The rocks on the bank of the river Jordan have borne witness to several significant events through Biblical history. On the occasion of the conquest of Canaan, the Lord commanded that 12 stones be removed from its bottom to bear witness to the miraculous fording of the river by the nation on dry land (Josh 4). Elijah and Elisha later enjoyed a similar experience (2 Kings 2). Leprous Naaman’s obedience to the command to dip seven times in the river was rewarded with miraculous healing (2 Kings 5). It was to the banks of the Jordan that John the Baptizer came to thunder his message of repentance and baptize those who repented in view of the forgiveness of sins (Mk 1.5). It is appropriate, then, that these silent observers witnessed the first act that opened the public ministry of Jesus Christ as He presented himself to John to be baptized. Surprisingly, to this One, the waters did not separate and as John himself noted, there was no need of cleansing either (Mt 3.14). Jesus insisted on associating and identifying Himself with fallen humanity in this initial act of a ministry that would culminate in what baptism symbolizes - a literal death, burial and resurrection on humanity’s behalf. Heaven’s dramatic trinitarian response to His baptism is recorded in all four gospels with the Father declaring His pleasure in the Son and the Spirit descending in the form of a dove to rest upon Him. This descent of the Spirit to indwell a human being is a landmark in the biblical record. This article will explore how believers in the Lord Jesus have come to enjoy the same blessing by virtue of His ministry on our behalf in the Spirit.
Why did the Spirit indwelling Christ matter to Him?
The descent of a dove on the occasion of the baptism of Christ is at least doubly suggestive of the Old Testament story of the flood. The ark passing through the flood surrounded by water is explicitly connected to baptism by Peter (1 Pet 3.21). The dove’s search for a clean (by implication, since the raven was not discriminating!) resting place in Genesis 8 is answered in the Spirit finally finding a resting place in the person of Jesus Christ. His silent years in Nazareth had been scrutinized and met with approval. Finally, at long last, here was a clean man upon which the Spirit could find a place to rest. Here is a man with which God can make a fresh start and enjoy daily communion and fellowship. Thus Jesus enters his public ministry enabled by the Spirit of God to resist the devil and empowered to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom to a world of people who would reject Him (Lk 4). The Spirit indwelling Jesus vindicated his life as being holy and clean and was the resource upon which He relied in His difficult public ministry to an unholy and unclean world. His death was an unblemished sacrifice offered through the eternal Spirit (Heb 9.14) and His resurrection out of death by the Spirit declared His intrinsic holiness (Rom 1.4).
Why does the Spirit indwelling Christ matter to us?
The reality of a man being indwelled by the Spirit opened the way for others to enjoy this blessing. We can be identified with this perfect Man due to His accepted sacrifice for sin, and enjoy His acceptance in God’s sight. John’s preaching about Jesus included the teaching that Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit (Lk 3.16). Fittingly, having begun His public ministry being indwelled by the Spirit, Jesus ends it in an upper room teaching His true followers that they are completely clean (Jn 13.10) and that when He returns to His Father, he will not leave them orphans, but will send them the Spirit to be with and in them (Jn 14.16-18). Old Testament believers enjoyed the ministry of the Spirit externally, as He has ever been the means of sanctification, but the promise of the Lord to His disciples is that they would enjoy the Spirit in the same way that He does! They had enjoyed the sanctifying effects of being with Jesus just as Old Testament believers had enjoyed the sanctifying effects of having the Spirit with them. But now Jesus surprisingly tells them that it is to their advantage that He goes away (Jn 16.7). Unless the Lord returned to heaven, the Spirit would not come to them. His clear teaching is this - it is better for believers to have the Spirit in them than it is to have Jesus with them! The import is this, apart from Jesus in His humanity being indwelled by the Spirit, we would never know this blessing and privilege as believers.
Our Lord Jesus did return to His Father and He has baptized His followers with the Holy Spirit. That pivotal day is recorded in Acts 2 as the believers in Jerusalem were actually enveloped (baptized in the Spirit). Every believer since enjoys this blessing (1 Cor 12.13, Eph 1.13). The Spirit-filled work of Christ has cleansed us in such a way that the Spirit can find rest in us. Further, it has provided us with a model life to follow and through which inspiration can be found as the Spirit seeks to help us live lives along a pathway of sanctification. Just as the Jordan crossing opened the way to the conquest of Canaan and its promises, so the baptism of the Lord Jesus in the Jordan has blazed the trail to being blessed with every spiritual blessing in heavenly places (Eph 1.3). We have been left with no excuse for poor behaviour - God the Spirit has been enabled and commissioned by the Saviour Himself to take up residence in us that we might be transformed into His likeness. May we submit our will to His prompting, as our Saviour did, to our benefit and to His glory.