In 2019, Bishop Joseph Tobin tweeted a questionable statement about Jesus’ Baptism,
“Christ stood with all of us sinners seeking redemption” and that “the sinless Redeemer was reborn in grace”.
Whether his intention was heretical or if it was simply loose and careless theology could certainly be up for debate, I wish to write to clarify the reasons for why Jesus was actually Baptized.
Did Jesus Require Baptism?
Contrary to the cardinal’s statement, Jesus did not require Baptism for salvation. Christ also did not need to be “reborn in grace”. Jesus entered the waters of the Jordan as an example for his disciples to follow.
In John 3:5 Jesus taught Nicodemus [and later us] of the necessity for Baptism when he declared, “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church recognizes the importance of this passage as well:
Baptism is the sacrament of faith. But faith needs the community of believers. It is only within the faith of the Church that each of the faithful can believe. The faith required for Baptism is not a perfect and mature faith, but a beginning that is called to develop. The catechumen or the godparent is asked: “What do you ask of God’s Church?” The response is: “Faith!” (No. 1253).
Along with modeling the importance of Baptism, though Jesus himself did not require cleansing from sin, three additional lessons may be learned from the Event of the Baptism of Our Lord.
Fulfillment of Old Testament
Several key events in the Bible relate to water. Here are a few examples of Baptismal events foreshadowed in the Old Testament:
- The Great Flood in Genesis 6-8
- Moses leading the Israelites across the Red Sea
- Joshua Crossing the Jordan River into the Promised Land
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says,
Christians therefore read the Old Testament in the light of Christ crucified and risen. Such typological reading discloses the inexhaustible content of the Old Testament; but it must not make us forget that the Old Testament retains its own intrinsic value as Revelation reaffirmed by our Lord himself. Besides, the New Testament has to be read in the light of the Old. Early Christian catechesis made constant use of the Old Testament. As an old saying put it, the New Testament lies hidden in the Old and the Old Testament is unveiled in the New (CCC 129).
The Baptism of Jesus is a feast to help us realize the fulfillment of God’s promises from long ago.
Prefiguring the Death of Jesus
Jesus’ Baptism foreshadowed his Death on the Cross. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI describes this perfectly in his work Jesus of Nazareth,
Looking at the events (of Christ’s baptism) 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. He is, as it were, the true Jonah who said to the crew of the ship, ”Take me and throw me into the sea” (Jon. 1:12) . . . The baptism is an acceptance of death for the sins of humanity, and the voice that calls out “This is my beloved Son” over the baptismal waters is an anticipatory reference to the Resurrection. This also explains why, in his own discourses, Jesus uses the word
“baptism” to refer to his death (18).
Death to sin [original] gives way to a new life in the sacrament of Baptism. A new life of grace occurs through the waters of Baptism.
Door Way to Adoption
According to my favorite reference book– the thesaurus, synonyms for adoption include the following: acceptance, confirmation, ratification, and support. While each of those words convey a strong and position sense of adoption the synonym that stood out most to me was embracing.
Biological birth occurs through the profound act of sex. Unfortunately, not every child is welcomed as a gift. Sometimes unplanned pregnancies occur. Tensions arise. But people who desire adoption more often want to be parents. In the adaption process, parents actively seek out their soon-to-be children.
The Catholic Church teaches in the Catechism in paragraph 1265, “Baptism not only purifies from all sins, but also makes the neophyte “a new creature,” an adopted son of God, who has become a “partaker of the divine nature,” member of Christ and co-heir with him, and a temple of the Holy Spirit.”
Enter New Life
Original sin tarnished the biology of humanity. Humans naturally seek their own will over the Will of the Father. Through the waters of Baptism original sin is destroyed. One enters into sacramental life of the Church.
Jesus didn’t require rebirth into the sacramental life of grace. John baptized Christ in fulfillment of the Old Testament. Christ’s baptism also prefigured his Death and Resurrection. He modeled the sacramental life in allowing himself to be baptized. German Catholic philosopher Josef Piper declared, “Adoption is the visible Gospel.” The graces received via Baptism bring new life. Baptized Christians become adopted children of God!
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