Popularity can be a fickle thing. Andy Warhol once said that everyone would have 15 minutes of fame in the future, and we often use that to describe situations when someone becomes popular, only to fade from existence almost immediately. Restaurants are like that as well. A new restaurant opens and people flock to it. It becomes the “in thing” to do: the “in place” to go to. Then, when it becomes the place where everybody goes to, it takes on the quality that Yogi Berra once used to describe a restaurant: “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.” There are many ways you could take what Berra said there, but it’s a testament to the fickle nature of a crowd following the popularity.
But crowds can make a powerful statement. As John was preaching, the crowds flocked to hear him. The religious leaders came out. Soldiers came out to see him. The everyday people, sinners, tax collectors, moms, and dads came out to see him. Jesus went out to see him. While the other gospels describe more of the interaction, Luke records here that while “all the people” were coming out to be baptized, Jesus came out also. “When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he 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.’” (Luke 3:21-22 NIV)
John seemed to be indiscriminate in who he baptized. If someone came out and said that they had repented, he’d dip them under the water of the Jordan River as a sign of that repentance and a promise to follow God. The only person that he seemed hesitant to baptize was Jesus. John recognized who Jesus was and let Jesus know that Jesus should be baptizing him. Jesus, instead, asked John to baptize Him, not as a sign of repentance, but, in my personal opinion, to demonstrate His unity as a human being with those who came out to be baptized. Whatever the reason was, God approved, and we have a verbal picture of the Trinity gathered together in one place as the heavens opened up, we hear the voice of the Father call out letting all those at the river know that Jesus was His Son – and He was a proud Father, and the Holy Spirit showing up in bodily form as a dove to sit on Jesus. It was the beginning of the end of John’s popularity, which was as it was supposed to be. As noted in the gospel of John, the John who baptized said that he must decrease so that Jesus could increase.
There’s a beautiful picture of the Trinity gathered on the banks of the Jordan in this story. I can’t explain it, but we see it as we picture this story in our mind. There was communication amongst themselves in the Trinity. There’s another interesting picture that we see, though, and that’s the humility of Jesus. He was God, the Son. He had ruled in heaven. Not only had He come down to earth as a young child, now, He was walking among the masses of people, the holy among the unclean, and was willing to be baptized by a backwater preacher of repentance. While we know more of the story than the first century Jews did, that’s what most of them saw. As described in the book of Philippians, Jesus, though He was God, didn’t cling to His rights as God. Instead, He was willing to get His hands “dirty” by walking, talking, and dealing with the “sinners” of Jewish society while enduring the scorn of the “religious elite.” He reminds us today that true faith doesn’t set up barriers between people; it doesn’t set up pedestals that we can climb to look down on people; it breaks the barriers and conventions of this world so that those who follow God can share His grace and mercy with those who need to follow Him. If that’s what Jesus did when He was on earth, that’s what we should do every day.
Lord, sometimes I set up, or live behind barriers that keep me from sharing Your grace. Tear them down so that people can see Your love in me.
Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.