Great Texts of the Bible
The Baptism of Jesus
Now it came to pass, when all the people were baptized, that, Jesus also having been baptized, and praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily form, as a dove, upon him, and a voice came out of heaven, Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased.—Luke 3:21-22.
1. The Baptism of our Lord was the first event of His public life as the Christ; and on this account alone it would have a peculiar significance and importance. Previously to this time He had lain hid in Galilee, in silent and secret preparation for His public work, dwelling beneath the roof of His earthly parents, and subject to them, growing year by year in wisdom and in stature, and in favour with God and man. What were His occupations and pursuits; how His soul within Him was exercised and disciplined in the prospect of the public duties assigned to Him as Mediator; in what way the one thought of glorifying His Father by “obedience unto death” for His people was ever before His mind, waxing in greatness and awfulness as it was longer and more fully contemplated; how the coming events of His temptation and agony and Cross filled His holy human heart with longing and wonder and fear as the time drew on and they looked the nearer, we have not anywhere in Scripture been clearly informed. The thirty years that elapsed between His birth and His “showing unto Israel” are for us little else than a mysterious blank. We can do no more than conjecture how His human understanding, by the aid of the Old Testament Scriptures, which spoke of Him in type and prophecy and promise, grew in the knowledge of the great work given Him to do; and how His human feelings of faith and love, and submission to His Father, by acts of converse with God in private, were disciplined and strengthened to enter upon it. It is but a glimpse that we get of the extent to which the Child Jesus had, during His early years, perfected Himself in the Word of His God, when we see Him, at twelve years of age, sitting among the Jewish Doctors in the Temple, the Teacher rather than the taught; and we can only guess by way of inference how large a portion of His private hours in youth was spent in secret communion with His Father, when we read of how the habit had grown in mature age into the spending of whole nights alone in prayer to God.
But although comparative darkness has been allowed to settle down upon the history of the earthly life of Christ before He grew to manhood, yet we can hardly err in believing that by means of these two things—namely, God speaking to His human soul in the written Word, and His human soul holding converse with God in prayer—He was educated for the work in public which lay before Him; and that, although we may know but little of the character or the successive steps of it, yet there was a great work of preparation going on in those early years, of which no record is found in Scripture. And when this mysterious preparation was at an end—when the hidden discipline of His early years had made perfect the Son of God for His destined enterprise—what was the event which terminated His secret and inaugurated His public career; which closed up the history of Jesus as a private man, and proclaimed the opening of His official life as the Messiah, the sent of God? We have the narrative of that event in the passage before us.
2. The first meeting of Jesus and John is a unique scene. They were of nearly the same age; they were related according to the flesh; they were both men of prophetic endowment, sent to produce in their native country a religious reformation. Yet, in spite of these and other points of resemblance, there could not have been two characters more absolutely contrasted. Jesus marked the contrast in the broadest way when He subsequently said, “John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine; and ye say, He hath a devil. The Son of man is come eating and drinking; and ye say, Behold, a gluttonous man, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners!” John was the child of the desert, courting solitude and avoiding human society; Jesus followed a homely trade, appeared at marriages and feasts, was a friend of women and children, and was as much at home in the busy city as on the mountain top. John called the multitude out to the desert to hear him and did not condescend to visit the haunts of men; Jesus went to sinners where He could find them, considering it His duty to seek as well as to save that which was lost. John had a seared look; he was a man who, after severe struggles, had obtained the mastery of himself and was holding down a coarse nature by main force; Jesus, on the contrary, was always innocent and spontaneous, genial and serene. John, in short, was the Old Testament personified, Jesus the embodiment of the New; and in John’s shrinking from baptizing Jesus, the spirit of the Old Testament—the spirit of law, wrath and austerity—was doing homage to the spirit of the New Testament—the spirit of freedom and of love.
A voice by Jordan’s shore!
A summons stern and clear;—
Reform! be just! and sin no more!
God’s judgment draweth near!
A voice by Galilee,
A holier voice I hear;—
Love God! thy neighbour love! for see,
God’s mercy draweth near!
O voice of Duty! still
Speak forth; I hear with awe;
In thee I own the sovereign will,
Obey the sovereign law.
Thou higher voice of Love,
Yet speak Thy word in me;
Through duty let me upward move
To Thy pure liberty!1 [Note: Samuel Longfellow.]
3. The application by Jesus for baptism perplexed John; and it is a perplexity even to this day. It is not, indeed, entirely without parallel in the life of Christ; for His circumcision, which took place when He was eight days old, raises the same difficulty. The difficulty is that He should have participated in an ordinance which symbolized the removal of sin. But in this case it is more urgent, because He made the application Himself.
Only two explanations seem really to touch the quick. The one is that John’s baptism had a positive as well as a negative side. It was not only the baptism of repentance, but a rite of dedication. It was a renewal of the national covenant, the inauguration of a new era, the gateway of the Kingdom of God. Now, although Jesus had no part in the sin from which baptism cleansed, He had part in this positive enthusiasm; He was the very Person to lead the way into the new era. The other explanation, which may very easily be combined with this one, is that He received baptism as a representative Person. Although sinless Himself, He was a member of a sinful nation, of whose sin He was keenly conscious—more so than any other whom John baptized—and He went along with the rest of the nation in making confession. In short, He was in this act rehearsing beforehand the great act of His death, when He bore in His own body on the tree the sins of the world.
Tintoret has thrown into his picture of the Baptism of Christ his utmost strength; and it becomes noble in his hands by his most singularly imaginative expression, not only of the immediate fact, but of the whole train of thought of which it is suggestive; and by his considering the Baptism not only as the submission of Christ to the fulfilment of all righteousness, but as the opening of the earthly struggle with the prince of the powers of the air, which instantly beginning in the temptation, ended only on the Cross. The river flows fiercely under the shadow of a great rock. From its opposite shore, thickets of close gloomy foliage rise against the rolling chasm of heaven, through which breaks the brightness of the descending Spirit. Across these, dividing them asunder, is stretched a horizontal floor of flaky cloud, on which stand the hosts of heaven, Christ kneels upon the water, and does not sink; the figure of St. John is indistinct, but close beside his raised right arm there is a spectre in the black shade; the Fiend, harpy-shaped, hardly seen, glares down upon Christ with eyes of fire, waiting his time. Beneath this figure there comes out of the mist a dark hand, the arm unseen, extended to a net in the river, the spars of which are in the shape of a cross. Behind this the roots and under stems of the trees are cut away by the cloud, and beneath it, and through them, is seen a vision of wild, melancholy, boundless light, the sweep of the desert; and the figure of Christ is seen therein alone, with His arms lifted as in supplication or ecstasy, borne of the Spirit into the Wilderness to be tempted of the Devil.1 [Note: Ruskin, Modern Painters (Works, iv. 268).]
The Circumstances of the Baptism
Before we attempt to enter into the meaning of the Baptism of Jesus, whether for Himself or for us, it will be well to bring before our minds the events that took place on the occasion of it, as they are reported by St. Luke. These events are: (1) the Prayer, (2) the Opening of the Heavens, (3) the Descent of the Spirit, and (4) the Voice.
i. The Prayer
There is one peculiarity about the life of our Lord Jesus Christ which everybody must have noticed who has carefully read the four Gospels, namely, that He was a man of much prayer. He was mighty as a preacher; for even the officers who were sent to arrest Him said, “Never man spake like this man.” But He appears to have been even mightier in prayer, if such a thing could be possible. We do not read that His disciples ever asked Him to teach them to preach, but we are told that, “as he was praying in a certain place, when he ceased, one of his disciples said unto him, Lord, teach us to pray.” He had no doubt been praying with such wonderful fervour that His disciples realized that He was a master of the holy art of prayer, and they therefore desired to learn the secret for themselves. The whole life of our Lord Jesus Christ was one of prayer. Though we are often told about His praying, we feel that we scarcely need to be informed of it, for we know that He must have been a man of prayer. His acts are the acts of a prayerful man; His words speak to us like the words of one whose heart was constantly lifted up in prayer to His Father. You could not imagine that He would have breathed out such blessings upon men if He had not first breathed in the atmosphere of heaven. He must have been much in prayer or He could not have been so abundant in service and so gracious in sympathy.
1. St. Luke informs us that Jesus rose out of the waters praying. This is a solemn hint as to the spirit in which all Divine ordinances ought to be received. When we come to the font seeking baptism either for ourselves or for others, when we sit at the Lord’s Table, when we are on our way to church, when we open God’s holy Word—as we take part in every such ordinance—we may learn from Jesus how to conduct; ourselves: the best state of mind is, to be engaged in prayer.
2. What may we suppose He was praying for? If we remember the nature of the ordinance in which He was participating and the stage of His own development which He had reached, can we doubt that He was praying for the coming of the Kingdom of God and for strength to play His own part in its inauguration? That generally.
But now, more particularly, what should He have been praying about? Clearly, if He came to St. John as claiming to be no exception to the multitude, He would fashion His prayer after the likeness of that of the multitude. And of what kind were their feelings and utterances as they descended into the waters of Jordan? They were “confessing their sins.” They had been moved to do something outside the Law, because they felt a burden which no law could remove—“the weary weight of all their unintelligible” selves. When every commandment had been kept, there still remained the consciousness of not having realized their own capacities, of having fallen below the level of what they might have been, what they were intended to be. This is the guilt born of our very dignity; it haunts the worthiest, most; it is felt even by the meanest of us in hours of self-scrutiny. What could the carpenter’s Son know of it? Little or nothing, if He were playing a part—pretending to heroism; much, it He were a genuine man; much also, if He were genuinely Divine; very much, therefore, if He were genuinely both—God and Man in one Person. Then He could have intense perceptions, would enter into the minds of others, and understand through sympathy what He did not learn by experience; then, knowing no sin, He could be “made sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in him.”
ii. The Opening of the Heavens
The answer to His prayer came suddenly and impressively. While He was yet speaking, His Father in heaven heard, and three wonders happened: first the heavens were opened; secondly the Holy Spirit, in the form of a dove, descended on Him; and, thirdly, a voice came from heaven, saying: “Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased.”
1. What is meant by the opening? The language used by the Evangelists is very graphic, suggesting that there was the appearance of a rent being made in the blue vault, by which the invisible things which lie within were disclosed. But what does this mean to us, who are well aware that the visible heaven is not what it was thought to be by the infant mind of the race—the floor of a celestial palace, the occupants and furnishings of which might be seen if an opening were made in the ceiling of our earthly abode?
The opening of the heavens was a magnificent emblem: it gave, at the very beginning of the Saviour’s ministry, a vision, and, as it were, an epitome, of the whole work He came to do. He saw, it may be, for a brief moment, the glorious realm from which He had come to earth, and to which, through sorrow and toil, He was to make His way again. The heavens were opened to Him, as our Representative and Forerunner, thus giving us the assurance that every obstacle opposing our return to God would be overcome, and a way made for us into the very home of His dearest children.
2. This opening of the heavens is one of the most beautiful and significant circumstances connected with our Lord’s visible ministry. Alas! that it should be with so many a poor and almost forgotten thing, like the gleam of the lightning, or the shining of the summer-day of a hundred years ago. With too many men the question is not, “Is heaven open above us, that we may have commerce there?”—but, “Is the earth open around us, that we may gather thence our comforts and our gains? Is the season good? Are the fields fruitful? Will the times soon mend? Will the click of machinery be heard ere long in full work in our mills, and the hum of revived trade in our towns?” These questions are good and right. A man is not worthy of his place in this great complex growing world if he does not feel an interest in such questions as these. But there are other questions of wider scope which ought to arise in men’s hearts, and for answer to which they ought to listen as for life.
There are not a few who have tried hard to make this world, out of what seemed to them its abundant riches, supply all their need without Jesus Christ: but who have been baffled—beaten at every turn. They have gained only to lose. They have rejoiced, only to feel more acutely the pang of the after vexation. They have striven and suffered and sorrowed, only to get for inheritance that old bequest, which Solomon, so long dead, is bequeathing still—“all is vanity.” In their desolation they begin to think, and to ask, “Is it God who tells us that ‘all is vanity’? Is He the King of an empty Universe? Is there with Him, in His gift, nothing better than the things we have won and lost?” And the answer comes—that there is a way opened to Himself; that He disappoints only that He may fulfil; He takes away the less that He may give the more; He darkens earth that He may show us heaven; He has reserved Himself and His fulness for our eternal portion. Lo! the heavens are opened to them and, wise at last, they find their inheritance there.
iii. The Descent of the Spirit
1. The New Testament like the Old begins with the Spirit. Yet there is a difference in their beginnings. The Spirit of the Old Testament comes out from the darkness; it has to form the light by which we are to see it. But the Spirit of the New comes from light already created; it descends from the opened heavens. The Spirit of the Old Testament moves on the face of troubled waters; the Spirit of the New alights and reposes on the calm bosom of the Son of Man. No wonder the Spirit of the New Testament is like a dove; it has itself found peace in the heart of its own creation; it has reached in the soul of Jesus its Sabbath of rest.
2. The Holy Spirit, says St. Luke, “descended in a bodily form, as a dove, upon him.” What, asks Stalker, was the dove which descended on Jesus? Was there a real dove, which, attracted by His gentleness, alighted on Him, as such creatures when domesticated will sometimes do on persons to whom they are drawn by kindness and amiability? Or was the dove a form of light which glided, with dove-like motion, down on His head to point Him out, as at Saul’s conversion a light above the brightness of the sun shone round about him? An ancient legend says that the whole valley of the Jordan was illuminated.
These questions are not easily answered now. At an earlier time Keble could say “It is probable that the appearance of fire, or of a bright cloud, which had taken in former times the shape of a pillar guiding the Israelites, and which afterwards took that of fiery tongues lighting on the Apostles, now hovered over the Blessed Jesus in somewhat of the form of a dove, with wings spreading over Him; and we may be certain that it came down with the gentle steady motion of a dove.”
Alford is quite explicit: “The Holy Spirit descended not only in the manner of a dove, but in bodily form (Luke): which I cannot understand in any but the literal sense, as the bodily shape of a dove, seen by the Baptist. There can be no objection to this, the straightforward interpretation of the narrative, which does not equally apply to the Holy Spirit being visible at all, which John himself asserts Him to have been (John 1:32-34), even more expressly than is asserted here. Why the Creator Spirit may not have assumed an organized body bearing symbolical meaning, as well as any other material form, does not seem clear. This was the ancient, and is the only honest, interpretation. The express assertion of Luke, and the fact that all four Evangelists have used the same expression, which they would not have done if it were a mere tertium comparationis, are surely a sufficient refutation of this rationalizing (and, I may add, blundering) interpretation.”1 [Note: H. Alford, The Greek Testament, i. 25.]
iv. The Voice
A “voice from heaven” was a familiar method of communicating the will of God. For examples of such voices in the Old Testament see Genesis 21:17; Genesis 22:11; Genesis 22:15; Exodus 19:19; Exodus 20:22; 1 Kings 19:12-13. In the Gospels the Father’s Voice is heard thrice—at the Baptism and the Transfiguration (cf. 2 Peter 1:17) and before the Passion (John 12:28). The Voice was audible or articulate only to those who had “ears to hear” (John 5:37; John 12:29).
The voice does not proclaim Jesus as the Messiah, as a legend would probably have represented. No such proclamation was needed either by Jesus or by the Baptist. The descent of the Spirit had told John that Jesus was the Christ (John 1:33). This voice from heaven, as afterwards at the Transfiguration (Luke 9:35), and again shortly before the Passion (John 12:28), followed closely upon Christ’s prayer, and may be regarded as the answer to it. His humanity was capable of needing the strength which the heavenly assurance gave. To call this voice from heaven the Bath-Kol of the Rabbis, or to treat it as analogous to it, is misleading. The Rabbinic Bath-Kol, or “Daughter-voice,” is regarded as an echo of the voice of God; and the Jews liked to believe that it had been granted to them after the gift of prophecy had ceased. The utterances attributed to it are in some cases so frivolous or profane that the more intelligent Rabbis denounced it as a superstition.
The Meaning of the Baptism
i. Its Meaning to Christ Himself
For Jesus Himself the Baptism was a transfiguring moment—one of the cardinal points in the development of His humanity, marking His transition from the life of a private man to the career of a public teacher. Some suppose that it was at this point that He became fully conscious of His unique relationship to God and grasped in all its majesty the plan of His subsequent career. There is more unanimity in the belief that it was now that He was endowed with the miraculous powers of which He was to make use in His ministry. In the Gospels His miracles are ascribed to the Holy Spirit. This does not mean that His own Divine power was not at work in them; it means that His human nature required to be potentiated by special gifts of the Holy Spirit, in order to be a fit organ through which His Divinity might act. And perhaps it was at this time that these gifts were conferred.
1. The Baptism was the Father’s witness to His Sonship.—“A voice came out of heaven, Thou art my beloved Son.” That voice was to assure not Himself indeed but others of His Sonship. In all probability the consciousness of His Sonship had flashed upon Him in His childhood, perhaps at His first visit to the Temple, when He uttered the memorable words, “Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” (Luke 2:49).
Even though He may have needed no assurance of His Sonship, there are many of God’s children who do. There are many ways in which the assurance may be given. I know we are not to wait for any gracious illapse of the Holy Ghost before we claim our place in the family of God through faith in Jesus Christ. I know, too, that there are various degrees of assurance, and various ways in which that assurance is borne in upon the newborn soul. There is an assurance which may be gained by looking first at the Cross, and being convinced by the Spirit as I gaze upon Him who hangs there that judgment will not be twice demanded.
First at my bleeding Surety’s hands,
And then again at mine.
And this assurance is deepened when I see the empty tomb, and hear the triumphant cry, “He is not here, but is risen.” “Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us” (Romans 8:34). All this is true, and most reassuring truth it is; and yet there is another way in which assurance is borne in upon the soul; it is that of which the Apostle speaks in Romans 8:16—“The Spirit himself beareth witness with our spirit”—the direct witness of the Holy Ghost to the soul that we are born again, and that we are no more servants but sons, and “if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together” (Romans 8:17). And this is the witness that the baptism of the Holy Ghost bestows.1 [Note: E. W. Moore, The Spirit’s Seal, 32.]
Our Master all the work hath done
He asks of us to-day;
Sharing His service, every one
Share too His sonship may.
Lord, I would serve and be a son;
Dismiss me not, I pray.2 [Note: T. T. Lynch, The Rivulet, 2.]
(1) As a witness to His Sonship it had both a retrospective and a prospective reference. Jesus had left behind all the doings of those quiet, peaceful years, and was at the dividing line between private and public life. He was leaving behind Him the years of His obscurity, and coming out into the fierce light that ever beats upon a public teacher. And there, at the parting of the ways, God lit up all the years that had gone, with the sweet words of approval, “Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased.” It could not have been a pronouncement upon the temptation in the wilderness; that was as yet an untried pathway. It could not have been a declaration of the Divine pleasure with Gethsemane’s garden and Calvary’s Cross; they were still to be reached. No, it must have been a reference to the past, so that whatever else we know, or do not know, about the hidden years of the life of Jesus, this one thing is certain, that through them all He pleased God; for God put His seal upon them when they were closing behind Him, and the new years were opening before Him, saying, “I am well pleased.”
(2) But it was also a prophecy of the future. Our Lord’s public ministry lay between two Calvarys: it not only culminated in Calvary, it started from it. The baptism in Jordan was nothing less than an anticipation, a prophecy, of the Cross itself; it was the deepest act of self-abasement of which our blessed Lord was capable. As the sinner’s representative, He felt bound to take the sinner’s place, to be treated, in short, as the sinner needed to be treated. Therefore when the Baptist, instinctively recoiling from administering an ordinance emblematic of the washing away of sin to Him who “knew no sin,” exclaimed, “I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?” the answer he received was, “Suffer it to be so now; for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness.” As if He would say, “I am in the sinner’s place to-day; I must accept to the full all that that position involves, or I shall fail in that uttermost obedience to the Father’s will, apart from which my work of redemption cannot be achieved.” We cannot fathom the depth of self-abasement which this descent into Jordan involved to Him who was none other than the brightness of His Father’s glory and the express image of His Person; but we see how God estimated it when we read that, as Jesus came up out of the water, “the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him.”
2. The Baptism was His consecration for His work.—The rite of baptism had two significations. In the case of a Gentile it signified the putting away of idolatry, and the acceptance of the worship of Jehovah. In the case of the Jew it signified the removal of his uncleanness. In both these instances the meaning was the washing away of sin. Then the second significance was consecration to office. In our Saviour’s case this is at least the chief meaning. We have only to look at His life to see how far this was realized. For righteousness’ sake, or fulfilment of a rite which was observed by the nation, the Saviour stood before the multitude and received the ordinance, repeating the prayer usual on such occasions. This was the commencement of a series of acts of consecration which terminated in Gethsemane and on the Cross.
(1) It was a consecration for the conflict that lay before Him. Was it not significant that immediately after the reception of the Holy Spirit He should be brought into a personal encounter with the evil spirit? that immediately after such a manifestation of Divine favour there should be such a manifestation of Satanic power? that face to face and foot to foot in the solitudes of the wilderness the Second Adam should have to grapple with our Adversary, to fight our battle and win our cause?
(2) It was a consecration for the service He had to accomplish. This was the opening of Christ’s missionary career. Up to this time He had lived a life of obscurity in Nazareth. He was content for thirty out of the thirty-three years He spent on earth to be unknown outside the little circle of His own immediate friends and acquaintances, so unknown that Nathanael said “Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46). Thirty years’ preparation for three years’ service! His hour had come, and the Divine voice bade Him enter on His ministry of toil.
(3) It was a consecration to the suffering that He had to undergo. His life henceforth was to be a living martyrdom. Suffering was to be His lot. As has been truly said, “God had one Son without sin, but not one without suffering.”
The sufferings of Christ were altogether distinct from ours. We suffer, knowing that we have deserved more than we can ever bear. He suffered, knowing that He had deserved nothing. We suffer for others’ sin, knowing that even in our purest experience we have some sympathy with sin. He suffered, conscious of no such sympathy. Many a martyr, following his Lord’s example, has gone to as bitter a physical death as his Lord, singing as he went. Jesus went to His death, shrinking and sore amazed, and in a horror of fear before it. It was the burden He bore there that broke Him down. It was your sins and mine that bowed Him as they never bowed, never can bow, us down. He was “made sin for us.” “This is my body broken for you.” “The Son of man giveth his life instead of many.” “By his stripes we are healed.” “The chastisement of our peace was laid upon him.” “We all like sheep had gone astray; we had turned every one to his own way,” and “the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.” That is what takes the sting and curse out of life for me. That uproots the weed; that repairs the breach; that sweetens the sour. The fact that there are thistles in this world of God’s, and that they have to be taken out of it, is not so difficult to understand when a pierced hand has been pulling up thistles in the heart’s acre.1 [Note: R. W. Barbour, Thoughts, 52.]
ii. Its Meaning to us
1. In the narrative of the Baptism, as has often been observed, we have the participation of the three Persons of the Trinity. There flows from it therefore a threefold blessing to men.
(1) Divine reconciliation is assured to us in this manifestation of the Son of God. To the personal “Jesus” is now to be added the title of the Christ—the Messiah, the Anointed One. In the inn at Bethlehem, in the workshop at Nazareth, we see Jesus. In this baptism at Jordan, in His ministry in Galilee and Judæa, we behold the Christ. In His Person He assures us of reconciliation between God and man. Without Him sin would for ever bar our admission into the presence of the Most High. But He is the Righteous One, who not only has done no sin, but has fulfilled all righteousness.
(2) Divine renewal is assured to us in the manifestation of the Spirit of God. Thus did the Father anoint the Son with the Holy Ghost and with power (Acts 10:38); and though the sight of this heavenly effluence in dove-like form appears to have been seen only by Christ Himself and the Baptist, yet the witness is for us. The very emblem of the dove is full of teaching as to the character of the Christian renewal. We sing to the Holy Spirit:
Come as the dove, and spread Thy wings,
The wings of peace and love.
But this emblem is never used in Scripture except in connexion with the Son of God. It is only in Him that the Spirit of Holiness can dwell with sinners. Yet even so the dove tells us of the perfect purity in Christ for us; and likewise the effects of this bestowal of the Spirit upon Jesus reveal the same truth. By that Spirit He wrought His miracles and spoke His words of grace, and after His resurrection that Spirit was sent in His name, bringing to the world life and power and holiness. Sin is, so to speak, the hiatus of human nature, and the Spirit ministers that holiness which is lacking.
(3) Lastly, Divine restoration is assured to us by the testimony of the Father: “Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased.” The self-same words are repeated towards the close of our Lord’s ministry, on the Mount of Transfiguration. St. Peter, writing many years afterwards, doubly assures us thereof, saying, “He received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. And this voice which came from heaven, we heard when we were with him in the holy mount” (2 Peter 1:17-18). And, in addition to this testimony of words, we have the still more substantial testimony given by the Father to the Son when He raised Him from the dead (1 Peter 1:21), and set Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places (Ephesians 1:20). So we sing in the Te Deum, “When Thou hadst overcome the sharpness of Death, Thou didst open the kingdom of heaven to all believers.” For the Father, to use the inspired words of the Apostle Paul, “hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ.”
“All alone, so Heaven has willed, we die”; but, as travellers are cheered on a solitary road when they see the footprints that they know belonged to loved and trusted ones who have trodden it before, that desolate loneliness is less lonely when we think that He became dead. He will come to the shrinking single soul, as He joined Himself to the sad travellers on the road to Emmaus, and “our hearts” may burn within us even in that last hour of their beating if we can remember who has become dead and trodden the road before us.1 [Note: Alexander Maclaren.]
Christ is made the law of the law, the sin of sin, the death of death, that He might redeem from the curse of the law, justify me and quicken me. While He is the law, He is also liberty; while He is sin, He is righteousness; while He is death, He is life. For in that He suffered the law to accuse Him, sin to condemn Him, and death to devour Him, He abolished the law, He condemned sin, He destroyed death, He justified and saved me.2 [Note: Luther, Commentary on Galatians, 204.]
2. But there is value in the Baptism for us in this also, that He is our example.
(1) He is our example of Faith. “What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them” (Mark 11:24). The Saviour left it all with God. It was believing prayer. Was His faith disappointed? It could not be. Heaven opened upon Him. The Holy Dove descended. The mighty deed was done. This is our pattern. Christ fulfilled the conditions, and according to His faith it was unto Him. Surely from that open heaven a voice speaks to us, “The promise is to you and to your children”: “Go and do thou likewise.”
To as many of us as by His grace to us are true believers on Him and in His blood, our Lord’s own faith in His Father and in His Father’s word to Him is a subject of the intensest interest, the most edifying meditation, and the most transporting reflection. To as many of us as believe there is no subject in heaven or on earth like our Lord Jesus Christ. This is the true learning. This is the true knowledge. This is the true science and philosophy; and not falsely so called. This is the wisdom that cometh from above. This is the wisdom of God in a mystery. This, O Father, is life eternal, to know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent.3 [Note: A. Whyte, The Walk, Conversation, and Character of Jesus Christ our Lord, 181.]
It was in Gethsemane and on Calvary that the faith of our Substitute came to its absolute perfection. Loaded down to death and hell with the sin of the world, our Saviour’s faith in His Father’s sure word of promise was such that His burdened heart rose victorious above all the tremendous load that was laid upon Him. Our Saviour had the fullest assurance of faith, the fullest assurance that His Father who had begun such a good work in Him and by Him would not leave it till He had perfected it in the day of Christ. And thus it was that, as Bengel says,” the most fragrant part of Christ’s sin-atoning sacrifice was His unshaken trust in His Father’s faithfulness and love.”1 [Note: A. Whyte.]
Mr. Erskine had a strong conviction that in Romans 3:22 “the faith of Christ” meant “the faith of Christ in His Father.” I mentioned that this was identically the view entertained by Mr. Dunbar Heath, who was deprived of his benefice for holding this amongst other doctrines. Mr. Erskine had never heard of him.2 [Note: Dean Stanley, in Letters of Thomas Erskine of Linlathen, ii. 291.]
(2) Of Obedience.—Jesus received the Holy Spirit at a time of uttermost obedience. Do not imagine that it is such a simple thing to receive the Spirit in His fulness. It is simple when the conditions are fulfilled, but not otherwise. And the first condition is obedience. See Acts 5:32—“the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given” (not to every one) “to them that obey him.” So in Matthew 3:15, “Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness.” It was quite unnecessary, from the human standpoint, for Christ to be baptized by John, but the Lord yielded to it.
Christ is not a teacher of the law, like Moses, but a disciple who would be obedient to the law, that through such subjection and obedience He might redeem those who were under the law.3 [Note: Luther, Table-talk (ed. by Förstemann), i. 352.]
“Compassed with infirmity,” appointed to suffering, our Lord entered into the deepest experience of humanity, and attained the secret of perfect obedience to the will of God. We may see in our suffering Lord how through sanctified suffering we attain harmony with the eternal will. One of the greatest of modern artists reminds his young brethren that artistic perfection is reached, not through easy and pleasant exercises, but through battles and agonies. How much more the immortal perfection of the spirit! Let me not resent the discipline of trial. A famous traveller tells us that it is a principle thoroughly believed in by all Asiatics, that the bitterer the remedy the more efficacious it is. This may not be true in physic, but it is certainly true in morals, when our sorrows are ordained by God and accompanied by His grace. Let me not, then, wear the fool’s cap in the school of suffering, but fully learn the great lessons of submission, patience, trust.1 [Note: W. L. Watkinson, The Gates of Dawn, 288.]
(3) Of Prayer.—It was at a time of prayer that Christ received the Spirit. Prayer is the condition of receiving the Spirit. “Yet for all this will I be inquired of by them, to do it for them” (Ezekiel 36:37). We shall never know what this baptism means unless we obey, believe, and pray.
I rejoice to know of your interest in the great theme—the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. I am now more and more persuaded that the greatest things are possible if only we have His power resting upon us. I have seen such a demonstration in my church last year as I never witnessed before. We met morning after morning in the early year simply to pray for the power of the Holy Ghost. We were looking for a revival. When I made my plea for foreign missions, I astonished my conservative brethren by asking ten thousand dollars this year for our contribution. Only a few wealthy men among us, and they not likely to do largely. But when the collection was gathered twenty thousand dollars came, nobody asked, no solicitation made. It was simply a great impulse of the Spirit, and the astonishment of all still continues. Now is coming a gracious ingathering of souls.2 [Note: A. J. Gordon: A Biography, 258.]
The Baptism of Jesus
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Burrell (D. J.), The Morning Cometh, 164.
Cookin (G. S.), Some Difficulties in the Life of our Lord, 13.
Davies (J. Ll.), The Work of Christ, 122.
Davies (T.), Sermons, 460.
Dick (G. H.), The Yoke and the Anointing, 133.
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Keble (J.), Sermons for the Christian Year: Ascension Day to Trinity Sunday, 176.
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Mackenzie (R.), The Loom of Providence, 28.
Maclaren (A.), Expositions: Luke i.–xii., 77.
Matheson (G.), Voices of the Spirit, 91.
Moore (E. W.), The Christ-Controlled Life, 183.
Moore (E. W.), The Spirit’s Seal, 30.
Morgan (G. C.), The Hidden Years at Nazareth, 1.
Morgan (G. C.), The Crises of the Christ, 83.
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Raleigh (A.), Rest from Care and Sorrow, 197.
Robertson (A. T.), Epochs in the Life of Jesus, 1.
Robertson (A. T.), The Teaching of Jesus concerning God the Father, 43.
Spurgeon (C. H.), Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, xvi. (1870), No. 909; lvi. (1910), No. 3178.
Stalker (J.), The Two St. Johns, 217.
Tipple (S. A.), The Admiring Guest, 60.
Whyte (A.), The Walk, Conversation, and Character of Jesus Christ our Lord, 181.
Wilson (J. M.), Via Crucis, 29.
Woodward (H.), Sermons, 472.
British Congregationalist, April. 16, 1908 (J. H. Jowett).
Christian World Pulpit, lxviii. 149 (T. V. Tymms); lxxiii. 72 (H. S. Holland); lxxxi. 372 (C. R. Williams).
Churchman’s Pulpit: Trinity Sunday, ix. 288 (F. Field); Epiphany, iii. 199 (S. Carolin).