“when Jesus had been baptized” Matthew 3:16
The baptism of Jesus is about God being with us.
It is about Jesus coming to be one with us.
Baptism in Jesus’ time was about repentance; it was about saying sorry for the things one had done wrong; it was about symbolically washing away your past and showing people that you wanted to start again. John the Baptist was not the only man performing baptisms, there were other preachers calling people to repent, other preachers calling on people to turn their backs on lives that were wrong and to begin to live lives that were right. Baptism was not once and for all: people might be baptized and then feel that they had not lived as they should have done, so they might go and be baptized again.
We need to understand that baptism was about turning from wrongdoing if we are to understand how John the Baptist felt when he saw Jesus. In Saint Matthew Chapter 3 Verses 13-14, we read, “Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?'” Jesus had done nothing wrong, John is confused that Jesus has come to the Jordan. Jesus reassures John in Verse 15, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfil all righteousness.”
Jesus is saying to the people gathered at the Jordan that he is one with them; Jesus is saying to us that he is one with us. Jesus is showing us that God is not some remote far away person, but instead he is someone who wishes to be with us.
Jesus comes to be one with us and the Spirit comes to be with us in our lives. God’s Spirit has been active in the world since the first moment of creation. The word for the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament is “ruach”, in the New Testament it is “pneuma”, it means breath, moving air, it is about God as a life giver and as a presence, around and within people. The Spirit comes to be with Jesus in Verse 16 which tells us, “And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him.” As Jesus comes up from the water, soaked through, as he goes through a very human experience, so the Spirit comes to be with him in what he feels and thinks.
The Spirit who comes to be with Jesus is the Spirit who is with us in our daily experiences. There are times when we may feel that God does not understand us, that God does not feel the thing we feel, that God has no interest in us. The Holy Spirit is God with us in all our thoughts and in every aspect of our lives. There is no-one for whom God does not care; there is no-one with whom God is not present. Sometimes we only feel that presence when we are being carried along by it, but the Spirit’s presence is always there.
Jesus comes to be one with us, the Spirit comes to be with us in our lives, and the Father comes to speak to us. After Jesus has been baptized and the Holy Spirit has come down like a dove, Verse 17 says, “And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.'”The thought of God speaking would have been terrifying to the people of Jesus’ time. We need only recall the stories of Moses at Mount Sinai in the Book of Exodus, or the stories of Elijah in the First Book of Kings, to know what a terrifying presence God could be. God’s voice had called the whole world into creation and God’s voice had the power to destroy all that he had made. God’s voice could have reached the whole cosmos, yet he speaks to a group of people at the Jordan; individual people matter to him.
The Father speaks to us. Pethaps not audibly, like those there when Jesus was baptized, but in different ways; through the words of Scripture, through the working of the Spirit in our hearts, through our prayers and worship, through the words of friends, through the kindness of people. God speaks to us in many ways and sometimes it is only long afterwards that we realize that we had heard the voice of God. The voice says that the Father is well pleased with Jesus, do we share the Father’s thinking. Are we people who are well-pleased with Jesus? Are we people who are prepared to follow Jesus?
One with us, sharing our lives with us, speaking to us: the baptism of Jesus tells us about such a God.