The Baptism of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, celebrated in today's liturgy, is the hinge event in the Gospel history which ties together the Good News of His coming and the Even Better News of His perfect sacrifice on the Cross and His victory over sin and death.
The first thing we must say about His Baptism is that it was not necessary for the usual reason. The multitudes went out to be baptized at the hands of John “confessing their sins.” The baptism administered by John and his disciples was a multi-faceted rite, but all four Gospels agree that it was above all a penitential rite, in which sinners sought cleansing to prepare for the kingdom of God.
As the New Testament tells us many times, Jesus was sinless. Even Pontius Pilate himself declared, “I find no fault in this man.” And John, for all his spiritual insight, was almost distraught to find the Lamb of God standing in a throng of sinners, seeking baptism. John asked, “I have need to be baptized by thee, and comest thou to me?” The sinless One asking for a sinner's bath was almost too much for John. Jesus answered him somewhat cryptically, “Suffer it to be so now, for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness..” (This dialogue is from Matthew's account.)
The meaning of Our Saviour's words did not become clear until the whole Gospel story unfolded. But we should notice carefully the shift from singular to plural, a grammatical nicety lost on English speakers but striking to those who examine the underlying Greek text. John addressed Jesus as a mere man, a sinless man, but only a human being. Jesus speaks of “We.” He was the spokesman for the entire Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. In the Father's heavenly voice, in the Spirit descending as a dove, and in the Incarnate Son thrust below the surface of the Jordan, the entire threefold Godhead was at work.
As the Messianic God-man, our Emmanuel, stood before John, a plan of salvation designed before the foundation of the world was getting under way. “To fulfill all righteousness” mean to carry out the saving purpose by which sinners could be redeemed in a manner consistent with the holiness of God.
St Paul wrote, “He who knew no sin was made sin for us, that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” In His Baptism, the sinless Jesus allowed Himself to be “numbered with the transgressors,” so that we sinners can be numbered with the righteous. Truly God has fulfilled all righteouess in the righteous status He has lavished on us. LKW