Our Lord Jesus, from his childhood till now, when he was almost thirty years of age, had lain hid in Galilee, as it were, buried alive; but now, after a long and dark night, behold, the Sun of righteousness rises in glory. The fulness of time was come that Christ should enter upon his prophetical office; and he chooses to do it, not at Jerusalem (though it is probable that he went thither at the three yearly feasts, as others did), but there where John was baptizing; for to him resorted those who waited for the consolation of Israel, to whom alone he would be welcome. John the Baptist was six months older than our Saviour, and it is supposed that he began to preach and baptize about six months before Christ appeared; so long he was employed in preparing his way, in the region round about Jordan; and more was done towards it in these six months than had been done in several ages before. Christ’s coming from Galilee to Jordan, to be baptized, teaches us not the shrink from pain and toil, that we may have an opportunity of drawing nigh to God in ordinance. We should be willing to go far, rather than come short of communion with God. Those who will find must seek.
Now in this story of Christ’s baptism we may observe,
I. How hardly John was persuaded to admit of it, Matt. 3:14, 15. It was an instance of Christ’s great humility, that he would offer himself to be baptized of John; that he who knew no sin would submit to the baptism of repentance. Note, As soon as ever Christ began to preach, he preached humility, preached it by his example, preached it to all, especially the young ministers. Christ was designed for the highest honours, yet in his first step he thus abases himself. Note, Those who would rise high must begin low. Before honour is humility. It was a great piece of respect done to John, for Christ thus to come to him; and it was a return for the service he did him, in giving notice of his approach. Note, Those that honour God he will honour. Now here we have,
1. The objection that John made against baptizing Jesus, Matt. 3:14. John forbade him, as Peter did, when Christ went about to wash his feet, John 13:6, 8. Note, Christ’s gracious condescensions are so surprising, as to appear at first incredible to the strongest believers; so deep and mysterious, that even they who know his mind well cannot soon find out the meaning of them, but, by reason of darkness, start objections against the will of Christ. John’s modesty thinks this an honour too great for him to receive, and he expresses himself to Christ, just as his mother had done to Christ’s mother (Luke 1:43); Whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? John had now obtained a great name, and was universally respected: yet see how humble he is still! Note, God has further honours in reserve for those whose spirits continue low when their reputation rises.
(1.) John thinks it necessary that he should be baptized of Christ; I have need to be baptized of thee with the baptism of the Holy Ghost, as of fire, for that was Christ’s baptism, Matt. 3:11. [1.] Though John was filled with the Holy Ghost from the womb (Luke 1:15), yet he acknowledges he had need to be baptized with that baptism. Note, They who have much of the Spirit of God, yet, while here, in this imperfect state, see that they have need of more, and need to apply themselves to Christ for more. [2.] John has need to be baptized, though he was the greatest that ever was born of woman; yet, being born of a woman, he is polluted, as others of Adam’s seed are, and owns he had need of cleansing. Note, The purest souls are most sensible of their own remaining impurity, and seek most earnestly for spiritual washing. [3.] He has need to be baptized of Christ, who can do that for us, which no one else can, and which must be done for us, or we are undone. Note, The best and holiest of men have need of Christ, and the better they are, the more they see of that need. [4.] This was said before the multitude, who had a great veneration for John, and were ready to embrace him for the Messiah; yet he publicly owns that he had need to be baptized of Christ. Note, It is no disparagement to the greatest of men, to confess that they are undone without Christ and his grace. [5.] John was Christ’s forerunner, and yet owns that he had need to be baptized of him. Note, Even they who were born before Christ in time depended on him, received from him, and had an eye to him. [6.] While John was dealing with others about their souls, observe how feelingly he speaks of the case of his own soul, I have need to be baptized of thee. Note, Ministers, who preach to others, and baptize others, are concerned to look to it that they preach to themselves, and be themselves baptized with the Holy Ghost. Take heed to thyself first; save thyself, 1 Tim. 4:16.
(2.) He therefore thinks it very preposterous and absurd, that Christ should be baptized by him; Comest thou to me? Does the holy Jesus, that is separated from sinners, come to be baptized by a sinner, as a sinner, and among sinners? How can this be? Or what account can we give of it? Note, Christ’s coming to us may well be wondered at.
2. The overruling of this objection (Matt. 3:15); Jesus said, Suffer it to be so now. Christ accepted his humility, but not his refusal; he will have the thing done; and it is fit that Christ should take his own method, though we do not understand it, nor can give a reason for it. See,
(1.) How Christ insisted upon it; It must be so now. He does not deny that John had need to be baptized of him, yet he will now be baptized of John. Aphes arti—Let it be yet so; suffer it to be so now. Note, Every thing is beautiful in its season. But why now? Why yet? [1.] Christ is now in a state of humiliation: he has emptied himself, and made himself of no reputation. He is not only found in fashion as a man, but is made in the likeness of sinful flesh, and therefore now let him be baptized of John; as if he needed to be washed, though perfectly pure; and thus he was made sin for us, though he knew no sin. [2.] John’s baptism is now in reputation, it is that by which God is now doing his work; that is the present dispensation, and therefore Jesus will now be baptized with water; but his baptizing with the Holy Ghost is reserved for hereafter, many days hence, Acts 1:5. John’s baptism has now its day, and therefore honour must now be put upon that, and they who attend upon it must be encouraged. Note, They who are of greatest attainments in gifts and graces, should yet, in their place, bear their testimony to instituted ordinances, by a humble and diligent attendance on them, that they may give a good example to others. What we see God owns, and while we see he does so, we must own. John was now increasing, and therefore it must be thus yet; shortly he will decrease, and then it will be otherwise. [3.] It must be so now, because now is the time for Christ’s appearing in public, and this will be a fair opportunity for it, See John 1:31-34. Thus he must be made manifest to Israel, and be signalized by wonders from heaven, in that act of his own, which was most condescending and self-abasing.
(2.) The reason he gives for it; Thus it becomes us to fulfil all righteousness. Note, [1.] There was a propriety in every thing that Christ did for us; it was all graceful (Heb. 2:10; 7:26); and we must study to do not only that which behoves us, but that which becomes us; not only that which is indispensably necessary, but that which is lovely, and of good report. [2.] Our Lord Jesus looked upon it as a thing well becoming him, to fulfil all righteousness, that is (as Dr. Whitby explains it), to own every divine institution, and to show his readiness to comply with all God’s righteous precepts. Thus it becomes him to justify God, and approve his wisdom, in sending John to prepare his way by the baptism of repentance. Thus it becomes us to countenance and encourage every thing that is good, by pattern as well as precept. Christ often mentioned John and his baptism with honour, which that he might do the better, he was himself baptized. Thus Jesus began first to do, and then to teach; and his ministers must take the same method. Thus Christ filled up the righteousness of the ceremonial law, which consisted in divers washings; thus he recommended the gospel-ordinance of baptism to his church, put honour upon it, and showed what virtue he designed to put into it. It became Christ to submit to John’s washing with water, because it was a divine appointment; but it became him to oppose the Pharisees’ washing with water, because it was a human invention and imposition; and he justified his disciples in refusing to comply with it.
With the will of Christ, and this reason for it, John was entirely satisfied, and then he suffered him. The same modesty which made him at first decline the honour Christ offered him, now made him do the service Christ enjoined him. Note, No pretence of humility must make us decline our duty.
II. How solemnly Heaven was pleased to grace the baptism of Christ with a special display of glory (Matt. 3:16, 17); Jesus when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water. Others that were baptized staid to confess their sins (Matt. 3:6); but Christ, having no sins to confess, went up immediately out of the water; so we read it, but not right: for it is apo tou hydatos—from the water; from the brink of the river, to which he went down to be washed with water, that is, to have his head or face washed (John 13:9); for here is no mention of the putting off, or putting on, of his clothes, which circumstance would not have omitted, if he had been baptized naked. He went up straightway, as one that entered upon his work with the utmost cheerfulness and resolution; he would lose no time. How was he straitened till it was accomplished!
Now, when he was coming up out of the water, and all the company had their eye upon him,
1. Lo! the heavens were opened unto him, so as to discover something above and beyond the starry firmament, at least, to him. This was, (1.) To encourage him to go on in his undertaking, with the prospect of the glory and joy that were set before him. Heaven is opened to receive him, when he has finished the work he is now entering upon. (2.) To encourage us to receive him, and submit to him. Note, In and through Jesus Christ, the heavens are opened to the children of men. Sin shut up heaven, put a stop to all friendly intercourse between God and man; but now Christ has opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers. Divine light and love are darted down upon the children of men, and we have boldness to enter into the holiest. We have receipts of mercy from God, we make returns of duty to God, and all by Jesus Christ, who is the ladder that had its foot on earth and its top in heaven, by whom alone it is that we have any comfortable correspondence with God, or any hope of getting to heaven at last. The heavens were opened when Christ was baptized, to teach us, that when we duly attend on God’s ordinances, we may expect communion with him, and communications from him.
2. He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, or as a dove, and coming or lighting upon him. Christ saw it (Mark 1:10), and John saw it (John 1:33, 34), and it is probable that all the standers-by saw it; for this was intended to be his public inauguration. Observe,
(1.) He saw the Spirit of God descended, and lighted on him. In the beginning of the old world, the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters (Gen. 1:2), hovered as a bird upon the nest. So here, in the beginning of this new world, Christ, as God, needed not to receive the Holy Ghost, but it was foretold that the Spirit of the Lord should rest upon him (Isa. 11:2; 61:1), and here he did so; for, [1.] He was to be a Prophet; and prophets always spoke by the Spirit of God, who came upon them. Christ was to execute the prophetic office, not by his divine nature (says Dr. Whitby), but by the afflatus of the Holy Spirit. [2.] He was to be the Head of the church; and the Spirit descended upon him, by him to be derived to all believers, in his gifts, graces, and comforts. The ointment on the head ran down to the skirts; Christ received gifts for men, that he might give gifts to men.
(2.) He descended on him like a dove; whether it was a real, living dove, or, as was usual in visions, the representation or similitude of a dove, is uncertain. If there must be a bodily shape (Luke 3:22), it must not be that of a man, for the being seen in fashion as a man was peculiar to the second person: none therefore was more fit than the shape of one of the fowls of heaven (heaven being now opened), and of all fowl none was so significant as the dove. [1.] The Spirit of Christ is a dove-like spirit; not like a silly dove, without heart (Hos. 7:11), but like an innocent dove, without gall. The Spirit descended, not in the shape of an eagle, which is, though a royal bird, yet a bird of prey, but in the shape of a dove, than which no creature is more harmless and inoffensive. Such was the Spirit of Christ: He shall not strive, nor cry; such must Christians be, harmless as doves. The dove is remarkable for her eyes; we find that both the eyes of Christ (Song 5:12), and the eyes of the church (Song 1:15; 4:1), are compared to doves’ eyes, for they have the same spirit. The dove mourns much (Isa. 38:14). Christ wept oft; and penitent souls are compared to doves of the valleys. [2.] The dove was the only fowl that was offered in sacrifice (Lev. 1:14), and Christ by the Spirit, the eternal Spirit, offered himself without spot to God. [3.] The tidings of the decrease of Noah’s flood were brought by a dove, with an olive-leaf in her mouth; fitly therefore are the glad tidings of peace with God brought by the Spirit as a dove. It speaks God’s good will towards men; that his thoughts towards us are thoughts of good, and not evil. By the voice of the turtle heard in our land (Song 2:12), the Chaldee paraphrase understands, the voice of the Holy Spirit. That God is in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, is a joyful message, which comes to us upon the wing, the wings of a dove.
3. To explain and complete this solemnity, there came a voice from heaven, which, we have reason to think, was heard by all that were present. The Holy Spirit manifested himself in the likeness of a dove, but God the Father by a voice; for when the law was given they saw no manner of similitude, only they heard a voice (Deut. 4:12); and so this gospel came, and gospel indeed it is, the best news that ever came from heaven to earth; for it speaks plainly and fully God’s favour to Christ, and us in him.
(1.) See here how God owns our Lord Jesus; This is my beloved Son. Observe, [1.] The relation he stood in to him; He is my Son. Jesus Christ is the Son of God, by eternal generation, as he was begotten of the Father before all the worlds (Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:3); and by supernatural conception; he was therefore called the Son of God, because he was conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost (Luke 1:35); yet this is not all; he is the Son of God by special designation to the work and office of the world’s Redeemer. He was sanctified and sealed, and sent upon that errand, brought up with the Father for it (Prov. 8:30), appointed to it; I will make him my First-born, Ps. 89:27. [2.] The affection the Father had for him; He is my beloved Son; his dear Son, the Son of his love (Col. 1:13); he has lain in his bosom from all eternity (John 1:18), had been always his delight (Prov. 8:30), but particularly as Mediator, and in undertaking the work of man’s salvation, he was his beloved Son. He is my Elect, in whom my soul delights. See Isa. 42:1. Because he consented to the covenant of redemption, and delighted to do that will of God, therefore the Father loved him. John 10:17; John 3:35. Behold, then, behold, and wonder, what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that he should deliver up him that was the Son of his love, to suffer and die for those that were the generation of his wrath; nay,and that he therefore loved him, because he laid down his life for the sheep! Now know we that he loved us, seeing he has not withheld his Son, his only Son, his Isaac whom he loved, but gave him to be a sacrifice for our sin.
(2.) See here how ready he is to own us in him: He is my beloved Son, not only with whom, but in whom, I am well pleased. He is pleased with all that are in him, and are united to him by faith. Hitherto God had been displeased with the children of men, but now his anger is turned away, and he has made us accepted in the Beloved, Eph. 1:6. Let all the world take notice, that this is the Peace-maker, the Days-man, who has laid his hand upon us both, and that there is no coming to God as a Father, but by him as Mediator, John 14:6. In him our spiritual sacrifices are acceptable, for his the Altar that sanctifies every gift, 1 Pet. 2:5. Out of Christ, God is a consuming Fire, but, in Christ, a reconciled Father. This is the sum of the whole gospel; it is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that God has declared, by a voice from heaven, that Jesus Christ is his beloved Son, in whom he is well pleased, with which we must by faith cheerfully concur, and say, that he is our beloved Saviour, in whom we are well pleased.