“Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended up on him in bodily form, as a dove, and a voice came from heaven, “Thou art my beloved Son, with thee I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:21-22)
By Kathleen Durham
Luke’s version of Jesus’ baptism almost seems like an after-thought sandwiched in between John the Baptist’s ministry and Jesus’ genealogy. And yet despite its succinctness, it contains certain details that are not found in the other evangelists’ accounts of the baptism. For instance, only Luke tells us that the Spirit descended on Jesus while he was praying, and only Luke specifies that it did so in the bodily form of a dove.
They are details that can be easily passed over, seemingly insignificant in comparison to some of the greater points of action. However we know that with Luke (and indeed all of the gospel writers), nothing should be taken for granted—particularly when they have to do with specific actions by Jesus or descriptions of members of the Godhead.
The mention of Jesus’ prayer as the context of the Spirit’s descent ties the two intimately together almost as cause and effect. It is Jesus’ openness to the Father, his surrender to the Father’s will exemplified in his baptism and articulated in prayer that has created the atmosphere in which the Spirit can be present both to anoint and empower him as the Messiah and Son of God.
However, the connection between prayer and the opening of heaven for the Spirit’s descent also evokes another image for me—that of the old prayer uttered by the prophet Isaiah in the midst of the Babylonian captivity. There we hear the cry of a righteous man begging for the Lord to rend the heavens in his mercy and come down and save his people from their captors but, most of all, from their sins. It is the cry for a dramatic intervention by God, to break through their reality, break through their pain and everything that seemed to separate them from His presence in order that they might experience His salvation.
I am sure it was a prayer that had been repeated countless times since it was first uttered, but here, finally, is the Lord’s answer. He had indeed rent open the heavens to bless and anoint the one who had come to save His people: Jesus, whose very name means YHWH saves.
Within the original passage in Isaiah there is a beautiful recollection of the Lord’s faithfulness, almost a hope-filled declaration of the type of response that the prophet and his people could expect from the Lord to their prayers:
From of old no one has heard Or perceived by the ear, No eye has seen a God besides thee, Who works for those who wait for him. (Isaiah 64:4)
Here in Luke’s account of Jesus’ baptism is the resounding affirmation of that hope, for the Lord has indeed worked for those who waited for them. He has even worked for those who have not waited, which, of course, is all of us.
Luke’s version of the Jesus’ baptism is a rich affirmation of the power of prayer—of what can happen when we surrender ourselves wholly to the will of the Father and thus invite His Spirit to transform and equip us for where He has called us. But it is also a profound demonstration of the faithfulness of the Father to hear the prayers of his people and respond in ways that were far more beautiful than they could ever have imagined. For no one could have fully foreseen Jesus.
Kathleeen Durham is Vice President of Alighieri Press. She also serves as an author, editor and speaker
Photo Source: Father Ed Tomlison’s Blog