Luke 3:15-16, 21-22
15 People’s hopes began to rise, and they began to wonder whether John perhaps might be the Messiah.
16 So John said to all of them, “I baptise you with water, but someone is coming who is much greater than I am. I am not good enough even to untie his sandals. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
21 After all the people had been baptised, Jesus also was baptised. While he was
praying, heaven was opened,
22 and the Holy Spirit came down upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my own dear Son. I am pleased with you.”
Other readings: Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11; Psalm 104:1-4, 24-25, 27-30; Titus 2:11-14, 3:4-7
Luke is our guide through this event which launches Jesus into his salvation ministry. Luke reminds us of the Jewish nation’s huge anticipation of a Messiah, or Saviour. The Messiah was well known to them in some respects, all the great prophets spoke of his coming. And yet the people were still waiting.
Over the years, especially in unsettled times, people must have looked carefully at many notable men. Now they wondered, even hoped, that John might be the promised Messiah. John swiftly dashed those hopes and proclaimed the imminent arrival of the real Saviour, who “will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire”.
John revealed that the Saviour was to be a spiritual rather than political leader. He would baptise people with the Holy Spirit. It was a rather obscure promise to make – how would John’s followers respond? Would they understand?
There beside the River Jordan Jesus is baptised along with everyone else. Although he had not sinned, he is nonetheless willing to identify with ordinary sinful people in a public act of repentance and conversion.
Matthew records John’s shocked reaction when Jesus steps up for baptism (Mt 3:13-15). But Luke focuses on Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Jesus remains in prayer and contemplation after his baptism. Then the miracle occurs: Jesus sees the Holy Spirit descend on him in the form of a dove. And Jesus’s prayer becomes a communion, as the Father speaks to him and affirms him.
One thing we can note is that as soon as Jesus has identified with humankind, in the baptism of repentance, his Father speaks out loud and clear: “You are my own dear Son. I am pleased with you.”
What made John appear to be the promised Messiah? And why was John’s baptism necessary? How could it help the people prepare for Jesus and his message? The baptism of Jesus became an “epiphany”, a revelation of God – in the form of Father, Son and Holy Spirit (the dove). What might this experience and manifestation have meant for Jesus himself? Imagine you were there and saw the dove and heard God’s voice. How would this influence your opinion of Jesus?
Psalm 104 is a vibrant song of praise. The opening verse declares: “Praise the Lord, my soul! O Lord, my God, how great you are!” In the following 34 verses the psalmist looks at the everyday world around him and sees God’s hand in it all. Praise just bubbles up and pours out to God.
Read through the verses slowly. Then write your own list of reasons to praise God and offer this to him as a prayer of worship. You may want to make this into your very own psalm to God.
Consider today’s verses from Isaiah and what they reveal about both Jesus and John the Baptist. Let the promises contained in these few verses sink deep into your heart.
Think about the great words of St Paul in his letter to Titus. Our salvation is based upon God’s mercy and he gives us the grace to live our lives in a way that pleases him.
God wants us to have eternal life with him and has done everything to make it possible. Another wonderful promise full of hope that we should allow to settle in our hearts.
Lectio Divina is an ancient tradition of reading and engaging with God’s Word. These outlines for the Sunday Gospel readings are published by the Bible Society. Download at Biblesociety.org.uk/lectio. © 2008 United Bible Societies. Bible text Good News Translation, second edition © 1992 American Bible Society, New York