cross. Consider this interpretation of the baptism as both identification and anticipation.
33. Many saints have pointed out that at His baptism Jesus was cleansing the water for us and preparing the way for the sacrament of Christian baptism. How did Jesus do this?
1. How would you have responded to John the Baptist if you had lived in his time?
2. Have you ever experienced a time when you had to let go of your way of thinking and allow God to take over? What was that like? How did it change your relationship with God?
3. Do you believe that God has a plan for your life?
4. How are you at accepting mysteries?
5. How strong is your relationship with the Holy Spirit? How might that relationship grow and become stronger?
6. Do you know that you are God's beloved child?
7. Are you following God's will in your life? How do you discern His will?
8. How does God reveal Himself to you? How does He break into your world?
9. How do you testify to Jesus?
10. Can you see the mystery hidden in the history of the Scriptures?
11. What does your own baptism mean to you?
Prayer, Prayer, and More Prayer
Blessing and adoration – Dearest Jesus, You are the Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world. You died that we might live with You and the Father and the Holy Spirit for all eternity. We bow our heads in silent adoration, Lord, as we contemplate Your baptism in the Jordan and the miraculous revelation of the Holy Trinity that accompanied the event.
Praise – Jesus, our Lord and our Savior, we praise You and we love You, for You have taken our sins upon Your shoulders. You identify with us in our burdens and trials, Lord, and You raise us up with You to the glory of Heaven. You are awesome, Jesus our God!
Thanksgiving – Lord God, we thank You for revealing Yourself to us in so many ways. Jesus, we thank You for submitting to baptism to fulfill all righteousness in the plan of salvation. Father, we thank You for speaking aloud at Jesus' baptism and declaring Him to be Your Beloved Son with Whom You are well pleased. Holy Spirit, we thank You for descending upon Jesus in the form of a dove and remaining on Him as a sign that He is the One Who will baptize in Your power and love.
Intercession – Lord, we lift up to You all those who are preparing for baptism. We lift up parents who are getting ready to have their little ones baptized. We lift up those who are newly baptized. Please help them all to realize that baptism makes us beloved children of God.
Petition – Jesus, help us to fulfill Your will in all things, even when we cannot clearly see the path ahead of us or understand what You are doing. Help us to hear You and understand You when and where You reveal Yourself to us. Help us to truly understand that You are the One Who takes away our sins and baptizes us in the Holy Spirit. We love You, Jesus.
Quotes from the Saints
“Scripture tells of many wonders wrought at various times in this river; as that, among others, in the Psalms, Jordan was driven backwards (Psalms 114:3); before the water was driven back, now sins are turned back in its current; as Elijah divided the waters of old, so Christ the Lord wrought in the same Jordan the separation of sin.” - St. Ambrose
“The Savior willed to be baptized not that He might Himself be cleansed, but to cleanse the water for us. From the time that Himself was dipped in time water, from that time has He washed away all our sins in water. And let none wonder that water, itself corporeal substance, is said to be effectual to the purification of the soul; it is so effectual, reaching to and searching out the hidden recesses of the conscience. Subtle and penetrating in its own nature, made yet more so by Christ's blessing, it touches the hidden springs of life, the secret places of the soul, by virtue of its all-pervading dew. The course of blessing is even yet more penetrating than the flow of waters. Thus the blessing which like a spiritual river flows on from the Savior's baptism, has filled the basins of all pools, and the courses of all fountains.” - St. Augustine
“Beautifully said is that now, to show that as Christ was baptized with water by John, so John must be baptized by Christ with the Spirit. Or, suffer now that I who have taken the form of a servant should fulfill all that low estate; otherwise know that in the day of judgment you must be baptized with my baptism. Or, the Lord says, 'Suffer this now; I have also another baptism wherewithal I must be baptized; you baptize Me with water, that I may baptize you for Me with my own blood.'” - St. Jerome
“Christ after He had been once born among men, is born a second time in the sacraments, that as we adore Him then born of a pure mother, so we may now receive Him immersed in pure water. His mother brought forth her Son, and is yet virgin; the wave washed Christ, and is holy. Lastly, that Holy Spirit which was present to Him in the womb, now shone round Him in the water, He who then made Mary pure, now sanctifies the waters.” - St. Augustine
“He witnesses that He is His Son not in name merely, but in very kindred. Sons of God are we many of us; but not as He is a Son, a proper and true Son, in verity, not in estimation, by birth, not adoption.” - St. Hilary
“These words Mark and Luke give in the same way; in the words of the voice that came from Heaven, their expression varies though the sense is the same. For both the words as Matthew gives them, This is my beloved son, and as the other two, You are my beloved Son, express the same sense in the speaker; (and the heavenly voice, no doubt, uttered one of these,) but One shows an intention of addressing the testimony thus born to the Son to those who stood by; the other of addressing it to Himself, as if speaking to Christ he had said, This is my Son. Not that Christ was taught what He knew before, but they who stood by heard it, for whose sake the voice came. Again, when one says, in whom I am well-pleased; another, in you it has pleased me, if you ask which of these was actually pronounced by that voice; take which you will, only remembering that those who have not related the same words as were spoken have related the same sense. That God is well-pleased with His Son is signified in the first; that the Father is by the Son pleased with men is conveyed in the second form, in you it has well-pleased me. Or you may understand this to have been the one meaning of all the Evangelists, In you have I put My good pleasure, i.e. to fulfill all My purpose.” - St. Augustine