“And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in Jordan. 10 And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him: 11 And there came a voice from heaven, saying, Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:9-11)
Having prepared the hearts of the people for the coming Messiah, the hour came when John was privileged to present the Messiah as, “the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)
The Bible says that, “it came to pass in those days.” (Mark 1:9). “Those days” refers to the height of the ministry of John. John the Baptist was a very popular man and most unusual. Filled with the Holy Spirit and unique power, John preached to hundreds and thousands of people.
All over the land of Palestine and the regions beyond, individuals left normal business activities to listen to the man sent from God who ate wild locust and honey and wore the skins of animals for clothing. From all over Palestine people listened to John who call them to repentance.
Those who accepted John’s call to repentance demonstrated a dramatic change of life by being baptized. Normally, during this time period, baptism was associated with Jewish proselytes.
Anyone who converted to the Jewish faith had to do three things.
First, if male, there was the ritual of circumcision that had to be endured, for that was the physical mark of the people in a covenant relationship with God.
Second, a proselyte had to offer an animal sacrifice, for without the shedding of blood there is no remission for sins.
Then third, a ritual of baptism had to be received in which the spiritual message was manifested: a person needed atonement from the guilt of sin and they needed cleansing from the pollution of sin.
What made John’s message so startling to people in Palestine is that a ritual associated with the Gentiles was being applied to the Jews themselves. John was asking the children of Abraham to submit to a water ritual reserved for Gentiles. Why would he do that? People wanted to know. Suddenly, the message became clear.
The nation of Israel needed to repent!
The nation of Israel needed atonement for sin!
The nation of Israel needed a cleaner life before God!
Individuals who were moved by the man with a message about the Messiah could make a personal application and say, “I need to prepare my heart!” “I need a blood atonement!” “I need to be cleansed!” “I need to be baptized!”
With the act of baptism came a threefold confession.
First, a person confessed himself to be a sinner. The story is told of a man’s initial step towards grace. As he was shaving one morning he looked at his face in the mirror and suddenly had a moment of self-awareness. He said to himself, “You are a dirty, little rat!” From that day forward he began to be a changed man.
It is not easy for the heart to confess to itself that it needs help from heaven. It is not easy for the heart to be honest and say to itself, “I am proud.” “I am greedy.” “I am covetous.” “I am lustful.” “I am mean spirited.” “I am angry.” “I am self-willed.”
In Luke’s gospel, Jesus told the story of the prodigal’s son who demanded his inheritance in order to move away and be independent (Luke 15:11-32). When that young man left home, he probably thought he was fine fellow. Oh, he may have been a little willful when he said, “Father, give me my substance,” but that is understandable. He just wanted to get on with life. So off he went to the big city to see what “real life” was all about.
Perhaps he thought he had been too sheltered all of his life. Perhaps he thought his father was too protective, and his mother was too restrictive. The Prodigal’s Son wanted to break free from all parental and moral restraints. In this endeavor, he was successful for he wasted his substance with riotous living.
Only too late did the day come when he realized the World, the Flesh, and the Devil had lied to him. The World had said, “Prodigal! Eat, drink, and be merry; tomorrow you may die.” So the Prodigal ate, he drank, and he was gloriously merry, but he did not die. Instead, he lived to rue the family inheritance being wasted and to find the world unsympathetic to his plight.
The friendship with the world proved to be fatal to his best interest (1 John 2:15-17).
The Flesh had said, “Prodigal! If it feels good, do it!” So the Prodigal did what felt good.
Then he discovered that the Flesh had neglected to tell him about other feelings such as guilt, shame, and remorse.
The Prodigal had not anticipated the pain of a guilty conscience or the torment of an empty soul suddenly void of ethics and standards.
So it was that, physically alive but spiritually dead, the Prodigal’s Son found himself slopping pigs.
As the Prodigal’s Son worked day after day in the muck and mire with the unclean hogs, there came a moment of illumination.
He could go home! But not as he left.
He could go home, but not with willful words on his lips.
He could go home, but not until he was willing to say, “Father, I have sinned.”
What will the Prodigal’s Son do? He will go home, and he will say, “Father, I have sinned and am no more worthy to be called thy son. Make me as one of thine hired servants.” That is what the young man finally did. He went home to his father. The first step to repentance and a right relationship with God is to admit our sin to ourselves.
As a person must confess sin to self, so confession must be made to others who have been wronged. God tells us to make restitution to others in words and deeds in as far as possible. Sometimes it is not possible to restore relationships, but many times it is.
In an East African Church, a husband and wife were members of the assembly. One night one of them came to church and made confession that there had been a terrible argument at home. Thinking they had just done something spiritual by this confession, the minister wisely said, “You should not have come and confessed that argument just now; you should have made it up, and then come and confessed it.”
We all know how much easier it is to confess something to God than to someone we have hurt. But there can be no spiritual forgiveness without humiliation. When sin is confessed to self, and to others, then it is to be confessed to God. When a person says to God, “I have sinned,” God is able to respond and say, “I forgive.” When a person cries out, “Lord! Be merciful to me a sinner!” then God can say, “Arise, go in peace; thy sins are forgiven you.”
Returning to Mark’s gospel, we read that when the Spirit called Jesus, He came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John. It was in Nazareth that Joseph, the legal father of Jesus, had worked his trade as a carpenter (Matt. 13:55). It was in Nazareth that Jesus had grown to manhood, and followed in the family business so that He was known as, “the Carpenter.” (Mark 6:3) It was from Nazareth that Jesus left one day for a rendezvous with history. He was thirty years of age. (Luke 3:23) It was to be a three and one-half’s years journey from Nazareth to Golgotha; it all began with the first step of gospel obedience.
Before Jesus could begin His public ministry, He had to be baptized. The question is, “Why?”
Since Jesus was sinless, and the water of baptism symbolized the necessity of removing the filth of the flesh, why was it necessary for Jesus to submit to this humbling ordeal that speaks of sin?
The answer is simple: Jesus did have sin in this sense, He bore our sins.
The Bible says, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”
This is why, as John saw Jesus moving towards him in the glory of the rising sun, he cried out,
“Behold! The Lamb of God who is taking away the sins of the world!”
In His baptism, Jesus identified Himself with the sins of His people just as, in baptism, His people identify themselves with His sacrificial death.
Herein is the greatness of the gospel of redeeming grace. The Creator has identified Himself with His creation. The Shepherd will join in the experiences of His sheep. The Lamb will be slain as a sacrifice.
Jesus knew that He had personally done no wrong. Jesus knew that He did not need to be baptized like other men. But Jesus wanted to obey the will of the Father and the Father had said,
“Son, submit and be identified with the people. Go to John and be baptized.” Jesus obeyed.
As the Lord came up out of the water, something very special took place. The Bible says that Jesus saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descended upon Him.
This concept of the heavens being “opened” is a fascinating idea for it speaks of another dimension of time and space which we have yet to comprehend and experience. Yet, there is something here to consider as modern science has recognized. For centuries men thought of the universe in three dimensions. But then, the thinking changed. The notion that the universe has four dimensions: three of space, longitude, latitude, altitude and, one of time, has become familiar since [Albert] Einstein. Modern cosmologists suggest that the universe may possess more dimensions than four. More dimensions are seriously discussed.
What modern man speculates about, Jesus saw, and the Spirit, like a dove descended upon Him.
The Holy Spirit in the form of a dove indicates any number of characteristics: purity, gentleness, peacefulness and graciousness (Psa. 68:13; Song 6:9; Matt. 10:16).
Certainly, the life of Christ was characterized by these elements and it is the will of God that these same traits are found in the life of every Christian. (Gal. 5:22, 23)
While the Holy Spirit made His way to fill and strengthen the humanity of Christ, “there came a voice from heaven, saying, Thou art my Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
William Hendriksen writes that. “No higher love is possible than the love which the Father cherishes toward His Son. This love is deep-seated, and thorough going. It is as great as is the heart of God itself. It is as intelligent and purposeful as is the mind of God. It is tender, vast, infinite and, it is eternal which means that it is timeless.”
In short, the Son is Beloved, and the Father is well pleased with Christ. The Father is well pleased with Christ because of three facts.
First, there was a willingness by the Son, to proceed with the Divine plan. By accepting the initial act of baptism, Jesus was taking a formal step in complying with the will of the Father, knowing that it would only end at Calvary.
Second, there was a willingness by the Son to partake of the outward acts of humiliation that others are asked to partake of. This is significant because it is one thing to agree to something in principle, and hesitate to work out the details. Jesus was willing to do whatever it took to honor the will of the Father in practice as well as in principle.
Third, there was an ability by the Son to perceive the spiritual dimensions of the situation. So it was. Jesus proceeded according to the Divine Plan, Jesus partook of the outward actions necessary to accomplish that Plan, and He perceived the spiritual dimensions behind it all.
Would you like to please the Father and be accepted in the Beloved? Then let me suggest three things.
First, receive Jesus Christ as personal Lord and Saviour.
Second, live out the ethics of the Christian life. (John 14)
Third, once you have put your hand to the gospel plow, never look back, and never give up your faith.
I pray you will make your commitment to Christ, right now.