Although Jesus, being sinless, has no need of repentance, and therefore no need of baptism, he acts as humanity’s representative. He asks John to baptize him so that he might identify himself with us sinners. His baptism is an acceptance of the human condition. Going down into the water symbolizes death. The Old Testament has many examples of people passing through deadly waters into new life. Think of Noah and the floodwaters or Moses leading the Israelites through the Red Sea.
When Jesus comes up from the waters of the Jordan River the heavens open and the Holy Spirit descends upon our Lord. The voice of God proclaims, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” In Christian baptism we, too, are claimed as sons and daughters of God. But, unlike John’s baptism, our baptism is not merely symbolic. We truly receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. We are now connected to Jesus. The baptismal waters symbolize both death and life. We are joined to Jesus’ death on the cross and are reborn as brand new creatures – children of God! We receive the divine inheritance of eternal life as well as the Holy Spirit. With these gifts we also receive new responsibilities.
Jesus’ baptism marked the beginning of his ministry and so it is for us. God has a special plan or vocation for each one of his children. We are of course, too young to grasp this as newly baptized infants but as we age and grow in spiritual maturity, and especially as we prepare for Confirmation, we ask the Lord to reveal his plan to us. This often takes much time, prayer and faith to realize, but with the gift of the Holy Spirit that we have received in Baptism we are well equipped to serve the Lord.