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We have here the account of our Lord Jesus Christ’s baptism. This was his first step when he entered on his ministry. When the Jewish priests took up their office they were washed with water (Exodus 29:4), and when our great High Priest begins the great work he came into the world to accomplish he is publicly baptized.
We should notice firstly in these verses the honour placed upon the sacrament of baptism. An ordinance of which the Lord Jesus himself partook is not to be lightly esteemed. An ordinance to which the great head of the church submitted ought to be ever honourable in the eyes of professing Christians.
There are few subjects in religion on which greater mistakes have arisen than baptism. There are few which require so much fencing and guarding. Let us arm our minds with two general cautions.
Let us beware, on the one hand, that we do not attach a superstitious importance to the water of baptism. We must not expect that water to act as a charm. We must not suppose that all baptized persons as a matter of course, receive the grace of God in the moment that they are baptized. To say that all who come to baptism obtain like an equal benefit, and that it matters not a jot whether they come with faith and prayer or in utter carelessness—to say such things appears to contradict the plainest lessons of Scripture.
Let us beware, on the other hand, that we do not dishonour the sacrament of baptism. It is dishonoured when it is hastily slurred over as a mere form, or thrust out of sight and never publicly noticed in the congregation. A sacrament ordained by Christ himself ought not be treated in this way. The admission of every new member into the visible church, whether young or grown up, is an event which ought to excite a lively interest in a Christian assembly. It is an event that ought to call forth the fervent prayers of all praying people. The more deeply we are convinced that baptism and grace are not inseparably tied together, the more we ought to feel bound to join in prayer for a blessing whenever anyone is baptized.
We should notice, secondly, in these verses the peculiarly solemn circumstances by which the baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ was attended. Such a baptism never will be again so long as the world stands.
We are told of the presence of all three persons of the blessed Trinity. God the Son, manifest in the flesh, is baptized; God the Spirit descends like a dove, and lights upon him; God the Father speaks from heaven with a voice. In a word, we have the manifested presence of Father, Son and Holy Ghost. We may regard this as a public announcement that the work of Christ was the result of the eternal councils of all the three persons of the blessed Trinity. It was the whole Trinity which, at the beginning of the creation, said, “Let us make man,” it was the whole Trinity again which, at the beginning of the Gospel, seemed to say, “Let us save man.”
We are told of “a voice from heaven” at our Lord’s baptism; “the heavens were opened,” and words were heard. This was a most significant miracle. We read of no voice from heaven before this, except at the giving of the law on Sinai. Both occasions were of peculiar importance. It therefore seemed good to our Father in heaven to mark both with peculiar honor. At the introduction both of the Law and Gospel he himself spoke. “God spake these words.” (Exodus 20:1)
How striking and deeply instructive are the Father’s words: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” He declares, in these words, that Jesus is the divine Saviour, sealed and appointed from all eternity to carry out the work of redemption. He proclaims that he accepts him as the mediator between God and man. He publishes to the world that he is satisfied with him as the propitiation, the substitute, the ransom-payer for the lost family of Adam, and the head of a redeemed people. In him he sees his holy “law magnified and made honourable.”Through him he can “be just and yet the justifier of the ungodly. (Isaiah 42:21; Romans 3:26)
Let us carefully ponder these words. They are full of rich food for thought; they are full of peace, joy, comfort, and consolation for all who have fled for refuge to the Lord Jesus Christ and committed their souls to him for salvation. Such may rejoice in the thought that, though in themselves sinful, yet in God’s sight they are counted righteous. The Father regards them as members of his beloved Son. He sees in them no spot, and for his Son’s sake is “well pleased.” (Ephesians 1:6)
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