CHRIST in the truth of our nature was made like unto us in all things, sin only except, from which he was clearly void, both in his flesh, and in his spirit. He came to be the Lamb without spot, who, by sacrifice of himself once made, should take away the sins of the world, and sin, as Saint John saith, was not in him. But all we the rest, although baptized, and born again in Christ, yet offend in many things; and if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.

This week we celebrated the Baptism of Christ, the moment when Jesus’ public ministry seemingly began.  All the Gospels make mention of it, either directly or as an event which has already taken place, so it was clearly an event which felt pivotal to the disciples when they looked back on it.

However, here was an action which Jesus did not need to do, at least not in the same way that those who had flocked to the River Jordan to see John the Baptist had.  Jesus was not answering John’s call to repentance.  Jesus did not need to repent, because he had not sinned, and he had not turned away from God.  Without sinning there was no need for him to turn his heart and mind back to the Father, because he was already aligned with God’s will.  As a symbolic act as a promise to amendment of life, this did not fit with what Jesus was doing; and as Article XV makes clear, Jesus alone is without sin.  This is because sin is the thing which separates us from God, and the Son’s relationship with the Father and the Holy Spirit was not fractured or broken in any way.

However, it’s worth stressing that Jesus was not play-acting.  His baptism was something different, but just as real.  There are plenty of theories as to why he chose to be baptised, such as an acknowledgment and completion of John the Baptist’s work, or as a public ritual for the start of his ministry; however for most theologians they look to this action as Jesus fully entering into his humanity.  For Jesus that meant walking the paths that we take – the experience of realizing that we are in need of God’s forgiveness and redemption.

It’s a genuinely difficult question, though, because if Christ was without sin, how could he ever fully enter into the reality of the human life which we live, day in and day out, where we know that we fall short and fail God.  There are moments in the Gospels when we see Christ’s humanity in its fullness – his hunger and thirst, his anger and his compassion, the tears and despair in Gethsemane.  The difference for Christ is that none of these were sinful, because none of them took him away from God.  There were moments of decisions, crossroads of free-will, but by obeying the Father, Jesus remained at one with Him and without sin.

In his baptism, Jesus lived out his humanity, and in doing so created an opportunity for us to walk with God as well.  Where he goes before us, we can then follow.  That is why in our baptism we speak of dying to sin and rising to new life in Christ.  We know we still will fall and fail, but we’re not walking alone; imitating Christ we strive for holiness as children of light.

AND as for you, who have now by Baptism put on Christ, it is your part and duty also, being made the children of God and of the light by faith in Jesus Christ, to walk answerably to your Christian calling, and as becometh the children of light; remembering always, that Baptism representeth unto us our profession; which is, to follow the example of our Saviour Christ, and to be made like unto him; that as he died and rose again for us, so should we, who are baptized, die from sin and rise again unto righteousness, continually mortifying all our evil and corrupt affections, and daily proceeding in all virtue and godliness of living.

Prayer from the Baptism of such as are of riper years, Book of Common Prayer

 

 

 

(Painting: ‘The Baptism of the Christ’ by Daniel Bonnell)