Matthew 3:16b – Jesus Baptized with the Spirit
At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him.Matthew 3:16b
Jesus Baptized with the Spirit
The miraculous event of our text took place immediately at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry as Messiah in Israel. This beginning certainly attracted attention. After thirty years the Savior finally appears in public and presents him self to his people as the promised Redeemer. He departs from Galilee in the north, to let him self be baptized in the Jordan by John.
We can well understand John’s great difficulty with this beginning. For this peculiar beginning of Jesus’ public ministry stands in glaring contrast to the preaching of John the Baptist. As a herald John announced the coming of the Messiah. As a second Elijah he had to call the people to repentance and so prepare the way for the coming Christ.
Although in his preaching the gospel was not lacking, John’s message was especially a penetrating proclamation of judgment. Israel had better realize how urgent it is now that the Messiah appears. The LORD’s salvation is only for those who want to break with their old ways of sinful life. Anyone who continues in his sinful way will discover that the Messiah also brings the final judgment.
When we read John’s proclamation carefully, we understand his intense reaction when Jesus comes to him to be baptized by him. John expected the Messiah as a glorious King, as the great Son of David who would establish his kingdom in Israel in an impressive way.
But a Messiah, who stands in the lineup with tax collectors and sinners and wants to go down into the water of the Jordan, is something John could not square with his preaching. Indeed, the beginning of Jesus’ ministry is very remarkable. Does it fit in with all those beautiful words of prophecy about the Messiah?
Scripture mentions practically nothing about the first thirty years of our Lord’s life. We may assume that in his youth Jesus was intensely occupied with the Word of his heavenly Father. When he heard the prophecy of Isaiah 53, he must have come to understand more and more: here the Father is speaking about Me; I am the Servant who will bear the sin of his people; here the Father shows Me the way.
Jesus’ coming to John to be baptized at the beginning of his public ministry in Israel is not in conflict with his Messiahship. On the contrary, it proves that he has taken the teaching of Scripture to heart. He is fully convinced: I have to take the guilt of my people upon myself. It is the Father’s will that I choose the side of the tax collectors and sinners, for I have to be the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.
This amazing beginning, of Jesus’ baptism as a sinner by John, is fully in agreement with God’s plan of redemption. When Jesus descends into the water of the Jordan, he walks on the way of his Father. This is very evident from what happens immediately after, when Jesus goes up out of the water. The heavens are opened, and the Spirit of God descends on him like a dove.
If John still had any doubts about what Jesus does, this is now taken away. For John knows: he on whom I see the Spirit come down and remain is the Messiah (cf. Jn 1:33); in him the prophecy is being fulfilled.
The prophecy fulfilled ... indeed, for especially the prophet Isaiah had foretold that the Spirit would rest upon the Servant of the Lord, the Messiah. We read this very clearly in Isaiah 11:2: “The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him, the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD....” (Cf. Isa 42:1; 61:1.)
In light of Isaiah’s prophecy we will understand how magnificent it is what happens immediately after Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan. The Holy Spirit descends upon him. That means, Jesus is openly pointed out as the Messiah. This Jesus, who takes upon him self the sins of his people, is God’s faithful servant. He receives the Spirit so that he can accomplish the great work the Father has commissioned him to do.
Matthew says it in a way that catches our attention. John saw the Spirit come down on Jesus as a dove, and remain on him. The evangelist wants to express that the Spirit not only descended momentarily on him, but also remained on him (cf. Jn 1:32). From now on the Holy Spirit would always be with Jesus, the Spirit of wisdom and power, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.
An enormous task lay before Jesus. We cannot imagine how great and how heavy. He would have to go a way that would finally end up on the cross and in the terrors of hell. But the Holy Spirit would strengthen him for that. That Spirit would constantly enable Jesus to be the great Office-bearer, the Servant of Isaiah’s prophecy.
We should not forget that our Savior was a true man. If he would serve rightly in his Messianic office, the Spirit would have to fill and govern him continuously.
It is not by chance that the gospel often mentions the Holy Spirit in connection with Jesus’ work as the Messiah. Matthew 4:1 tells us that the Spirit drives him into the wilderness. In Luke 4:14 we read that, after the temptation in the wilderness, Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee. Matthew 12:28 tells us that Jesus cast out the evil spirits by the Spirit of God. And in Luke 10:21 we read that Jesus was full of joy through the Holy Spirit.
The message in our text is a rich gospel. The heavens are opened and Jesus is baptized with the Holy Spirit. From now on he is the Servant of the LORD upon whom the Spirit rests.
This proclaims to us that everything Jesus is going to do is indeed a perfect fulfilling of his office. Because Jesus received the Spirit without measure, he is able to walk the way of the Father in perfect obedience.
What he cried out on the cross was really true: “It is finished!” For it was through the eternal Spirit that our Savior offered him self without blemish to God (cf. Heb 9:14).
Precisely as the One on whom the Spirit rested, could he also be the One who would send out the Spirit. For with his unblemished sacrifice, he has obtained the Holy Spirit for all who are His.
The feast of Pentecost is at bottom the feast of Christ. What John announced is then being fulfilled. He who was baptized with the Spirit will him self baptize with the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 1:5; 2:33). Jesus had to go a long way before he could receive from the Father the promised Spirit for all who are His.
On Pentecost it happens: the baptized One now baptizes. He now shows that he has obtained the life-giving Spirit for all who belong to him.
And just as Jesus was qualified to his office by the Spirit, so that same Spirit wants to help us also fulfill our Christian office faithfully.
The miracle of the Heidelberg Catechism Lord=s Day 12 becomes visible: I am a member of Christ by faith and thus share in his anointing! I now have the power to, as a prophet, profess God's name, as a priest, present myself as a living sacrifice of thanksgiving to the Lord, and as a king, fight against sin. All this is possible only through the Spirit of Christ. Where the Spirit rules and governs hearts and lives, there each believer becomes again >the man of God= (cf. 1 Tim 6:11), that is, an office-bearer: a prophet, priest and king.