We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Matthew 3:13-17

The earliest pieces of Christian literature that have survived down to the present are Paul's letters.  Then came the gospels, which were written at that crucial time when the first generation of Jesus' followers were dying and the churches were losing their memories of him.  They were also losing the witness that generation bore of their faith in him.  The genre of gospels thus emerged as statements of faith that introduce us to the person of Christ as the earliest church remembered him in light of their faith in him.

The story of Jesus' baptism is a brief summation of that faith.  The earliest church believed that Jesus was an actual person.  They believed that a holy prophet of God of the time affirmed that Jesus was much closer to God than he was.  They believed that Jesus still insisted on being baptized by John as an act of humility.  Jesus didn't just allow himself to be immersed in water; he was immersed in humanity.  And they believed that Jesus had a special connection with God, symbolized by his vision of the heavens opening and the Spirit "like a dove" descending upon him.  Later, church councils and theologians would wrestle with how to express Jesus' relationship to the divine, eventually working out the doctrine of the Trinity.  Matthew wrote centuries earlier.

In short, the earliest generation of Christians were convinced on the basis of their own personal experiences that when they had been with Jesus they had been in God's presence.  For those who never met him, the similar conviction arose that when they put their personal trust in him as the guide for their lives they were putting their trust in God.  To seal and symbolize that faith, they were baptized too—and the heavens opened for them, the Spirit descended on them.  Jesus' baptism thus was the first Pentecost, which was later replicated and affirmed in the second Pentecost when the earliest church received the Spirit (see Acts 2).