Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch

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The Baptism of the Lord Jesus

The Patriarchal Journal
Vol. 32 – January/February 1994 – No. 131/132. Pages 2-7

The Lord Jesus, after his amazing birth in the flesh, lived like all his contemporaries in the city of Nazareth. He distinguished himself from them by his integrity, the purity of his conduct and clarity of his conscience. Until he reached the age of thirty he was known as the carpenter, son of Joseph. The holy gospels were silent about his daily activities during that period. They did not mention anything except his visit to the temple when he reached the age of twelve, the age at which the Jewish boy was called “son of the law.” He had to memorize the law and the religious duties, and had to visit the temple to appear before the Lord. The holy gospel mentions that the virgin Mary and Joseph her fiancée lost the boy Jesus after finishing their visit to Jerusalem since they thought he was among his companions.

They had traveled a day on the way back to Nazareth. When they asked for him and did not find him among the relatives and those they knew, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. " After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” He said to them, ‘Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’" (Luke 2:46-49) With this explanation the Lord Jesus announced the truth of his son-ship to God the Father. This is the doctrine that the heavenly Father expressed with a voice coming from heaven, saying to the Lord Jesus, " You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased " (Mark 1:11). A crowd of people heard that heavenly voice on the bank of the river Jordan.

At that time Jesus was at the age of thirty and came from Nazareth of Galilee to be baptized by him (Matthew 3:13). The distance between Nazareth of Galilee and the Jordan river was a full day’s travel. The Lord Jesus walked it and when he met John he asked him to be baptized, but John declined saying to him. " ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me? ’ But Jesus answered, ’Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then he consented " (Matthew 3:14-15). This righteousness that Jesus wanted to fulfil was the righteousness of humility that began in him through his incarnation. When Jesus chose the poor, pitiful, orphaned, virgin, girl Mary as a mother for him because of her holiness, her purity, and her chastity, he was born from her in the village of Bethlehem of Ephrata in a simple cave. There his mother wrapped him and laid him in a manger and because of his humility the heavens honored him and sent the angels to give the good news to the simple shepherds and to sing their immortal song "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors " (Luke 2:14). As for his baptism by John, his righteousness was completed when he presented to us the greatest example of humility by going to John the Baptist and asking to be baptized by him like any other sinner. He is the only one to have been born and been free from sin. The sinners had confessed their personal sins and received forgiveness through repentance at the hand of John who baptized them with the baptism of repentance.

The Lord Jesus confessed before John the sins of humanity that were placed on his shoulders by his will. For that reason John later called Him the Lamb of God who was lifted up for the sins of the world. (John 1:29) Through his baptism the Lord made the water holy when it touched his pure body. John was made complete in righteousness through his submission and obedience to Christ by baptizing him. Then the Father honored his only Son for his humility. As he was praying after he went out of the water the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit alighted on him in a bodily form like a dove and suddenly there was a voice from heaven that everyone present heard saying to Jesus “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11). As the heavens were closed to the face of humanity’s sin after its fall into the depths of sin, so they were opened in front of the Lamb of God the Savior who later offered himself to his heavenly Father as an atoning sacrifice for the world so through him the reconciliation between God and humanity was fulfilled (II Corinthians 5:19).

The Spirit that descended on him was also for John to recognize the one about whom he would say later, “I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God” (John 1:33-34). The Messiah was not in need of the Holy Spirit to descend upon him, for he was full of grace and truth, as John the apostle said about him. But he is the one who became flesh by the Holy Spirit and from the virgin Mary. But the appearance of the Holy Spirit in a bodily form like a dove during the baptism was to distinguish him from the crowd and to remind us of who had come in the book of Genesis that says, "… while the Spirit of God swept over the face of the waters " (Genesis 1:2).

Yes, the Holy Trinity had appeared for the first time in history before the crowds at the event of the baptism of the Lord Jesus. This is why we call this feast the feast of “DENH” (Syriac) which means “the appearance, the illumination, the light, the splendor, the magnificence, and the brilliance.” For the Son came out of the water after he had been baptized by John and the Spirit alighted on him from heaven in the form of a dove and the Father called out saying to the Son from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased .” By his baptism the Lord established the sacrament of baptism as a door to enter the Kingdom of God on earth and the baptized believers receive the grace of righteousness, holiness and adoption. In their becoming children by grace in Christ they are the heirs of his heavenly kingdom.

Baptism is usually performed in the name of the Holy Trinity. As the Lord Jesus himself ordained it to be when he commanded his disciples saying: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). At the beginning of the baptismal rite the believers profess their faith by confessing in the Holy Trinity, the One God, and the divine revelation that was announced to us from the beginning that God is One. That revelation itself announced to us that this One essence is three equal persons in essence, and that Christ is the second person of the Holy Trinity and is called the Son of God.

Yes, God sent John the Baptist to prepare the way before the Lord Jesus, the only Son of God, and Isaiah prophesied about John saying "The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’ " (Matthew 3:3) John was preaching in the wilderness of Judea saying: “Repent for the Kingdom of God is near.” On that day the angel Gabriel brought the good news to his father Zachariah that his wife Elizabeth would bear him a son and he would be called John. He had made clear his message saying, “because he will be great before the Lord” (Luke 1:10-17). John carried out his mission well and prepared the people for repentance and a return to God to be ready for baptism with the Holy Spirit and fire at the hand of the long awaited Messiah Jesus the Christ whom John called “Son of God” (John 1:37). The angel Gabriel announced this divine truth to the Virgin Mary the day he brought the good news of the heavenly pregnancy by saying, "And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore, the child to be born will be holy; he will be called the Son of God’ " (Luke 1:31,35).

The pure apostles and the righteous disciples clearly discerned the meaning of this heavenly doctrine when they believed in the son-ship of Christ to God the Father. The chief of the apostles, Peter, said to the Lord Jesus, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:16) and Mark the Evangelist, the disciple of Peter began the gospel he wrote by saying, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, Son of God” (Mark 1:1). The apostle John, after he began his gospel by calling Christ “the Word” was from the beginning saying: “the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen the glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). At the end of his gospel he says: “But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31). So, we do not acknowledge any group to be a Christian church unless its followers confess that the Messiah is the Son of God, or according to the expression of the Nicean creed (335 A.D.) “Christ is born of the Father before all ages and he is light from light, true God from true God, and is equal to the Father in essence.”

Christ the Son of the eternal God had given us to become the children of God by grace after we are born of the baptismal fount as a second birth from heaven; the matter that the Lord Jesus clarified to Nicodemus by saying: “Very truly, I tell you no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above…Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit” (John 3:3,5). Because of that the Lord commanded his disciples saying: “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation. The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:15,16). So, the sacrament of baptism is necessary for salvation. This is the reason why the church has received from the pure apostles and the ancient righteous fathers the baptism of children fearing that death may take them in their childhood and they would lose the kingdom of God. On this subject John the Apostle says: “But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of the Spirit” (John 1:12-13).

All of us are one family born from one mother, baptism, which the Lord Jesus established the day he was baptized by John as some of our Syriac fathers contemplated. Baptism symbolized the death of Christ, his burial and his resurrection and the apostle Paul says about this matter: “Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4).

That is why we Syrian Orthodox baptize the believers by immersing them in the baptismal fount three times. The verb baptize “AMAD” (in Syriac) means sink, dip, wash, baptize, dye, seclude and hide. This symbolizes the burial of the dead in the tombs as the baptized are buried with Christ to rise up with him in the new life.

We believe what happened at the river Jordan when the Lord Jesus was baptized is happening in an unseen and unheard way to every believer when they are baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity by the hand of a legal priest, even to the children who are baptized according to the faith of their parents and god parents.

This faith is the confession of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. Though this doctrine transcends the power of our human minds, it is an established truth. God willed to reveal its secret to us in a tangible way admitting no doubt at the baptism of Jesus Christ when heaven witnessed the truth of his natural son-ship to God on the day of his baptism. Also, heaven repeated its confirmation during the transfiguration of the Lord Jesus on the mountain in front of three of his disciples when the voice of the Father came saying: “This is my Son, the Beloved; with whom I am well pleased; listen to him!” (Matthew 17:5). So, we have to add faith to good works, by hearing which means obeying the Lord Jesus, Son of the living God. After we have been dead and buried with him, we will be raised with him into new life. In another expression Saint Paul commands us saying: “seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator…” (Colossians 3:9, 10). As he also says: “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:27,28). Christ has made us one in the spiritual family when we all were born of one mother that is baptism and he granted us to be living members in his holy sacramental body, the Church.

So, let us behave like the children of heaven, as ambassadors of heaven. Let our words be the language of heaven and our deeds the deeds of heaven to deserve as children of grace inheritance in the kingdom of heaven: the condition I wish for myself and for you. In the grace of God. Amen.

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