The Voice of the Lord and Jesus’ Baptism


Joachim Patinir, The Baptism of Christ (1510-20). Wikimedia.

Key Verses:

“The voice of the Lord is upon the waters;
    the God of glory thunders,
    the Lord, upon many waters.
The voice of the Lord is powerful,
    the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.

The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars,
    the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon.
He makes Lebanon to skip like a calf,
    and Sir′ion like a young wild ox.

The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire.
The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness,
    the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.

The voice of the Lord makes the oaks to whirl,
    and strips the forests bare;
    and in his temple all cry, ‘Glory!’

The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;
    the Lord sits enthroned as king for ever.
May the Lord give strength to his people!
    May the Lord bless his people with peace!” (Psalm 29: 3-11; RSV)

“And as the people were of opinion, and all were thinking in their hearts of John, that perhaps he might be the Christ; John answered, saying unto all: I indeed baptize you with water; but there shall come one mightier than I, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to loose: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire:

Now it came to pass, when all the people were baptized, that Jesus also being baptized and praying, heaven was opened; And the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape, as a dove upon him; and a voice came from heaven: Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:15-16, 21-22; Douay-Rheims)

My Reflections:

Today  we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord. Jesus was 30 years of age, and his Baptism would begin his public ministry. His cousin John had been baptizing at the Jordan river for the forgiveness of sins, calling people, great and humble alike, to repent. Because of his personal holiness and uncompromising honesty, John attracted a large following as a teacher. Yet his humility was as great as his righteousness, and he deflected any suggestion that he was the one Israel had long awaited, whether Elijah, or the prophet Moses had foretold, or the Messiah himself. Instead, he said he was preparing the way for one far greater than himself, “the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to loose.”  When Jesus came to him at the river to be baptized, John was reluctant at first but consented as Jesus wished. Jesus was immersed in the Jordan and when he rose from the water, the heavens opened, the Holy Spirit settled on him in the form of a dove, and a voice from Heaven could be heard saying, “Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased.” For John this voice from Heaven confirmed what he had long suspected, that Jesus was indeed the Messiah and the “lamb of God” who “takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

Psalm 29 is often paired with the Gospel reading of Jesus’ baptism, because the power of the voice of the Lord has received no better description than its resounding verses. The voice of the Lord “thunders” like “many waters,” it is “powerful” and “full of majesty,” it “breaks the cedars of Lebanon,” “flashes forth flames of fire,” and “shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.” In this Psalm of David, these verses capture the voice of the Lord in a storm. Yet despite the relatively calm waters of the Jordan, Jesus’ baptism inaugurated a lightning career of preaching, healing, and wonder working that broke over all Israel and Judea like a storm gathering momentum.

In the Book of Revelation, another John, St. John the Evangelist, described the voice of the risen and glorified Jesus, whom he encountered in his vision of the heavenly Jerusalem. John echoed the words of Psalm 29:3 when he wrote that “his voice was like the sound of many waters” (Rev 1:15). I have tried to imagine what “many waters” speaking might sound like. It is well worth pondering in prayer. Would it be like hearing someone speak under water, under a rushing river, or beside a waterfall? I recall the thundering of a place like Niagara Falls, and what it would take to be heard there. I imagine strong reverberation–the auditory equivalent of a hall of mirrors–how else would the voice of God sound to mere human ears? Yet the scene of the Baptism of the Lord at the Jordan, however filled with wonder, must also have revealed the tenderness of God’s voice–he was, after all, speaking directly to his “beloved Son” to assure him that he was “well pleased” with the mature man he had become during the years of work, prayer, worship, and family life in Nazareth. Affirmed by his Father’s warmly rendered blessing, Jesus was ready to begin his great work of love and redemption for his people and, through them, for the whole world.