18 So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people. 19 But Herod the tetrarch, who had been reproved by him for Herodias, his brother’s wife, and for all the evil things that Herod had done, 20 added this to them all, that he locked up John in prison.Luke 3:18-21, ESV
21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
Who is God? Is there a more important question to consider? Is there another subject more worthy of our attention? Some might think so. Humanity seems to be inherently religious and incapable of escaping the haunting question, Who is God? There have been countless answers proposed, but how can a person know the Almighty? Trying to pull back the veil and catch a glimpse of God is a purpose of the Holy Scriptures. God has decidedly revealed Himself to His creatures by way of written words. Therefore, we ought to follow Augustine and obey the voice that speaks, “Take up and read; Take up and read.”
In reading the four Gospels, the picture of God begins to come into focus. From Genesis to Malachi readers are transported, as it were, into the presence of God behind the veil. In the reading of the Law, Prophets, and Psalms (Lu 24:44), we catch a glimpse of God, but the picture is somewhat blurred. The picture of God begins to come into focus specifically at Jesus’ baptism.
Jesus’ baptism was recorded in all four Gospel accounts and is a testimony to its significance. Few events were recorded by all four Gospel writers. Each had a particular vantage point and purpose for including it in their narration. Luke only used 51 words to describe that holy scene. How convenient, Luke is so “tweetable.” However, if you are interested in reading a fuller description of Jesus’ baptism you should read Matthew 3.
Matthew makes us privy to the conversation between John and Jesus before the baptism. You’ll recall that John confessed that his water baptism was less impactful than Jesus’ baptism, and John’s self humiliating claim was his unworthiness to touch Jesus’ sandals. So John’s question to Jesus seems logically relevant. “do you come to me?” John asked. Christ’s reply was to say, “it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” What exactly did Jesus mean? It may have been Jesus readily submitting to all the Divine precepts as Matthew Henry says, or it may have been a foreshadowing of the death, burial, and resurrection to come as Spurgeon suggested. It could be that those two puritan minds were both wrong, but we can be sure of what Jesus didn’t mean. Jesus was not coming to John to participate in the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins because He was in need. Jesus was certainly the only man without needing cleansing from sin.
The Holy Spirit, the Son, and the Father…
Upon Jesus’ ascending from the water of His baptism the sky opened and the Holy Spirit descended. There was also a voice from Heaven thundering, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” I would like to imagine the scene, but I can’t wrap my mind around it. God spoke audibly to praise His Son. I can imagine the first-century Jewish mind scrambling to try and make sense of those words like a thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle without a box. Also, the people who heard the Father’s voice saw the Holy Spirit descending. Even people from Missouri would have had a hard time believing their own eyes I think. This scene is written by Luke in a few words but innumerable volumes of books have been written to uncover the meaning of them.
Let’s take a brief look at the two glaring facts. First, God is numerically one. Luke isn’t denying Judaism’s central claim about God. Jesus is an orthodox Jew born into an orthodox Jewish home and Luke’s narrative simply takes that for granted. John the Baptist is an orthodox Jew who was called into ministry by Jehovah and employed as a prophet and therefore all parties concerned are staunch Monotheists who joyfully recite the Shema (Deut 6:4-9) alongside all believing Jews.
Second, The Father is distinct from the Son and the Spirit. All throughout the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit is identified as God but not all Jewish scribes had recognized a plurality in Jehovah. God’s Spirit descended before the eyes of many people and God’s voice was heard proceeded forth from Heaven and not from the Holy likeness of a dove. God the Father is clearly distinct from God the Spirit. Now we turn our attention to the Son of God. Jesus standing in the water is obviously distinct from the Spirit and the Father, but He is no less divine. He is God incarnate. The entirety of Luke will draw out that truth more fully in its following pages, but Christ’s divinity is clearly being communicated in this account.
How should we reconcile Jewish monotheism with the story of Christ’s baptism where we see three divine persons? Reconciling those truths was the reason for creating the term “Trinity”. From the outset of Luke’s narrative, we are confronted with the truth that three divine persons are the One Holy God. One of the three great Cappadocian Fathers, Gregory of Nazianzus, said, “No sooner do I conceive of the one than I am illumined by the splendor of the three; no sooner do I distinguish them than I am carried back to the one. When I think of any one of the three I think of him as the whole, and my eyes are filled, and the greater part of what I am thinking escapes me. I cannot grasp the greatness of that one so as to attribute a greater greatness to the rest. When I contemplate the three together, I see by one torch, and cannot divide or measure out the undivided light.” This is the greatest mystery to contemplate and the most valuable subject matter the human mind can dwell upon.