THE BAPTISM OF JOHN .
The baptism of Jesus .
Now when all the people were baptized . This is the shortest account of the first three Gospels of this event. Two circumstances related are, however, peculiar to St. Luke—the fact that he ascended "praying" from the water, and the opening words of this verse, which probably signify that on this day Jesus waited till the crowds who were in the habit of coming to John had been baptized. Jesus also being baptized . There is a curious addition to the Gospel narratives of the baptism of the Lord preserved by Jerome. He tells us he extracted it from the Hebrew Gospel used by the Nazarenes, a copy of which in his day was preserved at Caesarea. "Lo, the mother of the Lord and his brethren said to him, John the Baptist is baptizing for the remission of sins; let us go and be baptized by him. But he answered and said unto them, In what have I sinned, that I should go and be baptized by him? unless, indeed, it be in ignorance that I have said what I have just said." It is, no doubt, a very ancient traditional saying, and is perhaps founded on stone well-authenticated oral tradition. If St. Luke knew of it, he did not consider it of sufficient importance to incorporate it in his narrative. In St. Matthew's account of the "baptism," John at first resists when asked to perform the rite on his kinsman Jesus. His knowledge of Jesus at this time was evidently considerable. He was acquainted, of course, with all that had already happened in his "cousin's" life, and probably it had been revealed to him, or told him by his mother ( Luke 1:43 ), that in the Nazareth Carpenter, the Son of Mary, he was to look for the promised Messiah, with whose life-story his was so closely bound up. The answers to the question, What was the reason of Jesus' baptism? have been many. In this, as in many things connected with the earthly life of our Lord, there is much that is mysterious, and we can never hope here to solve these difficulties with any completeness. The mystic comments of the Fathers, though not perfectly satisfactory, are, however, after all the best of the many notes that have been made on this difficult question. Bishop Wordsworth sums them up well in his words: "He came to baptize water, by being baptized in it." Ignatius ('Ad. Eph.,' 18, beginning of the second century) writes, "He was baptized that, by his submission to the rite, he might purify the water." Jerome, in the same strain, says, "He did not so much get cleansing from baptism, as impart cleansing to it." It would seem that Jesus, in submitting to the rite himself, did it with the intention of sanctifying the blessed sacrament in the future. And praying . Peculiar to St. Luke. This evangelist on eight other occasions mentions the praying of Jesus . The heaven was opened, and the Holy Ghost descended … upon him. While he was praying and gazing up into heaven, the deep blue vault was rent asunder, and the Sinless One gazed far into the realms of eternal light; and as he gazed he saw descend a ray of glory, which, dove-like, brooded above his head, and then lighted upon him. This strange bright vision was seen, not only by him, but by the Baptist ( John 1:32 , John 1:33 ). That the form of a dove absolutely descended and lighted upon Jesus seems unlikely; a radiant glorious Something both Jesus and the Baptist saw descending. John compares it to a dove—this cloud of glory sailing through the clear heaven, then, bird-like, sinking, hovering, or brooding, over the head of the Sinless One, then lighting, as it were, upon him. In likening the radiant vision to a dove, probably John had heard of the rabbinical comment (it is in the Talmud) on Genesis 1:2 , that the Spirit of God moved on the face of the waters like a dove. Milton has reproduced the thought—
"And with mighty wings outspread
Dove-like sat'st brooding on the vast abyss."
('Paradise Lost,' 1.20.)
John, for want of a better simile, reproduced the image which he had doubtless heard from his teacher in the Law, when he desired to represent in earthly language the Divine Thing which in some bodily form he had seen. In the early Church there was a legend very commonly current—we find it in Justin Martyr ('Dialogue with Trypho,' 88), and also in the Apocryphal Gospels—that at the baptism of Jesus a fire was kindled in Jordan. This was doubtless another, though a more confused memory of the glory-appearance which John saw falling on the Messiah . And a voice came from heaven ; better rendered, out of heaven . We read in the Talmud that "on the death of the last prophets—Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi—the Holy Spirit departed from Israel; but they ( i.e. Israeli were availing themselves of the daughter (echo) of a voice, Bath-Kol, for the reception of Divine communications" ('Treatise Yoma,' fol. 9, col. 2). In the Gospels there is a mention of the heavenly voice being again heard at the Transfiguration ( Matthew 17:5 ), and during the last week of the earthly ministry ( John 12:28-30 ). In the story of Israel the Persons of the everblessed Trinity were pleased to manifest themselves on various occasions to mortal eye and mortal ear. Very frequently to the eye , in the visible glory of the pillar of cloud and fire in the desert journeys; in the glorious light which shone in the holy of holies, first in the tabernacle of the wanderings, then in the temple; in the flame as in the burning bush, and in the visions of Isaiah and Ezekiel; in appearances as in the meeting with Abraham and with Joshua. To the ear the word of the Lord spoke, amongst others, to Abraham, Moses, Samuel, and the later prophets. So in this, the transition period of Messiah, the visible glory of God and the audible voice of God were again seen and heard by mortal man. Jerome calls attention here to the distinctness of each of the Persons of the blessed Trinity, as shown in this baptism of the Messiah. "The mystery of the Trinity is shown in the baptism of Christ The Lord is baptized, the Spirit descends in the likeness of a dove, the voice of the Father is heard bearing witness to his Son, and the dove settles on the head of Jesus, lest any one should imagine that the voice was for John and not for Christ." We may with all reverence conclude that, after the hearing of the voice from heaven, "the Messianic self- consciousness would undoubtedly expand with rapidity, both intensively and extensively, into complete maturity. That self- consciousness, it must be borne in mind, would necessarily, so far as this human side of his Being was concerned, be subject, in its development, to the condition of time" (Dr. Morrison, on Matthew 3:17 ).
The baptism of Jesus, and the descent of the Holy Ghost.
The narrative of the meeting between Jesus and John is given at greater length, and with more completeness of detail, by St. Matthew (see homiletics on Matthew 3:13-17 ). But the account of St. Luke suggests some points of interest.
I. THE IDENTIFICATION OF JESUS WITH THE PEOPLE . "When all the people were baptized, Jesus also having been baptized." In this, as in other things, "he is made like to his brethren." But, specially observe, he is still, and he is as yet only, "under the Law." His righteousness has been hitherto that indicated in the book of the Law. He has submitted to every requirement. He has completely done whatsoever was commanded. Sharing this position in common with all the people, he offered himself for the baptism unto repentance and the hope of the kingdom. This baptism was the fitting conclusion of a perfect legal righteousness. The man needs to be washed. The Law cannot make the conscience perfect. That which signified the inadequacy of the Law, Jesus of Nazareth must appropriate. A righteousness which is in and of the flesh cannot be the ground of acceptance with God. Jesus condemned sin in the flesh when, with the forerunner, he went down into the water of baptism.
II. THE PRAYER WHICH SOLEMNIZED THE BAPTISM . St. Luke alone makes mention of this prayer. With all the people, Jesus was baptized; but who of the people were with him in this—"baptized and praying "? To him there is no confession of personal transgression; he is yielding himself to his Father in perfectly loving resignation. The baptism was an act of communion. "I come to do thy will." "Here am I send me." Not without purpose, surely, is notice taken of the prayer. Connect it with what follows—in praying, the heavens were opened. Behold the law of spiritual blessing "Ask, and ye shall receive"! Behold that which makes all ordinances effectual, without which they are forms, not means of grace! Behold the evidence of the power of prayer! God is ready still to open his heaven to the obedient, desiring heart. "We enter heaven by prayer."
III. THE DESCENT IN A BODILY SHAPE LIKE A DOVE . The evangelist inserts "the bodily form" to signify that it was not a mere imagination, but a real descent assuming this shape. What of the descent of the Holy Ghost? Observe it
(1) as between Christ himself and the opened heavens, and
1 . What we have before us is not a coming of the Spirit for personal holiness, for in this sense the Holy Spirit had been with Christ during the preceding thirty years. It is the coming of the Holy Spirit into a new form of administration . The new thing is what St. John expresses. "The Spirit abode upon him." He dwelt henceforth in the Man Christ Jesus, not as a mere limitless abundance, but as an undivided abundance. All offices, gifts, graces, were realized in the Lord himself. He was Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Pastor, and Teacher; he was all in all. The fountain was sealed in his own Person; after the Ascension the seal was broken, and the power in the glorified humanity was divided. Some he gave as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, some as pastors and teachers. But that which is signified by the investiture of Jesus coming out of Jordan is that in him, consecrated the Messiah, is the fullness of grace and blessing; that his exclusively is the baptism with the Holy Ghost. "The same is he that baptizeth with the Holy Ghost."
2 . And see the token of this administration . "Like a dove"—recalling the mission of the dove which Noah put forth from the ark, and which returned to him with the olive leaf in its mouth. "Like a dove"—suggesting love tender and brooding, noiseless and winning, the Spirit descends. Is not this the characteristic token of the new covenant? (See Keble's thirty-third hymn.) It is the dove-like Spirit that dwells in Jesus. There is a fire that goes before him. When he began the public ministry, he took a passage full of gracious words, yet one which concludes with the proclamation of a day of vengeance of our God. There are "woes" in Jesus' discourses very scathing and stern. There is "the wrath of the Lamb." But the characteristic action of Christ is that of the Dove. The Dove is visible even in his Divinity, even in the lambent tongues, the lightning flashes, the arrows of conviction. He is waiting to be gracious. O sinner, yield thyself to him. For thee are prepared dove-like blessings, influences
"To nurse the soul to heavenly love,
The struggling spark of good within
Just smothered in the strife of sin
To quicken to a timely glow,
The pure flame spreading high and low."
God's good pleasure in us.
There are some preliminary lessons we do well to learn before we approach the main one; e.g. :
1 . That piety will sometimes prompt us to do that which we are under no constraint to do. Jesus was not under any obligation to be baptized with the baptism of repentance. Moreover, he could not be said to be enrolling himself as a disciple of John. But he felt that "it became him" to do what he did ( Matthew 3:15 ); probably his abstention would have been far more likely to be misunderstood than his compliance: hence his action. If we are earnestly desirous of doing everything we can in the cause of truth and righteousness, we shall not stop at the line of positive commandment or of necessity; we shall consider what it becomes us to do and how we shall best serve the purposes of God's love.
2 . That God will not fail to manifest himself to us in the hour of need. Again and again he appeared in strengthening grace unto his Son; on this occasion, when "the heaven was opened," etc.; and when "his soul was troubled" ( John 10:28 ); and in the garden ( Luke 12:43 ). So did he appear to Paul in the time of his necessity ( Acts 18:9 ; Acts 23:11 ; 2 Timothy 4:17 ). So will he appear in all-sustaining power unto us in the crises of our life.
3 . That in proportion to our true devoutness of spirit may we look for the manifestations of God's kindness. " Jesus … praying , the heaven was opened." The main lesson is that those who are God's true children may be assured of his good pleasure in them.
I. GOD 'S GOOD PLEASURE IS HIS SON JESUS CHRIST . "Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased." The sentiment of Divine complacency and gladness in Jesus Christ probably had regard to:
1 . Our Lord's past earthly life, to the innocency of his childhood, to the integrity of all his life at home, to the preparation he had been making in solitary study and devotion for his life-work.
2 . To his then spiritual condition, especially to his attitude toward his Divine Father, his submission to his holy will, his readiness to undertake whatever that holy will should appoint him, and, therefore:
3 . To his sacred and sublime purpose, his intention to enter on that great work which should issue in the redemption of mankind. It must have been no slight access of holy strength to the Savior to be so strikingly assured of his Father's love and good pleasure as he entered on that most arduous and lofty enterprise.
II. GOD 'S GOOD PLEASURE IN US . We cannot hope to have for ourselves the measure of Divine complacency which was possible in the Person of our Lord. Yet in our measure may we hope to have and to enjoy the good pleasure of our heavenly Father. For us there may be:
1 . Full forgiveness of the faulty past . Grieved with all that is guilty, and resting on the abounding mercy of God in Jesus Christ, we are freely and frankly forgiven; so truly and thoroughly forgiven that our past transgressions and shortcomings are buried from the sight of the Supreme; they do not come between our souls and his favor; they are to him as if they were not; they do not make us less dear to his parental heart.
2 . Positive Divine delight in our filial loyalty and love . As God, searching our hearts with pure and benign regard, sees in us a true filial spirit, a spirit of grateful love and of cheerful submission and of glad consecration to himself, he is glad in us with a Divine, parental joy.
3 . Divine satisfaction with our purpose for the future —our intention to dedicate our life to the service of God and to spend our powers in the service of our kind.—C.
The baptism and genealogy of Jesus.
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
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.