Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him.
Talk about the 5 Ws, who, what, where, when, and why. Who? Jesus/John. What? Baptism. Where? From Galilee to the Jordan. When? Then. Why? To be baptized.
It’s locateness. It’s specificity. Nothing is “in the clouds.” Nothing is abstract. Nothing is generic.
Nothing is Gnostic.
Gnosticism abhors the 5 Ws, because 5 Ws happen where there is space and time, and space and time happen where there is a material realm, and Gnosticism believes the material realm is a farce, or a mistake. God submitted Himself to the material realm when He took on human flesh. He submitted Himself to the 5 Ws. Why? Because the creation He came to save is part of that material realm. If He would save bodies, He would become a body.
God placed Himself at a specific place at a specific time because He’s a specific Person who came to save specific people. We know about Him – He’s the Son of God come to save sinners. Who are the specific people?
It’s the people Jesus met at the Jordan. There are 5 Ws going on there too. Who? Repentant sinners/John. What? Baptism. Where? In the Jordan. When? When John was baptizing. Why? To be saved.
It’s hugely notable and important that, when Jesus first began His mission, He first went to exactly where He went. Because at that place were the people He came to save. At that place were sinners.
But not just any kind of sinner. The world is full of sinners, but Jesus didn’t manifest Himself to all of them at once, like from a big screen in the sky or something. He rather manifest Himself to the sinners who were doing a specific thing, that is, repenting. Jesus went to repentant sinners.
But not just any kind of repentant sinner. The world is full of repentant sinners, that is, sinners who recognize there’s something wrong in the world and in themselves, so they recognize the need for a change of course. So they set about improving themselves. The ancient world was full of self-improvement programs, yet Jesus didn’t manifest himself to those who were gathering around these programs. So what sort of repentant sinner did Jesus go to, when He first began His ministry? To repentant sinners who heeded the voice of John, and prepared for the one to whom he was pointing, the Savior.
But not just any kind of repentant sinner heeding the voice of John and preparing for the one to whom he was pointing, the Savior. Lots of people heard John’s message, and lot’s of people were probably excited about the promise of a messiah come to save his people. Lots of people today recognize they’re sinners and need to repent, and they’ve heard of a Jesus who saves them.
But if you end the story there, all we’re left with is an image of the mind, the report of a someone. That in turn can leave only the mirage of someone left behind, a phantasm, or an imaginary friend. We love phantasms and imaginary friends because then we can control them, manage them the way we want them to be. A Christ who is only a rumor of a Savior come to save sinners can become that, something we upon whom we project our own personal solution to sin.
What, then, is still needed? What’s needed is the full completion of the 5 Ws. Jesus came to the spot where repentant sinners were preparing for Him by being baptized. Yes, by being baptized.
For that was exactly the message of John the Baptist. Repent and be baptized, and prepare the way for the Lord. By being in the Jordan, being baptized, they would prepare the way of the Lord. And when that Lord comes in flesh and blood, that “way” becomes quite literal, or material. He comes for sinners, and sinners are in the water, so He joins them in the water, making His way.
He fulfills the prophecy, that He was “numbered with the transgressors.” It makes sense that His first move as our Savior would be to hunt down those transgressors and be where they were. But the sort of transgressors He was numbered with matters. He’s numbered with repentant transgressors in the waters.
Why? Because He knew what would happen at that watery place where sinner and Savior came together. A great voice would declare over the one in the waters, “This is my beloved Son.” As we see, this declaration extends to the others in the waters as well! We may not have realized it at that moment, but as we see Jesus work out His ministry – for instance embracing the hearers in His sonship at the Sermon on the Mount – we see that initial declaration actually does extend to the others. As St. Paul says, “you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.”
That moment was bathed in the Triune name, not only for Jesus, but for all who were with Him in the waters. His baptism sanctifies all the waters of baptism.
It’s like a piece of bread that wants to be sanctified as the body of Christ. What must it do? It must be on the paten at the point of consecration! If John the Baptist were preaching to the bread, he would say, “Turn from where you are at [repent] and be at that specific place at that specific time [on the paten at the point of consecration], and you will become the body of Christ.”
The first thing Jesus did when He began His ministry was number Himself among the sinners. But here we see that something more is going on. He was embracing them into His physical presence in the waters, almost as if the waters joined them all together. It was no symbol. It was no abstraction. It was almost mechanically real.
Why water? Why is water so important? Could it be because that’s where the Lord has created out of in the past? How many times has He created a person or a people out of the waters? So, it makes sense. If the goal of the Lord is to take a raw material (sinners) and make of them a new people, it begins in the waters. John assembled the raw material; Jesus bathes that raw material with God’s redemptive blessing, in His own Person.