Hi.. I’m Gene Ort.. and you’re listening to the common man commentary..

This is podcast #7..  We will be looking at MATTHEW 3: 13-17. ..  the title : The Baptism of Jesus

“Jesus then appeared, arriving at the Jordan River from Galilee. He wanted John to baptize him. John objected, “I’m the one who needs to be baptized, not you!”

But Jesus insisted. “Do it. God’s work, putting things right all these centuries, is coming together right now in this baptism.” So John did it. The moment Jesus came up out of the baptismal waters, the skies opened up and he saw God’s Spirit—it looked like a dove—descending and landing on him. And along with the Spirit, a voice: “This is my Son, chosen and marked by my love, delight of my life.””

Matthew 3:13-17 MSG


In the last podcast, number 6 we talked about John the baptizer and a tough conversation he had with the Pharisees and Sadducees. We also covered a little of what his relationship might have been like with his cousin Jesus. We also got a little glimpse of the message he was commissioned to bring to his Jewish brothers and sisters.

We start off here in verse 13 with a pretty grand proclamation “ Jesus then appeared “. 

But..From where ? The Gospel of Mark says he came from Nazareth.. The distance between Nazareth and Qumran is about 84 miles. Three or four days walking distance. Walking was the principle form of transportation. Qumran sits on the western edge of the Dead Sea and is pretty close to the Jordan river, that’s where John lived within the Essene community.

Was John surprised by Jesus’s arrival ? It does not seem fact his quick and matter of fact objection to baptizing Jesus lends strength to the idea that John knew exactly who Jesus was before he arrived at the Jordan river and not just in the sense that he knew who he was because he was his cousin. I think he knew that Jesus was the Messiah! John’s proclamation that he needed to be baptized by Jesus makes that understanding more than reasonably possible. Either John had spent time with Jesus and he had revealed his identity to him or The Spirit had given him this information as was known to happen with other prophets.

Considering how far along John was in his calling as a prophet and with his inside connection with Jesus, he still did not have a clear picture of what was about to happen. He surely had expectations of his own in his mind of how the Messiah was going to show up and what he would do when that happened.  

The Jews were very interested in the prophesied coming Messiah. Most had seen his arrival as a form of military or political revolution that would end the oppressive occupation of Rome. Expectations are high.

From the time of Jesus birth, there has been a sense of intrigue surrounding him. This is a covert mission. He is hidden in plain view.

This can be comforting in the sense that God has a plan and knows how to achieve it without our being fully aware of all the details ahead of time.  But it also can be discomforting. Most of us like to be “ in the know”, informed and “ in the loop “.  There are a number of verses scattered around the Bible instructing us to “Trust in the Lord “ but most of us want to do that with a strong sense of having been consulted first. I am reasonably sure John was very confident if not bold in his proclamation and understanding of what was about to unfold. And yet.. no sooner does Jesus arrive with His first request and John argues with him ! That’s worth repeating.. John argues with Jesus !   He is either really comfortable with Jesus and has a relationship that has been built to endure safe and direct talk or he is being ridiculous.

Then, Jesus pushes back a little.. with a firm but patient command .. quoting: ““But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented.” This is from the ESV version.

So what does that mean ?  He doesn’t really disagree with John’s assessment in needing to be baptized by Jesus but instead makes a qualifying statement to the fact that this scenario needs to be done this way, this time to serve a higher purpose. That higher purpose being the Will of God. There is a mysterious quality to this statement.

We can be sure that Jesus did not need to repent and turn to God which was the normal explanation given for baptism. He was said to be the only sinless man to ever live.  Quoting from Hebrews 4:15 :“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” 

So why would he request to be baptized ?  It’s not unreasonable to consider that Jesus wanted to identify himself with the very people he came to save.  It’s representative of entering our world.. our space and time, our humanity, our reality as humans being born into sin and all that encompasses. Jesus with us. Maybe it’s another kind of incarnation, God with us. God for us. 

Maybe Jesus wanted to paint a prophetic picture of his mission. To go under the water.. is a metaphor for death. To come up and out of the water is to be raised from the dead. This is very powerful imagery.

I have a recurring theme in mind as I study the gospel which by the way means “ good news “ in the Greek language where it comes from, the recurring theme is “discovery”. The discovery of who Jesus is and what his character is like and what is he here to accomplish. Jesus makes the boldest of bold proclamations in John 14:9 where he says quote : when you have seen me, you have seen the Father.. meaning God ! “ In essence Jesus is saying that the mystery of who God really is, what He is like is over ! You see Jesus, you have seen God ! I cant think of a more radical statement. 

As a result of this “ Jesus mirroring of God ” for us to witness, we can begin to allow Jesus to be the last word in defining the authentic nature of God. Which means in another way of thinking, if a person claims to be representing God in any way, shape or form and it looks different than Jesus’s representation of God than you can be sure, beyond doubt that they are mistaken. I am not saying they are intentional misleading you, although that has happened, but they themselves may have been taught something contrary to the truth regarding Jesus’s faithful witness to who God really is.

Now that’s pretty hard thing to hear because lots of people are always trying to represent God in some way. I am doing it myself, right now in composing this podcast. 

For example, In many parts of the Bible, God gets credit for all kinds of evil things as well as good things. You can now use Jesus as a sort of lens through which to see what parts of these stories represent God in a truthful way and what parts of these stories misrepresent God.

I think of it a little like panning for gold. The gold prospector uses a pan that has a screen in the bottom of it that will allow the water and very fine sand or silt to be washed away revealing and leaving the heavy precious metal behind. Jesus has very effectively exposed God to us in a way that will reveal the truth and allow us to discern between the false and true statements made about Him.

A little about learning..

In the Rabbinical style of teaching which is what was happening in first century Israel, you did not find much in the way of lecturing and direct delivery of facts and opinions. Lectures to large crowds did happen but that was not where deeper learning took place. This Rabbinical style of learning took place in small groups and often incorporated geography or location based learning into the lesson. The lessons involved more questions and interaction with the Rabbi .. teacher. This is a very effective learning process which engages people at their present level of understanding. Question and answer based teaching exposes the gaps in their understanding. 

Once while visiting a prison in Louisiana, I heard the Warden, Burris Cain tell a story in which a young man was asking questions. After the normal back and forth had reached an impasse, he told the young man..  and I quote: “I can explain it to you, but I cant understand it for you. “  

Real and effective teaching leaves the student with understanding and not mearly the collection of information.

So what’s going on back at the river ..? 

This event, the baptism of Jesus by John, the one who is to “prepare the way” might easily be looked at as the climax of John’s ministry and the conceptive moment of the formal ministry of Jesus.  It’s not a difficult jump to see baptism as the mark of a new beginning. Jesus is telling John : This is the will of God, this is how it must be done! It is part of the fulfillment of God’s plan, His rescue mission to save His children.

John has received his two week notice. This baptism is a transitional proclamation. The preparation is over, the next chapter has begun.

John has baptized a lot of people. He knows what to expect. Some people will be overcome with emotion and there will be tears of joy, release and relief as a strong sense of forgiveness washes over them just like the water. There will be hugging and praising God. Other people will be more reserved. This Holy moment for them needs to be intellectually embraced. It’s true for many that emotion is terrifying and the thought of putting their feelings on display is close to impossible. John has no doubt seen it all. From the joyfully exuberant to one weeping and falling on their knees.

I don’t think John was prepared for or expected what was about to happen when he baptized Jesus.

Quoting verse 16  : “The moment Jesus came up out of the baptismal waters, the skies opened up and he saw God’s Spirit—it looked like a dove—descending and landing on him. And along with the Spirit, a voice: “This is my Son, chosen and marked by my love, delight of my life.”

If we slow this down and look at it in pieces it might help to better understand what is taking place. First, “The sky’s opened up “.  This kind of language is at minimum designed to get our attention. Something different is happening here. In essence, Pay attention. 

I’m not really sure what the sky opening up or as some versions put it, “ the heaven’s split open “ looked like. When things happen that we have no easy reference too, we use the words we have to try and explain it. 

In May of 2017, I was standing on the Eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee as evening approached. The sky’s were overcast and there was a strong wind coming across the lake. I stood on the shore thinking about all the story’s I’d read about this lake and events that took place on it when… the dark clouds parted a bit and a burst of sunlight broke through. The rays of light shown down on the water in a dramatic display.. I was physically and emotionally shaken. I immediately regretted leaving my better camera back in the hotel room. I fumbled around with my camera phone as quickly as I could to get the picture before the split in the clouds closed up. My attempts at a detailed explanation of this event fall painfully short of living the experience. I am guessing that was true of John as well. 

John is wanting us to see that there was this visible event involving the sky that seemed more like an opening of a window between Heaven and Earth, and through this window The Spirit of God, like a dove descended and came to rest directing on Jesus. I don’t think what he saw would be considered normal. 

What might be the purpose behind this God orchestrated natural or supernatural occurrence ? I think we are achieving at least part of it right now. We are still talking about it. The spectacle slash miracle serves a very important purpose. It grabs our attention but more importantly it instills confidence or as some might say builds faith. If God wanted John to have a solid confidence in Jesus as being “ the one “, the Messiah then this event would have gone a long way toward doing that. But it doesn’t stop with sun beams and a dove. 

The thing that happens next would be on anyone’s short list of events that would stop them in their tracks. Quoting from the ESV verse 17 : “and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

The audible voice of God as recorded in the New Testament Bible happens three times. The second time on what is known as the mount of transfiguration.

Quoting: “He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” .  Matthew 17:5 ESV.    Sound familiar ?

The third time while Jesus was in the garden of Gethsemane  : quoting : “Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.””   John 12:28 ESV

The first time happens at the beginning of Jesus formal ministry. The second time happens on the mount of transfiguration just after Jesus reveals to his closest disciples that his death and resurrection are eminent. And the third and last time to announce this final event with firm conviction. These are all significant events and God wants us to recognize them as such. They are tied together by there scarcity. 

For most of us, hearing the audible voice of God would be a terrifying experience.. or it at least seems that way. The message is bold and clear, This is the son of God, The Messiah, Listen to Him!

The words God spoke over Jesus that day in the Jordan river are much like a benediction which is Latin for Blessing which means simply .. “to say good things “.  All that to say, His Father, God is blessing his son and the ministry he is launching into ! 

Offering a blessing is a big deal to God because words are a big deal to God. What we say matters and what He says matters. I have a good friend named Ron who taught me a great saying down this line.  “See the good, Say the good”. It means to literally acknowledge the good you see in someone when you see it. Not letting the moment slip past both of you and let the opportunity be lost. 

In our current world full of negative news, snarky facebook and twitter comments a good word is quite refreshing. both to give and receive. 

The image of the Spirit of God as a dove descending on Jesus and staying there is the image of anointing.  The dove itself has always been a symbol of peace. Anointing can be thought of as type of commissioning and a bestowing of the power needed to complete the mission. This Spirit of God in both peace and power descending on Jesus is at minimum the ceremonial beginning of this rescue mission. From this point forward the beauty and power of God would be put on display for all the world to see, but the world is a hostile place. There is a kind of logic that says “how wonderful “ .. peace and power has come.. all things that are wrong with the world and the people in it will be fixed.. But the reality was just the opposite. What would happen next was a lot more like an invasion into enemy occupied territory. The enemy now aware of the invasion will launch a full out attack..

Until next time ..  I am Gene Ort and Thank you for listening to the common man commentary. 

I’D LIKE TO LEAVE YOU WITH This “ blessing :

Love God. Love Yourself. Love the next person He puts in front of you.