Luk_3:21-22. Now when all the people were baptized, it came to pass, that Jesus also being baptized, and praying, the heaven was opened; and the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon him, and a voice came from heaven, which said, Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased.
IN every part of our Lord’s history, from his first entrance into the world to his dissolution upon the cross, we observe an astonishing combination of the most opposite events: we see the majesty of heaven degraded to the lowest depths of humiliation; and the meanest of mankind, who was “a worm, and no man, the very scorn of men, and the outcast of the people,” exalted to the highest honours that Heaven itself could confer upon him. Observe the circumstance of his birth: what can we conceive more degrading than for the Saviour of the world to be born in a stable, and to be laid in a manger? Yet, to counterbalance this, angels were sent to announce his advent, and a star to point out to the inquiring Magi the place of his nativity. Thus it was also at his baptism. The ordinance of baptism was intended to intimate the need which we have to be washed from our sins: Jesus, therefore, could not submit to baptism without acknowledging, in appearance, that he was a sinner, like unto us: nevertheless, for wise and gracious reasons, he insisted that that rite should be administered to him. But whatever ignominy might attach to him on this account, the offence was completely rolled away by the interposition of his God and Father, who on that occasion bore testimony to him by an audible voice from heaven, and by a visible descent of the Holy Ghost upon him. These are the two subjects for our present consideration. We notice,
The visible descent of the Holy Ghost upon him—
There are many things relative to the descent of the Spirit upon Jesus, which are worthy of observation—
The time of it was remarkable—
[Jesus had just conformed to God’s ordinance of baptism. Though he had no need of baptism, (not having any sin to wash away,) yet, as it was a rite instituted by God for the introducing of men into the Messiah’s kingdom, he judged it expedient to comply with it himself, that he might “fulfill all righteousness” in his own person, and be in all things a pattern to his followers. This was well pleasing to God, who cannot but be interested in the observance of his own ordinances. And the conferring of so distinguished an honour upon Jesus on that occasion clearly shews, that “God will honour those who honour him;” and that in a reverential attendance on the instituted means of grace, we may expect blessings which we shall in vain hope for in the neglect of them [Note: Those who absent themselves from the House of God under the idea that they can spend their time more profitably at home, and those who stay away from the Lord’s table under an apprehension of their unworthiness to go to it, would do well to consider this.].
He was, moreover, actually engaged in prayer. On three different occasions did the Father bear testimony to Jesus by an audible voice from heaven; and every time was either in, or immediately after, prayer [Note: At his baptism (see the text), at his transfiguration (Luk_9:29; Luk_9:35.), and just before his death (Joh_12:28.).]. What an evidence does this afford us of the importance and efficacy of prayer! And who that lives nigh to God in the exercise of that duty, has not found that promise realized, “Thou shalt call, and the Lord shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am [Note: Isa_58:9; Isa_65:24.]?” Audible voices, indeed, we are not to expect; but we are sure that “God has never said to any, Seek ye my face in vain.”]
There was something peculiar also in the manner of it—
[It was of great importance that the attestation thus publicly given to the character of Jesus should be such as could admit of no doubt. Accordingly “the heavens were opened,” just as they afterwards were at the time of Stephen’s death [Note: Act_7:55-56.], so that the very throne of God, as it were, became visible to mortal eyes; and the Holy Ghost descended visibly, in a bodily appearance, and abode upon him. Whether the Holy Ghost assumed the shape of a dove, or only appeared in a luminous body with a hovering motion, like that of a dove, we do not take upon us to determine [Note: We rather think the latter. See Doddridge on the place.]: but the appearance was such as could leave no doubt in the minds of the spectators that there was a special communication to Jesus from heaven, even such a communication as had never before been vouchsafed to mortal man.]
But the ends of the Spirit’s descent are most worthy of our attention—
[We are sure that it was designed to confirm the Baptist’s mind. The providence of God had so ordered events, that John and Jesus, though related to each other, had lived thirty years in the world without forming any acquaintance with each other. Had they been intimate with each other, it might have been thought that an agreement had been formed between them to deceive the world: but John had no knowledge of the person of Jesus, till he was inspired to point him out as “the Lamb of God, that was to take away the sin of the world:” and this very sign was promised to John, as the means whereby his mind should be satisfied that the testimony which be had borne was true: and John himself declares, that his own conviction of Christ’s Messiahship was grounded on this very thing [Note: Joh_1:32-34.].
But there was another end, even the inauguration of the Messiah himself to his high office. The Jewish kings and priests, and in some instances the prophets also, were anointed with oil at the time of their consecration to their work: and therefore it behoved Jesus, in whom all these offices were to be combined, to be set apart for them by a nobler unction. Accordingly he was “anointed with the oil of joy and gladness above his fellows [Note: Psa_45:7.].” It had been expressly foretold that he should be so anointed [Note: Isa_61:1.], and that “the Holy Spirit should rest upon him [Note: Isa_11:2.]; and he himself mentioned, in his very first sermon, that these prophecies were then accomplished; and that he was then executing the very office for which he had been commissioned and qualified by that peculiar unction [Note: Luk_4:17-21.].]
Besides this visible attestation to his character, we are called to notice also,
The audible testimony of the Father to him—
In many different ways did the Father bear witness to his Son: every miracle that was wrought by Jesus was a seal whereby the Father attested the truth of his divine mission. But on this occasion he addressed his Son by an audible voice; and therein bore witness to,
His person as the promised Messiah—
[The Messiah had been long foretold under the character of “the Son of Man [Note: Dan_7:13.];” and that term was understood by the Jews as equivalent to the Son of God [Note: Luk_22:69-70.]. That Jesus did indeed sustain this character, and that he was the very person of whom all the prophets spake, was a point to be proved; and God determined that it should be proved by every species of evidence that could be adduced. Hence, besides the foregoing proof which was offered to the eyes of men, another was added which appealed to their ears. And in the very words which are used, there seems a reference to the prophecies which were accomplished in him. “Thou art that my beloved Son,” that Son, whose advent has been so long foretold, and so long expected [Note: There is a force in the repetition of the article, which, though lost in the Translation, should not be overlooked.]. In this view the expression of the text precisely corresponds with that which had been long before used by the Prophet Isaiah: “Behold my servant whom I uphold, mine elect in whom my soul delighteth: I have put my Spirit upon him; he shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles [Note: Isa_42:1.].” Whatever pretensions, therefore, false Christs may urge, or whatever objections infidel professors of Christianity may raise against Jesus, we have the infallible testimony of God himself that Jesus is the Christ.]
His acceptableness in that office—
[In every view the Father could not but feel complacency and delight in him. As voluntarily undertaking the mediatorial work, as richly qualified for the discharge of it, and as persevering in it notwithstanding all the difficulties that he should have to encounter, he must be highly acceptable to the Father. But God foresaw the perfect accomplishment of all his designs through the ministration of his dear Son: he saw, as it were, all his elect delivered from their guilt and misery, and made partakers of everlasting glory and felicity: he saw all his own perfections also honoured and exalted in the mystery of redemption: and he cordially approved of it as the most stupendous effort of wisdom and of love. None can henceforth entertain a doubt whether he will accept those who come to him by Christ, since it was on account of the suitableness and sufficiency of his atonement that the Father was so “well pleased in him.”]
We may learn from hence,
How we should think of God—
[We know nothing of God except from revelation. It is presumptuous, therefore, either to form notions about him from our own vague conjectures, or to refuse our assent to the representations which he has given us of himself. That there is a Trinity of the persons in the Godhead is doubtless an incomprehensible mystery: but it is plainly revealed in numberless passages of Scripture. It is indeed from other passages that we know each of the persons in the Trinity to be God: but that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, are Three distinct persons, is as clear as any truth can be: and so clearly is it intimated in the very words of our text, that the ancients were wont to say, “Go to Jordan, and there learn the doctrine of the Trinity.”]
How we should act towards him—
[All that is required of us is, to be like-minded with God. Did God point him out as his beloved Son? let us believe in him as the Messiah, the Saviour of the world. Did the Father profess himself well pleased in him? let us delight ourselves in him: let it be the joy of our, hearts to contemplate his fulness and sufficiency, and to be receiving out of his fulness grace for grace. Let us, in short, “count all things but dung for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ,” and glory in him as all our salvation, and all our desire.]