“And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
The season of Epiphany celebrates the revelation of God incarnate in Jesus Christ. We began the season reflecting on the adoration of the Magi, when Gentile wise men came to recognize the Jewish Messiah child as the true Lord of the world. Now, as we near the end of Epiphany, we conclude our last week investigating how Jesus’ baptism in the River Jordan unveils his identity and purpose.
Two weeks ago, we saw how Jesus’ baptism foreshadows his role as both Israel’s substitute and Israel’s representative, whose vocation is to bring God’s plan for mankind’s redemption and glorification to fulfillment as a new Joshua who again crosses the Jordan to cleanse the land of pollution and corruption. Last week, we saw how Jesus’ baptism prompts the sending of the Holy Spirit, whose descent like a dove presages Jesus’ role as the true Ark that saves mankind from destruction, and his status as the first-fruits of a New Creation.
In verse 17, as the Holy Spirit descends on Jesus, the Father says of him, “This is my Son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
This event is literally an Epiphany–a manifestation or showing forth–of the Trinity, as it involves the voice of the Father, the baptism of the Incarnate Son, and the descent of the Spirit. As Christians, we do not believe that in this moment Jesus became the Son of God. Rather, this moment was an unveiling of who Jesus already is. It had always been the Father’s purpose to sum up Creation under the Lordship of the totus Christus–Christ, Head and Body. See Colossians 1:15-20 below:
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.”
The Divine Son is the perfect image of the Father, who pre-existed all things and for whom and through whom all things were created. This Son is the Head of the Church, which then adopts his own identity for its identity, and his status for its status. By the peace the Son made on the Cross, all who are members of the Church can enjoy His rights and privileges as the Son.
Hebrews 1:1-4 puts it this way:
“Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.”
The Eternal Son shares the Father’s very being with the Holy Spirit. This is good news for many reasons, not least because it reveals the very heart and character of our God, and because it reveals the heights to which God elevates us!
If the Son is the “exact imprint of God’s very being,” then ugly caricatures where we portray the Father as a stern tyrant and Jesus as the compassionate son who volunteers for cosmic child abuse will not do. Rather, we see that from the world’s creation to its redemption to its ultimate glorification, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are united in one purpose in generously pouring themselves out for the sake of one another and for the world.
The Father is always giving us gifts, including the gift of existence and the gift of every next breath. He also gives us the Son, and the Son in turn gives His entire life as a ransom for many. The Son then gives us His Spirit, who teaches us to love the Son so that we can be reconciled to the Father, who is ready to give us the gift of eternal life. The Spirit also gives us gifts so that we can be united as one Church, so we can build one another up in faith, and so we can love our neighbors, even when they declare themselves to be our enemies.
Martin Luther recognized all of this in his 1528 Confession:
“These are the three Persons and the one God, Who has given Himself to us wholly with all that He is and all that He has. The Father gives Himself to us, with heaven and earth and all created things, that they may be profitable and of service to us. But this gift was obscured and made fruitless by Adam’s fall, and the Son also gave Himself to us, bestowed on us all His works, sufferings, wisdom and righteousness, and reconciled us to the Father, so that, once more alive and righteous, we perceive and possess the Father and His gifts. But such grace would profit no one if it were to remain a hidden secret and could not be imparted to us. So the Holy Ghost also comes and gives Himself completely to us, teaches us the bounty of Christ, makes us perceive and understand it, helps us to receive and keep it, to use it profitably, to administer it and to increase and further its spread among men, and this He does both inwardly and outwardly. Inwardly through faith and other spiritual gifts but outwardly through the Gospel, through Baptism and the Sacrament of the Altar, through which, as through means or instruments He comes to us, applies the sufferings of Christ to us and makes them profitable to salvation.”
The Son-ship of Jesus Christ matters because through the Holy Spirit and in Christ, we enjoy fellowship with the Father. These gifts are manifest to us through the preaching of the Gospel, through the Lord’s Supper, through the ministry of believers to one another, and through baptism. Our baptism takes its meaning–and therefore must constantly look back to–Jesus’ baptism.
Jesus’ baptism takes us into a three-fold mystery, so that by participating in his Death and Resurrection we receive the gifts of the Triune God. Despite our sin and idolatry, when we are washed by water and the word, the Spirit descends upon us so that we receive Jesus’ status as Son.
It is because Jesus is the Divine Son, and because the Spirit joins us to His life, that we can hear the voice of the Father regarding us, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
Christians no longer need to fear anything in this life, because in Christ we receive the eternal love and approval of the Father. Truly, this is good news!