1. The dual nature of Christ as God and man is not easy to understand but here we have an example of these two natures revealed.
a. Jesus would appear human to observers. The fact of his humanity leads us to speculate that he did not know what was going to happen when he went into the river. Because every human being grows in his self understanding, and every human being must learn as he goes through life, Jesus would need to learn what his relationship with God is, and what God's will and plan for him was.
b. Jesus has probably lead an uneventful life thus far. Legends exist about him doing unusual things during childhood, but they are legends that have not been accorded belief by the church because they sprang up later than the gospels themselves and are very unlikely to have been based on eyewitness testimony. Therefore we assume that he lived a quiet normal life for someone in a small village in Palestine in the first century. The gospel indicates he was the local carpenter (Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3). Why he was at the Jordan River that day is not revealed. Perhaps he like us was at a point of confusion in life. Perhaps he sensed that there was something more he was supposed to do without knowing what it was. He may have become unemployed or was at a low point in his career and had time to pray and search. If so, it would be a very normal human sort of thing.
c. Jesus went into the water for the purification rite not because he had committed any sin. Purification rites were common among the Jews and so he may have merely submitted to this one as he would submit to others as part of customary religious activity. As the Catholic Encyclopedia's entry on Baptism says: "forerunners of baptism were the numerous purifications prescribed in the Mosaic dispensation for legal uncleannesses." Perhaps he chose to enter the water because of a sense of all people's common alienation from God due to Adam's sin.
d. Jesus does enter the water for the remission of sins, not his sins, but ours. He represents the human race not himself as he accepts the baptism of forgiveness and in so doing opens the gates of heaven (Mt 3:16) closed since Adam's sin. The descent of the Holy Spirit not only unlocks the presence and awarness of God within him, but also pours out that Spirit on humanity, making reconnection with God, individually, possible. (See CCC 536)
2. Every baptism is a transition. In our case it is a transition from separation from God (Original Sin) to unity with God, but in Jesus case it is a transition from private life to public life. This idea of transition through water is forshadowed in serveral key events of the Old Testament.
a. At creation the Spirit of God hovers over the waters and then God creates. The water here represents the original chaos (thus sin) and God's creation is the transition to order.
- Gen. 1:1 "In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2 the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. 3 Then God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness." NRSV.
b. At the great flood, God uses water to make the transition from a world filled with sin to a world in which mankind can make a new beginning.Gen. 6:11 "Now the earth was corrupt in God's sight, and the earth was filled with violence. 12 And God saw that the earth was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted its ways upon the earth. 13 And God said to Noah, "I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence because of them; now I am going to destroy them along with the earth...17 For my part, I am going to bring a flood of waters on the earth, to destroy from under heaven all flesh in which is the breath of life; everything that is on the earth shall die. 18 But I will establish my covenant with you..." NRSV.
c. Crossing the Red Sea by the Isrealites marks the transition from slavery to Egypt and to becoming God's people, free to serve Him."Exod. 14:21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The LORD drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and turned the sea into dry land; and the waters were divided. 22 The Israelites went into the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left. 23 The Egyptians pursued, and went into the sea after them, all of Pharaoh's horses, chariots, and chariot drivers. 24 At the morning watch the LORD in the pillar of fire and cloud looked down upon the Egyptian army, and threw the Egyptian army into panic. 25 He clogged their chariot wheels so that they turned with difficulty. The Egyptians said, "Let us flee from the Israelites, for the LORD is fighting for them against Egypt."
Exod. 14:26 Then the LORD said to Moses, "Stretch out your hand over the sea, so that the water may come back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots and chariot drivers." 27 So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at dawn the sea returned to its normal depth. As the Egyptians fled before it, the LORD tossed the Egyptians into the sea. 28 The waters returned and covered the chariots and the chariot drivers, the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea; not one of them remained. 29 But the Israelites walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left.
Exod. 14:30 Thus the LORD saved Israel that day from the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. 31 Israel saw the great work that the LORD did against the Egyptians. So the people feared the LORD and believed in the LORD and in his servant Moses." NRSV.