SON OF GOD MEDITATIONS 14 of 20
Mt 3:16,17 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”
We have made brief reference to these verses before, but we need to see them now in their own right. This event is a combination of the ordinary and mystery. The ordinary the sceptic can probably cope with. It is the mystery bit that they will struggle with. Let’s take the ordinary bit first of all. John the Baptist had gone out into the wilderness near the River Jordan and had started preaching to whoever would listen to him. Soon the word got out that there seemed to be a prophet in the land and so crowds flocked to hear him. When they arrived they found he had a stark message: God is coming, get ready, repent of your sins and get baptised as a sign of washing your sins away. I can remember the time, many years ago, when a prophet was invited to our church, a man with a reputation of ‘knowing all about you’! In the week before he arrived we all checked our lives out to make sure that we were all right before God!
So here is John baptising the crowds who came to him when Jesus turned up. Now John knew Jesus because he was his cousin, and knowing the sort of person Jesus was, he suggested that Jesus didn’t need baptising. Jesus said let’s do it anyway so no one has any grounds of criticism, so John took him and either immersed him or poured water over him. So far, so good! Nothing for anyone to get upset about, because we’re quite happy with people following their religious beliefs (as long as it doesn’t impose on me!).
But then it happens. Something seemed to come down on him in the form of a dove. Whether it was light, or a mist or what, we don’t know. It wasn’t a real dove because that wouldn’t have caused such comment. There is a little word here that needs comment: ‘he’. The ‘he’ is John the Baptist. It isn’t clear in the three Synoptic Gospels so that may be why John, writing later, included it with more detail: “Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, `The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God.” (Jn 1:32-34). John had receiving his calling and instruction from God and within that had been a warning that he would baptize “the Coming One”. So, whatever it was that John sees coming down on Jesus, he realises is the Holy Spirit that he’d been warned about by God.
But then something even more mysterious happens; a voice from nowhere, a voice from above them, speaks the words we find in our verses today. Now I have heard of (reputable) people who have literally heard an audible word from God but it is very rare and only seems to happen at very significant times. How many people heard this word we aren’t told, but when John hears, “This is my Son” he is reassured that he’d heard right from God and is able to make the declaration that John, the Gospel writer, records.
Now for the sceptic, and these studies are written to help sceptic and non-sceptic alike, we need to say again, merely because this hasn’t been your experience, it doesn’t mean it can’t happen. If you start off with the premise that there is no God, then it can’t happen, but if you start off with an open scientific mind that is willing to investigate the possibility that just maybe there is a God, then such an event such as we’ve been considering, is not so way out. A God who can create the world and move in the world, as the Old Testament reveals, will have no problem in forming words to be spoken into our world. Again, if you were a writer writing to reveal the Son of God to the sceptical world, you might want to shear away from anything questionable – at least I would. The fact that all four Gospels pick up on this incident, suggests it was true.
But was it a one-off event, never to be repeated? Well, no, for we find later in the Gospels another account that occurred up a mountain: “Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.” (Mt 17:1,2) What we obviously have here is Jesus revealing something of his true being to these three disciples. Mysterious? Yes! Beyond our experience? Yes, but if this is truly the Son of God who has come from heaven, this is no problem. But it gets worse for the sceptic: “Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus. Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters–one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (Mt 17:3,4)
So there they are, out in the open on the top of a mountain, miles from anyone else, and suddenly from nowhere two figures appear who the three disciples somehow instantly sense are Moses and Elijah from the Old Testament period – long gone! Peter almost seems in denial that they are experiencing the most amazing supernatural event and so, perhaps to seek to extend it or perhaps to create some sense or normality or ordinariness, he suggests he makes shelters for them. His focus has gone from Jesus to the two men from the past. Now we haven’t got time to go into why they were there, simply to note the experience. “While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” (Mt 17:5). Again the same voice, again the same message. It is a message of affirmation.
Now you may not like it if you are a materialistic seeker but these Gospel writers wrote what happened (we’ve been there already!). The inferences of these two specific experiences are quite clear. This sort of thing doesn’t happen – well not usually anyway. But it did and it clearly makes the claim, by its very uniqueness – this is the unique Son of God – apart from the words themselves. Standing on its own we might question it. Put it alongside all the other Gospel references to the divinity of Jesus, and there is little doubt. We are talking about the unique Son of God!