And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in Jordan.…
The baptism was, on His part, the assumption of His Messianic office; and on God's, His anointing or coronation as the King. There are three stages in this lesson: The preliminary dialogue, which explains the paradox of the baptism of the sinless by and with the sinful, the Divine anointing of the King, and the Divine proclamation.
I. THE BECOMINGNESS OF THE APPARENTLY UNBECOMING BAPTISM. The stern preacher bows in lowliest abasement before his carpenter cousin, and feels that his own character shows black against that lustrous whiteness. Who would have thought, when John was flashing and thundering against sin, that such sense of his own evil underlay his boldness? He clearly feels that Jesus is his superior, and needs no baptism of repentance. How had he come to this conviction? Difficulties have been raised as to the consistency of these words with his declaration that he "knew Him not." But, not to dwell on the fact that anticipations and expectations are not knowledge, why should this insight into the character of Jesus not have then been granted to him by prophetic intuition, as he gazed on the gentle face? Why should not the Divine voice have then for the first time sounded in John's heart, "Arise, anoint Him: for this is He"? It is a pure assumption that John had previous knowledge of Jesus. The city in the hill country of Judaea where his boyhood had possibly been passed, was far from Nazareth, and he had very early betaken himself to the desert and its isolation. The circumstances of the nativity may, or may not, have been known to him; but there is no reason to explain this conviction of the inappropriateness of his baptism of Jesus by previous knowledge. The other explanation seems to me both more probable and more accordant with his prophetic office. Christ accepts without demur the place which John gives Him. He always accepted the highest place which any man put Him in, and never rebuked any estimate of Himself as enthusiastic or too lofty. If Jesus had not up till that moment lived a perfectly sinless life, He committed a black sin in tacitly endorsing this estimate of Him. If He had lived such a life, on what theory of His nature is it explicable? A sinless man must be more than man. The same consciousness of blamelessness is put into plain words in His answer to John, which is Jesus' own explanation of His baptism. It was an act of obedience to a Divine appointment, and therefore it "became" Him. It was the fulfilment of "righteousness;" that is to say, Jesus did not confess sin, but professed sinlessness in His baptism, and submitted to it, not because He needed cleansing, but because it was appointed as the duty for the nation of which He was a member. Why, then, was He baptized? For the same reason for which He was found in the likeness of the flesh of sin, and submitted to other requirements of the law from which as Son He was free, and bore the sorrows which were not the issue of His own sins, and went down at last to the other baptism with which He had to be baptized, though His pure life had for itself no need to pass through that awful submersion beneath the black, cold waters of death. The whole mystery of His identification of Himself with sinful men, and of His being "made sin...for us, who knew no sin," lies in germ in His baptism by John. No other conception of its meaning does justice to the facts.
II. WE HAVE NEXT THE DIVINE ANOINTING OR CORONATION. The symbol of the dove seems to carry allusions to the grand image which represents the Spirit of God as "brooding over chaos, and quickening life, as a bird in its nest by the warmth of its own soft breast; to the dove which bore the olive branch, first messenger of hope to the prisoners in the ark; to the use of the dove as clean, in sacrifice; to the poetical attribution to it, common to many nations, of meek gentleness and faithful love. Set side by side with that, John's thought of the Holy Spirit as fire, and we get all the beauty of both emblems increased, and understand hew much the stern ascetic, whose words burned and blistered, had to learn. He knew "what manner of spirit" the King possessed and bestowed Meekness is throned now. Gentleness is stronger than force. The dove conquers Rome's eagles and every strong-taloned, sharp-beaked bird of prey. "The Prince of the kings of the earth" is anointed by the descending dove, and His second coronation is with thorns, and a reed is His sceptre; for His kingdom is based on purity and meekness, is won by suffering, and wielded in gentleness. As is the King, so are His subjects, whose only weapons He has assigned when He bids them be "harmless as doves." The purpose of this descent of the Spirit on Jesus was twofold. In John's Gospel it is represented as principally meant to certify the Baptist of the identity of the Messiah. But we cannot exclude its effect on Jesus. For Him it was the Divine anointing for His mediatorial work. A king is king before he is anointed or crowned. These are but the signs of what we may call the official assumption of His royalty. We are not to conceive that Jesus then began to be filled with the Spirit, or that absolutely new powers were given to Him then. No doubt the anointing did mark a stage in His human development, and the accession to His manhood of all that was needed to equip it for His work. But the Spirit of God had formed His pure manhood ere He was born, and had dwelt in growing measure in His growing spirit, through all His sinless thirty years. Since He was a man, He needed the Divine Spirit. Since He was a sinless man, He was capable of receiving it in perfect measure and unbroken continuity. Since His baptism began His public career, He needed then, and then received, the anointing which at once designated and fitted Him for His work of witnessing and atonement.
III. WE HAVE FINALLY THE DIVINE PROCLAMATION. GOD HIMSELF TAKES THE HERALD'S OFFICE. The coronation ends with the solemn recitation of the style and title of the King. Two Old Testament passages seem to be melted together in it: that in the second Psalm, which says to the Messianic King, "Thou art My Son;" that in Isaiah 42:1, which calls on the nations to "behold...Mine elect, in whom My soul delighteth." God speaks from heaven, and quotes a psalm and a prophet. Why should He not speak from heaven an illuminating word, which interprets whole regions of the Old Testament? This Divine testimony touches first the mystery of our Lord's nature. "Son of God" is not merely a synonym of Messiah, but it includes the distinct conception of Divine origin and of consequent Divine nature. The name implies that the relation between Him and the Father is unique. The voice attests the Divine complacency in Him. The form of the verb in the Greek implies a definite past delight of the Father in the Son, and carries back our thoughts to that wonderful intercourse of which Jesus lets us catch some faint glimpse when He says, "Thou lovedst Me before the foundation of the world." From eternity the mysterious depths of the Divine nature moved in soft waves of love, and in its solitude there was society. Nor can we leave out of view the thought that the Father's delight in the Son is through the Son extended to all who love and trust the Son. In Jesus, God is well pleased towards us. That complacent delight embraces us too, if we become sons through faith in the only begotten Son. The dove that rested on His head will come and nestle in our hearts, and brood there, over their chaos, if we have faith in Christ.
(A. McLaren, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in Jordan.