One of the things that stunned John was that it was his cousin!!
Matthew 3:14 tells us that JOHN WAS INSISTENTLY FORBIDDING Jesus from being baptized by him. That’s what this unique Greek word (διεκώλυεν) means. It’s never used anywhere else in either the New Testament or in the Septuagint. It means that John was STRENUOUSLY objecting and trying to prevent it from happening.
This, by the way, happened in front of a massive crowd of people lined up to be baptized! Luke 3 tells us that crowds of people were coming out to be baptized by John. And in Greek, Matthew 3 literally says that “Out to him were going Jerusalem, all of Judea, and all of the regions around the Jordan.” This is a people movement! A national revival! (And if you know anything about revivals, you know that people come from near and far — not only those who want a touch from God, but also throngs of curious onlookers who come just to see what is going on!)
Can you see the scene? Massive crowds of people are lining both banks of the river. John is baptizing long lines of people, one at a time in almost assembly-line fashion, and suddenly there is a commotion. John is fending off a man in the water, doing his best to NOT baptize Him!
How this must have stunned the people! They knew that John baptized EVERYBODY who came to him. There was NO ONE too sinful for John to baptize!! Even tax collectors and Roman soldiers were not turned away (Luke 3)!!
WHO COULD JOHN POSSIBLY BE REFUSING TO BAPTIZE?!? Everyone’s craning their necks by this point to see and hear what’s going on!
But when they hear what John is saying, over and over, it floors them. The word would have been passed back through the crowds to those who couldn’t hear what was going on: “John is saying to some guy in the water, ‘NO! NO! NO! This is all backwards!! I should be asking YOU to baptize ME in the water!!’”
John had previously testified that there would come one AFTER him — ONE WOULD COME AFTER HIM. Listen carefully to that phrase.
JESUS used the same phrase to mean a follower. Jesus said in the Gospel of Matthew, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross ….” THAT IS THE SAME EXACT WORDING AS JOHN USES HERE.
That phrase, “Come after me,” was obviously used by Jesus to mean, “Become my follower.”
That adds a whole new dimension to what God had told John the Baptist in advance of that day.
John’s words could be translated that God told him the following: “There’s going to be someone who appears to be coming to be your follower, but the reality is that you are HIS follower because He has precedence over you.”
John’s surprise in John 1 could be summarized like this: “To be honest, I never would have known it was that PARTICULAR man (his cousin), if the word of knowledge that God gave me hadn’t come true with the Spirit descending onto Him like a dove.”
John did KNOW Jesus, obviously, since they were cousins; but HE DID NOT YET KNOW THAT HIS COUSIN WAS THE MESSIAH.
HE MADE THAT CLEAR. John the Baptist says TWICE, “I didn’t know it was him!” It’s like he was saying, “I NEVER DREAMED that He whom I knew as my cousin was also my Messiah! I HAD NO IDEA! IT NEVER DAWNED ON ME!”
Which brings us to this question: If John didn’t know until AFTER Jesus came up out of the water of baptism that He was the Messiah, then why did John refuse to baptize Him?
EVEN BEFORE THE DOVE DESCENDED, JOHN ALREADY KNEW THAT THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF HIS COUSIN WAS IMMEASURABLY GREATER THAN HIS OWN.
He knew from a lifetime of family observation that the righteousness of Jesus totally eclipsed his own righteousness. Even though John was the man God chose to lead this national revival, he knew that this cousin SHONE with righteousness compared to him.
STEVE, WHAT’S YOUR POINT?
The point is that THE LIFESTYLE OF JESUS DIDN’T BECOME RIGHTEOUS AFTER THE BAPTISM WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT.
JOHN THE BAPTIZER, FAMOUS FOR PROPHETIC WORDS AND PIERCING AWARENESS OF SIN IN MEN, SAW SIN IN HIS OWN LIFE THAT WOULD CAUSE HIM TO NEED TO BE BAPTIZED, BUT SAW NOTHING IN JESUS BUT HOLINESS — ALL HIS LIFE.
This is underscored by a mysterious comment that Matthew tells us next. Matthew 3:16 tells us, “AS SOON as He was baptized, Jesus went up out of the water.”
Let’s push “pause” to mention that baptism was not new with John. The Jewish people were already familiar with baptisms. Baptisms happened when Gentiles were converting to Judaism, and they happened when Jews were repenting of their sinful ways.
So here’s the Jewish pattern for baptism:
- You go down into the water, are submerged, and then stand up.
- You confess and renounce the sins you have been committing up to that point.
- The person baptizing you then tells you how to mend your ways and what to do from that point on.
- Then (and only after these other steps have taken place), you walk up out of the water.
That’s why John the Baptist was telling the tax collectors in Luke 3 to stop collecting more than they deserved, and the soldiers were being told to stop strong-arming the citizens and making false accusations against them. The passage makes clear that these two groups were ASKING John what they were supposed to do next. This fit the pattern of a typical Jewish baptism perfectly.
But Jesus skipped steps B and C!! — the ones having to do with renouncing your wicked ways and hearing how you should amend your lifestyle to be pleasing to God.
To be specific, He did not give the usual testimony of sin that was being renounced, and He didn’t wait to hear the prophetic exhortation from John as to how He should live going forward.
Can you see Him in your mind’s eye? ALL OF THE PEOPLE LINING THE SHORES CAN SEE THAT THE USUAL PROCESS IS NOT BEING FOLLOWED!
He stands up in the water, turns toward the shore without renouncing any sin, and begins to step up toward the bank of the river, but THIS is curious: Luke 3:21 adds to our picture by telling us that He was PRAYING. In Bible days, people were always said to pray OUT LOUD.
INSTEAD OF WAITING TO HEAR WHAT THE PROPHET HAS TO SAY, THIS CARPENTER FROM NAZARETH HEADS IMMEDIATELY UP THE BANK OF THE RIVER, TALKING DIRECTLY and apparently out loud — TO GOD!
And this is where the story goes off the rails. It moves from a scene centered on an unconventional carpenter to — something different. To put it plainly, it moves from a natural event to something genuinely alarming.
This serious young man, moving peacefully up out of the water, speaks to God as His Father — AND HE IS ANSWERED BY AN INVISIBLE SPEAKER IN A MIGHTY VOICE! “You are My Son, Whom I love. With You, I am well pleased!” (Luke 3:22).
Others heard the same message about Him, too, but spoken to THEM, not to Him. “This is My Son, Whom I love. With Him I am well pleased!”
It seems like…
- Jesus was hearing, “You are My Son!” while they were hearing, “This is My Son!”
- He was hearing, “I love you!” while they were hearing, “I love Him!”
- He was hearing, “I’m very pleased with You!” while they were hearing, “I’m very pleased with Him!”
At apparently the same exact moment that all this was happening, Mark tells us that the heavens were SEEN being torn open! It is a VIOLENT word — not parting the heavens, TEARING them open.
Here at the BEGINNING of Jesus’ ministry, the barrier between heaven and earth is torn open. It is the same word that is used at the moment of Jesus’ death when the barrier between heaven’s space and man’s space IN THE TEMPLE is torn in two.
WHENEVER THE BARRIER BETWEEN GOD AND MAN IS TORN APART, IT ALWAYS HAS TO HAPPEN FROM GOD’S SIDE OF THE CURTAIN, NOT OURS. We have no power to reach His side of the curtain.
AND IT ALWAYS HAPPENS IN AND THROUGH JESUS.
WE ARE TOLD THAT AS SOON AS THE HEAVENS WERE TORN OPEN, A DOVE APPEARED.
THE GOSPELS GIVE US TWO CLEAR STATEMENTS JOINED INTO ONE:
- The Spirit appeared in the body-form (somatikos) of a dove. That’s one fact (Luke 3).
- And the other one was that “The Spirit descended and landed on Him like a dove does” (John 1).
He descended on Jesus, not like a raptor taking its prey, but like a dove — peaceful, settling in.
GOD IS THE MASTER OF BEAUTIFUL SYMBOLISM. HE INVENTED IT, AND NOBODY DOES IT BETTER!!
I see Jesus standing there in soaked robes with water streaming from Him, aware of His Father’s love and with the dove descending, descending …
And my mind races back to the pounding heart of Noah, eyes transfixed on the small wooden window thrown open to the heavens from within the wooden prison-house of the ark. I see Noah watching. Hoping. And the long suspense is broken. With the flutter of wings, the dove descends with an olive branch in its beak, and Noah knows that the storm and flood are over — the wrath of God is abated, and a new day has begun.
EVER SINCE THEN, BOTH THE OLIVE BRANCH AND THE DOVE HAVE SIGNIFIED THE KIND OF PEACE THAT COMES WHEN THE WAR IS OVER.
THE BAPTISM OF JOHN WAS A WARNING THAT THE WRATH OF GOD WAS AT THE DOOR.
And John was correct: if people refuse to turn to God, it still is.
BUT THE BAPTISM OF JESUS TURNED THE TABLES AND SAID, “The day is certainly coming when for each of us, the barrier between this life and eternity will be torn apart, but it is POSSIBLE THROUGH JESUS that the olive branch and the dove will have already arrived for you on THAT day when they fold your arms, and you will arise to a new day that never ends.”
There are so many layers of deep meaning to these events, but we have time for only one more. To see this one, we need to return to the infancy of Jesus.
Jesus is just under six weeks old, and He is being dedicated at the Temple as was the Jewish custom. Joseph and Mary would carry their precious little bundle through the Gate that led into the Women’s Court (the only one that Mary was permitted to enter) in order to dedicate Him to God.
Luke tells us that when they got there, they presented their two offerings — one a thank offering and one a sin offering.
The THANK OFFERING for the Son God had given them was SUPPOSED to be a lamb. And the SIN OFFERING (the first one of many offered on behalf of a baby’s sin nature and future sins) was to be a dove.
But Joseph and Mary did not bring a lamb and a dove. They brought two doves. Why? According to Leviticus 12:8, IF THE NEW PARENTS WERE TOO POOR TO BRING A LAMB AND A DOVE, THEY WERE PERMITTED TO BRING TWO DOVES INSTEAD …
… One as a “Thank You” to God for their new baby boy, and the OTHER as a sin offering for Him. Once these were given, the woman’s time of ritual purification was officially ended, and the family returned home with God’s blessing.
Joseph and Mary brought the poor people’s offering. No lamb, but two doves.
By this act they would have been saying (in the centuries-old tradition), “THANK YOU for this new little life you have given us. FORGIVE, O LORD, the sins that he will commit during his lifetime!” (This is the origin of the Jewish saying, “Mourn when a child is born, because you do not know what darkness he will have to face in his life, but rejoice when an old man dies, because he has run his race.”)
DO YOU SEE WHERE I AM GOING HERE? On the day that Jesus was baptized, our God, the ULTIMATE MASTER OF SYMBOLISM — returned one of the doves.
It is as if the Father said, “Yes, of course, you may be thankful for Him, and I accept the thank offering. But as to the sin offering? This is MY son. There is NO SIN NATURE in Him inherited from the father’s line. In Him I am WELL PLEASED.”
There are so many beautiful layers to the history of Jesus! ONLY GOD could weave history and symbolism and doctrine and ritual into a braid that He laid upon the shoulders of His Son.
ALL OF HISTORY CLIMAXED IN THE LIFE OF JESUS — and HIS life is now in YOU!
And through HIM the Father says, “You are now My sons and daughters, and no further sacrifice is necessary. In you I am well pleased, because you are now in Him!!”
© Steve Jones, May 2020