We jump very quickly from the birth of Jesus, the coming of the wise men, to the baptism of Jesus.
But it is still about new beginnings.
Jesus at the beginning of his ministry comes to John to be baptised.
He identifies himself with John and with John’s message
He identifies himself with those who choose to be baptised
But there is much more going on.
And I would suggest at Jesus baptism,
1. Tears heaven open
2. Baptises people not with water, but with the Holy Spirit.
1. Jesus tears heaven open
As he is baptised, 'He saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove'. (v10)
It is a powerful image.
Because of our rebellion against God, our rejection of God, our self-centredness, our attempt to put ourselves in the place of God - a barrier has been placed between heaven and earth.
We may have an idea that heaven is there, but we cannot see into heaven. That is why our lives and our world are in such a mess. That is why we cannot see God. That is why when we pray, it can seem as if we are praying to a blank wall.
But when Jesus is baptised heaven is torn open.
It is because of:
i. Who he is - the Son of God (
ii. What he does: especially here in his baptism. Here is one who – up to now - has never rebelled against God, never rejected God, who is learning obedience, and who has lived a life and will live a life that is completely God-centred
iii. The death of Jesus: Mark tells us that as Jesus dies, the curtain in the temple was torn in two. This was the curtain that separated the holy of holies, the place where God's name was said to dwell, from the rest of the temple. But when Jesus dies, that curtain is torn.
Heaven has been torn open; the curtain has been torn from top to bottom. The barrier that separated us from God has been pulled down.
Jesus stands between heaven and earth. Most of us will know the Salvador Dali painting of Christ on the cross suspended between heaven and earth. He is the bridge, he is the road. Because of him, and by putting our trust in him, we can again hear the voice of God the Father, we can know the assurance and the leading of the Holy Spirit, and we can begin to glimpse God.
2. Jesus is the one who baptises with the Holy Spirit
That is what John says about Jesus: 'I baptise you with water, but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit' (v8)
We can get too hung up about the experience of the Holy Spirit. We are tempted to say that what happens to me must happen to everyone else.
But we are all different, and God works in each of us in different ways.
For Jesus, the Spirit came as a dove - it is an incredibly gentle picture.
For the disciples on the day of Pentecost, the Spirit came as a violent wind and tongues of fire.
On another occasion, as the early believers were meeting together, the Spirit comes and the building is shaken.
For Cornelius, the Spirit came as Peter was preaching, and he and his household start to speak in tongues.
There is no single experience.
And we must be very careful that we do not knock the experience of others - or get worried if our experience is not the same as theirs.
What is important is not how the Spirit comes, but what He does.
And I draw out three things
i. It is the Holy Spirit who convinces us of our need to repent, to turn to God.
We need to hear this. Jesus did not command us to tell people that they are sinners. The people he condemns are the people who claim that they are not sinners and who tell other people that they are sinners.
We’re not commanded to tell people that they are sinners, but to tell people who know that they are sinners that there is the forgiveness of sins.
It is the work of the Holy Spirit to convince someone that they are a sinner.
He works in the hearts and minds of men and women, showing us our need to repent – so that repentance, when it comes, comes not from the outside, but from the inside.
It is the difference between saying sorry because we’ve been told to say sorry, and saying sorry because we really are sorry.
And when we have been baptised in the Spirit, he will continue to do that: ‘to convict us of sin’ (
And it is the Spirit who helps us to see that we are not right with God and who gives us the longing to get right with God.
2. The Spirit assures us that we are children of God
The voice comes from heaven. It is the voice of the Father who speaks, but he speaks when the Spirit comes. It is almost as if the Spirit carries the voice of Father God.
And that is important.
We need assurance when we begin the Christian life.
When people become Christians they often become profoundly aware of God's presence, of a deep hunger to read the bible and of prayers answered in astonishing ways – it really is a sort of divine honeymoon period.
That is the work of the Holy Spirit.
And we need assurance to live the Christian life: when the bad and the sad things happen, when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death. We start to think, ‘Why me? Is this a punishment from God?’ Am I good enough? Have I been good enough? Am I too insignificant for God?'
But then we begin to become aware of someone with us who is far far greater than any situation, of someone who has told us that nothing in life and nothing in death can separate us from his love.
That is the work of the Holy Spirit
We need assurance when we get trouble for being a Christian, when we have to make a costly decision because we are trying to be obedient to Jesus, when we are criticised or ridiculed because of our faith, or when it seems so uncool to be a Christian.
We need assurance
So what is the answer to those who say that they have never known that assurance? What is the answer to those who say that have lost that sense of assurance?
For some the answer is, 'Wait. Live by faith. Believe his promises. Continue to call out to him’.
And when it seems as if God is not there, it really is not the time to give up on him. That is the time to remember the past, remember his promises and to cry out to him with more hunger and more longing.
With the Psalmist we say, ‘God, you did this in the past. God, you said this. Where are you now?’
But for others the answer is a question, ‘Do you seek God or do you seek an experience of God? Have you committed yourself to being obedient to him? Do you pray for God's kingdom to come? Do you give time to listen to God's word? The man or woman of faith is a man or woman who says, 'I will trust his promises and serve him whatever, even if God never makes himself known to me this side of death'.
And for all of us, I note that the voice came to Jesus after he had been baptised, the angels came to comfort Jesus in the wilderness after he had been tempted and the angel comes to strengthen Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane after he had prayed: 'Not my will, but yours be done'.
3. The Spirit leads us
Verse 12: 'the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness'.
The Spirit dismissed Jesus not to the still waters and green pastures, but into the desert.
The person who allows themselves to be led by the Spirit will not always go where they would choose to go.
But the Spirit leads us: both through the things that happen to us, and through guiding us in the decisions that we are led to take. We however, need to allow him to lead us. Paul urges us, ‘Keep in step with the Spirit’ (
And in the end, the reason that Jesus was led into the wilderness was so that he could be prepared for the future. He was led into the wilderness not in spite of the fact that he was God's beloved Son, but because he was God's beloved Son.
So Jesus came to tear heaven open
And he came to baptise with the Holy Spirit.
We give thanks to God for that, and today I invite us to receive what God gives to us.
We do not need to live as if we are cut off from God.
We do not need to live as if there is no hope – there is a future, here and there.
We do not need to live as if we are simply a DNA code, a product of natural selection and random mutation, and no more.
We do not need to live as if we are on our own, with little purpose and no future.
But in order to do that we need God.
We need John’s baptism in water – for repentance.
We need Jesus’ death – for forgiveness
And if we wish to live this new life, we need to allow Jesus to baptise us with the Holy Spirit.