Now when all the people were baptized, it came to pass, that Jesus also being baptized, and praying, the heaven was opened,
From the general features of the remarkable ministry of the Baptist, summed up as it is for us in the preceding verses, we now pass to the most notable instance of baptism performed by him. This was the baptism of Jesus. We are expressly told that it was when the movement under John had become national, when all the people (ἅπαντα τὸν λαόν) had submitted to the rite, with, of course, the Pharisaic exceptions already noticed (Luke 7:30), that Jesus appeared at the Jordan to claim the rite too. We learn also from Matthew that John at first objected, feeling an incongruity in the case. Had he been allowed, he would have changed places with Jesus, and been the baptized rather than the baptizer. But Jesus never descended to the administration of water-baptism; he always maintained his high prerogative as the Baptizer of men with the Holy Ghost and fire. Hence, while he insisted on receiving water-baptism, he left it to others to administer it (cf. John 4:2). Let us, then, proceed to the following inquiries: -
I. WHAT WERE CHRIST'S REASONS FOR SUBMITTING TO THIS BAPTISM UNTO REPENTANCE? We must reject at once the insinuation of Strauss and others, that it implied some sense of sin. Jesus never was conscious of sin, as his whole life and his express testimony show (cf. John 8:46; see also Ullman's 'Sinlessness of Jesus,' passim). Why, then, should he come under even the suspicion through a baptism unto repentance? The national character of the movement will help to explain our Lord's act. The multitudes who submitted to baptism did so in hope of a place in Messiah's kingdom. But as a "kingdom of God" the impenitent and unpardoned could have no place in it. A way must be found for the pardon and purification and penitence of sinners. Christ's identification of himself, therefore, in baptism with the expectant people was his surrender of himself so far as needful for the accomplishment of this great work. It was not only a response to the Father's call to enter upon his peculiar Messianic work, as Weiss in his 'Leben Jesu' has very properly suggested, but also a deliberate assumption of the responsibilities of sinners. Hence it has been supposed that, as the ordinary candidates for baptism confessed their personal sins (Matthew 3:6), so Jesus most probably confessed the sins of the nation and people who were looking hopefully for his advent. This dedication, moreover, implied self-sacrifice in due season. The Messiah hereby became voluntarily "the Lamb of God" to take away the sins of the world, and John seems to have realized this himself (John 1:29). It was consequently the most sublime dedication which history records. It was not a mere entrance of the "valley of death," like a soldier in a battle-charge, with a few moments' agony and then all is over; but it was a dedication of himself, three years and more before he suffered, to a policy which could end only in his crucifixion.
II. IN WHAT WAY DID THE FATHER RESPOND TO THIS SUBLIME DEDICATION OF THE SUN? We are told that Jesus was "praying" during the administration of the rite. As Arndt observes, "Instead of John urging Jesus to bring forth fruits meet for repentance, as he had done with others, it is here simply said by Luke, 'And Jesus prayed.' "He prayed with uplifted eye, and for those gifts and graces which his great work needed. His prayer was for his rights in the emergency of his sacrificial life. We seek grace from God as a matter of free favor, and for the Savior's sake. He sought grace and gift as a matter of simple justice, seeing he was undertaking to perform the Father's good pleasure in the salvation of sinners. And now we have to notice how the Father responded to his appeal.
1. The Father granted him the gift of the opened heaven. When it is said "the heaven was opened," we are not to understand by it merely that a rent took place among the clouds to allow the Divine Dove to come fluttering down, but rather that the right of Jesus to access to the heavenly light and secrets is recognized. As Godet puts it, it was the guarantee of a perfect revelation of the Father's will in this great work of saving men. Any clouds which sin may have interposed between man and God were in Christ's case cleared away; and, as a sinless Representative, he is enabled in unclouded light to realize his duty in the matter of man's redemption. It was a splendid assurance that Jesus, at all events, would not want light in the midst of duty. And if we follow the Lord fully, we too shall have such opening of the heavens, and such revelation of duty, as will enable us to see the proper path, and to tread it for the benefit of mankind.
2. The Father granted him the Holy Spirit in the organic form of a descending dove. This symbol is only used in Genesis 1:2, where the Spirit is represented as "brooding dove-like o'er the vast abyss," to use the Miltonic paraphrase; and here in connection with Christ's baptism. The soul of Christ, upon which the Holy Spirit on this second occasion descended, was the scene of a mightier work than the chaotic abyss at first. The new creation is greater than the old; and the sinless material upon which the Divine Dove had to brood guaranteed a more magnificent result than the sensible world affords. The "super- natural evolution" hereby secured has been mightier and more magnificent than the evolution in nature. Now, regarding the significance of the symbol, we are taught that
(1) the Holy Spirit came down in his entirety upon Jesus. Other men receive the Spirit in measure, and hence as oil, as fire, as water, as wind, - these minor symbols sufficing to represent our tiny inspirations; but Jesus receives the Spirit as a dove, an organic whole - the Spirit without measure (John 3:34). We are also taught
(2) that the dove-like graces were imparted in all fullness to Jesus. "As the dove is the symbol of innocence, of purity, of noble simplicity, of gentleness and meekness, of inoffensiveness and humility, so Jesus stood there in possession of the Holy Ghost, as the complete embodiment of all these perfections." And it is out of his fullness we must all receive, and grace for grace. His is the perfect inspiration, ours is the mediated inspiration, so far as we can receive the Spirit. Let us look prayerfully for the descent of the Dove, and he will come to abide even with us! But yet again
(3) the Father granted to Jesus the assurance of Sonship. From the account in Matthew we should suppose the words were spoken to John; from this in Luke we should infer that they were spoken only and directly to Jesus. Both hearers were doubtless regarded in the paternal communication. Now, when we consider all that Jesus had undertaken in accepting baptism, he surely had a right to this assurance, that as a Son he was well-pleasing in all his consecrated life to the Father. It was upon this he fell back in the lonely crisis of his history (John 16:32). It was the only consolation left to him. And a similar assurance may be looked for by us if we are trying to follow in the footsteps of our Lord. It will in our case be a matter of free grace, and not of strict right; but it will in consequence be all the more precious. Most likely we shall have lonely hours when we shall be deserted by supposed friends, and be put upon our mettle as to our faith in the ever-present Father; but at such times the assurance that our conduct has been pleasing in some measure to the Father, and that he sympathizes with us in our work, will be the greatest earthly consolation. If, in studying to show ourselves approved unto God, we are denied every other approval, we can feel the Divine to be all-sufficient!
III. WHAT ARE WE TO LEARN FROM THE INTERPOSED GENEALOGY? Jesus had just been assured of his Sonship, according to St. Luke's history, and now the evangelist interposes between the baptism and the temptation the genealogy of his human nature, carrying it upwards, step by step, to God. The course taken is the reverse of Matthew's. Writing for Jews, Matthew simply starts with Abraham and descends to Joseph, the reputed father of Christ, and so fulfils all Jewish demands. But Luke, writing for a wider Greek-speaking audience, begins with Jesus, the all-important Person, passes to Heli, Mary's father, and then upwards, step by step, past Abraham to Adam, and from Adam to God. Is it not to make out, in the first place, a wider relation for Jesus than Jewish prejudice would afford; to show, in fact, that he is related by blood to the whole human family, and contemplates in the broadest spirit its salvation? In the second place, does the genealogy not clearly imply a direct relation between human nature and God? Man was made at first in the Divine image. This fact affords the basis and the key to the Incarnation. The Divine can unite with the human, since the human was originally the image of the Divine. This relation to God, this spark of Divinity within human nature, constitutes even still man's chief glory. "According to the gospel of the Spirit, Adam is the son of God; according to the gospel of the senses, man is the son of an atom.... If the former prove to be the true descent of man, then we are capable of religion, and we live in some personal relationship to a Being higher than ourselves, from whom we came." We accept, with Luke, as truth the Divine "descent of man," whatever analogies may be made out between man and the beasts. It is surely evidence of our degradation that this Divine descent should be called in question, and its demonstrations disregarded. In the third place, we have to notice that some of Christ's ancestors were not very creditable - the "bar sinister" enters once or twice, as in the case of Thamar and of Rahab; yet this only shows that he owed nothing to his pedigree, but was willing to be related to all kinds of people that he might become their Savior. Let us, then, rejoice in the relation thus established between the eternal Son of God and the human race; and may that Divine image, implanted in the race at first, have its glorious renewal in our individual experience! - R.M.E.
Parallel VersesKJV: Now when all the people were baptized, it came to pass, that Jesus also being baptized, and praying, the heaven was opened,