(A) Introduction. (Read the passage.)

The baptism of Jesus is unusual because it involved the observable participation of the three persons of the Godhead. It is almost as if the three members of the Trinity were girding themselves for the grand work of redemption. The Son came for baptism in preparation for his saving work. The Father showed his approval of the task Jesus was undertaking. The Spirit descended to equip Jesus for what was to come.

(B) The baptism of the Son.

(1) Jesus didn't need to be baptised.

John the Baptist recognised that Jesus had no need of baptism because he had nothing of which to repent. He said: "I need to be baptised by you, and do you come to me?" Mt3v14.

The amazing thing is that John was aware of the unblemished life of Jesus but had no idea until after his baptism that he was God's Messiah. (See John1v29to34 and also my exposition on this passage.)

Jesus did not excuse himself from baptism. He didn't remain aloof from rank and file sinners. He could have argued that it wasn't strictly necessary. Jesus could have pointed out how some of the religious formalists were using it ostentatiously for their own ends. The Saviour could have said justly that it wouldn't make any real difference to the work God had given him to do. Sadly, these are the sort of arguments that Christians in the Baptist tradition use today to excuse themselves from believer's baptism. There are of course others as well: "I don't want to make a spectacle of myself." "I can afford to wait until I get older." "I'm getting too old for it now."

(2) Jesus was baptised to identify with us.

Baptism was just one of several ways the God the Son identified with sinful man. It was just so important for us that the Son did so:

    (a) Jesus became a man to make God accessible to us. I love the story in Dicken's, 'Little Dorrit' of the heroine of the novel coming to Mr Clennam in the debtor's prison. Mr Clennam had been good to Little Dorrit when she was in the Marshalsea with her family. But their fortunes changed. The Dorrit family came into money and Mr Clennam fell into debt. When Little Dorrit discovers Mr Clennam's plight she comes to him in her old, worn dress. It was her debtor's dress. She said to Mr Clennam: "I hope you would like me better in this dress than any other. I have always kept it by me, to remind me." Little Dorrit knew what it was like to be a debtor.

    God the Son wore the debtor's clothes, bore the sinner's debt and paid the price to set us free. Nor has he forgotten what it is to be human!

    (b) Jesus shared the common lot of humanity - its difficulties and satisfactions, its hardships and pleasures, its sorrows and joys. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are - yet without sin. Heb4v15. In the words of the well loved carol:

            For He is our childhood's pattern:
            Day by day like us he grew;
            He was little, weak, and helpless,
            Tears and smiles like us he knew;
            And he feeleth for our sadness,
            And he shareth in our gladness.

    (c) Jesus felt such a kinship with fallen humanity that he was moved with compassion at the suffering of his brothers and did all he could to relieve it. After he had healed Simon Peter's mother-in-law Luke records: When the sun was setting, the people brought to Jesus all who had various kinds of sickness, and laying his hands on each one, he healed them. Lk4v40.

            At even, ere the sun was set,
            The sick, O Lord, around Thee lay;
            O in what divers pains they met!
            O with what joy they went away!

            Thy touch has still its ancient power;
            No word from Thee can fruitless fall;
            Hear in this solemn evening hour,
            And in Thy mercy heal us all.

    (d) In the end the one whose life pleased God as no other has ever done shared our sin. Jesus seemed to be aware of the way he had to go because he said to John the Baptist: "Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfil all righteousness." Mt3v15. Jesus had to identify with our fallen humanity in order to fulfil God's will and save us. Nobody states this more clearly than the writer to the Hebrews: Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death - that is, the devil - and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. Heb2v14to15.

    We do not like to associate with those whose company might tarnish our reputation. Our sin did more than tarnish the reputation of Jesus; it lead to God abandoning him in his darkest hour.

(C) The descent of the Spirit.

(1) The descent of the Spirit was an answer to prayer.

Jesus prayed at the outset of his public ministry. He may have thanked the Father for the clarity with which he saw his mission. Jesus is likely to have asked God for help to carry it out - for guidance, power and grace. So the Spirit descends from the Father in heaven to equip Jesus for three years of ministry.

God will equip us for his service, whatever that service might be, if prayer precedes it. When I worked as a sport's organiser at Pioneer Camp we had to get up at an unearthly hour to attend a prayer meeting at 6.30am. One of my treasured memories is the tousled haired, bleary eyed, disgruntled face of my sister-in-law poking out of her bell tent looking all the world like a tortoise awakening from its long hibernation. However, those prayer meetings were crucial for the work of evangelising the boys and girls who attended our camp. God sent his enabling and empowering Spirit in answer to our prayers and we experienced much blessing.

(2) The dove symbolised the work Jesus was going to do.

The Holy Spirit could have been sent in many different guises:

    (a) As a lion to signify the regalness of Jesus - King of Kings and Lord of All.

    (b) As an ox to symbolise the persevering strength of purpose of Jesus who set his face as steadfast as a flint to go to Jerusalem - enduring the shame for the joy ahead.

    (c) As an eagle to demonstrate his freedom to soar above custom, tradition and convention.

    (d) As an owl to represent the wisdom of his teaching and unparalleled insight into the mind of God.

Instead the Spirit descended as a dove - the bird of sacrifice for the poor and an emblem of peace. Jesus was going to bring peace to men - reconciling man and God through his sacrificial death. In the words of the great apostle: God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. 2Cor5v19.
But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation - if you continue in your faith ... Col1v21.

The dove is one of the loveliest of birds and Jesus in dying for our sins has done a beautiful thing for us.

(3) The dove indicates that the Spirit was God's love gift to Jesus.

On Wednesday Oct 31st 2007 the Daily Telegraph carried the obituary of the psychiatrist and broadcaster, Professor Anthony Clare. I was interested to read this about Clare's mother: His mother, by her son's account, was a neurotic, difficult woman with "ideas above her station." She would order goods on approval from grand stores so that her neighbours would see the vans parked outside her house (and again, when they came to take them away the following week), and lived in a state of constant dissatisfaction with her lot.

After her death Clare found all the presents his father had bought her over the years in vain attempts to please her, unused and unworn, hidden away in drawers.

It seems unlikely to me that Mr Clare's presents to his wife were real love gifts. A love gift:

    (a) Shows appreciation. I have had a few gifts like this. I can remembering a girl bringing a big box full of mica-schist boulders all the way back from a holiday in Scotland. I think it was to show her appreciation of her teacher! I still have two of the boulders and use them as bookends! I can still remember the girl - Corinne Frost!

    (b) Makes a real difference to our well-being. One of the best gifts I ever received was an asthma inhaler from the village shopkeeper, Albert White. He had one of the very earliest models and he bought me one. It changed my life. I was delivered from the fear of that dreadful disease. I saw in my paper this week a request for donations of 150 to finance an operation on a person with a cleft palate in the Third World. A gift of 150 to this charity would be a love gift and make a real difference to someone's well being.

    (c) Helps us to achieve a sort after objective. I asked Tom Kerly who taught keyboard skills at the County Upper School for some advice on how to touch type. He gave me a book and from that book I acquired the skill which has assisted me so much with this website.

God's gift of the Spirit showed how much he appreciated his Son, it imparted the peace that passes understanding and it helped Jesus achieve his great saving objective. The Spirit descended like a dove - God's love gift to his dear Son.

(D) A word from the Father.

(1) God acknowledges his intimacy with Jesus.

God said of Jesus, "You are my son ... " v20. Many fathers and only sons are very close. My old friend Edward and his son Richard are very close - bound together by mutual affection and esteem. Both desire the other's highest good. Edward and Richard delight in each others company. We can almost hear the pride in God's voice when he says to Jesus, "You are my son." God is only too happy to acknowledge his intimate relationship with Jesus. He was the apple of his eye and the pleasure of his heart.

Christians are God's sons by adoption. Some might say, "Well that's not the same as being an only begotten son." However, a father might well love an adopted son with great passion. For a son to be adopted he must be wanted. I have just finished reading Donna Leon's book, 'Suffer the Children', which is about an Italian doctor's immense love for his small adopted son. The Italian was desperate for a son. We need to remember the price God paid to adopt us as his sons. He is desperately anxious to bring men and women into his family.

(2) God's expression of affection.

God does more than acknowledge that Jesus was his son he said, "You are my son, whom I love." v20.

There are many things a father can give his son - wealth, privilege, status, a good start in life - the list is endless. But there is nothing I would rather have than my father's love. I can remember my father coming up to my room on hot summer's nights to stroke my hair as I struggled for breath with asthma; I remember how on the day I left home for university he carried my heavy case to the place I caught the London coach; I remember the message he left scrawled on a piece of newspaper when he was suffering from Parkinson's disease and I was trying to look after him - 'God bless you John.' I am sure there has never been anything Jesus would rather have than his Father's love.

There is nothing more comforting in life than to receive evidences of God's providential love. After a very difficult period caring for my father and a very stressful three months teaching on a temporary contract at a rough school in Haverhill I got a job at Debenham High school. I always considered this an instance of God's love and providential provision.

(3) God's highest praise.

God could not have recommended Jesus more highly. He said: "With you I am well pleased." v20.

How had Jesus pleased God? He had been involved in no great work, no spectacular campaign, no public expression of zeal for the LORD. There is only one incident of note recorded for Jesus' first thirty years. He had slain no Goliath, interpreted no dreams, performed no miracle and brought no message from God. He hadn't even taught in the synagogue in Nazareth.

Jesus had grown up obedient to his earthly parents, learned a trade, served the public and supported his family as a loving and dutiful son and brother. He pleased God in the daily round and common task. Jesus was able to say of his Father: "For I always do what pleases him." Jn8v29. This was as true for his first thirty years as for the last three of his public ministry.

This should be both an encouragement and challenge to us. We are able to either please or displease God in the home, at work or in the wider community. God can be pleased as well in the kitchen as the pulpit, as much in the classroom as on the mission field, as surely laying bricks as singing in the choir. The apostle Paul wrote to the Colossians: Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for me, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. Col3v24.

(E) A list from history.

The genealogy of Jesus given by Luke is different from that found in Matthew. It is probable, but not certain, that Matthew gave Jesus' descent through Joseph his legal father and Luke gave it through Mary his biological mother. In other words Luke provides the bloodline of Jesus.

The genealogy of Jesus teaches:

(1) The indispensability of links in the chain.

There were many unknown, unremarkable individuals among the ancestors of Jesus but without just one of them, one link in the chain, Jesus would not have been born of Mary. People sometimes say, "No-one is indispensable." But I am not altogether sure this is true! I rather think that everyone is significant to God's great plan of redemption. Who knows what part a minor decision by some obscure person has played in your salvation.

The truly terrible thing about the five million abortions that have occurred in this country is that five million links have been brutally snapped. Five million people have been denied the opportunity to participate in God's unfolding plan for mankind. The lives of succeeding generations will be different for the lack of those five million souls.

(2) God keeps his promises.

God kept his promise to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when Jesus was born of Mary. He kept his promise to David because a poor orphan girl in Nazareth could trace her bloodline back to the son of Jesse. It scarcely seems possible that Mary, a mere carpenter's wife, could be of royal lineage - but she was.

God is faithful. He keeps his word. The Israelites entered the land promised to Abraham in spite of spending 400 years in Egypt. God's wayward people did return from exile in Babylon to the land of promise after the 70 years prophesied by Jeremiah. The Jews once again occupy Israel after 1900 years spent dispersed all over the world. A day is coming when all those who love Jesus will enter the Promised Land because God is faithful.

            On that bright and golden morning
            When the Son of Man shall come,
            And the radiance of his glory we shall see;
            When from every clime and nation
            He shall call His people home -
            What a gathering of the ransomed that will be

            What a gathering! What a gathering!
            What a gathering of the ransomed in the summer
            land of love.

(3) The reality of Christ's humanity.

The baptism of Jesus emphasises Christ's divinity but the genealogy confirms his humanity. Mary was his mother and those very human couples - Ruth and Boaz, Rahab and Salmon, Tamar and Judah were his ancestors.

Luke traces Jesus bloodline all the way back to Adam of whom he writes: Adam the son of God. v37 The incarnation was only possible because man was made in the image of God. Redemption is only possible because Jesus was a real man - descended from Adam - the father of the human race. Only a man, one who could genuinely represent us all, could make the sacrifice to save us from our sin. Only a man could bear what we bear - only a man could suffer in our place - only a man could reconcile us to a holy God and give us hope of glory. See Heb3v14to18

Thanks be to God for the man Christ Jesus. Hallelujah what a Saviour!