And we enter the New Testament with a fun verse from Jesus's baptism!
Mat 3:16 And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him;
Mat 3:17 and behold, a voice from heaven said, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased."
And yes, I stuck verse 17 in for a reason, as we will see in a bit. But first off, let's establish our cast of characters. Obviously, we have Jesus and John the Baptist, along with big cameos by God the Father and the Holy Spirit. But this wasn't everybody, because look at the preceding verses...
Mat 3:5 Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him,
Mat 3:6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
Mat 3:7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
So this wasn't any private ordeal, and that factors in also in a bit. Now that I have set my stage here, let's look for the importance of the verse.
First thing we see is, "He IMMEDIATELY WENT UP from the water." Why is this important? First of all, to establish that the following didn't happen after Jesus grabbed a towel and a dry tunic and got off by Himself- the crowd WAS there for what happened. Secondarily, the commentators conclude, this was to let those who believe in non-immersion baptism that Jesus just didn't go out ankle deep for John to sprinkle a handful of water on Him and say good enough. I don't buy that as critical. While I do believe Jesus was immersed, and that "policy" should be to follow His example, the idea that it is critical I think is disproved in many places. For example, in Africa many places replace water baptism with sand, because the rivers aren't safe. The thief on the Cross never got baptized... and on and on. Let's get back to more important matters.
Next thing on the list is the phrase, "He saw the heavens opened..." he WHO? Jesus? Not so much a miracle for Him. Most of the commentators believe that the "he" was John (though no doubt Jesus did see it as well), and I think 3:17 proves that. "THIS is my beloved Son", not "YOU are my beloved Son". And because I think this is the MOST important part of this... I'm going to move on for a minute.
Then, "the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on Him". Luke describes Him as "bodily descending"; This was no flame of fire as was seen at Pentecost. And I think the reason for that is the symbolism. Perhaps a deeper symbolism than I want to get into here about the Nature of the Spirit. To the commentators it is symbolized by Noah's dove, who came back to deliver the olive branch symbolizing peace- and this was symbolic of Christ being the means by which peace would come between Man and God. They also mention the way a dove would "hover before alighting"- which brought to my mind in Genesis 1:2, "and the Spirit of God hovered over the waters." Which gives me even more confidence that the Spirit is revealed as Wisdom in Proverbs 8:
Pro 8:23 Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
Pro 8:24 When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water.
Pro 8:25 Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth,
Pro 8:26 before he had made the earth with its fields, or the first of the dust of the world.
Pro 8:27 When he established the heavens, I was there; when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
Pro 8:28 when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep,
Pro 8:29 when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
Pro 8:30 then I was beside him, like a master workman, and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always,
Pro 8:31 rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the children of man.
But enough bunny trails. On to the meat.
Now, I am going to give a caveat to what I said earlier- while Matthew records the Voice saying, "This...", Mark and Luke both record, "You...". I wasn't there, and I wasn't privy to the vision. Neither were the masses, because nobody is quoted as saying, what was that, as they were in John 12 in a later incident:
Joh 12:28 Father, glorify your name." Then a voice came from heaven: "I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again."
Joh 12:29 The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, "An angel has spoken to him."
Joh 12:30 Jesus answered, "This voice has come for your sake, not mine.
But I am going with the "This" for right now, and here's why: This was John's assurance that he was NOT led astray, that Jesus was indeed the Christ. Not because it proved anything to John, but because of what it teaches us.
Think with me: Once John was imprisoned by Herod, he had a crisis of faith.
Luk 7:20 And when the men had come to him, they said, "John the Baptist has sent us to you, saying, 'Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?'"
So, even after seeing this tremendous vision, and hearing the Voice itself, John doubted in a time of trial. Why would he do that? Answer these next two questions, and I will give you the answer to this one.
John came in the "spirit and power of Elijah" (Luke 1:17). And remember what happened after Elijah's great victory in the Lord on Mt Carmel? That's right, he was handed a severe trial, and he faced doubt. He brought down fire from God. Why would he then doubt?
The Israelites got their baptism by passing through the Red Sea. They got manna from heaven, they were led by a Cloud by day and a Pillar of Fire by night. From where they were camped waiting for Moses, they could see the fire and hear the rumbling on Mt Sinai. Why did THEY doubt?
Answer: They and we are HUMAN. And as humans, we tend to doubt under stress, even if we have ironclad proof before them and us.
That's why God didn't say He was "Well pleased with both of you". Even though Jesus said,
Luk 7:26 What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.
Luk 7:27 This is he of whom it is written, "'Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.'
Luk 7:28 I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he."
Because even the greatest can doubt. In fact, it would seem it's a precondition for greatness. But any of us can restore that faith. In their hard times, both Elijah and John got answers- because they ASKED. That's what I think is most important on this one.