And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” – Matthew 3:16-17 ESV
As Jesus prepared to begin His earthly ministry, He inaugurated it with His own baptism. This was evidently a private affair with only Jesus and His cousin, John the Baptist present. John knew Jesus well, probably having grown up with Him, but he had not known that Jesus was to be the Messiah. It was he who said of Jesus, “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one about whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who is greater than I am, because he existed before me.’ I did not recognize him, but I came baptizing with water so that he could be revealed to Israel.” (John 1:29-31 NET).
It is not quite clear when John came to fully comprehend the unique status of his cousin, but when Jesus came to him at the Jordan River asking to be baptized, John expressed his reluctance, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” (Matthew 3:14 ESV). Yet Jesus persuaded John to do as He had asked, saying, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15 ESV). The righteousness to which Jesus referred had nothing to do with Him receiving righteousness or being made righteous. He was simply stating that His baptism was in full keeping with the will of God. It would be an expression of obedience to God, as Jesus willingly submitted Himself to the will of God. And at the same time, it would validate the ministry of John the Baptist.
John did as Jesus asked. “And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him” (Matthew 3:16 ESV). Jesus’ obedience to His Father’s will was immediately followed by the anointing presence of the Holy Spirit and the confirming words of God, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17 ESV). This event does not indicate that Jesus had somehow been lacking the Holy Spirit up until that moment. Matthew has already told us that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit. The angel Gabriel had told Mary, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called ‘holy – the Son of God’” (Luke 1:35 ESV). So Jesus was not receiving the Holy Spirit for the first time, but the Spirit’s arrival in the form of a visible dove was a confirmation of His public ministry. What He was about to do would be done in the power of God, and with the full authority and backing of God. Jesus would confirm this when He read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah in the synagogue of His hometown of Nazareth. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19 ESV).
God’s Spirit gave Jesus the power and authority to proclaim God’s message of good news. Time and time again, the Pharisees would question where Jesus got the authority to do the things He did. They wanted to know who had given Him the right to say the things He said. It was God. The Father had placed His Spirit upon Jesus, providing Him with the right, the power, and the divine authority to proclaim God’s message of good news. And we have that same right, privilege and authority. As followers of Jesus Christ, we have received the same Holy Spirit. Like the disciples at Pentecost, we have received fire from on high. We have been anointed with the Spirit of God so that we might fulfill the will of God. We didn’t receive the Holy Spirit so that we might enjoy happy, whole and trouble-free lives. We have been given a power and authority from God so that we might do exactly what Jesus did: Proclaim good news to the poor, liberty to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and offer liberty to all who are oppressed. It is our God-given, Spirit-empowered responsibility to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. We live in a unique time in history. We live in the dispensation of grace, when God is offering forgiveness of sins to any and all who will accept it. Jesus’ death on the cross and His Spirit-empowered resurrection to new life has made it possible for men and women to experience the grace of God in the form of the total forgiveness of their sin debt and the undeserved gift of Christ’s righteousness. But that gift would never have been made possible had Jesus not done what He had been commissioned and empowered to do. His obedience made possible man’s salvation. Throughout His life He willingly submitted Himself to the Spirit’s leading. Paul tells us, “he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Colossians 2:8 ESV). All in order to fulfill the will of God in the power of God. And we must do the same. We must rely on God’s indwelling, empowering Spirit to give us the strength we need to fulfill the job we have been given to do. Each of us should be willing to say, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor, liberty to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and liberty for the oppressed.”