1. At the Baptism of Jesus, the voice of the Father was heard this is my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased (Mark 1:11). Those who heard the voice of the Lord say this probably did not know what to think. In fact, most of them would not have been able to know for sure that they had heard anything at all. Even those who were listening, such as John the Baptist, were most likely not sure what the words meant. Later, when John was in prison, he sent word to Jesus asking our Lord if He indeed was the One whom God had sent. Jesus appeared to all as just an ordinary person.
2. Yet Jesus has been revealed to us as the Word made flesh, the Son of the Living God, God Himself who has become a human being like us in all things but sin. Because we have the benefit of this revelation regarding who Jesus is, His Baptism may seem more perplexing to us than it did to those who witnessed it firsthand. They would have thought, here is another person admitting their faults and preparing himself for the Messiah, if indeed the Messiah is near. We know Jesus did not sin. He had no need of repentance. He was perfect in every way, completely conformed to the will of the Father. Why then did Jesus get baptized? And why did the Holy Spirit descend upon Him? If He is God, then He was already one with the Holy Spirit. He certainly did not need it, it would seem anyway.
3. The question has disturbed many people. It seems almost scandalous that Jesus would get baptized. But there it is, He did. Throughout Christianity there have been various reasons as to why Jesus accepted such a thing. One reason is to give us an example to follow. Indeed, we should follow Jesus in every way.
4. Another reason is that Jesus as the new Adam, is remaking the human race in His image. Yes Jesus does not need repentance and Baptism, but we do. By humbly placing Himself in the water, Jesus put us there too. The same could be said for the Holy Spirit. He did not need it, He was already in union with the Spirit, but the Spirit descended upon Jesus in His humanity. In that sense, it is a first sending of the Spirit upon us. Whatever happens to Jesus, the Son of God and the Son of Man, can happen to us. He is rightly called the Beloved Son of God, because that is what He is. But through the pouring out of the Holy Spirit in our Baptism, we become the beloved sons and daughters of God the Father by adoption.
5. The descent of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus is considered an anointing from above. In the action of the Holy Spirit, Jesus becomes the Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed One of God. We recall that when David was anointed, the Spirit rushed upon him. Although Jesus is One with the Spirit as God, when the Spirit rushes upon Him, He is anointed for His mission as our Redeemer.
6. We can liken that in some way to the day of Pentecost, when the Spirit rushed upon the Church and gave the disciples great courage. Or we can compare it to our Confirmation, when we received the fullness of the Spirit in order to complete the mission that we have been entrusted with- that of serving our Lord in all our actions, thoughts and words, and by sharing our faith with others, as the holy apostles did on Pentecost.
7. It has also been proposed that Jesus submitted to Baptism in order to sanctify the waters. It was not He that was cleansed from sin, but rather the water itself that was changed when it was poured over its very Creator. A few years ago, I visited Greece. One of the places we visited was the stream in which Lydia, the dealer in purple goods, and her whole family was baptized. I sat there by the water and imagined that in that very river (or creek really), someone came to receive God’s grace so long ago. And I collected two bottles of the water, one to give to my niece, and another to a parishioner, both of whom were named Lydia. Of course, that water had long since flowed. Not many of the molecules were the same as had baptized the saint. But you never know. In the same vein, some of the very molecules of water which touched our Lord at His baptism may be in our holy water founts. Or it might be in our drinks today. Our bodies are mostly water, so some of it may even be in us. Really all of creation is affected by Incarnation of Jesus.
8. Traditionally, the Baptism of the Lord is associated with the Feast of Epiphany. In other words, God has manifested or revealed His Son Jesus to us in the flesh. God also reveals something about our salvation which Jesus is going to gain. Redemption is not going to come about in the manner which human beings always think it will. The people of Jesus’ day were awaiting a powerful warrior who would destroy their enemies. Jesus did destroy the power of sin and death. But not by violence, but through humility. Not by crushing His human enemies, but by allowing Himself to be crushed, so that those held captive by sin could be saved.