“At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove” (Mark 1:9-10).
At Christ’s baptism the Holy Spirit descended upon him “like a dove.” The dove is a particularly appropriate symbol because it is a graceful bird. In Matthew 10:16, Jesus told His disciples to be “as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” The word dove implies a guileless, open-book, “what you see is what you get” heart attitude. Applied to the Holy Spirit, it means that the Spirit himself is pure, open, and honest, and he produces the same qualities in the people he touches. As the dove descended from heaven, even so the Holy Spirit comes down from heaven to bless the people of the earth. Note that the dove rested on Christ, symbolizing the peace that the Holy Spirit brings.
The fact that the dove came directly to Christ shows the personal relationship the Holy Spirit has with each believer. Finally, the dove resting on Christ demonstrates the Father’s divine approval of the Son’s mission on earth. Once the dove landed on Christ, the voice from heaven said: “This is My Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). Thus, all three persons of the Trinity were represented at the baptism of Jesus.
This symbol of the Spirit has a great deal to say to us about the effect of the Holy Spirit on our lives. When the Holy Spirit comes: (1) He brings peace to our souls; (2) He comes quietly, without fanfare; (3) He establishes a personal relationship with us; (4) He produces gentleness within, not a harsh and critical spirit; (5) He leads us toward purity, honesty, and a truly “harmless” life; (6) He brings God’s divine approval that we are indeed His children; (7) He leads us toward a beautiful, grace filled Christian life.
Over 300 years ago Isaac Watts wrote a hymn based on this text called Come, Holy Spirit, Heavenly Dove. The first four verses spell out our need for the Holy Spirit because our hearts are cold. We seek joy in earthly trifles and try in vain to sing God’s praise. But when the Spirit comes in power, all is changed, as the fifth verse makes clear:
Come, Holy Spirit, heavenly Dove,
With all Thy quick’ning powers;
Come, shed abroad the Savior’s love
And that shall kindle ours.
Spirit of God, as you descended from heaven upon Jesus, descend on me today that I might know the fullness of your power. Amen.