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The Life of Jesus Christ and the Art He Inspired: His Baptism
The Baptism of Jesus - song
Chapter Nine: The Son of God is Anointed, and His Ministry Begins.
John the Baptist couldn't believe his eyes. He preached repentance to sinners, and baptized those who were penitent in the Jordan River. He proclaimed the coming of the Lord, and yet he was stunned when the Lord he sought showed up on his doorstep and asked to be baptized. Why, John entreated, had Jesus come to him? Didn't John, rather, need to seek absolution from God incarnate? Jesus replied that this was required by God. But why?
The Baptism of the Christ: All Four Gospels
Matthew 3:13 Then came Jesus from Galilee to the Jordan unto John to be baptized by him.
14 But John forbad Him, saying, “I have need to be baptized by Thee, and comest Thou to me?”
15 And Jesus answering said unto him, “Suffer it to be so now, for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John suffered Him.
16 And Jesus, when He had been baptized, went up straightway out of the water. And lo, the heavens were opened unto Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting upon Him.
17 And lo, a voice came from Heaven, saying, “This Is My Beloved Son, In Whom I Am Well Pleased.”
Mark 1:9 - 11
9 And it came to pass in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan.
10 And straightway coming up out of the water, He saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon Him.
11 And there came a voice from Heaven, saying, “Thou Art My Beloved Son, In Whom I Am Well Pleased.”
Luke 3: 21 - 22
21 Now when all the people were baptized, it came to pass that Jesus also was baptized. And while He prayed the heaven was opened,
22 and the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon Him, and a voice came from Heaven, which said, “Thou Art My Beloved Son; In Thee I Am Well Pleased.”
John 1:29 - 34
29 The next day John saw Jesus coming unto him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sin of the world!
30 This is He of whom I said, ‘After me cometh a Man who is preferred before me, for He was before me.’
31 And I knew Him not; but that He should be made manifest to Israel, therefore have I come baptizing with water.”
32 And John bore record, saying, “I saw the Spirit descending from Heaven like a dove, and It abode upon Him.
33 And I knew Him not. But He that sent me to baptize with water, the Same said unto me, ‘Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending and remaining on Him, the Same is He that baptizeth with the Holy Ghost.’
34 And I saw and bore record that this is the Son of God.”
Meditation: Comest Thou to Me?
The four Gospels provide a wealth of stories about the life and ministry of Jesus. There is frequent overlap, but it is rare for all four to speak of one particular moment with such unanimity of voice. Jesus came to John to be baptized, and as he came out of the water, the Holy Spirit appeared as a dove while the Father's voice declared Jesus to be His own Son. John was standing on the sidelines, shaking with awe. "Lord?" he asked in tremulous, incredulous tones. "I have need to be baptized by you, and yet comest thou to me?"
Look at this painting by Ottavio Vannini. Jesus is in front of John, but John has turned aside to one of his followers. Is he whispering in anticipation and excitement, or protesting in bewilderment? Is he excitedly telling his follower of Jesus' glory, or is he trying to figure out why God incarnate is asking him to administer a ritual he had devised for repentant sinners?
In this case, Jesus has not come to be cleansed of his sin. He has come to take the sins of the entire world. He stands on the banks of the River Jordan, waiting for his turn, surrounded by those who have reason for shame. His baptism ushers out the Old Testament covenant of punishment and shame, and replaces it with one of mercy and forgiveness. Jesus has taken on our human nature, has submitted Himself to our rituals, has shouldered the burden of our sins.
This ancient Arian baptistry really drives the point home. The Devil himself makes an appearance at the baptism. Faced with the Messiah and the Dove, and completely surrounded by the Twelve Apostles, Satan has been defeated, and all he can do is grimace helplessly on the sidelines. Instead of being a purification ritual for the sinful, this baptism is the anointing ceremony for the great High Priest of Christianity. The Father calls out to His Son, and the Spirit flies overhead as a dove. All three persons of the Trinity are present in a tangible way, and Jesus is declared God incarnate to all who have ears to hear. And in this way, they do indeed fulfill all righteousness.
Accept our gratitude, oh Lord, for your graciousness in humbling Yourself to walk among us, to take on a sinner's burden and suffer a sinner's fate. Thank you for accepting the human ritual of baptism as your anointing ritual, so that all who undergo this sacrament may share in the benefits of the miracle that was your Incarnation and be sealed as Your people forever. May we ever remember our baptism and give praise to God the Father, the Son and to the Holy Ghost.
Where it is located
The Baptism of Christ
Jan Brueghel & Hans Rottenhammer, 1608
Private collection, Belgium.
Mural: Jesus and St John the Baptist
Unknown, photo 2008 by John Salmon
Lansdowne Drive, London Fields
The Baptism of Christ
North Carolina Museum of Art
San Giovanni indicating Christ in Sant'Andrea
Ottavio Vannin, 17th century
The church of Santi Michele e Gaetano , Florence
Baptism of Christ
Mosaic for a baptistery by unknown
Baptism of Christ
Dave Zelenka, 2005
The Baptism of Jesus The Christ
Previous chapter in this series
- The Life of Jesus Christ and the Art He Inspired: The Ministry of John the Baptist
St. John the Baptist begins his ministry in the wilderness. He bears witness to Christ and establishes the one-time ritual of baptism for the forgiveness of sin.
Next chapter in this series
- The Life of Jesus Christ and the Art He Inspired: Jesus is Tempted by Satan in the Wilderness
Jesus fasts for forty days in the Wilderness. The Devil presents three temptations. With paintings by Juan de Flandes, James Tissot, William Blake, Ducio, Ary Schaffer and Carl Heinrich Bloch.