We focus on the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry as written in Matthew 3:13-17. The initiating event began with Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist, who was at first reluctant to perform the task. After all, John had said that Jesus was greater than he was. Nevertheless, Jesus wanted to be baptized by John and so it happened.
Jesus came up from the baptismal water of the Jordan River and saw that the heavens were opened. The significant bit was that Jesus also saw the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove descending upon him. Then the voice of God the Father spoke, boldly proclaiming that“This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17).
Truly, this had to be one of the most dramatic baptisms John performed since it marked a turning point in Jesus’ life. Jesus was inspired to see the heavens open, to hear God speaking, and to receive the Spirit of new ministry. And what about this rare instance (in the New Testament at least) of God the Father speaking? In all four gospel stories (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), there are only about three times when God the Father speaks. Why? There’s no definitive answer but perhaps it has to do with Jesus doing most of the talking. Consequently, God the Father didn’t need to say much because the task was to elevate Jesus. A less charitable view is that with Jesus front and center of a new movement (i.e., Christianity) the Old Testament God was less relevant and even contrary to Jesus’ new message of love and salvation. In other words, the Old Testament view of God was perceived as contrary to the broader Greco-Roman civilization.
Aside from the miraculous circumstances of Jesus’ baptism and the Father’s words, there is something else of interest. Jesus “came up from the water . . . and he saw the Spirit of God descending” (Matthew 3: 16). Notice that, as Jesus arose, the Spirit met half way, so to speak. Jesus did his part, and God responded by spiritually descending to earth. There is a lesson for us here inasmuch as when we initiate something—such as a baptism or profession of faith —God meets us where we are and helps us complete our journey. God’s Spirit can descend from heaven to empower a process that we first begin.
Think about the Holy Spirit coming to Jesus. Have you felt God meeting you in some way? Have you sensitized yourself so that you can experience the Spirit of God descending upon you? Are your spiritual eyes and ears open to seeing and hearing the divine presence?
It’s not that we wait endlessly for a voice from heaven or for a literal dove to land on us. God’s Spirit can work silent wonders at any time without a spoken word or miraculous events. A key to receiving spiritual blessings is being ready, opening ourselves up by awareness to God’s presence. In this way, we expect something good to happen. And of course, we must be willing to continue what God starts in us. As we enter 2014, pray that all of God’s people will search for and find a new ministry of light and life. What new ministry can God engage through you?
–Reverend Larry Hoxey