We focus on the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry as written in Matthew 3:13-17. The initiating event began with Jesus’ spiritual awakening through 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.
Jesus came up from the baptismal water of the Jordan River and saw the heavens opened. It’s neat how the perception of reality is enlarged following a spiritual awakening. Jesus also saw the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove descending upon himself. This vision of a bird is often interpreted to represent the Holy Spirit and peace. Then the voice of God the Father spoke, boldly proclaiming, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). 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 for a new type of ministry.
Another interesting aspect of Jesus’ baptism is the rarity of God the Father speaking in the New Testament. In all four gospel stories (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), there are only about three times when God the Father is quoted. Perhaps the Father’s relative silence has to do with Jesus doing most of the talking. The Old Testament Father-figure didn’t need to say much because the task was to emphasize Jesus. The old ways were passing, and although God was verbal in the Old Testament, the new situation shifted to Jesus. Because Jesus was the center of a new movement, the Old Testament God was less relevant and even contrary to Jesus’ message. In other words, the Old Testament view of God was changing from what some perceive as a relatively barbaric deity compared to Jesus, whose emphasis on love and redemption seems comparatively enlightened.
Aside from the miraculous circumstances of Jesus’ baptism and the Father’s words, there is more significance. Jesus “came up from the water . . . and he saw the Spirit of God descending” (Matthew 3: 16). Notice that, as Jesus arose, the Spirit seems to have met him half way. Jesus did his part, and God responded by the Spirit descending. There is a lesson 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. We can’t do all the spiritual miracles by ourselves, which is why God blesses us. As we begin, God knows that we need divine help to initiate our journey.
God’s Spirit can descend from heaven to empower a process that we first must begin. So, please indulge a series of questions intended to get us thinking about our relationship with the Almighty. Have you met God lately? What is it that might be disturbing the waters and keeping you from God’s Spirit? Have you sensitized yourself so that you can experience the Spirit descending upon you? Are your spiritual eyes and ears open to perceiving God? Rather than feel interrogated, consider all this an exercise for productive thinking. The New Year is still fresh, and so is the promise and possibility of your faith journey. Get your spiritual mojo activated in 2017!
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 outwardly miraculous events. A key to receiving spiritual blessings is being ready, opening ourselves through intentional awareness to God’s presence. In this way, we can then expect wondrous blessings. And of course, we must be willing to continue what God starts in us. As we enter 2017, pray that all of us will search for and find a renewed ministry of light and life. After all, it is through our spiritual awakening that we find and enjoy the best life. –Reverend Larry Hoxey