Lessons From Christ’s Baptism
“And Jesus, when He was baptized, went up immediately out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto Him, and He saw the Spirit God descending like a dove, and lighting upon Him: and lo, a Voice from Heaven, saying, This is My Beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.”
Matthew 3:16, 17
I WANT to teach two lessons tonight. The first will be a most necessary one for the unconverted. The second will be more suitable to believers in the Lord Jesus Christ.
- Without any preface, let us at once try to learn the first lesson from the text which relates to THE CO-WORKING OF THE TRINITY IN THE MATTER OF OUR SALVATION.
There are some who seem to suppose that Jesus Christ is our Savior to the exclusion of God the Father and of God the Holy Spirit, but this is a most erroneous idea. It is true that we are saved by the precious blood of Christ, but it is equally true that God the Father and God the Holy Spirit have had their share in the great work of our salvation. In order that we might not fall into the error in which some have been entangled, it pleased God to give us, at the very beginning of Christ’s public ministry, a very distinct intimation that He did not come alone and that He did not undertake the work of our redemption apart from the other adorable Persons of the ever-blessed Trinity.
Try to picture to yourselves the scene that our text describes. There is Jesus Christ who has just been baptized in Jordan by John. And John bears witness that He is the Son of God because the sign from Heaven for which he had been told to look for had been given. As Jesus comes up out of the water, the Spirit of God descends upon Him in a visible shape–in appearance like a dove–and rests upon Him. John says that “it abode upon Him,” as though the Spirit was thenceforth to be His continual Companion and, truly, it was so. At the same time that the dove descended and lighted upon Christ, there was heard a Voice from Heaven, saying, “This is My Beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.” This was the voice of God the Father–He did not reveal Himself in a bodily shape, but uttered wondrous words such as mortal ears had never before heard! The Father revealed Himself not to the eyes as the Spirit did, but to the ears–and the words He spoke clearly indicated that it was God the Father bearing witness to His beloved Son. So that the entrance of Christ upon His public ministry on earth was the chosen opportunity for the public manifestation of the intimate union between God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit!
Now, Sinner, from this day forward, if you have never done so before, think humbly, reverently and lovingly of all the three Persons of the most blessed Trinity in Unity! Bless the Son of God for becoming Man in order that He might redeem us from destruction. He left His Glory in Heaven and was made in the likeness of men that He might suffer in our place as the Lamb of God’s Passover and that we might shelter beneath His sprinkled blood–and so escape the sword of vengeance. Do you know that when Christ was baptized, He gave, as it were, a picture of His great work of Redemption? He said to John, “Thus it becomes us to fulfill all righteousness,” by which I understand not that He fulfilled all righteousness by being baptized, but that His Baptism was a picture or emblem of the fulfillment of all righteousness. What was done with Christ when He was baptized? Why, first, He was regarded as one who was dead and, therefore, He was buried beneath the waters of Jordan. He thus set forth, by a most significant symbol, the fact that He had come to earth to be obedient unto death, even the death of the Cross–and that in due time He would actually die and be really buried–as now He was submerged beneath the yielding wave in a metaphorical burial. But baptism does not consist of merely plunging the person into the water–he must be lifted out again–otherwise he would be drowned, not baptized. So the Savior, when He rose up out of the water, set forth His own Resurrection. By His Baptism, He figuratively said, “I shall die for sinners, I shall rise again for sinners and I shall go back to Heaven to plead for sinners. My death will put away their offenses and my Resurrection will complete their justification.” Go, you who long for salvation, and by faith look to the Savior dying on the Cross at Calvary! See Him buried in Joseph’s tomb. See Him rise the third day and after forty days, see Him ascend to Heaven leading captivity captive! His dying, His burial, His rising, His ascension–these are the fulfillment of all righteousness–and it is by these that you must be saved–it is not your being baptized that can save you! It is Christ’s being baptized for you with that Baptism of blood when He poured out His soul unto death that you might live forever! It is not your suffering, but His suffering that avails for your salvation! It is not your being or your doing that is the secret of blessing, but it is His being and His doing on which you must depend for everything! Trust in Jesus Christ and you shall find salvation in Him!
Now I want you to look with humbly grateful eyes to God the Holy Spirit. You remember how Jesus Christ applied to Himself the words He read in the synagogue at Nazareth–“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the Gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord.” It was the Spirit of God who gave success to Jesus Christ’s ministry–and if you, dear Friend, would be saved–it is only the Holy Spirit who can take away from you the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh! I pray you to think with holy reverence of that mighty, mysterious Being who works in human hearts and molds them according to the will of God. By nature you are spiritually dead–and only the Spirit of God can give you spiritual life. By nature you are spiritually blind–and only the Spirit of God can give you spiritual sight. Even the work of Christ on the Cross does not avail for you until the Holy Spirit takes of the things of Christ and reveals them to you. You must look to Christ, or He will not save you! You must trust in Christ, or His precious blood will not be applied to you! But you will never look to Him or trust in Him unless the Father who sent Him, shall draw you to do so by His Spirit effectually working in you. When we are thinking and speaking of the Holy Spirit, let us always feel as if we must take off our shoes for the place whereon we stand is peculiarly holy. You remember how solemnly Christ warns us as to the consequences of even speaking against the Holy Spirit? “Whomever speaks a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him: but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him neither in this world, neither in the world to come.” Whenever we mention the name of the Holy Spirit, let us do it with holy awe and reverence, remembering that it is the Spirit that quickens, it is the Spirit that instructs, it is the Spirit that sanctifies, it is the Spirit that preserves, it is the Spirit that makes us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light! So unto the ever-blessed Spirit of God as well as unto the well-beloved Son of God be Glory and honor, praise and power, forever and ever!
With equal reverence and with equal awe let us also think of God the Father. What does the Father here say concerning Christ? First, He calls Him His Son. There has been much disputing about how Christ can be equal with the Father, and equally eternal, and yet be the Son of the Father. This is a great deep into which you and I, dear Friends, will do well not to pry. We usually speak of Christ being the Son of the Father by what is called “eternal generation.” I confess that there is a mystery here which I can neither understand nor explain, but as the Father calls Him His Son, I unhesitatingly believe that He is what the Scripture constantly calls Him, “the Son of God.” In our text we find that the Father not only calls Christ His Son, but He says, “This is My Beloved Son.” What wondrous love there must be in the heart of each one of the Divine Persons in the sacred Trinity towards each of the others! How blessedly they must look upon one another with Divine benignity and complacency! There never could be any diversity in their interests, for they are one in heart, one in purpose, one in every respect, even as Jesus said, “I and My Father are One.”
Now, Sinner, the point to which I want to especially direct your thoughts is this–that God not only calls Christ His Son and His beloved Son, but that He says He is well-pleased with Him. And this concerns you in that if you are so united to Christ as to be one with Him, God will also be well-pleased with you for His dear Son’s sake! But can a sinner ever be pleasing to God? Not in himself, apart from Christ, but all who are in Christ are “accepted in the Beloved.” His Father is so pleased with Him that all whom He represents are pleasing unto God for His sake! “But,” asks one, “how can I be in Christ?” My dear Friend, if you are one of the Lord’s chosen, you are already in Christ in God’s eternal purpose. But theway in which you must experimentally get into Christ is by true faith in Him. To trust in Jesus is to be in Jesus. To rely upon the atoning Sacrifice of Christ is to be one with Christ. Faith is the uniting bond which binds together the Christ in whom we believe and those who believe in Him. If you are truly trusting in Christ, God looks upon you as a part of Christ’s Mystical Body and He is well-pleased with you for Christ’s sake.
Thus you have the Son suffering for you, the Spirit applying to you the merit of His atoning Sacrifice and the Father well-pleased with you because you are trusting in His beloved Son! Or, to put the Truth in another form, the Father gives the great Gospel feast, the Son is the feast and the Spirit not only brings the invitations, but He also gathers the guestsaround the table. Or, to use another metaphor, God the Father is the Fountain of Grace, God the Son is the Channel of Grace and God the Holy Spirit is the Cup from which we drink of the flowing stream. I wish that I could really make you see Jesus Christ standing by Jordan’s brink as He came up out of the water after He had been baptized by John–and the Spirit of God descending and lighting upon Him and that I could make you hear the voice of the Father saying–“This is My Beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.” If I could do this, all I would have to add would be John’s message, “Behold the Lamb of God which takes away the sin of the world.” There is eternal life for everyone who truly looks to Him by faith–
“There is life for a look at the Crucified One!
There is life at this moment for thee!
Then look, Sinner, look unto Him, and be saved
Unto Him who was nailed to the tree!”
II. In beginning my sermon, I told you that the second lesson I wanted you to learn tonight would be more suitable to believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, though at the same time it may also be useful to the unconverted, just as I hope the first lesson has been helpful to the people of God though especially intended for those who are not yet avowedly on the Lord’s side. This second lesson, upon which I have now to speak, relates to THE DESCENT OF THE SPIRIT UPON BELIEVERS, but I would not have dared to take the text without also calling your attention to the first lesson upon which I have already spoken.
I want you to clearly understand that as the Holy Spirit rested upon Christ, so He rests upon all who are in Christ. Indeed, when the Spirit rested upon Christ, He rested upon the whole Church that was represented by Christ. You remember that David says the unity of brethren is “like the precious ointment upon the head that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments.” So the anointing that Christ received from the Holy Spirit ran down to the very lowest, least and last of the members of that Church of which He is the Head!
When the Holy Spirit descended from Heaven like a dove and lighted upon Christ, that descent was intended to teach us several lessons which we will now try to learn. Consider, first, the swiftness of that descent. The heavens were opened–there was no delay, but swiftly as a flash of lightning the Spirit descended and lighted upon Christ. Beloved Brothers and Sisters in Christ, do you feel dull and heavy tonight? Are you depressed in spirit? There is no reason why, within the next second, you should not be in quite a heavenly frame of mind, for the Spirit of God can descend upon you like a dove and immediately you shall be lifted up out of your dullness and despondency! The Spirit needs no time in which to work. The motions of matter are necessarily tardy–matter can only move at a certain rate and there are many things that slow it down. But as you know, the motion of mind is far more rapid–your thoughts can fly to America and back again more swiftly than I can describe their flight! In a flash your mind can be soaring away up among the stars millions and millions and millions of miles away! Now, the mind of the Spirit is the highest order of mind, for He is Divine and, therefore, His motions are swift as light–no, they are incomparably swifter than that! He descended like a dove in order to set forth the rapidity of His flight. You remember that expression in the Song of Solomon, “Or ever I was aware, my soul made me like the chariots of Amminadib.” So is it when the Spirit comes to us–our soul is, as it were, borne along in a swiftly-driven chariot! It does not take the Holy Spirit an hour to convert a soul. The vital spark that regenerates a soul is kindled in an instant! Instantaneous conversion is not the exception, it is the rule–there cannot be any conversion but that which is instantaneous! The growth, the development of the work of Grace in the heart and life is gradual, but there is a moment in which the soul passes from death unto life, from slavery to liberty, from sin to righteousness! And I have already said to you, Christian Friends, that you can, in a moment, be transported out of a dull, languishing state of heart into one of holy peace and joy. Breathe the prayer–
“Come, Holy Spirit heavenly Dove,
With all Your quickening powers,
Come, shed abroad a Savior’s love,
And that shall kindle ours”–
and there is no reason why He should not grant your request even before you have finished your petition!
The figure of a dove also represents softness as well as swiftness. Speed generally causes some measure of sound–we usually associate hurry with noise, but it is not so with the Spirit of God. He descended with silent wings and alighted upon Christ as He came up out of the river where He had been baptized. If it had been recorded that the Spirit descended like an eagle, we would have thought of the whirring of great wings. But the dove’s flight is of a far gentler and quieter order. So, Beloved, the Spirit of God may come down upon some of us in this house tonight, yet no one may be aware of His coming except those upon whom He rests as He rested that day upon Christ! Your neighbor may not perceive what has happened to you–there need be no outcry, no shouting, no violent contortions as there have been in certain revivals of which we have heard. No, the blessed Spirit frequently works invisibly, as the wind blows where it wishes–and sometimes blows so softly that we are not conscious of the slightest sound from the gentle zephyrs that fan our cheeks. I pray that in the solemn silence of the mind, many of you may thus experience the descent of the Holy Spirit like a dove, so swift yet so soft, so gentle yet so strong!
Besides this, wherever the Spirit comes, He works according to His own holy Nature. He comes like a dove and He operates in a dove-like manner. And if He graciously operates upon you, you also will have dove-like qualities given to you. What are they? Well, I think that the first thought we associate with a dove is that of purity. You remember that the spouse in the Song of Solomon says of her Beloved, “His eyes are as the eyes of doves.” And the Bridegroom says to His spouse, “You are fair, My love; behold, you are fair; you have doves' eyes”–that is, eyes of purity, bright sparkling eyes that care not to look upon that which is unclean! The dove is no carrion-loving bird and you will recollect that it was the only bird that was offered to God in sacrifice under the old dispensation. Perhaps someone says, “Oh, but it was written in the Law, "A pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons!” Yes, it was so written. But then I remind you that a pigeon is only one member of the great dove family and that it was only among the doves, of all feathered creatures, that there was found a bird that was clean enough to be offered unto God as a sacrifice! So the selection of a dove as the emblem of the Holy Spirit is very suggestive, for, wherever He goes, He breeds purity. If a man shall live a life of uncleanness, hatred, malice, and then say that he has the Holy Spirit dwelling in him, he lies, for the Spirit first makes us pure and then peaceable. Unless you, my dear Hearer, have shaken off from you the love of all that is evil and have resolved in God’s strength to live as becomes the Gospel of Christ, you prove that you have not experienced the dove-like influence of the Holy Spirit! In my early days in the country, I was horribly shocked when I heard of a man standing on a public house table and saying though at the time he was almost drunk, “I can say what none of you fellows can say, that I am one of God’s elect.” All of us who knew anything of the man used to shudder at the thought of his blasphemy in pretending to be one of the elect. Why, if the Grace of God does not make a man holy, what is it worth? My dear Friend, if you are determined to be damned, leave religion out of it–and do not pretend to be a child of God and yet live in sin. To profess to be an heir of Heaven and then to live as an heir of Hell is such detestable hypocrisy that I pray God that all of you may be preserved from ever falling into it! Where the Spirit of God dwells, there is sure to be purity!
And next to purity comes peace. The dove with the olive leaf in its mouth was the token of peace to Noah and thosewho were with him in the Ark. And the dove has long been used as a symbol of peace. If the Spirit of God, like a dove, shall dwell with you, my dear Friend, you will have peace in your own conscience, peace with your fellow men, peace with God. As Paul puts it in writing to the Philippians, “the peace of God, which passes all understanding, shall keep your heart and mind through Christ Jesus.” Those worrying, distracting thoughts of yours do not come from the Holy Spirit! Those carking cares, those disquieting anxieties are not the Spirit’s work! Where the Spirit, like a dove, dwells in a Believer’s heart, that ancient assurance is fulfilled, “You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You: because he trusts in You.” May you enjoy this perfect peace through the coming of the Spirit to you!
The dove is, next, the picture of gentleness. You do not expect to see doves fighting like vultures or ravens. I supposetians should be the most gentle of all men. We are to be willing to be struck on one cheek and then to turn the other to the smiter. I know some professing Christians who, as soon as ever a contrary word is spoken to them, boil over with rage. Well, it is not their Christianity that makes such a display as that–and it is a poor excuse to say that it is their infirmity! “Oh,” says one, “but if you tread on a worm, it will turn.” Yes, the poor little creature turns in its agony, but is a worm to be a model for your conduct? Surely it would be better to ask the Holy Spirit to give you the Grace to take the Lord Jesus Christ as your example! Have you never heard of the Christian who killed his neighbor by kindness? When his oxen got into his neighbor’s field, the cross-grained man put them into the pound and said that if they came astray again he would deal with them in the same way. By-and-by, his own oxen wandered into his neighbor’s field–and then the Christian man fed them and sent word that if they came there again, he would treat them in the same way. That is the style in which we should endeavor to act towards any who treat us unkindly–by heaping coals of fire upon their heads, we may in time burn love into their hearts!
I am afraid that all professing Christians are not as gentle as they should be, though gentleness is one of the prominent characteristics of true Christians. I am not a Quaker, but I must say that in this particular quality of gentleness, the Society of Friends has set a good example to the whole Christian Church. I wish that the spirit of non-resistance was more generally prevalent among Christians than it often is. It is certainly in accordance with both the teaching and example of our Lord Jesus Christ, “who, when He was reviled, reviled not again; when He suffered, He threatened not; but committed Himself to Him that judges righteously.” These words of the Apostle Peter follow immediately after his declaration that “Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps.” Where the dove-like Spirit dwells, there will be a gentleness of spirit in harmony with His own Nature. I am charmed with the change that is often apparent in the converts who come to join this Church. When I hear of a man who before his conversion used to rage and rave in such a way as to be a terror to his family, yet who now, though he is at times greatly provoked, just walks away and says nothing, I feel that the Grace of God is really working in his heart. If what you call Grace does not change your evil tempers, you had better exchange it for the true Grace of God which will do so! For surely it is one of the first evidences that the Spirit of God is dwelling within a man when it makes him “gentle, showing all meekness unto all men.”
A dove is also one of the most
harmless of all God’s creatures. And a Christian must never intentionally hurt or harm
others. Our Lord Jesus Christ was willing to suffer, but He did not make others suffer–and He would not have us seek to propagate His Truth in a bitter spirit. If you are dealing with an infidel, let him see that, however strongly you disapprove of his principles, you endeavor to win him away from them not by unkindness, but by love. I doubt if anybody is ever bullied into accepting the Gospel. Certainly, more flies are caught with honey than with vinegar–and more sinners are brought to Christ by kindness than by unkindness. Never let anyone be truthfully able to say of you, “There is a professed follower of the Lord Jesus Christ who has done me most serious injury.” But rather let it be said concerning you, “There goes a man whom I grossly injured, yet he bore it patiently and said nothing against me because he is a Christian.”
You know, too, that in Scripture the dove is spoken of as a type of love. When the turtledove has lost its mate, everybody knows how it will sit and moan and mourn. “The voice of the turtle is heard in our land” is the Scriptural description of a spiritual springtime, the season of love and joy. If the dove-like Spirit has come into your heart, my Friend, your soul will be full of love to Jesus. But if you are not conscious of His Presence, you will mourn like the bereaved dove and will dolefully sing–
“I cannot bear Your absence, Lord.
I cannot live without Your smile.”
If I cannot rejoice in Christ, the next best thing is to weep because I cannot enjoy sweet fellowship with Him. If I cannot rest in Christ, it is a good thing if I cannot rest anywhere else. Ah, Soul, if you have the Spirit of God within you, you will pine and sigh and cry until Christ is very near and very dear to you! And when He is both near and dear to you, then your soul will be like a vessel that is filled to the brim, yet still remaining under the running stream, and you will overflow with love and gratitude to your dear Lord who has done such great things for you!
Time flies, so I must close with just one more thought. You remember that when this world was created, “the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” Everything was in a state of chaos and confusion–there was neither life nor order! But when the Spirit of God spread His great wings over the face of the deep and brooded, like a bird upon its nest, it was not long before the Voice of God was heard and soon disorder gave place to order, darkness to light, and death to life! The Holy Spirit comes into our heart now to work the same kind of change as that. He finds our soul in a state of chaos–formless, empty, dark–but when He mysteriously spreads His dove-like wings over our soul–life, light and order soon appear. We then begin to see what we never saw before! We put God into His rightful place and we realize how great He is. And we put ourselves into our rightful place and we realize what nothings we are! We put the Law into its rightful place and recognize how terribly stern it is. And we put sin into its rightful place and we tremble before its terrible power! When the Spirit of God broods over us, one of the first signs of the new life appearing in our soul is the penitent cry, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” Those sorrow-filled eyes, those swiftly-falling tears, that brokenhearted sigh–all these are the result of the brooding of the Spirit of God upon our disordered nature! And when at last you can truthfully say–
“I rest My soul on Jesus,
This weary soul of mine.
His right hand me embraces
I on His breast recline”–
that also is the result of the brooding of the Spirit! He has quickened you! He has given you life, for only a living soul can truly say, “I do believe in Jesus.” That is a sure sign of the new creation! It is a certain proof that Christ has made all things new in you by the effectual working of His ever-blessed Spirit. To any here who have never realized the dove-like energy of the Holy Spirit, I commend the prayer Charles Wesley wrote–
“Expand your wings, celestial Dove,
Brood over our nature’s night!
On our disordered spirits move
And let there now be light.”
Dr. Watts gives us another prayer in which Christians can heartily unite–
“Descend from Heaven, immortal Dove,
Stoop down and take us on your wings
And mount and bear us far above
The reach of these inferior things!
Beyond, beyond this lower sky
Up where eternal ages roll,
Where solid pleasures never die
And fruits immortal feast the soul!
Oh for a sight, a pleasing sight
Of our Almighty Father’s Throne!
There sits our Savior crowned with light,
Clothed in a body like our own!
When shall the day, dear Lord, appear,
That I shall mount to dwell above,
And stand and bow among them there,
And view Your face, and sing, and love?”
May the Lord bless everyone of you, for Jesus Christ’s sake! Amen.