Life Of Christ:
The Blessed Virgin Mary
Birth Of Jesus
Three Wise Men From The East Adore The Infant Saviour
Presentation Of Jesus In The Temple
Flight Into Egypt
Jesus, At Twelve Years, Visits The Temple
Baptism Of Jesus
Jesus Calls The Twelve Apostles
Parables Of Jesus
Miracles Of Jesus
Read More Articles About: Life Of Christ
Baptism Of Jesus
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
HIS FAST IN THE DESERT.-HIS TEMPTATION.—THE BEGINNING OF HIS PUBLIC MINISTRY.
BEFORE introducing Himself as the Messias, Jesus wished to present Himself as the representative of fallen man, and as the Lamb of sacrifice bearing our sins, He effected this design by humbling Himself, and like a sinner subjecting Himself to the baptism of St. John. This holy man dwelt in the desert between Jerusalem and Jericho. Locusts and wild honey were his food. Locusts are used as food by the very poor in Arabia; they are dried and then cooked or roasted on the fire or in the sun. The honey of wild bees is very bitter and unpalatable. From this poor food, and from his dress, consisting of a rough camel's skin, we may form an idea of St. John's penitential life. "And in those days cometh John. the Baptist preaching in the desert of Judea, and saying Do penance, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand... . Then went out to him Jerusalem and all Judea and all the country about Jordan, and were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins." (Matt. iii. r-6.)
"Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to the Jordan unto John, to be baptized by him. But John stayed Him, saying: I ought to be baptized by Thee, and Thou comeest to me? And Jesus answering, said to him: Suffer it to be so now: for so it becometh us to fulfil all justice. Then he suffered Him. And Jesus being baptized, forth-with came out of the water; and lo, the heavens were opened to him; and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove, and coming upon Him. And behold a voice from heaven, saying: This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." (Matt. iii. 13-17.)
According to tradition, it was on New Year's day that our divine Redeemer, having taken leave of His beloved mother Mary, of His saintly foster-father St. Joseph, and of the humble home in Nazareth, set out to enter upon His public ministry. He arrived on the sixth day in Aenon, on the banks of the Jordan, where John was then baptizing. Overpowered with sentiments of awe, love, and adoration, the Baptist threw himself at the feet of Christ, whom, by a revelation from heaven, he recognized as the Saviour. How overwhelmed with confusion he must have been, to see Jesus humble Himself before him and asking to be baptized, like any sinner! But Jesus knew well what He was doing. In His supreme wisdom He had decreed thus to begin His great work before the world. For, in the first place, He wanted to show us that virtue and sanctity must begin with humility; in the second place, that the Sacrament of Baptism is the opening to God's kingdom on earth; in the third place, that He had really and truly assumed the guilt of man, and now began the work of atonement. By His baptism in Jordan's waters He wanted to consecrate and sanction, in a specially marked manner, the baptism of the New Law. And, as toward the close of His life upon earth, at the Last Supper, He made use of the figure of the Old Law to establish the thing itself, that is, the paschal feast to ordain the Blessed Eucharist, so now did He wish at the beginning of His public life to practically use the figurative baptism in order to ordain the sacramental Baptism of the New Law.
The wondrous manifestation that took place at Christ's baptism is a true and striking picture of redeeming grace. He humbled Himself, and was instantly exalted. So every man who humbles himself in Christ, the same shall be in Christ exalted. The outward act of baptism was administered unto Christ, and at the same time the heavens opened above Him. So does heaven open over every man at the moment he worthily receives the outward sign of a holy sacrament, whilst an invisible and supernatural grace overflows his soul.
After His baptism Jesus withdrew to the mountainous desert, now called Quarantana, there to keep His fast. The path leading up to it is very steep, and so narrow that two persons cannot walk side by side on it. Toward the summit the rocks rise like a wall, and below yawns a chasm many hundred feet deep. Here, in a cavern in the mountainside, our blessed Lord observed His fast.
" Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert, to be tempted by the devil. And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry. And the tempter coming said to Him: If Thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. Who answered and said: It is written, Not in bread alone doth man live, but in every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God. Then the devil took Him up into the holy city, and set Him upon the pinnacle of the item-pie, and said to Him: If Thou be the Son of God, cast Thyself down. For it is written, that He hath given His angels charge over Thee, and in their hands they shall bear Thee up, lest perhaps Thou dash Thy foot against a stone. Jesus said to him: It is written, again, a Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. Again the devil took Him up into a very high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them, and said to Him: All these will I give Thee, if falling down Thou wilt adore me. Then Jesus saith to him: Begone, Satan, for it is written : The Lord thy God shalt thou adore, and Him only shalt thou serve. Then the devil left Him, and behold angels came and ministered to Him." (Matt. iv. 1—11.)
Our Lord's withdrawal into the solitude of the desert ought to teach us that we, too, when about to take any important step in life, or to assume any serious duty, should, as far as may be in our power, withdraw from the distractions of the world, and seriously prepare ourselves in silent retirement and prayer.
But why did Jesus permit the devil to approach Him and present this threefold temptation? In the first place, Our Lord, as the representative of sinful man, wished to become like ourselves, taking upon Himself all our misery, spiritual and temporal. Secondly, He wished to show us by His example that by God's grace we may quietly, fearlessly, and resolutely, overcome the temptations and repel the assaults of the devil. Thirdly, Christ, the new Adam, wanted to compensate for the defeat of our first parents by a decisive victory over the tempter, the devil.
From the desert, Jesus returned to the river Jordan. The time now being at hand when He was to begin His public ministry, He desired that St. John the Baptist, who was held in such great esteem by the people, should give testimony of Him. Therefore, when "the next day John saw Jesus coming to him, he saith: Behold the Lamb of God, behold Him who taketh away the sins of the world. This is He of whom I said: After me cometh a Man who is preferred before me, because He was before me. And I knew Him not, but that He may be made manifest in Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water. . . . I saw the Spirit coming down as a dove from heaven, and He remained upon Him." (John i. 29-32.) By these words many were induced to believe in Christ, to follow Him, and to hear His doctrine. Among these were Andrew and John, who were soon joined by Simon, Philip, and Nathaniel.
With these disciples Christ went to Galilee, because it was there that He intended to begin His ministry for the salvation of souls. Soon the people flocked to hear Him, "and they were astonished at His doctrine, for His speech was with power." (Luke iv. 32.) He confirmed His teaching by miracles, and His fame went throughout all the land, and far beyond the confines of the Jewish country, so that many persons from the lands beyond the sea came to see and hear Him. Moreover, His picture was sent to other countries, so that they who had not the privilege of seeing Him personally might have at least the satisfaction of looking on Him in effigy. Thus we read that Lentulus, a Roman senator, presented a picture of Christ to the Senate at Rome, which he accompanied with the following letter :
" To the illustrious Senate of Rome, Lentulus sends Greeting:
" There has appeared, and still lives in our time, a man of great virtues, whose name is Jesus Christ, and whom the pagans regard as a prophet of truth, whilst His disciples call Him the Son of God. He raises the dead to life, and heals the sick. His figure is tall, His demeanor commands respect, and His countenance inspires veneration, love, and fear. The color of His hair is that of ripe hazelnuts, and it falls smoothly over his ears; thence it curls, and falls in shining yellow curls over His shoulders. It is parted in the middle, according to the custom of Nazarites. His forehead is smooth and clear, His face without wrinkles or blemish, and moderately ruddy; the nose and mouth are regular. His full beard is, in color, similar to His hair. It is parted in the middle, and is of the customary length. The man's aspect is majestic and austere; His eyes are clear, dark, and penetrating. His rebuke is terrible, His conversation mild and amiable. His disposition is cheerful, but tempered with moderation; He was never seen laughing, but was often beheld weeping. His words are wise, modest, and discreet. Never was there seen more comely a man than He." '
From this letter of Lentulus we may imagine the beauty, grace, and loveliness of Christ's person, and the esteem in which He was held. He also received many messages and letters, for when the fame of His miracles spread over all the world, and, according to St. Matthew, was proclaimed also in Syria, a prince of that country, Abagarus by name, who was infected with leprosy, wrote the following letter to Christ :
"Abagarus, Prince in Edessa, to the Saviour who appeared in the Land of Jerusalem, Greeting :
"I received information concerning Thy extraordinary powers, and heard that Thou dost heal without the use of physic and herbs. It is said that Thou makest the blind to see, the lame to walk, and restorest lepers to health; that Thou castest out the evil spirits, healest those who have been ill a long time, and even recallest the dead to life. Now when I heard all these things of Thee, I considered that one of two things must be true, viz., either Thou art God Himself come down from heaven, or at least the Son of God, because Thou performest such extraordinary miracles. Hence I write to Thee, imploring Thee most fervently to come to me and heal me of the malady with which I am stricken. For I hear that the Jews malignantly oppose Thee, and intend to do Thee great evil. My city, it is true, is small, but it is good and beautiful, and able to provide for us both."
This letter the prince sent by one of his nobles, whom he instructed to use his utmost endeavors to induce Christ to accompany him. But if He should refuse to come, he was to have His picture painted and bring it with him. The messenger, accompanied by a portrait painter, started on his journey. Coming to Galilee, he found Our Lord preaching to a vast multitude gathered on the open plain. He approached Christ, gave Him the letter, and urgently invited Him to come with him. Having read the letter, Our Lord sent the following reply :
"Jesus of Nazareth, to Prince Abagarus, Greeting:
"Blessed art thou, O Abagarus, for believing in Me without having seen Me; because it is written that those who see Me shall not believe in Me, but those not having seen Me shall believe in Me and live. But what thou dost write to Me of coming to thee cannot be accomplished, because of the work which I was sent to fulfil, and which being fulfilled, I shall return to Him who has sent Me. But when I shall have ascended, I shall send you one of My disciples, who shall heal thee of thy serious illness, and give life to thee and thine."
Unable to induce Christ to accompany him, the messenger ordered the artist to paint His picture. Finding it impossible, on account of the multitude surrounding Our Lord, to approach near to Him, the painter seated himself on a neighboring eminence and applied himself to his task. But looking at Christ, he found His countenance so radiantly brilliant with a divine light, that he had to avert his eyes, and could not proceed with his work. Now Our Lord bade St. Thomas to go and bring the painter to Him. St. Thomas did so, and both the painter and the prince's messenger came to Him. To Christ's inquiry what he had been painting, the artist re-plied that his master had commanded him to paint a picture of the miracle-working man. Then Christ took some water, washed His sacred countenance, and dried it on a linen towel. And behold, the face of Our Lord appeared so faithfully reproduced upon the towel that it looked life-like. This picture He handed to the messenger, telling him to give it to his master, that the latter might be consoled and bear his infirmity with fortitude. The astonished messenger received the picture with pro-found veneration, returned to his master, and related ali that had occurred. Then he gave him the letter and the sacred picture. The prince devoutly kissed the sacred image, and held it ever afterward in the greatest veneration. Often he would contemplate it, and every time he was filled with consolation, and felt relief from the pains of his malady. Some years later, after Christ's ascension, St. Thaddeus came to Edessa, preached the doctrine of Christ, and wrought many miracles. The prince, on hearing of it, called him, firmly believing that this was the man whom Our Lord had promised to send. The face of St. Thaddeus, when he entered the prince's apartment, shone like the sun, and the prince, reverently prostrate before the apostle, said: "Thou art the disciple whom Jesus, the Son of God, promised to send to me." The apostle replied: "Because thou hast placed so great confidence in Jesus, He sent me to cure thee of thy sickness." The prince said: " O holy man of God ! tell me how the Lord Jesus came into this world, and by what power He performed the miracles which I heard of Him." Then Thaddeus explained to him how Christ had been sent by His Father, how He had lived upon this earth and was cruelly murdered by the Jews. After the prince, with tearful eyes, had heard all this, he said: "If the Roman empire was not against me, I should gather a great army and punish the treacherous Jews." And the prince and his city were converted and baptized by Thaddeus, who told them that as long as they would venerate the picture which Our Lord had sent them their city would never be conquered by an enemy.
The occurrences related above, and similar other ones, though not related by the Evangelists, are nevertheless attested by ancient and truthful writers, and may there-fore be accepted as credible, the more so as St. John, in his gospel, expressly declares: "But there are also many other things which Jesus did: which if they were written, every one, the world itself, I think, would not be able to contain the books that should be written." (John xxi. 25.)