Mark 1:10 “As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.”
When we are baptized, it is usually a relatively quiet affair. Sometimes a baby may cry through the ceremony, as they tell me I did when I was baptized. The heavens aren’t torn open for us to see God’s glory. There are usually no visible displays of God’s presence and power.
But if God would enable us to see through the veil of this physical world into the workings of his spiritual kingdom, then we would see a scene something like the one described at Jesus’ baptism. Here God did pull back the veil for Jesus, and for John the Baptist, and for any other onlookers to see. The Holy Ghost raced down from heaven and settled upon Jesus in special way. In showing us this, there are two messages he is sharing with us today.
First, he is positively identifying Jesus as our Savior. The Bible refers to this event as God’s way of anointing Jesus for the office of Christ. Peter says in Acts chapter 10, “You know what has happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached–how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power…” Jesus was already our Savior, but this baptism served as a kind of formal inauguration. God was formally and publicly announcing that Jesus is our prophet, priest, and king. He had a special commission to preach the good news, die for our sins, and win our battle with the devil.
It’s as if the Father were saying, “Hey, Christians! Sit up and pay attention! This is your Messiah! This man is the difference between heaven and hell for you! He holds eternity in his hands. You need to pay attention to what he says and what he does if you want the gifts he came to bring. You can be sure that he is the one I sent to save you from your sins.”
The other thing we learn is that Jesus was empowered to serve as our Savior by the Holy Spirit. The verses immediately following this account tell us that the Spirit sent him into the desert to be tempted. After that the Gospels tell us that Jesus returned to Galilee “in the power of the Spirit.” When Jesus gets back to the synagogue in Nazareth, he applies the words of the prophet Isaiah to himself. “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.” Jesus served us by the power of God’s Spirit.
That leads to the question, “why?” Jesus was already God. Why did he need the Holy Spirit’s power for his work as our Savior? Here we see that when he became like us, he became like us in every way. The almighty Son of God so humbled himself that he placed himself under human limitations. He lived and served like other believing human beings–with the power of God’s Spirit.
Can we help noting what this says about our own baptisms and Christian service? Baptism is special, if for no other reason, because in it God sends us his Holy Spirit. If we are not receiving the Spirit for the first time, then he comes with an additional promise of God’s grace and power.
If Jesus, who was God in the flesh, would live his life relying upon the Holy Spirit’s power, can mere mortals expect to be able to serve God any other way? Our natural abilities alone will fail us. But in Baptism the Lord has connected us with the grace that saves us. He has also connected us with the Spirit’s power that fills us with whatever we need to serve him with our lives.