by Debbonnaire Kovacs
As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, "I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."
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 upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased."
Well, you know me. I like to imagine.
What if we'd been there? Close your eyes, get comfortable, and try to use all your senses to make the scene real. Can you feel the push and crowd of bodies? Taste the breeze? Smell the river? Hear the throng? Can you see John (and do you imagine him as the scruffy, hairy semi-savage all the movies portray him as, or differently?)
Listen to him saying to you, "Another One is coming–someone greater, someone incredible." You notice that John is quoting from Old Testament prophecies that portray the Messiah as king and judge, a common and completely understandable misconception of the times. You can only say after the fact which parts of the prophecies relate to Now and which to Later. The first Advent wasn't of the king and judge, or at least not in that capacity. It was the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53. But John doesn't seem to have known that yet.
But we're in first century Palestine, so just listen, and ignore my editorializing. (I'm sure I would have done the same then. I think lots of AT readers would have loved the rabbinical debates in the synagogues!)
This particular passage does not describe the baptism of Jesus, but you can imagine it from other passages if you like. See Jesus coming, listen and watch while John argues. "Are you kidding me? I should be baptized by you!"
See him give in.
See Jesus going under, rising up–honestly, the fabulous art on the cover of Messiah, by Jerry D. Thomas, is what comes to my mind, the past few years. See Jesus gazing joyfully upward, water streaming from his face, and watch the Dove descend. Shiver with awe as the voice of God thunders, "You are my beloved one! I am so pleased with you!"
How do you feel?
Now try something harder. Imagine you are the one being baptized. You may relive your own real baptism, or you may put yourself in the Jordan and try to imagine what it might have been like to be baptized by "the baptizer."
Hear the voice of God thundering, "You–yes, you!– are my beloved one! I am so pleased with you!
How do you feel now?