January 21, 2005

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Jesus in the Gospels: John baptizes him

See Matthew 3:1-17, Mark 1:2-11,
Luke 3:1-22, John 1:19-34

Jesus’ public appearance, after years of obscurity, began when he went from Nazareth to the Jordan River in Judea and was baptized by John the Baptist. All four Gospels saw this as a momentous occasion because this was when the Holy Spirit prepared Jesus for his ministry and when he was proclaimed as the Son of God.

John had made a name for himself through his preaching, calling people to repent because the kingdom of God was at hand. He had attracted many followers, but he insisted that he was only preparing the way for one greater than he. In fact, he said, the one coming after him was to be so much mightier that John wasn’t even worthy to carry his sandals.

Therefore, when Jesus approached him, John said to him, “I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?” He immediately recognized in Jesus one holier than he.

As Jesus came out of the Jordan River after his baptism, the Spirit of God descended upon him in the form of a dove and a voice came from heaven saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Who saw the dove and heard the voice? Jesus and John, surely, but did anyone else?

If you were a Jewish man or woman at the site and happened to see a dove hovering over a young man, you wouldn’t have thought much about it. After all, the Jews knew nothing about the Holy Spirit, and a dove, to them, was simply something that they offered in sacrifice. Only John recognized this as a sign of the Holy Spirit.

As for the voice, there’s no way of knowing if anyone besides John and Jesus heard it. But what did it mean to Jesus? Was this only the way he made himself known to John? After all, he already knew that he was God. But he was also human and, like any human, it must have delighted him to hear the Father himself say to him, “With you I am well pleased.”

We sometimes forget that Jesus wasn’t just God pretending to be a man. He was as human as you and I. Just as we do, he too required supernatural life. He needed the Holy Spirit in his human soul. John testified that the one who had sent him to baptize let him know that he was to baptize with the Holy Spirit whomever he saw the Spirit descend upon.

This was only the first of several times that the Gospels tell us that the Holy Spirit led Jesus or acted upon him. The Holy Spirit was to be with him throughout his mission on Earth. As a matter of fact, the mission of Jesus in the world was a joint mission with the Holy Spirit.

The first thing the Holy Spirit did after Jesus’ baptism was to lead him into the desert for a 40-day retreat, which will be the subject of next week’s column. †


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