Holy Epiphany: Obedient to God's Demands
By Very Rev. Michael Baroudy
The Orthodox Church celebrates the Baptism of our Lord on the sixth day of January every year. It is an important festival in our church because by His baptism, Jesus set the pace for us, dedicating his life and his ministry to the glory of God and the good of humanity.
The first verse in today’s gospel at Liturgy begins as follows: “Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him.” The importance of baptism may be seen from the fact that Jesus made the trip across the country from north to south, from Galilee to Judea, to the very place where many people, yea, even thousands came to John to be baptized. Not only were the people being baptized, but what was very significant, they were confessing their sins. John’s hard hitting messages got the people’s consciences aroused enough to confess their sins and to seek God’s forgiveness. But Jesus our Lord had no sins to confess and why should he think baptism so important that he made the long, tedious journey to receive it? Even John the Baptist himself could not understand its significance; he was struck with wonder and was reluctant to perform it. His words were, “I have need to be baptized of you and you come to me.” That is, “I am unworthy of such an honor because you are more righteous and of higher rank than I am. I am unworthy to untie thy shoes for you are the Son of God who takes away the sins of the world.”
But Jesus words to John give us the ideal reason why Jesus was baptized, “For thus it becomes us to fulfill all righteousness.” Jesus’ mission in this world was to redeem them that were under the law so that we might receive the adoption of sons.” In other words, Jesus, in order to fulfill the purpose and intents of redemption, found it necessary to obey the ordinances of the church and one of these was to receive baptism from the hand of an ordained minister, the priest of the church.
Many people today find objection to many things which the church deems necessary. I know adult parents who labor under the mistaken notion that it is important to baptize infants. Others think that a person should be of age before being baptized. But these objections are groundless for several reasons. First and foremost, Jesus overruled this objection in his day. Mothers were bringing their infants to Jesus but the disciples strenuously objected on the same grounds that many in our day and time do - that young children don’t understand what religion is all about. But our Lord voiced a gentle rebuke, as a matter of fact, a very revealing statement to his disciples when he said, “Suffer the little children to come unto me and forbid them not for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven.” He went even a step further to show us how very important the child is in the sight of Christ and his church. He took a child and set him in the center and said, still directing his remarks to his disciples, “Except ye be converted and become as a child, ye cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”
No people anywhere can make progress in any field of endeavor without learning how to obey, how to submit themselves to ordinances of men. Jesus found it necessary to obey them in order to accomplish his worthy mission and in order, as were his words, “to fulfill all righteousness.” Speaking of Jesus’ utter humility and beautiful obedience, St. Paul said, “He humbled himself, and became obedient until death, even the death of the cross.”
Read the life story of the men and the women who did the most in religion as well as in other fields, and you will discover that those who got to the top were those who knew how to obey rather than object, who knew how to discipline themselves, who took orders from others until the time came that they were in a position to give orders.
Obedience is the product of humility, and humility is a sign of greatness. Note the two persons in today’s gospel who stood by the River Jordan cooperating with each other so that the act of consecration and dedication might be performed. John the Baptist who did not think he was good enough to baptize Jesus, and Jesus, who did not consider it derogatory to receive baptism from a humble minister. Yet no two men in all history had greater impact upon the lives of people than they.
John the Baptist was the last of the prophets of the Old Testament and the herald of the New Testament, whose ministry, though short-lived, paved the way to Christ. He brought about such a revival of religion that thousands of people from every corner of Palestine confessed to him and received baptism from him. What about Christ? Well, no person in all history had such stupendous influence upon men than he whose spirit, life and teachings had been, and still are, the inspiration of all men of all times and places. He redeemed and still redeems people, not by the power of his sword; you will remember he said. “They that take by the sword shall by the sword be taken, but by that matchless, obedient, penetrating spirit and words which found their way into the hearts of people during the past nineteen and half centuries, six hundred million to be exact, who call Jesus King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
It is customary that people at the beginning of the year make resolutions. The idea is splendid and commendable. Because each of us wishes to rise higher and do better in the year that has just begun than the past one. But no aim could rise higher than the desire to heed the voice of the church, to obey its commands, support its activities, give it the best that one has. There are fifty-two Sundays in the year and one of the finest resolutions I know of is to put every effort behind church attendance and come to the House of God every Sunday, unless one is providentially hindered, and to take Holy Communion at least four times a year, or what is much better, to take it on the first Sunday of every month. It would be also a very fine resolution if someone who is not in the habit of prayer, to pray both morning and night asking Divine guidance and light, to also pray for peace.
The pathway of life is lined up with obedience. And so “to fulfill all righteousness” we should follow the example of Jesus who obeyed unto death, even the death of the cross. The Heavenly Father gives a ringing testimony to Jesus at his baptism. “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.” And we too, you might be sure, may be considered “beloved sons and daughters” if, like Christ, our lives were steeped in obedience to the voice of God.
“By thy baptism, O Lord, in the River Jordan, worship to the Trinity hath made its appearance; for the voice of the Lord did come forth to thee with the testimony, naming thee beloved Son; and the Spirit in the likeness of a dove, confirming the truth of the word. Wherefore, O thou who didst appear and lighted the world, O Christ, glory to thee.”