Why Was Jesus Baptized?
Indeed, Jesus, the sinless Lamb of God had no sins to confess. So why was it necessary that he was baptized?
This Sunday, the Church celebrates the baptism of Jesus Christ. It's an event that is recorded in all four gospels, so we know it's important. But there's a question that has puzzled Christians all down through the ages. It even puzzled John the Baptist, who performed the baptism.
Why was Jesus baptized?
We all know what baptism does.
According to the Catechism:
The fruit of Baptism, or baptismal grace, is a rich reality that includes:
- forgiveness of original sin and all personal sins,
- birth into the new life by which man becomes an adoptive son of the Father, a member of Christ and a temple of the Holy Spirit.
By this very fact the person baptized is
- incorporated into the Church, the Body of Christ, and
- made a sharer in the priesthood of Christ [CCC 1279].
So, as you can see, it's quite clear why Jesus would need to be baptized. He . . . hey, wait!
Jesus didn't need to achieve any of those things!
Why, then, was he baptized?
Why did he insist on it, even when John the Baptist resisted?
Here's a short video to explain or read the transcript below:
All four gospels tell us that, at the beginning of his ministry, Jesus was baptized in the Jordan river.
Christians have always asked this question.So did John the Baptist. In Matthew's Gospel, we read:
John would have prevented him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you cometo me?" But Jesus answered him, "Let it be so now; for thus it is fitting for us to fulfil all righteousness."
Then he consented [Matt. 3:14-15].
And so the baptism takes place. The Catechism of the Catholic Church notes:
Then the Holy Spirit, in the form of a dove, comes upon Jesus and a voice from heaven proclaims, “This is my beloved Son.” This is the manifestation (“Epiphany”) of Jesus as Messiah of Israel and Son of God [CCC 535].
So one of the things that happened was the manifestation of Jesus as the Messiah and the Son of God. No doubt, Jesus knew that would happen, and it was one of the reasons he wanted to be baptized.
But there is more to the story, which we can see by asking a simple question: Why did John the Baptist resist baptizing Jesus?
Quite possibly, because he felt the same concern that Christians have felt ever since. Pope Benedict explains:
The real novelty is the fact that he—Jesus—wants to be baptized, that he blends into the gray mass of sinners waiting on the banks of the Jordan. We have just heard that the confession of sins is a component of Baptism. Baptism itself was a confession of sins and the attempt to put off an old, failed life and to receive a new one. Is that something Jesus could do? How could he confess sins? How could he separate himself from his previous life in order to start a new one?
[Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth, vol. 1]
Indeed, Jesus, the sinless Lamb of God had no sins to confess. So why did he feel it was necessary for him to be baptized in order to "fulfill all righteousness"?
Again, Pope Benedict comments:
The significance of this event could not fully emerge until it was seen in light of the Cross and Resurrection. . . .
Looking at the events in light of the Cross and Resurrection, the Christian people realized what happened: Jesus loaded the burden of all mankind’s guilt upon his shoulders; he bore it down into the depths of the Jordan. He inaugurated his public activity by stepping into the place of sinners. His inaugural gesture is an anticipation of the Cross. . . .
This also explains why, in his own discourses, Jesus uses the word baptism to refer to his death (cf. Mk 10:38; Lk 12:50).
The Catechism of the Catholic Church agrees:
The baptism of Jesus is on his part the acceptance and inauguration of his mission as God's suffering Servant. He allows himself to be numbered among sinners; he is already “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world”.
Already he is anticipating the “baptism” of his bloody death.
Already he is coming to “fulfill all righteousness”, that is, he is submitting himself entirely to his Father's will: out of love he consents to this baptism of death for the remission of our sins. The Father's voice responds to the Son's acceptance, proclaiming his entire delight in his Son. The Spirit whom Jesus possessed in fullness from his conception comes to “rest on him”. Jesus will be the source of the Spirit for all mankind.
At his baptism “the heavens were opened, ”the heavens that Adam's sin had closed, and the waters were sanctified by the descent of Jesus and the Spirit, a prelude to the new creation [CCC536].
And thus there is a relationship between Jesus' baptism and ours.
St. Paul explains:
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his [Rom. 6:3-5].
Or, as the Catechism puts it:
Through Baptism the Christian is sacramentally assimilated to Jesus, who in his own baptism anticipates his death and resurrection. The Christian must enter into this mystery of humble self-abasement and repentance, go down into the water with Jesus in order to rise with him, be reborn of water and the Spirit so as to become the Father's beloved son in the Son and “walk in newness of life”