The baptism of Jesus is a familiar story for me and many others, so familiar that I nearly skimmed right over it this time. I’m glad I didn’t. Some things caught my attention this time that I had never noticed.
First of all, we know from other Gospels that John and Jesus are related. So, how much did John know about Jesus? Was the miraculous conception of Jesus shared at family gatherings? Were the star and wise men discussed over feasts? Unless God chooses to send a message, there’s no way to definitively answer these questions, but it seems clear that John at least knows that Jesus is not like everyone else, that he knows Jesus is remarkable. The second thing I noticed though makes me think that even his own family didn’t fully comprehend who Jesus really was.
When Jesus approaches John, John’s immediate response is a declaration that Jesus is greater than John and, therefore, John should be baptized by Jesus, not the other way around. Of course Jesus responds to John and the baptism proceeds. Here’s the part I missed before: The heavens were opened up to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove. I have always pictured this scene as a grand revelation to a crowd along the banks of the Jordan River. The phrasing suggests something quite different. “Opened to him” and “he saw” indicate these miraculous revelations were for John alone.
Maybe God was rewarding John for his faithfulness or needed John to have a greater understanding of what was unfolding. I don’t know but it seems clear that God didn’t want an “easy” revelation of Jesus’ nature. He could have openly proclaimed the identity of Christ right there. He didn’t. I wonder how the religious leaders would have treated Jesus if God had made this visible to all. I can’t help thinking that they wouldn’t have acted that much differently. They seemed pretty good at rationalizing things away whenever they didn’t match their preconceived notions.