“I myself did not know him; but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, `He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” (Jn 1:33-34). “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” (Matt 3:11).
John, the son of Zechariah and Elizabeth, is well known for his calling and ministry. In the annals of Christianity he holds a privileged place for being chosen as the immediate precursor of the Messiah. From beginning to end, John’s life was full of drama, divine as well as human. Think, for example, of the babe John who leaped for joy in his mother’s womb (Lk 1:44), and the adult John’s fatal confrontation with King Herod over the latter’s marriage to Herodias (cf. Mark 6:17-28). But, above all, John is best remembered for and associated with his famous baptism unto repentance: “. . . in the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness; and he went into all the region about the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Lk 3:2-3). His baptism ministry has earned him the title John the Baptist or John the Baptizer.
Yet, the Gospels clearly teach that John’s mission was to introduce Jesus to the world (as what?). In the Gospel of John, here is what John the Baptist has to say: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, `After me comes a man who ranks before me, for he was before me.’ I myself did not know him; but for this I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John bore witness, “I saw the Spirit descend as a dove from heaven, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him; but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, `He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit‘” (Jn 1:29-33).
John’s baptism was, therefore, in preparation for another baptism; one that was more graced because it was of a higher supernatural order, and would be imparted by the Son of God himself. John the Baptist’s duty was to introduce Jesus as the new Baptist, the one who would baptize in the Spirit. He was happy to direct people to Jesus: “And they came to John, and said to him, “Rabbi, he who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you bore witness, here he is, baptizing, and all are going to him.” John answered, “No one can receive anything except what is given him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him. He who has the bride is the bridegroom; the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice; therefore this joy of mine is now full. He must increase, but I must decrease” (Jn 3:26-30). Everything John the Baptist did was to reveal the Son of God as Jesus the Baptist. Put differently, the mission of John the Baptist was to clear the way for JESUS the BAPTIST.
Unfortunately, within Christianity Jesus is hardly referred to as the Baptist. At present, one does not know of any Christian solemnity or feat, for instance, that celebrates the Son of God as the Baptist. The title of “Baptist” is applied chiefly, if not exclusively, to John the son of Elizabeth and Zechariah. The situation is, of course, understandable. Unlike John, little is known of Jesus physically baptizing people. This notwithstanding, it is important to recall that John the Baptist himself referred to Jesus as the “Baptist” (John did not explicitly use the word “Baptist” or “Baptizer.” But in describing Jesus as the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit, he made it clear that Jesus would be a “Baptist.”) par excellence to come. John did not fail to point out that the Messiah would be a Baptist. Critical to John’s description of Jesus’ messianic ministry was that he would be “the one who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire.” Jesus himself knew that he was the new Baptist John had pointed out. He alluded to it: “And while staying with them he charged them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me, for John baptized with water, but before many days you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:4-5).
John the Baptist introduced Jesus the Baptist. As Jesus was greater than John, so was his baptism. The lesser Baptist introduced the greater BAPTIST. It is fitting, therefore, to acknowledge Jesus as not only Savior, but also Baptizer. In the Catholic Church, the first Sunday of Ordinary Time celebrates the feast of the Baptism of Jesus by John. This is certainly appropriate. But it would be even more crucial to institute a liturgical feast or solemnity that celebrates Jesus Christ as the one who baptizes believers in the Spirit, and hence introduces them into divine sonship. Baptism in the Spirit is at the heart of the Christian life. Given this fact, one could say that it is a significant omission to forget to celebrate Christ as the “Baptizer in the Spirit.” John the Baptist would be proud, and perhaps relieved, to learn that, among other liturgical feasts, Christians celebrate Christ as the Baptist par excellence. Jesus deserves to be celebrated as the superior Baptist. Christians have a duty to celebrate their Savior as the one who baptizes in the Spirit. Jesus’ ministry of Baptism in the Spirit was at the heart of John the Baptist’s preaching. That same ministry of Christ is at the heart of Christian spirituality. As the Church continues to pray for renewal and revival, she must remember that this hoped-for renewal is always linked with an wakening of the Baptism in the Spirit. To invoke and emphasize the centrality of this baptism as well as the Baptizer in the Spirit would be a big step forward.
Dear friend, you may be going through spiritual laxity and lack of enthusiasm for the things of God. You may be experiencing a steady decline in your spirituality. I want you to know that there is hope for you. Repent, confess your sins, and ask Jesus to baptize you in his Spirit for a fresh release of divine power upon you. May Jesus the Baptist immerse you in the sweet fire of the Spirit. May he cause you to drink deeply from the Spirit. May he let living waters of the Spirit flow through you now. May you be re-energized, revived, and emboldened to spread the love and message of Christ Jesus. Amen.
Invitation to Pray:
Dear Jesus, I believe that you are the Son of the living God. I acknowledge you as the one who baptizes in the Spirit and fire. I ask you for spiritual renewal, for myself and the whole Church. Impart your Spirit upon me now. Baptize me in the living waters of the Spirit. Make me a new person. Thank you for answering my prayer. Amen.
Thank you Fr. for this new insight. The story of John the baptist will never be the same (in a good way). God bless you!
God bless you, Mary!