Rosary reflections – The Baptism of Jesus
The Baptism of Jesus

The Luminous Mysteries – The 1st Mystery

In all the Gospels, we read of the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan by John the Baptist. The Gospels attest to the fact that, as Jesus was baptised, the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus in the form of a dove, and “rested” on Him. We also read of how the voice of the Father spoke from Heaven, declaring that Jesus is the Father’s own beloved Son. This is the first public revelation of the Trinity in Jesus’ life.

St Irenaeus, the great Father and martyr of the Church who lived in the 2nd century, has some things to teach us about the Baptism of Jesus. St Irenaeus tells us that the Spirit descending on Jesus constituted His anointing in his important work, Against Heresies [1]. What did this anointing accomplish or signify? Anointing in the Old Testament can be seen to be given to priests (Lev 8:10), prophets (1 Kings 19:16) and kings (1 Sam 16:13) – it consisted of a special consecration of the person to some religious and/or authoritative task.

After saying this, St Irenaeus immediately links Christ’s anointing by the Spirit to the following verse from Isaiah 11:

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.   And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. 

The Holy Bible. (2006). (Revised Standard Version; Second Catholic Edition, Is 11:1–3). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

The shoot that comes from the stump of Jesse is the future Davidic king (Jesse was king David’s father), the everlasting king of Israel whose kingdom will have no end:

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder, and his name will be called “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David, and over his kingdom, to establish it, and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and for evermore.

 The Holy Bible. (2006). (Revised Standard Version; Second Catholic Edition, Is 9:6–7). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

St Irenaeus also links the Baptism of Jesus to another prophecy of Isaiah. This same prophecy appears on Jesus own lips shortly after the Baptism of Jesus and his temptations in the desert, when he declares in the synagogue in Nazareth the following:

16 ¶ And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up; and he went to the synagogue, as was his custom, on the sabbath day. And he stood up to read; 17 and there was given to him the book of the prophet Isaiah. He opened the book and found the place where it was written,

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, 19 to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” 

20 And he closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant, and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

 The Holy Bible. (2006). (Revised Standard Version; Second Catholic Edition, Lk 4:20). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

From the above reflections and scripture passages, we can therefore see that the Holy Spirit anointed Jesus into His mission as the Messiah. The messiah was long prophesied and hoped for by the people of Israel. In addition to the verses we have read in Isaiah, from Jeremiah we hear of God raising up a righteous branch from the house of David, with Israel being saved in those days (Jer 23:5-6). Jeremiah also speaks of a new covenant, where the people will have the law written on their hearts, and God will forgive His people their sins (Jer 31:31-34).

The Prophet Jeremiah (from here)

The law being written on God’s new covenant people’s hearts is echoed in Ezekiel. In Ezekiel we read of God sprinkling clean water on his people, and giving them a new heart and putting a new spirit in them (Ezekiel 31:25-26). Indeed, the new spirit that God is putting in His new covenant people is His own Spirit, which will give His people the power to follow His statutes (Ezekiel 31:27). This is a beautiful prophecy of the effects of Baptism, made available to the regenerated new covenant people. Ezekiel also makes the prophecy of a new David, and this new David is associated with the power to follow God’s statutes (Ezekiel 37:24).

What does this mean for us?

The reflections on Holy Scripture above in the context of Jesus’s Baptism teach us many things about our place as God’s new covenant people. It shows us that we have a connection with the Old Covenant people, the people of Israel, and all the holy men, women and prophets of old. It shows us that we are the recipients of the great mercy of God, who didn’t abandon His covenant people despite their sins, but rather came close to save and anoint us through a new, everlasting covenant.

We should realise that with our Baptism, we too are anointed with the Holy Spirit. We are anointed as priests, prophets and kings – through the Spirit we are adopted sons and daughters of the Most High God (Romans 8:14). As such, we are meant to have new hearts and a new Spirit within us. Our life should not look like those around us – we are a new creation. We should live in “life and peace” as St Paul said in Romans:

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.

The Holy Bible. (2006). (Revised Standard Version; Second Catholic Edition, Ro 8:5–6). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

If our lives don’t appear to be bearing fruit, if our lives resemble the pagan world around us, we are likely living according to the flesh and not the Spirit. That is not our inheritance! We can have so much more, a life of rejoicing, peace, love and adventure being led by the Spirit. That is the gift given to us at Baptism, strengthened in Confirmation and the Eucharist and restored in Reconciliation.

If we already have the gift, but we are not living the promised new life, we must ask ourselves what areas of our lives have not been surrendered to the saving power of the Holy Spirit. Trust in the great mercy of the Lord, place yourself willingly in His hands, and we too can set captives free, giving liberty to those who are oppressed, by the power of the Spirit living in us.

Let us continually be plunged into and cleansed by this pure Spirit, and emerge ready for mission with Jesus.

[1] Irenaeus of Lyons. (1885). Irenæus against Heresies. In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson, & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus (Vol. 1, p. 423). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.

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