“…the Spirit [was] descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:10,11)
The doctrine of the Holy Trinity should be regularly expounded—or at least pointed out. Consider three reasons for this. First, the doctrine of the Holy Trinity permeates both the Old and New Testaments, the basis of all preaching. Second, in our Lord’s Great Commission, as recorded by Saint Matthew, the very Name by which we are blessed in the foundational Sacrament of Holy Baptism is the Name uniquely identifying the Holy Trinity. Are we not enjoined then to teach the meaning of the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit? Third, as we unitedly confess the “catholic” (universally believed) faith, we cannot merely recite the three Creeds—they must be explained! In the Athanasian Creed we confess with all Christians: “Whoever desires to be saved must, above all, hold the catholic faith…And the catholic faith is this, that we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity, neither confusing the persons nor dividing the substance.” We cannot properly confess what has not been explained to us.
There is much rich theology and application surrounding the Baptism of our Lord, certainly not the least of which is the clear presentation of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. In this account no one can confuse one person of the Trinity with another. The Son is in the Jordan River; the Spirit descends upon Him in the form of a dove; the Father speaks from heaven. They are separate, distinct persons.
Most every student of Scripture will readily identify the Father in the account of Christ’s baptism to be God. However some deny full deity to the Son of God. Yet, how can the Son of God redeem mankind if He is not God [e.g. Is 43:11]? And when the Father identifies Jesus at His baptism as His Beloved Son, even the Jews of Jesus’ day understood this to mean that Jesus is God. They said of Jesus that they were ready to execute Him because He was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God [Jn 5:18]. Jesus is clearly equal to the Father with respect to His divinity, less than the Father with respect to His humanity [Ath. Creed, 31]. And what about the Holy Spirit? He is God’s Spirit, proceeding from the Father and the Son, and yet His is not a mere emanation. He is a distinct person—identified as such at Christ’s baptism. He uniquely creates sanctification and life, things that only God can accomplish.
At His baptism, the man Jesus is obviously at the center of the Father’s and the Spirit’s attention, for it is in and through the incarnate Son of God that salvation is to be wrought. Even as the Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life, brooded over the water at the world’s creation, so now He broods over the waters at Christ’s Baptism to give life to fallen mankind through the Christ. The Son of God, who is identified as God’s Word, is the One through whom the Father is calling forth a new world, even as through the Word everything was made at the beginning. As there was chaos and darkness at the beginning, so once again the Holy Trinity will call light out of darkness and bring order from chaos. Now the darkness is identified with the evil and fallenness of mankind, and the chaos is the disorder caused by Adam’s fall. The beloved Son of God, conceived in the womb of Mary by the Holy Spirit, is now following His Father’s will—heading to the cross and empty tomb so He can, by redeeming this creation, make all things new.
In our worship we usually begin and conclude with a Trinitarian invocation and benediction. When the pastor absolves, he invokes this sacred name. We also stand when a hymn concludes with a doxological stanza praising the Holy Trinity. We do such things in worship to repeatedly direct all honor to the true God—the only source of creation, salvation and sanctification. We also do it because we are identified with and linked to the unfathomable blessings of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit—because we each have been baptized into that sacred Name.