[John the Baptist] saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”
The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).
At Jesus’ baptism, John the Baptist’s relationship with God was forever changed.
Until that moment, John’s relationship, like that of all other in the Hebrew family of God, had been an indirect relationship. There was the Spirit of God that moved over the chaotic waters at the start of creation. There was the Wisdom of God that instructed Noah on the architecture of an ark long before there was any sign of rain. There was the Voice from a burning bush (otherwise identified only as “I AM”) instructing a stutter named Moses to lead God’s Hebrew people out of Egypt to the Promised Land. There was the Mighty Wind that held back the waters of the Red Sea as the people escaped, followed then with a Pillar of Fire by night and a Pillar of Cloud by day to lead the people through the wilderness. Then the 10 Words that came with Moses down the mountain in the form of commandments. The presence of God contains in them first with the Ark of the Covenant, then within a Tabernacle or tent that could move with the people through the wilderness and finally in a Temple at Jerusalem.
John, with other of the Hebrew clan, related to God through all those ways … indirectly … until Jesus came up out of the water at his baptism … and the Spirit of God descended upon him like a dove … and a voice from heaven declares: “This is my Son, the Beloved, whom I have chosen.” And for the first time in human history, someone named John related to God in the first-person.
And Jesus revealed the nature of God throughout his life and ministry: mercy and justice, forgiveness full of grace, love stronger than hate, and life over death … all of which God validates in Jesus resurrection from the dead.
That same first-person relationship with God extends beyond Jesus now to the present day … in the community of those who are baptized in his name. Another of Jesus followers, Paul, even identifies that community as the Body of Christ in the world today … the church. Not because the people within or even the organization is perfect like Jesus, but rather the people within and the organization witness to Jesus’ perfection by what they say and do.
Spend a few weeks at church and see if you don’t encounter God first-hand too … in preaching and sacraments … in Sunday School and Bible Study … in compassion for the sick and dying … in care packages for the poor and homes for the homeless. Attend a Habitat for Humanity Key Presentation Service … with volunteer builders from various congregations, city officials, and hard-working new homeowners overwhelmed to receive the keys to a house that they will make a home to their family and friends … and just tell me you don’t meet Jesus there too.