SR. LOUISE ZDUNICH, NDC
February 18, 2013
Why was Jesus baptized since he had no sin?
All the Gospels speak of the baptism of Jesus. The Synoptics paint a picture of the baptism while, in the Gospel of John, John the Baptist says what happened that day.
John the Baptist's baptism was nothing unusual for the Jewish people as they had numerous ritual immersions and washings. Such was the case for the high priest before the Day of Atonement, for the temple priest before a temple service and on many other occasions.
Some groups even used regular daily immersion to be ready for the coming of the Messiah. However, John's baptism differed from Jewish immersions in that Jews ritually immersed themselves while John baptized others. In addition, John's baptism called for conversion and moral goodness, not just ritual purification.
Jesus himself tells John that his baptism is "to fulfill all righteousness" (Matthew 3.15). What does he mean? What is righteousness?
Sometimes, righteousness means deliverance, vindication or salvation. Abraham's faith is righteousness and it entitles him to fulfillment of God's promises. The psalmist frequently used his righteousness to claim protection by God from his enemies.
The righteous judge renders just verdicts. A righteous weight is one that meets a standard. The law of God is the standard for conduct. Righteousness mean being and living in a right relationship with God.
The Levitical Law required that prophets, priests and kings be consecrated before beginning their ministry which was usually about the age of 30. We read in Scripture (Exodus 29.4-7; Leviticus 8.6-30) about this procedure which included washing and anointing with oil, as well as putting on special garments.
Therefore, before beginning his ministry, Jesus wanted to "fulfill all righteousness" by his washing in baptism in obedience to the Mosaic Law.
Priests were anointed with oil which was only symbolic of the Holy Spirit. However, Jesus was anointed directly by the Holy Spirit and had the fullness of the Holy Spirit in his life, death and resurrection. Jesus is more than a human prophet, priest and king as he is the Son of God.
John the Baptist knew that Jesus was a special person: "one who is more powerful than I is coming after me. . . . He will baptize with the Holy Spirit" (Mark 1.7-8), "and fire" (Matthew 3.11).
John the Baptist adds that he is "not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of the sandals" (Mark 1.7) of the one who is to come. Therefore, he resisted baptizing Jesus saying: "I have need to be baptized by you" (Matthew 3.14).
However, he admits that he did not fully realize Jesus was the Messiah until Jesus' identity was confirmed by the descent of the Spirit in the form of a dove and the voice of the Father saying, "This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased" (Matthew 3.14).
The Gospel of John says Jesus was made known to Israel by his baptism: "For this reason I came baptizing with water that he would be revealed to Israel" (John 1.31). The next day, John the Baptist, seeing Jesus walk by, exclaims, "Here is the Lamb of God" (John 1.35).
By using this expression, he is referring to the role of lambs in the sacrificial offering for sin and, therefore, to Jesus' crucifixion and death for humanity's sins.
Two of John's disciples then follow Jesus. One of them, Andrew, brings his brother Peter. Christ's mission of preaching the kingdom of God is ready to begin. Therefore, the precursor, John the Baptist is "the voice of one crying out in the wilderness" (Mark 1.3) preparing the "way of the Lord" (Matthew 3.3) for the one who is to come.
John the Baptist proclaims, "Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near" (Matthew 3.1) so he points to Jesus' ministry, as well. John the Baptist's mission fulfills Isaiah's prophecy that one will be sent to comfort God's people and tell them that their deliverance is near at hand.
Although Jesus didn't need purification for himself since he was without sin, he took the sins of all humanity upon himself and, therefore, carried that burden into his baptism.
Jews achieved righteousness through observance of the law. Paul claims that, for Christians, righteousness comes through Jesus' death and resurrection. Paul says: "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Corinthians 5.21).
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