Bishops are highly revered and honoured in Nigeria. Once upon a time a bishop officiated in a MASS WEDDING which featured about fifty couples. It turned out to be a very huge celebration with the presence of the bishop adding colour and gusto to the celebration that took place in one of the new parishes in the diocese in question.
After the mass, the bishop was respectfully asked to go to the rectory (the priest’s house) where a sumptuous launch was exclusively served for him. However to the amazement of the priests and the rest of the people of God, the cheerful and unassuming bishop went to sit in the midst of the newly wedded couples at the church’s open ground where launch was also served for everyone. People were stunned to see the bishop eating from the plates of the newly wedded while exchanging pleasantries with them. The parish priest who could not hold it anymore went to the bishop to remind him that his launch was served in the rectory. The bishop turned and told him that he came to identify with the couples and to show them how to eat together and stay together. With these words the parish priest and the other priests present had no other option but to join the bishop in the rare act of identification.
The baptism of Jesus Christ by John the Baptist has been a controverted issue among biblical scholars as well as attentive minds who undertake committed study of the scriptures. Some of the major questions had been: “Why did Jesus Christ go to John for baptism since the baptism of John was that of repentance?” “Who baptized John the Baptist himself or was it that he had no need of the baptism of repentance?” The first question was actually answered by our Lord Jesus Christ when John the Baptist tried to turn down his request for baptism. It will be very apt to present the dialogue here: (the account of Matthew 3:14-15).
John: I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me!
Jesus: Let it be so now; for thus it is fitting for us to fulfil all righteousness.
From the above we understand that the baptism of Jesus Christ was not intended to have the same. effect as it had on the other people that came to John for baptism namely repentance. It was rather a fulfilment of the divine intent. By entering the water of baptism and being dunked by John in the river Jordan a lot of things happened within those few seconds and consequently a lot of lessons are learnt:
- BAPTISM: A NECESSITY : That our Lord Jesus Christ left everything and went to the Jordan for baptism at the inception of his ministry tells us of the necessity of Baptism. From our doctrinal understanding baptism is a sacrament that cleanses us from original sin and initiates us into the Christian fold and gives us special mark to share in the royal priesthood of Christ. With baptism salvation becomes reality for us as the big obstacle between us and God is removed. It is on this account that St. Peter (1 Pet.3:21) would say that baptism now saves us not just by the washing away of dirt from the flesh but an appeal to God for a good conscience through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
- BAPTISM OF HUMILITY: It was not in vain that St. Paul writing to the Philippians (2:6-9) remarked: “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name.”
In attending to the baptism of John our Lord Jesus Christ showed us the path of humility. At the instance of entering the Jordan, he emptied himself and took our form. He did not count on his equality with God at this needful moment. He took the path which others took. This humility gave birth to another important thing, namely IDENTIFICATION. By humbling himself, our Lord came to identify with our fallen state not because he needed to be emancipated from sin (because he had no sin). Practically we could see it that he came down to wear our shoes. Just like the bishop left his sumptuous launch in the rectory to identify with the newly wedded couples at the open church ground.
- BAPTISM OF SANCTIFICATION. When people came to John for baptism they confessed their sins and were cleansed or sanctified (Mark 1:4-5). When however our Lord Jesus Christ entered the Jordan he sanctified the water of baptism. The presence of the holy one hallowed the waters of baptism. Jesus actually did not need the Jordan water to be sanctified rather the Jordan water desired him. It is upon this that we believe in the power of the water of baptism in cleansing us from original sin; the power is not in the water itself but in the sanctification it received through Jesus Christ.
- BAPTISM OF THE BAPTIST: This bullet point attempts to answer the question whether John the Baptist himself was baptised or not. The first recorded encounter between Jesus Christ and John the Baptist took place during the visitation (Luke 1:41-44). We are told in the narrative that when Elizabeth heard the voice of the greeting of Mary the child in her womb (John) leapt for joy. At the inception of his ministry John the Baptist prophetically indicated that someone is coming after him whose sandals he is unfit to untie. He went further to say that he would be baptizing with the Holy Spirit. Back to the issue, John the Baptist received his baptism not only when he desired to be baptized by Jesus Christ (Matt.3:14) but also when the water was sanctified by our Lord Jesus Christ while he was with him in the Jordan.
- BAPTISM OF THE TRINITY: The baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ serves as one of the dependable platforms upon which our belief in the trinity finds deep expression. We are told that after the baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ (Second Person of the trinity) the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit (Third Person of the Trinity) descended like a dove on him and the voice of the Father (First Person of the trinity) was heard saying “this is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased”. Here at the baptism of Jesus Christ the Holy Trinity was fully present. This is why baptism is done in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. That was why in giving the great commission our Lord Jesus Christ told his disciples: “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” (Matt.28:19).
As we call to mind the Baptism of Jesus Christ today, we are reminded of our own baptism. There should be an ongoing renewal of our baptism especially going by our promise of renouncing sin and the devil with his promises. Our baptism should always remind us of the renewal we had from the old nature that was formerly in us. (2 Cor.5:17).
May the grace of your baptism be renewed with the celebration of the baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ.