Now when all the people were baptized, it came to pass, that Jesus also being baptized, and praying, the heaven was opened,
I. The Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape LIKE A bow.
1. The dove was a bird of purity. You know it was used by the poor in sacrifices, and therefore was considered clean.
2. The Holy Spirit is like a dove because it is a harmless creature. The dove never hurts the tiniest bird with which it comes into contact. The Holy Spirit is not compared to the eagle, nor to the hawk, nor to the vulture — birds of prey; but to the dove — a harmless creature.
3. The Holy Ghost is like a dove because the dove is such a gentle creature. His influences are most benign.
4. The Holy Spirit is like the dove, too, because the dove has very keen eyesight. In the Book of Canticles we read, "Thou hast dove's eyes." Doves are remarkable for great keenness of vision. The Holy Spirit "searcheth all things."
5. The Holy Spirit is like the dove because the dove was an emblem of peace and of spring. The dove brought the olive leaf back in her mouth, indicating to Noah that the waters had subsided, and that the deluge of wrath would soon be gone. The dove, too, is mentioned in the Canticles as being a herald of spring: "The time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in the land." And whenever the Holy Spirit comes to a man's heart, there is a sign that that heart will be at peace with God.
6. The Holy Ghost, lastly, is like a dove because the dove was given to mourning. "I did mourn as a dove," says Isaiah. "The Spirit also helpeth our infirmities" — takes our infirmities upon Himself. His work is of a loving nature.
II. Secondly, we have THE CHARACTERISTICS OF CHRIST. Much is taught in the connection of the text concerning the mission of Christ, while our text itself gives the chief elements of His character. First of all, we have something concerning His mission. It was divinely ordained, for God sent the Holy Spirit to testify to the world that He was commissioned by Him to undertake man's redemption. We have here the purpose of His mission. Heaven was opened, and the Holy Ghost descended. It was the purpose of Christ to open heaven. The first Adam closed heaven against us. But the character of Christ was developed by the influence of the Holy Ghost. Jesus did not achieve His work by virtue of the divinity that was in Him only, but by virtue of the Spirit's graces upon Him. The dove was harmless. Christ said, "I am meek and lowly in heart." The dove was given to mourning. Jesus was "a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief." The dove wag innocent. Jesus Christ was purity personified. "Which of you convinceth Me of sin?" said He. He was holy, harmless, undefiled, and in an emphatic sense, the dove was emblematic of Him.
III. IT is so ALSO WITH A CHRISTIAN. There is no true character which is not built up by the influence of the Holy Spirit. The dove is defenceless. It has nothing to protect it except the rocks, and when pursued its only refuge is to fly thither. The Christian has nothing to protect himself against the wiles of the devil and the allurements of the world, except "the Rock of Ages." The dove keeps to its own company. It is delighted when it is with its fellows. So the Christian feels at home when he gets among characters of like nature. The dove mourns in the absence of its mate; and the character which the Holy Spirit gives to us is such as to make us mourn when our Lord Jesus is away, so that we have no rest if we be separated from Him. You cannot have this character except by the personal application of the Holy Spirit to your heart.
Parallel VersesKJV: Now when all the people were baptized, it came to pass, that Jesus also being baptized, and praying, the heaven was opened,