by T.V. Philip
T. V. Philip, born in India and a lay member of the Mar Thoma Church, has worked and taught in India, Europe, USA and Australia. He is a church historian, and a former Professor at the United Theological College, Bangalore, India.
The following appeared in The Kingdom of God is Like This, by T.V. Philip, jointly published by the Indian Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge and Christava Sahitya Samithy (CSS), Cross Junction, M.C. Road, Tiruvalla-689 101, Kerela, India. The material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted & Winnie Brock.
At the baptism of Jesus God has declared to the world that Jesus is the Son of God in whom he is well pleased . Therefore, in our baptism, our identity as sons and daughters of God is established.
Luke 3: 21-22
Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form as a dove, and a voice came from heaven, “Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased.”
This is how Luke describes the baptism of Jesus. Matthew and Mark also describe the baptism of Jesus in a similar way. Though the fourth Gospel does not narrate it, it refers to the baptism of Jesus.
Christian baptism receives its meaning and significance from the baptism of Jesus. At the baptism of Jesus, heaven opened. It is not simply a ceremony we perform. It has to do with heaven. It is God who acts in baptism. Two things happened at the baptism of Jesus.
In the first place, the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus in a bodily form, as a dove. It came in a bodily form so that all could see. In baptism we are anointed (sealed) with the Holy Spirit. Secondly, a voice from heaven declared, ‘Thou art my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased’. It was a public declaration by God that Jesus was his beloved Son.
The baptism of Jesus was not simply a private affair. It was not simply a matter of personal experience of the Holy Spirit or an inner consciousness on the part of Jesus that he was the Son of God. It was no doubt a personal experience, it definitely gave him an inner assurance that he was the Son of God, but it was also a public acknowledgement that in him God was well pleased.
At the baptism, Jesus’ identity was established. The voice from heaven was a public declaration of who Jesus was. In Matthew and Mark, the voice from heaven was heard only by Jesus alone. It is significant that Luke specifically mentions that the voice from heaven was heard by all, a public event in and through which God has declared to the world that Jesus is the Son of God in whom he is well pleased. This is also true with Christian baptism.
In our baptism, our identity as sons and daughters of God is established. God declares us to be his children. Baptism is a public declaration that the person who is baptized is a son of God, a daughter of God, to be acknowledged and accepted as such. Henceforth we belong to God, to the family of God. It is not our physical birth — of flesh and blood — which is primary, but our spiritual birth as Sons and daughters of God.
In Judaism, the rabbis used to speak of circumcision as a seal, the divinely appointed sign, of a person’s standing within the covenant. In baptism, we are sealed with the Holy Spirit and signed with the sign of the cross to show that henceforth we belong to Christ. God has set his seal of ownership on us and of his spirit in our hearts. (2 Corinthians 1:22) St. Paul wrote to the Galatians:‘Henceforth let no man trouble me; for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.” (Galatians 6:17)
The descent of the Holy Spirit and the declaration that we are sons and daughters of God are very closely related. It is to the sons and daughters of God that the spirit is given. In the fourth Gospel John the Baptist at first did not know who Jesus was. He says:
But I saw the Spirit descend as a dove from heaven.
and it remained on him. I myself did not know him;
but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me,
‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain,
this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit. And I
have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God
John the Baptist recognized him as the Son of God because the Spirit descended on him. St. Paul says, ‘And because you are sons, God has sent the spirit of his Son into our hearts’. The Spirit is given to the sons and daughters of God.
But who is a son? Who is a daughter? He or she who does the will of the Father is a son or daughter of God. Jesus told a parable. There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard’ ‘I will not’, he answered, but later changed his mind and went. Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will’, but did not go. Which of the two did the will of the father? In other words, who proved himself to be a son? ‘The first’ said Jesus’ hearers.(Matthew 21:28-31) Jesus replied, ‘Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister and mother’. (Mark 3:35)
This explains the purpose for which the Holy Spirit is given in baptism. In the case of Jesus, after his baptism, he was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted for forty days.
What was the temptation about?
It was about how he should fulfil his mission as the Son of God. At his baptism, when he was declared to be the Son of God, it was not an ornamental declaration which he received, but a vocation, a mission. For forty days and nights he struggled to clarify for himself the nature of his vocation. The Holy Spirit was given to him so that he might be empowered for his mission. In baptism, the person who is baptized is anointed with oil. Some of the early church fathers compared such anointing to the anointing of the body of a wrestler before he entered the arena to fight his opponent. At baptism, we are anointed with the Holy Spirit so that we may be soldiers of Christ in the world, so that we may fight the forces of sin and evil.
Baptism is the ordination of every Christian to be a soldier of Christ in the world. At baptism we are publicly proclaimed as daughters and sons of God and anointed with the Holy Spirit so that we may do the will of God in the world.