When Good People Pray / The Baptism of our LORD

Luke 3:15-22

Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been Baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on Him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are My beloved Son; with You I am well pleased.”

According to the Gospel of Luke, John the Baptist was Baptizing people on the banks of the Jordan River. Then Luke makes one of the most startling pronouncements in the New Testament. He writes, “When all the people were being Baptized, Jesus was baptized too.”

Each year on the First Sunday after Epiphany, liturgical churches celebrate the Baptism of our Lord. For us, it’s a major event. The Son of God submits to being baptized at the hands of a somewhat eccentric preacher called John the Baptist.

Mark describes John as wearing clothes of camel’s hair, living on locusts and wild honey, making his home in the wilderness. John admits that he is not worthy to carry Christ’s sandals (Mt. 3:11). In fact, he wants to prevent Jesus from being baptized at his unworthy hands. And yet Jesus comes to John to be baptized.

It’s a remarkable scene. He who was without sin (2 Cor. 5:21) submits Himself to a religious rite that most of us associate with the symbolic act of washing sin away. The rite of Baptism is so important to our identity as Christians that it’s required in one form or another of all who would become part of the body of Christ.

And notice what happens next, after Jesus’ Baptism. Luke writes, “And was praying . . .” (Note those words.) “And was praying, heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on Him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are My Son, whom I love; with You I am well pleased.’”

You’ve heard or read those words many times. It’s a very familiar scene. And as He was praying . . .”? It was natural that Jesus, immediately following His baptism, should pray. Prayer played a major role in His entire ministry. Here He was, the very manifestation of God on earth, and yet He felt the need to be in continuous communication with His Father.

Contrast His example with the practice of many of us. We have a very limited acquaintance with the Father, and we spend a small amount of time in prayer.

As they walked down a hallway of a college campus, a guest saw a sign marked “prayer room” over a doorway. As they moved past the door to that prayer room, it became obvious that they didn’t intend to show this guest that particular room. Curious, he opened the door, his nostrils were assaulted by a musty smell. The room was stuffed with boxes, boots, clothes hangers, and junk. On the little altar stood a pair of worn cowboy boots, an empty bottle of vodka, and a roll of toilet tissue. Remember, this was the prayer room for the university’s campus ministry. A bit embarrassed, the director explained quickly, we used this for a storage room during the summer. Just haven’t gotten it cleaned out yet.

At first it seemed like a disrespectful thing to the visitor, stacking a prayer room full of junk. But then he realized that the room was a parable of his own life. He was so busy doing good things, he had lost the habit of praying. The time he had formerly spent talking with God each day was now crowded full of other things.”

That has happened to many of us! We’re so busy that we have crowded out the one necessary practice for a truly successful life. Jesus never let that happen. Immediately after He was baptized, Jesus was praying, and what happened next? Luke tells us, “The heaven opened.” What an exciting statement. When good people pray, good things happen. “The heaven opened.”

What happens when we pray? The heaven opens. When good people pray, good things happen. When Jesus prayed on the day He was baptized, the heaven opened. 

Then we read, “. . . and the Holy Spirit descended on Him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are My Son, whom I love; with You I am well pleased.”

What a beautiful scene: “The heaven opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on Him in bodily form like a dove. “And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are My Son, whom I love; with You I am well pleased.’”

On the western side of England, in a little known country, it goes by the name of Wales, they’ve been digging coal for over a century. The miners digging the coal go miles and miles away from the central shaft, so there’s always danger of the men getting lost.

On one particular day, two miners did lose their way out of the mine. Their lights finally went out, and they were in danger of losing their lives. After wandering around in the darkness for a long time, they sat down, and one of them said: Let us sit perfectly still and see if we can feel the way in which the air is moving because it always moves toward the shaft.

There they sat for a long time, when suddenly one of them felt a slight touch of air on his cheek. Up he sprang to his feet, exclaiming, I felt it! They went in the direction in which the air was moving and reached the central shaft and freedom from their dark captivity.

The Hebrew word for Spirit [ruacḥ] is also the word for wind or breath. In a very real way, we also need to feel the movement of the air. We need to experience the movement of the wind of God’s Spirit in our life.

As children lost in the woods are fearful of the sinister darkness and then, suddenly, hearing a sound from the somber blackness, a familiar voice, a loving, seeking, helping voice, their mother’s voice, so prayer is our reply to the voice from the Word of God in Jesus Christ which suddenly cries out to us in the mysterious, dark universe. It is the Father calling us out of the world’s darkness. He calls us, seeks us, wants to bring us to Himself. Where are you, My child? Our prayer means, Here I am, Father. I was afraid until You called. Since You have spoken, I am afraid no longer. Come, I am waiting for You, take me, lead me by the hand through the dark, terrifying world.

What happens when we pray? The heaven opens. The wind of God’s Spirit blows . . . And we become new people.  That’s the wonderful promise of Christian baptism. We can have new life in Christ Jesus,

A machinist with the Ford motor company in Detroit who had, over a period of years, “borrowed” various parts and tools from the company which he had not bothered to return. While this practice was not condoned, it was more or less accepted by management at Ford, and nothing was done about it. The machinist, however, experienced a Christian conversion. He was baptized and became a devout believer. Even more importantly, he took his baptism seriously.

The very next morning, he arrived at work loaded down with tools and all the parts he had “taken” from the company during the years. He explained the situation to his foreman and added that he’d never really meant to steal them and hoped he’d be forgiven.

The foreman was so astonished and impressed by his action that he cabled Mr. Ford himself, who was visiting a European plant, and explained the entire event in detail. Immediately Ford cabled back: “Dam up the Detroit River,” he said, “And Baptize the entire city!” We could only hope that every Christian takes his or her Baptism that seriously.

When Jesus prayed on the day He was Baptized, the heaven opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on Him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are My Son, whom I love; with You I am well pleased.” Something like that should happen at some time in our life. Baptism at its best should result in our becoming a new person. We should become aware of our identity as a part of the family of God. We should discover that we, too, are children of God.

At the end of World War I, the government of France was faced with an unusual problem. In their army hospitals were over one hundred soldiers who had developed total amnesia caused by battle trauma. These men couldn’t remember their names, their families, their hometowns. They were totally separated from their origins.

Finally, the government announced to the whole nation that all families who had relatives missing in action should come to a certain hospital on an appointed day. For this occasion, a large platform was erected. With the families gathered around the platform, the soldiers were led out one by one in the hope that somebody would recognize them, and they could be reunited with their loved ones.

Can you imagine the relief and joy those soldiers experienced when they were reunited with loved ones and thereby rediscovered their identity? That’s the sort of thing that can happen in our life when we’re in the habit of maintaining continuous contact with God through prayer.

When Jesus prayed on the day He was baptized, the heaven opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on Him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are My Son, whom I love; with You I am well pleased.”