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The Baptism of Jesus

Ordinary 1 Year C

A Hebrew Catholic Perspective
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St. Luke 3: 15 — 16 and 21 — 22

 

Introduction

The Baptism of our Lord is one of the greatest, most momentous events in the unfolding life and purpose of the Messiah. On first reading about it in St.Luke’s Gospel, one could almost say it is down-played and really quite incidental to the rest of what is recorded. St. Luke has a very important reason for his brief account — but is most certainly not to detract from its potential significance.

We witness, in this short account, one of the precious “milestones” in the History of Salvation as recorded first in the Old Testament and then continued in the New.

From those of us who benefit from a little revision, we extend this introduction with a helpful background paper: “Setting the Scene: An Overview” (Appendix 1)

May you be richly blessed as you meditate on this climactic moment — the “changing of the guard”.

Click here for a printable copy of our text

 

Some Reflections on our Text

Verses 15 and 16

Now the people were filled with expectation, and all were
asking in their hearts whether John might be the Messiah.

John answered them all, saying, “I am baptizing you with
water, but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy
to loosen the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize you
with the Holy Spirit and fire.

In some respects it seems strange to us that the whole Jewish culture was so “filled with expectation”. We look at our own society and find it hard to believe that virtually everyone could be united in such a religious frame of mind. In the West, it was once so; but no longer.

Is John the Baptist the long-awaited Messiah? — they wonder. He looks and sounds as though he could be. But John quickly puts an end to that:

“I am baptising you with water …..
He will baptise you with the holy Spirit, and fire.”

John the Baptist seems here to indicate he understands that he and his work were God’s design for a period of transition.                                             (Lagrange)

John had, by this time, somewhat surprised (even disturbed) the Jewish authorities that he was not calling for revolution, but repentance. Our Lord, in the same frame of mind, did not come as a revolutionary innovator; He came to perfect the old order.                                                                                                                             (A. Jones)

Just as He submitted Himself to the Law, so He accepted the conditions preparatory to the Messianic age — the principal condition appearing as a baptism of repentance.                                                                                                                (Source unknown)

St. John the Baptist is thus giving testimony that all of his ministry is offered to God as a time of preparation — or more to the point — a climax to the long time of preparation from the patriarchs, through the prophets, to the arrival of the One who will baptise “with the Holy Spirit and fire”.

We may find ourselves asking, “Why is the time of passing over from the age of preparation, to the arrival of the Anointed One — the Messiah — marked by baptism”?

The next verses in our Gospel text will help answer that question — as will our supplementary reading. But we would like to suggest at this stage, that a little bit of background on the Hebrew practice of mikvahimmersion, washing and cleansing — could help us feel more at ease with the nature of baptism. After all, to the uninitiated, it is a rather odd thing to be immersed in a pool of water while ceremonial words are recited. Why on earth is such a simple action (in fact, ritual) so important? We invite you to read at this point, or laterMikvah and Baptism: Inner Cleansing and The Call to Purity.

Verses 21 and 22

After all the people had been baptized and Jesus also
had been baptized and was praying, heaven was opened

and the holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form
like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my
beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

A little reminder of what was said in our Introduction — that St. Luke, in a way, downplayed the event of our Lord’s baptism. In our text above, the only reference to actual baptism is, “and Jesus also had been baptised”. But as we also mentioned back then, this is a strategy; for the full power and significance of baptism in Hebrew culture resides in the choice a person makes to undergo it. Little else has to be said, if it is ‘significance’ in the act that we are seeking. The Jewish ritual of mikvah, or ritual cleansing, is so powerful, so important, so meaningful, that all its cultural significance passes into the single mention of a baptism.

This is the moment and act chosen by the Messiah to be the linchpin between the old order and the new. In a manner of speaking, this moment is the “changing of the guard”; it is the handing over of the baton from the most faithful servant of the former age, to the Servant of Servants in the new and final age.

We offer a selection of “features”, particular aspects — points to note, as we try to grasp the full impact of this moment in the Messiah’s first “public appearance”, as such.

•     “After all the people had been baptised and Jesus also had been baptised …. .”

Jesus chose to be totally identified with the whole body of people He came to serve: He waited His turn, and was, like them, immersed in the Jordan River to underpin the need for cleansing from all forms of sin. He Himself had no sins to confess but chose to take upon Himself the sins of the world. St. Thomas Aquinas (St. Thomas, P. 3, q 30. a. 1) taught that Jesus chose to cleanse the waters and bestow upon them the power of sanctifying.

Thus the mikvah of old becomes the new means to the supreme ritual cleansing of baptism, which is now the passage from former life into the purity and perfection of the Body of Christ. Thus He was the perfect example of humility and repentance.

•     “and was praying”

Jesus was understood by the early Church, later reflecting on this observation of St. Luke, that He willingly identified Himself with the whole of the unrolling Plan of Salvation ordained by the Father. To be recognisably “at prayer” is for Jesus, and His followers, a normal state of affairs.

•     “….. heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in bodily
       form
like a dove.

The appearance of the Spirit above the waters recalls Genesis 1: 1 etc. This is the beginning of a new world, which is the Kingdom of God.                             (Ginns, O. P.)

The words, “in bodily form” emphasise the reality of the coming of the Spirit to equip Jesus for His ministry.                                                                                          (Nixon)

The descent of the Spirit is the Son’s investiture for His heroic office.            (A. Jones)

•     “And a voice came from heaven, You are My Beloved Son ….. .”

Its words are reminiscent of Genesis 22: 2, Psalm 2: 7, and Isaiah 42: 1

Then God said: “Take your son Isaac, your only one, whom you love,
and go to the land of Moriah. There you shall offer him up as a
holocaust on a height that I will point out to you.”     
(Genesis 22: 2)

I will proclaim the decree of the LORD, he said to me, “You are my
son; today I have begotten you.                                     
(Psalm 2: 7)

Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom
I am pleased. Upon him I have put my spirit; he shall bring forth
justice to the nations.                                                    
(Isaiah 42: 1)

The voice does not indicate the adoption of Jesus as God’s Son, but the divine approval with which He began His work as God’s Servant and Son.                             (Nixon)

Thus Jesus was the Messiah, but His Messiahship is to be interpreted in the light of the prophecies of the Servant of the Lord (Isaiah). The words spoken do not mean that Jesus became Son of God at this moment but that He was commissioned for His work as Son of God.                                                                                              (Nixon)

“….. with You I am well pleased.”

Jesus receives this affirmation not only because of His obedience thus far, but also as the agent by whom God will fulfil His whole plan of salvation.

We might also consider His baptism as a solemn inauguration of His public ministry, but not in the sense of the rationalists who falsely interpret this scene as the awakening of the Messianic consciousness in Christ. This latter opinion has not the slightest foundation in the Scriptures and is a denial of the divinity of Christ. (Hartman and Kennedy)

 

Summing Up

The baptism of our Lord marks the official beginning of His public
ministry. It is such an important event that St. Luke gives His
genealogy here (St. Matthew gave his at the time of his birth),
It shows how fitted Jesus was for the redemption of all people;
He, too, is a descendant of Adam, like all of us. He is the mediator,
the link between fallen humanity and God. To set the plan of
redemption in motion, and also to give Jesus, as Man, the power
and strength to carry out His tremendous task, both Father and
Holy Spirit give divine grace at His baptism.

The dove over the water is a reminiscence of the beginning of the
creation of the world, ‘Over its waters brooded the Spirit of God’
(Genesis 1: 2); a new creation of supernatural life now begins
through the waters of Baptism (it is generally held that our Lord
instituted this sacrament at His own baptism).
                           (Ronald Cox, The Gospel Story.)
           (Slight variations in the text for Internet use are shown in itallics.)

Conclusion

It becomes clear, with reflection, that the baptism of our Lord is far more than just immersion in a river. In this account by St. Luke we are privileged to not just observe, but to be drawn into a decisive moment in the ministry of Jesus. It is a high-point in the unfolding prophetic history of Israel: it is the moment the Anointed Son of God, in all His perfection, chooses to unite Himself with humanity by submitting to the spiritual cleansing of immersion in a river. He thereby establishes a new ritual in which all His followers can join Him, down through the ages of ages, until He returns at the end of time.

Many of us have in the past, used the word ‘Christening’ rather than ‘baptism’. At least that term retained the idea that baptism made us members of ― part of ― Christ. It enabled us to be “born from above” and to flourish, despite difficulties, as His agents, or ambassadors; sharing His message throughout the whole world.

In baptism we go down into the grave with Him, and rise with Him to New Life as members of the Household of God.

Let us pray for one another that we will keep our focus on “Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2: 2.) and do whatever we can to reflect His selfless love to the whole of humanity.

 

Shalom!

 

Further Reading

 

Appendix 2   The Baptism of Jesus: A Deeper Question

Appendix 3 The Baptism of Jesus by Joseph Dillersberger.

 

 

For those who would like a detailed study resource
on the readings for Sunday, please visit:

Agape Bible Study — Ordinary 1 ― Year C

If you require only the section on the Gospel reading,
just scroll down the page.

To view all the material on the Agape website please visit:

www.agapebiblestudy.com

This website is highly recommended:

 

“Proclaim the Gospel to Every Creature”

(Mark 16: 15)

The real Jesus, is the real answer to the real needs of the world!

Let us remember God’s Teaching, contained in His Word and in
doing so, remain close to Him. The following are only examples
illustrating how you can note the gems the Holy Spirit highlights
for your on-going reflection.

The Baptism of Jesus

Ordinary 2      Year C           St. Luke 3: 15 — 16 and 21 — 22

 1. In the story about the baptism of Jesus, John the Baptist surprised, in fact disturbed the Jewish authorities that he was not calling for revolution, but repentance. As a Biblical scholar pointed out, “our Lord, in the same frame of mind, did not come as a revolutionary innovator; He came to perfect the old order”.                        (A. Jones).

Many religious people today, often unconsciously, pine for a Christian revolution — a restoration of Christian culture. No matter how lofty our motives and intentions, they generally don’t include repentance: the acceptance that we may be part of the problem.

Throughout religious history repentance has been the means by which God gets His People back into shape, and functioning the way they should. Perhaps a major response to our situation, right across the full scope of Christian communities, such as a joint confession of our common failings, may help different Christian traditions to stop talking past one another, and take evangelisation of the world far more seriously. Now that may make a very good item on our list of intercessions — praying for one another: that we will listen to one another as well as try to hear one another’s message.

2. Baptism, by the choice of Jesus, is the moment and action which ushers in the new age of His salvation. What does it mean?

When we are baptised into Jesus Anointed One, we are therefore a new people in a new world — in the Kingdom of God. More to the point, we are restored to the Household of God — we are His family — and therefore family to one another. Nothing less than this is to be taught and passed on to our young, as well as all who are lost in this world.

3. By His baptism, Jesus ordained a ritual by which we can join Him in His death and resurrection. It cleanses us from the effects of original sin, and gives us grace to live in the Spirit of His Risen Life. That is a “once and for all” ritual we are all required to undergo, but it is also something we can, as it were, dip into for the rest of our lives. No matter which Christian tradition we belong to, there are many ways we can “refresh” the cleansing action of our baptism daily. (See Mikvah and Baptism).

We commend this to our fellow Christians as something of very great importance. It is also a source of very profound blessings, for it helps keep us grounded in the day to day working out of our salvation and the cleansing we must undergo to permit us to prostrate before the throne of God and pray for such blessings upon the rest of humanity.

Shalom!

 Click here for a printable copy of the Reflections

 

Luke 3: 15 ▬ 16 and 21 ▬ 22

Ordinary 1          Year C

New American Bible

 15   Now the people were filled with expectation, and all were
        asking in their hearts whether John might be the Messiah.

16   6 John answered them all, saying, “I am baptizing you with
        water, but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy
        to loosen the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize you
        with the holy Spirit and fire.

6 [16] He will baptize you with the holy Spirit and fire: in contrast to John’s baptism with water, Jesus is said to baptize with the holy Spirit and with fire. From the point of view of the early Christian community, the Spirit and fire must have been understood in the light of the fire symbolism of the pouring out of the Spirit at Pentecost (⇒ Acts 2:1-4); but as part of John’s preaching, the Spirit and fire should be related to their purifying and refining characteristics (⇒ Ezekiel 36:25-27; ⇒ Malachi 3:2-3). See the note on ⇒ Matthew 3:11.

        and

21   9 10 After all the people had been baptized and Jesus also
        had been baptized and was praying, heaven was opened

22   11 and the holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form
        like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my
        beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

9[21-22] This episode in Luke focuses on the heavenly message identifying Jesus as Son and, through the allusion to ⇒ Isaiah 42:1, as Servant of Yahweh. The relationship of Jesus to the Father has already been announced in the infancy narrative (⇒ Luke 1:32, ⇒ 35; ⇒ 2:49); it occurs here at the beginning of Jesus’ Galilean ministry and will reappear in ⇒ Luke 9:35 before another major section of Luke’s gospel, the travel narrative (⇒ Luke 9:51-⇒ 19:27). Elsewhere in Luke’s writings (⇒ Luke 4:18; ⇒ Acts 10:38), this incident will be interpreted as a type of anointing of Jesus.

10[21] Was praying: Luke regularly presents Jesus at prayer at important points in his ministry: here at his baptism; at the choice of the Twelve (⇒ Luke 6:12); before Peter’s confession (⇒ Luke 9:18); at the transfiguration (⇒ Luke 9:28); when he teaches his disciples to pray (⇒ Luke 11:1); at the Last Supper (⇒ Luke 22:32); on the Mount of Olives (⇒ Luke 22:41); on the cross (⇒ Luke 23:46).

11[22] You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased: this is the best attested reading in the Greek manuscripts. The Western reading, “You are my Son, this day I have begotten you,” is derived from ⇒ Psalm 2:7.

Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible,
revised edition (c) 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian
Doctrine, Washington D.C. and are used by permission of the
copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American
Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing
from the copyright owner.

 

 

Appendix 1

Setting the Scene: An Overview

A mighty gash in the surface of the earth, a thousand feet below sea level, is the valley of the Jordan River. This fast-flowing stream, about thirty yards (27 metres) wide, wanders three times the direct distance of its sixty-five miles (105 kilometres) from the lake of Galilee to the Dead Sea. The valley is about ten miles (16 kilometres) wide, with high barren hills on both sides, rising up to three thousand feet (1 kilometre) from the valley floor. It was the wild setting for the dramatic entrance of John, who had been waiting for more than thirty years for his call from God. He had but one purpose: to prepare the Jewish people for the coming of the Messiah to reign over them. It was a call to repentance, not to revolt; the enemy to be conquered was sin, not the mighty power of their foreign ruler, Rome. As a proof of their sorrow for sin, they submitted to a ceremonial immersion in the waters of the Jordan (this was not the sacrament of Baptism). The Jews were familiar with similar rituals as purification before numerous religious functions.

It was winter when John appeared from his solitude. But the Jordan valley has a mild summer temperature even in the coldest months; the crowds attracted by John’s preaching could live out in the open without any hardship. The news that the long silence of the Lord had been broken caused a thrill throughout the whole land; no prophet had spoken in Israel since the time of Malachi, four hundred years before. John’s dress and ascetic way of life proclaimed him an authentic prophet like Elijah, who had been taken up in a fiery chariot from the banks of the Jordan, eight hundred years before. When he spoke burning words, vivid and direct, they crowded around him; they were touched by God’s grace, and made public demonstration of their sorrow for their sins. John then explained the essential condition for membership in the Messianic kingdom: there must be a change of heart, a reform of life, corresponding to this outward show of sorrow.

With stinging words he rebukes the leaders; they are instruments of death to the people to whom they should bring life; and worst of all, the people do not suspect it; they are hidden enemies, like snakes. They the leaders thought that because they were Jews, God could not disown them; that their descent from Abraham made them automatically members of the Messianic Kingdom. “Birth is of no avail,” says John, “You must humble your pride, and show proof of your reformed lives, to escape God’s anger.”

He is gentler with the rest of his penitents: charity in the fundamental virtue for all; it must be real charity, charity in action, not just a sham. The tax-gatherers (‘publicans’), and their police force (‘soldiers’), were greatly tempted to extortion, violence and theft; John goes direct to the root of their trouble the virtue they must practise is justice.

John had now become a national figure, a dynamic reformer discussed in every corner of the land. Was he the Messiah? But John knew his mission; bluntly and with great humility, he turned their thoughts to the Saviour: “Just as fire is a more perfect purifying agent than water, so His manner of cleansing will be far superior to mine”, said John. (Fire is used here only as a metaphor: it expresses the deep, intimate effect of the Holy Spirit in the soul.) The imagery of fire reminds John to warn them of the necessity of reform in order to escape the anger of God. The leaders of the Jews taught that God’s punishment was reserved only for the heathen, and that they as Jews would all become members of the kingdom. “That is not so,” said John: “God accepts only the good grain; the worthless chaff will burn eternally.”

(End of excerpt)

From: The Gospel Story by Ronald Cox, C.M. S.T.L. S.S.L.
(Slight variations in the text for Internet use are shown in italics)

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Appendix 2

The Baptism of Jesus: A Deeper Question

An excerpt from “Commentary on St. Luke,” by M. F. Sadler, George Bell and Sons, London, 1898.

And now a deeper question arises: Why did the Holy Spirit thus descend upon the Lord at this time? Had He not the fullness of the Spirit? Nay, inasmuch as He is the Second Person in the Godhead, does not the Spirit proceed from Him?Yes; but in the economy of His humiliation, He had to partake of our sanctification, He had to be baptized by that Spirit by which we are baptized. This, of course, was only with respect to His human nature,but that human nature was the instrument by which the Divine redeems us and sanctifies us, and unites us to Himself; and so, in some mysterious way, He to Whom in the Trinity the Holy Spirit is subordinate, condescended to lay aside His own power, and to do His mighty works by the Holy Ghost. Thus we read, “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost, and with power,Who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed with the devil” (Acts 10: 38); and even in the matter of the instruction of the Apostles, we read that the Lord ” through the Holy Ghost gave commandment to the Apostles whom he had chosen” (Acts 1: 2). Again, in the very next chapter to this it seems that He preached by the Spirit, for He claims for Himself the prophecy,”The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the Gospel to the poor.” His Baptism was the commencement of His ministry: and as His ministers are fitted for their work by the consecration of the Spirit, so was He. In fact,the Spirit of God co-operates in all the Redeeming Work: through Him the Lord was Incarnate; through Him He was baptized; through Him He did His mighty works. Even in the work of the Cross the Spirit was present, for we read, “Through the Eternal Spirit he offered himself without spot to God” (Hebrews 9: 14). “By the Spirit he was raised from the dead” (Romans 1: 4), and by the Spirit He will raise us from the dead (Romans 8: 11).

(End of excerpt)

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Appendix 3

The Baptism of Jesus

An excerpt from, “The Gospel of St. Luke”,
by Joseph Dillersberger, Salsburg, 1939. Newman Press, USA, 1958.

Now it came to pass when all the people were baptized that Jesus
also being baptized and praying, heaven was opened ….. . (Luke 3:21 ― 22).

Anybody who has succeeded in obtaining a feeling for the language and modes of expression in Luke’s Gospel will be amazed at the way (quite different from that of Matthew and Mark) in which Luke tells of Jesus’ baptism. It is only the most literal translation which can possibly give us some idea of all this. The English translation by making no less than three sentences does in fact somewhat obscure the unique and peculiar character of what in Luke is but a single sentence.

The actual fact is that of all persons Luke, a very careful writer, has put together a very monster of a sentence so as to tell us of Our Lord’s baptism in a single breath, and then pass on immediately to something else.

Why is this? Is it perhaps that he is afraid to tarry too long at this point and to say too much? Or is it that the other evangelists have already given sufficiently detailed accounts, so that Luke is anxious to be brief, in fact to be as brief as he possibly can: Ambrose gives this as the reason, but all the same, it does not quite meet the situation.There area good many events which Luke narrates in fullest detail although they had already been related by Matthew and Mark.

So we cannot be very far wrong if we see here Luke’s special consideration for Our Lord’s sufferings. Luke toned down all the most prominent and most glorious episodes in Our Lord’s life such as the Confession of Peter and the Transfiguration. The baptism itself was humiliation but the events which then happened were such an exaltation of Our Lord that Luke considered it right to tone them down.

The consequence is that Luke emphasises those things which make Jesus’ baptism an act of self-humiliation. No other writer goes so far in bringing out those various ways in which Jesus identified himself with the people. It was when all the people were being baptised that Jesus too received baptism. The whole thing went so quickly that Luke relates it as already a thing of the past: He was baptised like all the rest of the people without anyone even noticing what was going on. The vision of the dove and the voice did not occur at the same time as the actual baptism but somewhat later as Jesus was still praying. This again is peculiar to Luke —that the vision is regarded as connected in some way or other with Jesus’ prayer. It thus becomes just that little bit more “human” than if vision and voice had descended from heaven direct and absolutely automatically: it is Jesus’ prayer which brings this miracle to pass; its cause somehow or other belongs to this earth and is connected with human prayer. For we must not forget that prayer places Jesus on a level with other men; in prayer He shows Himself man, not God; His divine nature could be shown only by the actual nature of His prayer, and this no man can know. Consequently the heavenly glory of this vision is somewhat reduced thereby. The same effect follows from the way in which these things are narrated; the actual events are told with a series of Greek infinitives one after the other, in a way that makes literal translation impossible. All the same one could get a feeling of the casual way in which the events are related something like this: “There occurred an opening of heaven and a descent of the Holy Ghost in bodily form and the uttering of a voice from heaven ‘Thou art, etc’.” Surely it is possible to see from such a method of narration that it really was necessary to mention all these things, and yet get the impression that Luke wanted to get through with the business as quickly as possible.

This, then, was the way that Luke chose to tell us of this event. What is so significant to him is the fact that this was just a passing event in Jesus’ life. His baptism was not just the solemn inauguration of Jesus into the public exercise of his teaching mission — this was how it had appeared to the other evangelists — it was no less and Just as really Jesus’ entry into His earthly life from its human aspect with all its lowliness and its humiliations culminating in what Jesus Himself described as another “baptism” ― the baptism of blood on the Cross. For this reason, though testimony must be given as to who it was that thus took his station as one of the human race, such testimony must be but brief and passing. Even as this testimony was so fleetingly given, it was to be made manifest how He had laid aside His glory and majesty and taken upon Himself the lowliness of humanity, as is referred to by St. Paul in his letter to the Philippians (2: 5 ― 8). The truth which Luke wanted us to learn from Jesus’ baptism was not that of His dignity as God’s beloved Son, but rather the truth that God’s beloved Son was in all things “like unto us,” determined to empty Himself to the very utmost and to lay aside His high position and His glory. As usual Luke’s thoughts are upon Our Lord’s passion. …..

In the true simple humanity of life here on earth there dwells hidden away the glory of the Trinity. It is possible that Luke emphasised in this passage more than did the other evangelists the “bodily shape” of the dove simply to indicate that from now on the world of matter is to be filled with the Spirit of God. For “all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” It is not in the brilliance of mighty apparitions but in lowliness and weakness, in His sufferings and in His cross that the Son of God comes nearest to men.

It is for this reason that true Christianity exhibits few moments of elevation and glory but many of humiliation and suffering. Paul boasted of his weaknesses because it was in infirmity that there resided the power of Christ (See: 2 Cor. 12: 5, 9, 10). This applies not only to the individual but also (a cause of scandal to many) to the whole Church of Christ. Those periods of time in which the Church’s outward power and glory are most eclipsed, are just those periods in which humanity is more filled with the divine presence than could possibly be the case if the Church had to rely on the outward instruments of power.

(End of extract)

  Click here for a printable copy of the Appendix

 

Mikvah and Baptism

The Call to Inner Cleansing and Purity

A Hebrew Catholic Perspective
www.hebrewcatholic.org.nz

 

Introduction

The origins of baptism would be one of the easiest topics to explore, judging by the available literature. Our purpose here is to draw together just a few thoughts to help demonstrate the value of considering our Hebrew heritage, and how this helps us understand why baptism was so important to Jesus. Such knowledge of the subject is not just of historic interest; it deepens our appreciation of our own baptism, and helps us live it ― live according to it, in our daily lives.

This short treatment is a selection of ideas from traditional sources as well as the vast of material on the Internet. Where we can provide specific source references, they will be recorded in brackets. In the various quotations wepresent, the Hebrew word for the ritual bath will be spelled both as mikvah and mikveh. Inevitably, in a collection of quotations, a certain amount of repetition will occur.

How did the term ‘baptism’ — originate?

Most of us will find the origin of the word ‘baptism’ something of a surprise. But let’s value this background information.

The Greek word for baptism is baptizo meaning to immerse or
dip cloth into a vat of dye. The word is derived from an industry
of dying cloth in Lebanon. The vats used to hold the different
colours of dye, and the process of placing the cloth into the vats
was called baptizo. As time passed the ritual purity process of
immersion began to be known as baptism. The Hebrew word for
immersion is tevilah and means literally immersing in a ritual
bath known as mikvah. Immersion is the act of washing
performed to correct a condition of ritual impurity and restore
the impure to a state of purity. It is never for the purpose of
cleaning or bathing the body.
                              (Peggy Pryor, hebroots.com — emphasis is ours.)

So let’s take note:

•     Baptizo is a Greek verb meaning, to dip;

•     tevilah is a Hebrew noun meaning immersion;

•     mikvah (or mikveh) is a ritual bath (pool).

How is baptism linked to Scripture?

“And God said, ‘Let the waters under the heaven be gathered into
one place, and let the dry land appear’, and it was so. And God
called the dry land Earth; and the gathering of the waters
(mikvah mayim) he called Seas: and God saw that it was good.”
                                                             (Genesis 1: 9 — 10)

•     The term ‘mikvah’ comes from the phrase ‘gathering of waters’ — the oceans created by God, and the rivers, the living water, flowing into the seas.

•     The term ‘Living Water’ refers to a pure spring-fed stream, representing the river that flowed out from Eden to water the earth, especially parts of the Jordan (Yarden — descending from Eden) River.

Who may go up the mountain of the LORD?
Who can stand in his holy place?

“The clean of hand and pure of heart,
who has not given his soul to useless things,
what is vain.

He will receive blessings from the LORD,
and justice from his saving God.

Such is the generation that seeks him,
that seeks the face of the God of Jacob.”
Selah                             (Psalm 24: 3 — 6)

•     Baptism is a rite representing a change of state to purity, which is a requirement to meet God at His appointed place, the Holy Temple. Purity of heart is a requirement to dwell with God in the renewed Eden of the future. 
                                                                                                   
(Based on www.ahavta.org/mikvah.htm)

 

How was mikvah (mikveh) baptism seen as part of Jewish life?

Mikveh is the gathering together of any waters where any form
of washing or passing through is considered an act of cleansing
and sanctification. The term arises from the creation account
when God gathered the waters and separated the land from the
sea. From this springs the idea that in all acts of Mikveh there is
a separation made by the water. 

It is said when the children passed through the Red Sea on the
way to the promised land and were thus separated and sanctified
unto Moses from Egyptian defilement, that this was a mikveh.
The passing through the waters of the Red Sea is called a mikveh
by Jews. Likewise, any passing through waters of separation by
any means of cleansing is called a mikveh.

When a Gentile wanted to convert to Judaism, he / she had to
undergo a Mikveh-baptism as a sign they were passing from
Gentileism into Judaism, passing from idols to the true God,
passing from life the religion of the nations to accept the
religion of the Jews.

A person who did not say as Ruth: Your people shall be my people and your God shall be my God, could not enter the waters of convert Mikveh because they had not brought forth the fruits of repentance (Turning to God from one’s past sins, life and identity). These could not be a convert to Judaism. Each convert must make the same confession as Ruth at the time of their convert Mikveh-baptism: Your people shall become my people and your God my God.

All these Mikveh were by immersion and the name of God was invoked over them as they were either self-immersed or plunged under by a baptiser. The name “ADONAI ELOHIM EHJEH(Lord God of Salvation and Deliverance) was pronounced over the convert.

These waters of Mikveh were also for the washing of hands after being defiled by touching things unclean. They were used for washing clothes that might have become unclean by some contact with the profane. The waters of Mikveh were specifically designed to bring about sanctification. They were additionally the object for ceremonial washing and purification. In other words, whatever passed through the waters of Mikveh was then cleansed, purified, and sanctified, MADE HOLY!                                                                                                                                   (From www.jesus-messiah.com)

 

What are some of the Jewish spiritual insights arising from baptism?

•     “Simply put, immersion is a mikvah signals a change in status — more correctly, an elevation in status. Its unparalleled function lies in its power of transformation, its ability to effect metamorphosis.”

•     Immersion in mikvah can be understood as a symbolic act of self-abnegation, the conscious suspension of the self as an autonomous force. In so doing the immersing Jew signals a desire to achieve oneness with the source of life to return to a primevil unity with G-d. Immersion indicates abandonment of one form of existence to embrace one infinitely higher. In keeping with this theme, immersion in the mikvah is described not only in terms of purification, revitalisation, and rejuvenation but also — and perhaps primarily — as rebirth.

•     The single greatest gift granted by G-d to humankind is teshuvah — the possibility of return — to start anew and wash away the past, Teshuvah allows man to rise above the limitations imposed by time and makes it possible to affect our life retroactively.

•     “….. the mikvah is the touchstone of Jewish life, and the portal to a Jewish future.”
                                                                           (From: The Mikvah. Printed from chabad.org — emphasis ours.)

 

Who needs to be immersed in the “gathering of the waters, and when?”

•     The term mikveh in Hebrew literally means any gathering of waters, but is specifically used in Jewish law for the waters or bath for the ritual immersion. The building of the mikveh was so important in ancient times it was said to take precedence over the construction of a synagogue. Immersion was so important that it occurred before the high Priest conducted the service on the day of Atonement, before the regular priests participated in the Temple service, before each person entered the Temple complex, before a scribe wrote the name of God, as well as several other occasions.

•     The Mishnah # attributes to Ezra a decree that each male should immerse himself before praying or studying. There were several Jewish groups that observed that ritual immersion every day to assure readiness for the coming of the Messiah. The Church Fathers mentioned one of these groups called Hemerobaptists which means “daily bathers” in Greek. Among those used to regular immersion were the Essenes and others that the Talmud ## calls toveleisharharit or “dawn bathers”

•     On the third day of creation we see the source of the word mikveh for the first time in Genesis 1: 10 when the Lord says, “….. to the gathering (mikveh) of waters, He called seas.” Because of this reference in Genesis the ocean is still a legitimate mikveh.

(From, “The Jewish Background of Christian Baptism,” by Ron Mosely, Ph.D. —
Arkansas Institute of Holy Land Studies. www.haydid.org)

#    Mishnah — Early 3rd Century C. E. written editing of the
                         Oral Torah (Law) for study purposes.

##    Talmud — “Literally ” — a work comprising first the Mishna
                          and secondly the Gemara
(around C. E. 500), which        
                          commented on the Mishnah as well as other topics and

                          issues arising in the Hebrew Bible. The term did not
                          necessarily always include the
Mishnah, but like the
                          Mishnah, included the teaching of great numbers of
                          rabbis from
pre-Christian times.

•     Holiness is the first product of Mikveh before it is the product of daily living and a part of a person’s character. Even so, holiness begins at baptism when the blood of Jesus washes (cleanses) away all sin and uncleanness whereby a person is profane and unholy before God. This holiness is purification and the convert is in a state of total cleansing and purity having been washed by the blood of Jesus.

•     All water baptisms of the New Testament have their beginning in these ancient Mikveh cleansing, purification washings of the Jews. Water baptism was essential to becoming Jewish in olden times and it is essential to becoming a Christian in the New Testament.
                      (From: Mikveh — Ancient Hebrew Water Baptism, by Pastor G. Reckart— jesus—messiah.com)

What are some links between baptism and the Messiah?

•     The Mikvah is a ritual bath, the Hebrew word mikvah means a “pool” or “Gathering” of water. Two direct references in the Bible to Mikvah are in the Bible.

In Leviticus 11: 36 it is written:

“Only a spring and a pit, a gathering (Mikvah) of water, shall
be clean ….. .”

The second is Jeremiah 17: 12 — 13 as it is written:

“A glorious high throne from the beginning is the place of our
sanctuary, [13] O LORD, the hope of Israel, all that forsake thee
shall be ashamed, and they that depart from me shall be written
in the earth, because they have forsaken the LORD, the
fountain of living waters.”

The word translated hope in verse 13 is Mikvah thus giving us the understanding that Messiah is the cleansing fountain / Mikvah or hope of Israel.

While Messiah still hung, on the cross a Roman “soldier pierced His side, immediately there came out blood and water”; (John 19: 34 NAS) the opening of the cleansing fountain or Mikvah for Israel. In Zechariah 13: 1 it is written:

“In that day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of
David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and for
uncleanness.”              
(By Peggy Pryor, Ledaber Ministries, “A Walk of Purity” — www.hebroots.com)

 

•     Three great truths to keep in mind:

The first truth is that real Christianity is not a pagan, anti-Semitic religion, but the gathering together of both Jewish and Gentile believers to the Jewish Messiah and to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

The second truth is that the commitment of a believer in Jesus is not to any group, but to a Person — the Messiah himself. Any group loyalty that we believers feel and practice stems from our love for the Messiah and his teachings. The love and unity we feel for one another comes because of him and through his enabling power in our lives.

Third, baptism is as Jewish as mikveh! The Hebrew word tevilah (translated “immersion”) is used in the benediction recited during the mikveh ritual. Certainly no one would dispute that mikveh is a Jewish ceremony. The ritual washings and cleansings commanded in Torah and the other writings formed the basis for the rabbinical mikveh laws. Our ancient sages who formulated these rules agreed and emphasised that the purpose of mikveh was spiritual rather than physical cleansing. They taught that as the mikveh cleanses the unclean, so does the Holy One cleanse Israel (My 8: 9). The roots of baptism rest deeply and permanently in the soil of these Jewish Scriptures and traditions. That is, both baptism and mikveh depict by an outward act the inward transaction of faith; and both declare that only the Holy One has the power to cleanse men’s hearts and lives.
                                                         (From: “Baptism : Pagan or Jewish?” by Ceril Rosen — jewsforjesus.org)

 

•     How did baptism become part of Christian ritual?

From all the foregoing, we see that the use of water to symbolise cleansing and consecration is very much a Jewish concept, and a very ancient one at that. Because of this, when the Jewish prophet John (Yochanon ben Zechariah) came upon the scene, the Jews of his day saw nothing pagan or wrong in his demands that people repent of sin and be symbolically cleansed in the Jordon River. John’s title, “Baptist” (literally baptizer) comes from the Greek verb baptisdo, which carries the same meaning as the Hebrew root favel to wash by dipping or plunging in water. John’s message, though not a popular one, was in keeping with what all the other Jewish prophets proclaimed. He preached God’s impending judgment, warning that Israel must repent and be spiritually renewed because the coming of the Messiah was at hand. The self-righteous may have disagreed about their personal need for repentance, but they had no quarrel with John’s method of symbolic cleansing. Otherwise, surely the religious leaders would have had him stoned as a false prophet.
                                                 (From: “Baptism : Pagan or Jewish?” by Ceril Rosen — jewsforjesus.org)

 

•     How is baptism presented and understood in the New Testament?

Shortly before Jesus teaches Nicodemus about the necessity and regenerating effect of baptism, he himself was baptised by John the Baptist, and the circumstances are striking: Jesus goes down into the water, and as he is baptised, the heavens open, the Holy Spirit descends upon him in the form of a dove, and the voice of God the Father speaks from heaven, saying, “This is my beloved Son” (See Matthew 3: 13 ― 17); Mark 1: 9 ― 11; Luke 3: 21 ― 22; John 1: 30 ― 34).

This scene gives us a graphic depiction of what happens at baptism: We are baptised with water, symbolising our dying with Christ (Romans 6: 3) and our rising with Christ to the newness of life (Romans 6: 4 ― 5); we receive the gift of sanctifying grace and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12: 13); Galatians 3: 27); and we are adopted as God’s sons (Romans 8: 15 ― 17).  

In Acts 2: 38, Peter tells us, “Repent, and be baptised every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” When Paul was converted, he was told, “And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptised, and wash away your sins, calling on his name”                                                      (Acts 22: 16).

Peter also said, “God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ”                      (1 Peter 3: 20 ― 21).

Peter says that, as in the time of the flood, when eight people were “saved through water,” so for Christians, “[b]aptism….. now saves you.” It does not do so by the water’s physical action, but through the power of Jesus resurrection, through baptism’s spiritual effects and the appeal we make to God to have our consciences cleansed.

These verses showing the supernatural grace God bestows through baptism set the context for understanding the New Testament’s statements about receiving new life in the sacrament. 
                                                                (From: “Are Catholics Born Again?” ― www.catholic.com)

How Can We Live Our Baptism?

www.hebrewcatholic.org.nz

If anything typifies the core of the Judaeo-Christian Faith, it is the place given to God’s constant call for cleanliness of heart, mind and body. Thus we are called to repent daily of any sin, and to live our lives in Godly purity. From the earliest times God has provided some specific ceremonies or forms of repentance to help us make it a regular habit in our religious life. The various cultural groups within Judaism and Christianity do this in different ways. One aspect of this process, in Judaism, as we have been studying, is the regular immersion in the “gathering of waters” — in the mikvah pool.

Christians rejoice in the powerful symbolism which has passed through into the Church’s administration of baptism. Although we undertake this only once in our lifetime, there are many ways Christians of various cultures keep the spiritual dynamic of baptism active and regularly expressed in their daily lives. Let’s recall a few of these:

1.     At Eastertime, Christians renew their baptismal promises with the traditional emphasis on sorrow for sin and a determination to seek God’s grace to resist the influence sin has over us.

2.     Some like to read a favourite verse or two from the Blessed Apostle Paul as a reminder of our death and resurrection in Jesus Christ, and the power we have at our disposal to live holy and joyful lives.

3.     Some keep in their home a container of the baptismal water consecrated during the Easter liturgies, and place some in a font at the entrances to their home. With fingers dipped into this Holy Water they make the sign of the Cross as a reminder of their spiritual death on the Cross with their Saviour, and rising to live New Life in His service. It is a kind of spiritual mikvah, and a very powerful aid to recall our Lord’s Sacrifice for us.

The sprinkling with Holy Water — whether done ceremonially in Church before the Eucharist commences, or privately in one’s home, reminds us that in the baptismal waters, we are buried with Christ and raised with Him. The same waters which destroy and wash away also cleanse and lift to safety, as in the days of Noah.

4.     Some Christians during prayer kneel regularly in the manner our Lord chose in the Garden of Gethsemane, to join Him in seeking to do only the Will of the Father. (Matthew 26: 39). On this occasion, St. Matthew records Jesus “fell upon His face in prayer”. This is the Jewish, and now also the Christian way of kneeling down and lowering the face to the ground, symbolising death to self, and rising to New Life which has been bestowed upon us.

5.      Some also like to recite a brief prayer, daily or occasionally, relating to their baptism and the membership of Christ’s Body, the Church, which this conveyed on them — with its privileges as members of the Household of God, as well as its obligations.

There are many other devotions which Christians down through the ages have used to commemorate their own Christening, their Anointing as His members.

Conclusion

Possibly, many of us have rarely given the baptism of Jesus much thought. After all, as we observed in St. Luke’s account of it, it seems to get a mention in only five or six words. But, as we also noted, that is a technique to emphasise the total self-abnegation of Jesus and His desire to be seen, at least on this occasion, throwing His lot in with the people He came to save. This is another dimension of His “tabernacling” with humankind, His desire to be present among those who are trying to respond to the call to repentance and consecration.

Let us pray for one another to persevere in our discipleship of the Lord. His Beatitudes ever in our hearts and minds.

Shalom!

 

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