of Christian Identity
What Is the Meaning of Jesus’ Baptism? Before we look at what our baptism means, we need to look at Jesus’ Baptism in the Jordan.
We celebrate the baptism of Jesus in three significant ways: liturgically, we celebrate on Sunday, at the conclusion of the Christmas season, on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. We celebrate it devotionally, as the First Luminous Mystery of the Rosary; and theologically, as the Scriptural event that speaks to us of the meaning of Christian baptism.
The baptism of Jesus comes to us in the midst of the baptism of John the Baptist, who was baptizing people as a sign of repentance from sin and a preparation for the coming of the Messiah. It is reasonable to ask: Why did Jesus, as the sinless Son of God, receive baptism?
This event, recorded in all four Gospels, marks the inauguration of the Lord’s public ministry. What follows in the Gospel accounts is His preaching, miracles, healings and proclamation of mercy and forgiveness. Jesus steps into the Jordan River and into His mission of redemption through this public religious act. It is also, what we call a Theophany, an event where the Blessed Trinity is revealed . The Son of God comes up from the waters, the Holy Spirit comes down and anoints Jesus as Messiah and the voice of the Father is heard: “This is my beloved Son, listen to Him.”
Where’s the connection between Jesus’ baptism and ours? One thing we need to see is that, just as Jesus is revealed as the beloved Son at the Jordan, so, too, we receive a new identity in baptism as adopted children of the Father. The fruit of Christ’s victory over the power of sin and death is the divine invitation for us to share in the very life of the Trinity. Jesus Christ freely shares His very nature with us through the waters of baptism. Notice what St. Paul says in his epistle 2 Corinthians 5: 17-20:
“So whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come. And all this is from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ and given us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting their trespasses against them and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”
St. Paul is speaking here about baptism, when we went into the font of baptism, we became a new creation. There is a fundamental change in us when we are baptized. It’s not simply symbolic, it’s real! This is what the Catholic and Orthodox churches teach about baptism. St. Paul describes this new life we receive in baptism in several other passages:
"You have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him" (Colossians 3:9-10).
"For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ" (Galatians 3:26-27).
"I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me" (Galatians 2:20).
At the moment of our spiritual rebirth in the font, the Father beholds us with delight, exclaiming, “This is my beloved son, this is my beloved daughter with whom I am well pleased.” Christianity first and foremost is about whom we have become in Christ before it is about what we do or how we act. This saving act of spiritual adoption draws us into the very life of God and His merciful grace.
That doesn’t mean that it’s all over, and we have nothing to be concerned about, No… God plants the seed of salvation in us, but we must nurture it, feed it, so it can grow and produce fruit that will last. Baptism is not just a magical ritual, it is a sacramental reality, and like all sacraments, they are vehicles of God’s grace, given to us freely by God, but they demand a response from us. We must nurture, feed and seek to increase the grace that God has planted as a seed in us. The potential is there, but this potential must be realized, in part, by our responding to His grace. We can lose the grace of salvation if we do not do this.
That’s why I encourage families to celebrate, not just their children’s birthdays but also their anniversary of baptism. Why? Because it’s our Christian identity. Nothing wrong with celebrating our birthdays, but when parents take the time to remind their children of their baptismal anniversary, they are exercising their role as the first teachers of their children in the way of faith. It instills in the children an awareness and gratitude for what God has done for them in Christ. It can be done very simply. On or near their anniversary, place a bowl of water on the dinner table, their candle, their stole and speak about these symbols, reminding them of what happened at the font – they became a new creation in Christ!
Pope Francis recently spoke of the importance of remembering the day of our baptism, which he said is more than just a date on the calendar, but is the moment we receive our Christian identity and are immersed in the grace and forgiveness of God. “The Feast of the Baptism of Jesus invites every Christian to remember their own baptism,” the Pope said, explaining that to forget one's baptism “means exposing oneself to the risk of losing the memory of what the Lord has done for us.” In the end, we consider the day “only as a fact that happened in the past,” rather than recognizing as the day on which “we became new creatures and are also capable of forgiving and loving whoever offends us and does us harm.” The Holy Father said that more than just the day that “sociologically marks the parish register,” the day that we were baptized is the day that “constitutes the demanding identity card of the believer.”
The great early church father, St. Cyril of Jerusalem took his newly baptized Catholics through a time of what was called “Mystagogy.” Mystagogy was the period between Easter and Pentecost where the newly baptized reflected on the mysteries they had just celebrated and received. He writes that reflecting upon their mysteries of salvation was crucial to their growth in faith. Mystagogy was a breaking open of the mysteries, a time to reflect on what had happened to them – they had just been baptized, confirmed and received their first Eucharist.
This is what the Holy Father is speaking of… when we take time to reflect and remember what God has done for us, our faith grows and is strengthened. We are baptized believers in Jesus Christ. It’s not just a title we use, it is our identity from which our life draws meaning. We never want to forget what the Lord has done for us.