Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented Him, saying, “I need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for thus it is fitting for us to fulfil all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus was baptized, He went up immediately from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and alighting on Him; and lo, a voice from heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
Matthew 3:13-17 (Gospel from Liturgy on Feast of Theophany)
Today we examine the Gospel that is read on the Feast of Theophany, celebrated each year on January 6. There are several points to take away from this reading.
In the time of Jesus, baptism was done similar to the way that we do confession today, a periodic cleansing to be rid of sin. John “the Baptist” was a man who was well known, and people would flock to him at the Jordan River to have this ritual cleansing done. Jesus came to John in order to be “baptized”. John immediately recognized Jesus as the Christ, and thought it was inappropriate to “baptize” one who was without sin. John even offered to exchange positions, telling Jesus it was he (John) who should be baptized by Jesus.
Eventually John consented and Jesus was baptized. The word “Theophany” means “the manifestation of God.” Because the significance of the event was not that Jesus was baptized, but that the Holy Trinity was revealed. Jesus, the Son, was baptized in the Jordan. As He came out of the river, the Holy Spirit, alighted on Him as a dove. And a voice came from heaven, the voice of God the Father, endorsing Jesus as His Son: “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Matthew 3:17. Never before in the history of humanity had the Holy Trinity been revealed. This also reminds us that when we are baptized, it is not the water that makes the baptism valid (some will argue that one must be fully immersed in order to be baptized) but the invocation of the name of the Holy Trinity.
The Baptism of Jesus is recounted in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark. It is only referred to in Luke and John. In Matthew’s account, the voice of the Father says “This is My beloved Son.” In the Gospel of Mark, however, the voice of the Father says “YOU are My beloved Son, with You I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:11) We know that the Gospel accounts of events in the life of Christ vary slightly. The fact that they do confirms their authenticity even more. Why? Because no two people see the same thing the same way. The fact that they are similar but not the same is evidence of truth. If they were exactly the same, this could lead to thoughts that stories were concocted and therefore not truthful. Ask any police detective.
The point I want to finish with is the saying “You are My beloved Son.” This was obviously an endorsement by God the Father over His Son, Jesus Christ. But as we hear it again, hear it as an endorsement by God over YOUR life. Imagine if God announced you as “My beloved son (or daughter).” Two things here—first, we are all His beloved children. God loves each of us. We are not His beloved slaves, or servants, or employees. We are His beloved children! Second, is our life in line with the phrase “with you I am well pleased”? If God looks at our lives, is He well-pleased with them?
Think of each action that you do during the day and ask yourself, what is God saying about this? When you help someone, God is saying “I am well pleased.” And when we fail and sin, He is still saying “you are my beloved child” but that we can do better. In our daily lives, we should remember this saying by God and work for this endorsement in all that we do.
As we are still only a few days into the New Year, as many of us make resolutions to rededicate ourselves to healthy eating and exercise, we should rededicate ourselves to a more committed and healthy spiritual life as well. A great way to start is to attend the Divine Liturgy on Theophany, be blessed with the Holy Water and be reconsecrated through the beautiful prayers that are offered. One of the prayers, authored by Patriarch Sophronios, appears after today’s Prayer Team Message. The prayers in the service that continue after this one are borrowed from the Sacrament of Baptism. While we do not re-baptize in our church, these prayers of baptism are offered over the congregation at the Feast of Theophany. And while we are not immersed in water on Theophany, the Holy Water that has been blessed comes onto and into each of us, recommitting us (if we’ve approached with the right demeanor in our souls) to the Christ and the Christian life.
Please take a few minutes and slowly reflect on prayer which follows. Its language is beautiful, powerful and timeless. At a time when we need prayers over the whole world, it is a time for all of us to focus our prayers on the healing of our whole world. This is what the prayers of Theophany ask each year. Never has it been more important for us to come and offer them together. If possible, attend the Divine Liturgy today, either in person or on line. If that is not possible, please take a few minutes and reflect on the prayer which is below.
We glorify You O merciful Master Almighty King from all ages; we glorify You the Creator and Maker of all; we glorify You the only-begotten Son of God, fatherless from Your Mother, and motherless from Your Father. In the former festival we saw You as a babe, but in the present one we see You as our perfect and revealed God, from perfect God. Today the hour of our festival has come, and the choir of the saints assembles with us, and Angeles celebrate together with men. Today the grace of the Holy Spirit, in the form of a dove, has descended upon the waters. Today the Sun, which knows no setting, has risen, and the world is illumined with the light of the Lord. Today the moon with shining rays shines forth upon the world. Today the glowing stars adorn the universe with the splendor of their luster. Today the clouds refresh mankind by raining down righteousness from heaven. Today the uncreated willingly accepts the laying on of hands from His own creature. Today the Prophet and Forerunner approaches the Master but is seized with fear, seeing the condescension of God for us. Today the streams of Jordan are changed into healing waters by the presence of the Lord. Today all creation is watered with mystical streams. Today the offences of men are washed away by the waters of Jordan. Today Paradise is opened to men, and the Sun of righteousness shines upon us. Today the bitter water of the time of Moses becomes most sweet for the people from the presence of the Lord. Today we were released from our ancient woe, and as a new Israel we were saved. Today we were redeemed from darkness and illumined by the light of the knowledge of God. Today the gloom of the world is lifted away by the revelation of our God. Today all creation is made bright from Above. Today error has been abolished and the coming of the Master is showing us the way to salvation. Today those Above celebrate with those below, and those below converse with those Above. Today the holy and joyful festival of the Orthodox rejoices. Today the Master comes to baptism, so that He may lift mankind up high. Today He who stoops not, stoops down to His own servant, so that He may set us free from bondage. Today we have purchased the Kingdom of Heaven, for there is no end to the Kingdom of the Lord. Today earth and sea share the joy of the world, and the world has been filled with gladness. The waters saw You, O God, the waters saw You and were afraid. Jordan was driven back when it saw the fire of the Godhead descending in bodily form and entering in it. Jordan was driven back when it beheld the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove descending and hovering around You. Jordan was driven back when it saw the invisible made visible, the Creator made incarnate, and the Master in the form of a servant. Jordan was driven back and the mountains leaped when they saw God in the flesh, and the clouds cried out marveling at the One who came, light of light, true God of true God, as they beheld the feast of the Master in the Jordan today. For He Himself plunged in the Jordan the death of disobedience, the sting of error and the bond of Hades, and gave to the world the Baptism of salvation. (Prayer of Patriarch Sophronios of Jerusalem, Trans. by Fr. Evagoras Constantinides, from the book “Ten Special Services.”)
You are God’s beloved child. Do things today that will make Him well-pleased with you.