Malankara World

Sermons Based on the Lectionary of the Church

Christ Jesus, the Voice, and the Dove

by Jacob P Varghese, Sharjah

"And Jesus, when He was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto Him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon Him: And lo a voice from heaven, saying, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased"
(Matt. 3: 16-17; - Mk. 1: 9-11, Lk. 3: 21-22, and Jn. 1: 32-34).

The Spirit of God (Holy Spirit) hovered over the water, at the beginning of the Creation of the World. Here the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove descends to anoint the Son of God. The feast of Baptism of Jesus is commonly known as Epiphany by the Western Christians and properly named Theophany (God revealed) by the Eastern Christians. Both words mean to reveal the divinity of Jesus Christ. The word 'epiphany' comes from two Greek words, epi and phainen, and can variously mean, 'to shine upon', 'to reveal' or 'manifest' and 'Theophany' which means 'manifestation of God'. In our Church tradition, this day is called as 'Denaha', the 'Syriac equivalent of Epiphany meaning the dawn or to shine . We commemorate the Baptism of Jesus Christ in River Jordan, by St. John the Baptist. The feast of Denaha on 6th January is an auspicious feast, having unique and important place in the liturgical cycle of the Orthodox Churches. In the early days of Christianity, nativity of Christ, visit of magi and Lord's baptism was celebrated together on 6th January. Later, 25th December was declared as the date for the celebration of Christmas, separating the Nativity from the Feast of Light, by twelve days.

John's Baptism was a baptism of repentance. Jesus was without sin. Why was Jesus baptized? Why was Jesus baptized at the hands of a man who preached a baptism for the forgiveness of sins? Jesus Himself did not need baptism, however in being baptized our Lord accomplished and fulfilled many things.

a. He revealed as the Son of God (Jn. 1: 34). Jesus does not become Son of God on this day. The Holy Spirit has always rested on Him. He is revealed to us all, as the Son of God, on this day. "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased." He is revealed by the Father and the Holy Spirit, as the Son of God. The time had come to reveal the Gospel through His Life, Death, Resurrection, Ascension and Glorification beginning first with His baptism.

b. The great mystery of Holy Trinity was revealed for the first time, though there were many shadows of Holy Trinity earlier. Incarnate Son, Jesus is baptized; the Father speaks (Voice); and the Holy Spirit descends (Dove). In the Old Testament times, God was only identified or revealed as Trinity, indirectly. It was at the time of baptism of Jesus in River Jordan, the Holy Trinity was revealed to the world explicitly and vividly. This is the importance of Epiphany.

c. In the opening of heaven reconciliation between Creator and creation through the Redeemer by the testimony of the Holy Spirit took place. He opened the heaven to a world separated from God through sin. The dove signaled to Noah that the God's wrath against man had ceased. Here the Holy Spirit announces that Christ has reconciled us to God by cleansing the sin away in the waters of baptism.

d. The Light of the world, our Lord came to the world to eradicate the darkness of all types. Tradition says that when Lord Jesus stepped in the Jordan water, darkness was drawn back and brightness came over the water.

e. Baptism of Jesus' was an anointment of Christ, by the Father with the Holy Spirit. In the Old Testament, prophets, priests, and kings were always anointed in some way to signify that they were chosen of God (Exodus 28:41; 29:7; I Kings 19:16). The oil used was symbolic of the Holy Ghost. Jesus was anointed by the Spirit of God Himself, instead of being anointed with oil that was symbolic of the Holy Ghost, signifying that He came to fulfill the roles of prophet, priest, and king (Psalm 45: 7-8; Isaiah 61:1).

f. To reveal Jesus to Israel (Jn. 1: 31). God has been gradually revealing Himself to the universe for ages through His prophets and high priests (Heb. 1: 1). But all these were only partial and His complete revelation came through Jesus Christ, His Son. Son is the complete manifestation of God the Father, the radiance of His glory and exact representation of His being (Heb. 1: 3).

g. He fulfilled all righteousness (Matt. 3: 15). The words for righteous in both Hebrew and Greek mean "doing what God requires; responding to the revealed will of God." Righteousness is what results when God or human beings fulfill the conditions imposed upon them by a relationship. All of this lies behind Jesus' response to John. He was informing John that the baptism would play a role in the accomplishment of the Holy Father's will. All God's righteous requirements were fully met in Christ. Jesus is responding to the revealed will of God, participating in God's righteous work of saving God's people.

h. He revealed His Messiahship (Jn. 1: 41). The only purpose of John's baptism was to publicly testify Jesus as Christ, the anointed, before commencement of public ministry. He came to bear witness to light, Jn. 1: 8. "I did not know him, but that he should be revealed to Israel, therefore I came baptizing with water" Jn. 1:31. He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, Upon whom you see the spirit descending and remaining on him this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit. I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God Jn. 1: 33-34. The baptism of Jesus fulfills the need as the Messiah is identified to John the Baptist, by a special Theophany of the Holy Spirit.

i. To carry out the succession and culmination of O. T. Aaronic priesthood which John the Baptist, had inherited through his father priest Zachariah to Jesus Christ. According to Levites the transfer of priest hood can be done only after the age of 30. Remember the hymn we sing in the kukillion commemorating the departed clergy.

j. The Baptism of Jesus marks the inauguration of Jesus' earthly redemptive ministry, as well as the decline and decrease of John the Baptist's ministry.

k. Many titles have been given to Jesus: Son of David, Son of God, Messiah, Savior of the world; but now, Jesus is revealed as God's 'Beloved One'.

l. The sacrificial offerings must be washed. This was a Jewish Law. Jesus Christ was washed in the River Jordan and gave Himself up as a sacrificial offering on Mount Calvary.

m. Since water baptism is the symbolic act of washing away and burying of sin, Jesus' baptism symbolized our sins he would wash away and bury with Himself. St. Gregory of Nazianzus says that by entering into the waters of Jordan God purified the whole element of water, which suffered defilement by the fall of man, thus reverting to the original status.

n. He entered the waters, sanctifying and hallowing the water itself. During the service on Denaha (and in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism) in Orthodox Churches, there is the sanctifying of waters by invocation of the Holy Spirit that appeared in the form of a dove over Christ at the time of His Baptism. The believers receive sanctified water at the end of the special service of Epiphany and with it sanctify the homes of the faithful. While some preserve it for the entire year partaking of it at times of illness and other personal or family adversities.

o. In baptism we are promised that same Spirit which descended upon Jesus in the form of a dove - God's Spirit.

p. He identified with His people by descending into the waters, with them.

q. The raising of Jesus from the waters of Jordan, heaven's opening, the Spirit descending and the Father's voice from heaven symbolized His coming, Resurrection, Ascension and Glorification.

The Baptism of Jesus was a very clear public manifestation and was recorded for all generations in human history to know about and understand.

See Also:

Why Jesus was Baptized?
by Rev. Fr. K. K. John

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