The Baptism of the Son
Luke 3:21 - 4:13
The Baptism of the Son
You might be aware of a movement gaining momentum in the last few years, of people who were baptised as Christians, who are now seeking to have their baptism undone.
People, maybe who were baptised as babies, or as adults, want to distance themselves from what they believe their baptism represents.
And so there’s a chorus of requests, in the UK at least, for the church of England to offer some kind of reversal of baptism ceremony!
Turn up and have your baptism undone.
So far, as I understand it, the church has refused to offer such a ceremony!
And so people have taken it into their own hands, there’s even a website, unbaptism.org, where you can fill in a form, and print of a reversal of baptism certificate for you to hang on your wall!
Of course, it suggests to me a fairly flawed view of baptism in the first place! But these people are of course, free to distance themselves from their previous baptism any way they like. That website offers a variety of related services, but what I didn’t see there, and I went looking, was a reversal of your reversal! If you decide at some point that you don’t want to have your baptism undone, it seems that’s impossible!
Which is somewhat ironic, because it’s the church’s refusal to offer reversals which has created this little industry in the first place!
Why was Jesus baptised?
But I was thinking about this during this past week, because with all these people not wanting to be baptised, it made me wonder about Jesus’ decision to be baptised.
See there in verse 21, When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too
So we recall from last week that it’s John, who today we often call John the Baptist, who’s doing the baptising. But notice here that John doesn’t actually get a mention. He’s fading from the scene as Luke directs our eyes to Jesus and to his ministry.
But interestingly even Jesus’ baptism itself, the actual act of him getting wet, is really in the background of this episode.
We know that Luke has very deliberately structured what he calls his orderly account, chapter 1 verse 3, so when , grammatically, he almost skips over the baptism, and puts all the weight on the fact that heaven was opened, verse 21, we know that that’s where he wants to focus our attention,
That’s what he thinks is most significant here.
But it is worth us thinking about Jesus’ baptism, and there’s a question that a number of people have asked me this week, as you’ve looked at this passage in anticipation of today, that is, “Why was Jesus baptised?”
Last week we saw that John was, 3 verse 3, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
People, the Israelites, repented of their sin,
They turned to God,
They stopped living with themselves as number 1, and sought to put God number one in their lives,
And they were baptised by John, as a sign of that repentance.
So you can see the problem, can’t you?!
If John’s baptism was all about Israelites repenting, and turning from sin, from rebellion against God, why was Jesus baptised?
The New Testament is clear that Jesus was without sin.
So why did Jesus submit himself to this baptism that was all about demonstration your repentance from sin?
Well, I think there are a couple of reasons particularly why Jesus did this.
The first one’s a quick one and that is, because Jesus’ baptism, especially in the way Luke tells it, is really subordinate to this other event;, the opening of heaven, God speaking, the Holy Spirit descending, this all demonstrates Jesus to be the one John had spoken of, verse 15, one who is more powerful than I will come,
Straight away, having been baptised, Jesus is marked out in this tremendous way by his heavenly Father.
There’s no room for doubt in anyone’s mind, that it’s Jesus, who John’s been speaking about.
That when John says, “you’ve got to get ready for God”, remember ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him, Jesus removes any room for people not to join the dots.
Jesus comes along, he puts himself in the same sphere as John,
He attaches himself to John’s ministry,
He receives John’s ministry, so that the flow from preparation, to arrival, can be seen.
Make no mistake, Jesus is the one John was talking about,
The second reason that Jesus is baptised, and this is a longer one, is that in being baptised, Jesus identifies with his people. He identifies with the sinful people whom he has come to save.
He doesn’t kind of stand far off in his ivory tower and say, “look at you terrible, sinful people down there. Once you get yourselves together, and get your issues sorted out, then we can have something.”
No, Jesus comes among his people,
He knows they’re sinful!
He knows they’re out of step with their creator! That’s why they’re going to John, and repenting, and being baptised! That’s the whole point of this!
And yet Jesus goes to be among them,
Identifies with them,
Goes through what they go through.
Physically, bodily, incarnationally, identifying with his people.
, I’m not sure what picture you have of Jesus, how you imagine him to be. And I don’t mean his appearance, long hair, beard, all of that! But how you think Jesus would relate to people.
I was talking to someone just a week or so ago, who said they always kind of imagined Jesus as the school prefect. This person had gone to a school where the prefects were kind of the good kids. They liked to stand apart from the rest of the students, and give out detentions to other students who they thought didn’t measure up in some way.
And that was my friend’s picture of Jesus;, a bit like us, but much better, and boy does he know it!
And yet see how far removed that is from this Jesus who identifies with people,
Who doesn’t stand off and wait until humanity’s got itself sorted out before he’ll get involved.
There is Jesus, among his people, identifying with them completely.
See even , what seems to us a strange place to stick a genealogy, tacked on straight after the baptism here, is deliberate on Luke’s part, to emphasise Jesus’ identification with the people of Israel.
If you were writing a biography, you’d probably deal with the parents and grandparents and whoever else first, before the subject of your biography gets born!
That’s what Matthew does. Matthew chapter 1 opens with Jesus’ genealogy.
But this seemingly unusual placement of the genealogy might ring some bells for us if we’re familiar with our Old Testament, because there’s been another genealogy, sandwiched in, before the launch of someone’s public ministry;
The great leader of the people of Israel.
Moses, who said to the people The Lord your God will raise up for you, a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites
Luke’s structure reminds us of Moses, and indicates for us, that Jesus is the promised prophet, who will come from among the Israelites.
And a particular expression of Jesus’ identification with the people of Israel, is that in identifying himself with Israel, Jesus identifies himself as the true Israel.
That might sound like a strange concept, but one of the things we see in Jesus, is that he achieves in his life and ministry, what the nation of Israel never could.
Israel was supposed to be a light to the nations.
The idea was that they would be the advertisement, for what it was like to live under God’s generous rule.
They were supposed to show all the other nations of the earth, how good it was to be one of God’s people, and to draw people to God.
But they didn’t.
They weren’t able to do that.
Because of Israel’s own sin and rebellion against God, the other nations of the world didn’t get the message that God wanted broadcast.
There were glimpses at times, absolutely, but Israel did not live up to her calling, to be a light to the nations.
And in fact we’ve seen already in Luke’s gospel, when Jesus was presented at the temple, this language of light to the Gentiles, salvation for all nations, is applied to Jesus.
Jesus is the true Israel.
What the nation of Israel could never achieve, Jesus as the true Israel, the fulfilment of Israel, can accomplish. And it’s in him that that promise of blessing to every nation on earth is ultimately fulfilled.
And so since John’s baptism, is a baptism for Israel, it’s appropriate for Jesus, the true Israel, the fulfilment of Israel to be baptised.
Various people over the years have suggested other reasons for Jesus to be baptised, in the 5th century AD, an author tells a story of Jesus arguing with his family, because they want him to get baptised, and repent of his sins! And Jesus concedes that maybe he has accidentally committed some sin, and not realised it, and so he agrees to go off and get baptised by John.
Well, clearly that theory, from much much later on in history, is at odds with the testimony of the eyewitnesses and historians, and so we can put that to one side.
But Luke doesn’t actually tell us, why Jesus submitted to this baptism.
But the fact that it’s hard to explain why Jesus would do this,
That we really need to stop and think, “Why did Luke, the careful historian include this episode”, all serves to increase our confidence that it actually happened!
Because we’ve got to stop and do the hard work with it, it’s not the sort of thing that an author would make up.
You’d only put it in your story if it actually happened. So we can have great confidence that this is a real, historical event. I
The affirmation of Jesus’ ministry
Now, baptism is something that most of us probably have some concept of, but the bit that Luke directs our attention to, what happens after Jesus’ baptism, well, that’s a little more out there for us isn’t it?
This is not an everyday occurrence!
So, people are being baptised, and Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
Notice that Luke tells us of this strange occurrence as Jesus was praying.
I’ve met very few Christians who say they pray as much as they would like to, or as much as they think they should.
Few Christians I speak with say they find it easy to pray. And I definitely don’t stand here as someone who’s got all this figured out.
So let’s see Jesus’ example, at the very beginning of his ministry, , he’s praying.
Luke loves to tell us the different times that Jesus was in prayer. And just a couple of pages on, in chapter 5 verse 16, he points out Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.
It was the mark of Jesus’ ministry, to be at prayer.
Even though, as we see, he is the son of God,
Even though he’s anointed here with the Holy Spirit, still Jesus thinks it’s necessary, to deliberately set time aside to pray,
To speak with his heavenly Father.
There’s really no reason at all for us to imagine that we need not labour in prayer. If it’s useful, beneficial, necessary , for Jesus, it’s certainly going to be useful, beneficial, necessary , for us.
There’s a sign of God’s revelation
Now we don’t know exactly what happened, physically, cosmologically, when heaven was opened, but we know in the Bible when this sort of thing happens, it signals a revelation from God, a message from God.
It’s why we need to be familiar with our Bibles, in this case the Old Testament particularly, in order to understand what’s happening.
So, just one example, Ezekiel 1 verse 1, the very beginning of Ezekiel’s ministry as a prophet, In my thirtieth year, in the fourth month on the fifth day, while I was among the exiles by the Kebar River, the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God, and then follows 48 chapters of God’s message to his people.
So there’s no question here, it’s God who is speaking. Luke tells us that the voice came from heaven, but if we know the pattern of how God has spoken and revealed himself in the past, we already know, this is going to be a revelation from God.
Jesus is anointed for his ministry by the Spirit
We also see that Jesus is anointed by the Spirit of God. Verse 22, the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove.
Since this moment, the Holy Spirit has come to be forever associated with doves! But at the time, no one thought that a dove was the symbol of the Spirit of God.
The dove was sometimes used to symbolise Israel, but it was much more commonly understood to be a symbol of sacrifice. And, sure enough, we’ve already seen that in Luke’s gospel, chapter 1 verse 24, when Jesus’ parents make the sacrifice prescribed for the birth of their son.
I guess it shouldn’t surprise us, that as Jesus is commissioned for his ministry,
Set apart, anointed for the task before him, a ministry that is going to require of him the ultimate sacrifice, I don’t think we should be surprised, that his heavenly father gives this anointing, in the form of an animal, that everybody present would have immediately associated with sacrifice.
But we need to bear in mind is that this wasn’t an actual dove. I think when I was younger I always imagined a bird kind of coming to rest on Jesus’ head, like a seagull sitting on top of some statue.
Luke’s trying to capture something of the physical descent of the Spirit onto Jesus. It’s real, in bodily form.
There was something in the way this visible manifestation of the Spirit descended, that reminded everyone there of a dove as it descends from flight.
And we’re probably also meant to think of the gentle nature of a dove. You know, I’ve never heard of a dove attacking someone, turning on its owner in a fit of rage or anything like that! If it does happen it’s definitely out of the ordinary, because doves are recognised as quiet and gentle creatures.
And although Jesus’ ministry can be compared to fire as we saw last week, here is the flip-side. He is anointed for his ministry, with this symbol of gentleness.
Implication , He is gentle,
The kind of ministry he’s being equipped for is tender and compassionate.
There is no reason to be afraid of him.
Imagine the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus in bodily form as a flock of eagles!
Strictly speaking it’s called a convocation of eagles! Some of you knew that, I’m sure!
But if that was the picture, of Jesus being anointed, set apart for his ministry,
That would give us a sense of something about his ministry, wouldn’t it? And we would want to run a long way away!
Well, the picture we are given of his anointing, gives us a sense of his ministry.
Now, Jesus is God. It’s not that he was somehow out of relationship with either his Father or the Spirit until this point, but the anointing with the Spirit here is about a public endorsement of Jesus, as well as about empowering him and providing for him.
So, immediately after this, the Spirit leads Jesus into the task ahead of him, out into the wilderness where he’s tempted.
But the sending of the Spirit, the voice from heaven, are about God’s endorsement of Jesus, publicly identifying him as the one who brings the long-awaited salvation.
God had promised, through Isaiah, for example, that he would send his Spirit onto, the one who was going to lead and save his people. So in Isaiah 42, God says Here is my servant, whom I uphold, , my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will bring justice to the nations.
What’s happening in Luke 3? A very public and visible putting putting of the Spirit on Jesus.
This tells us who Jesus is, in the context of God’s promises.
Here is God’s servant, who is going to suffer for his people.
God publicly affirms his Son
And so the last event in this episode, goes very much hand in hand with the sending of the Spirit. God speaks from heaven, and publicly affirms Jesus as his son.
a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased
Jesus doesn’t become God’s son in this instant. But his ministry is given a stamp of authenticity, if you like, though this language of sonship, which has its roots in Psalm 2, where God speaks of a son who will be king, who will rule the earth.
In Psalm 2, God speaks of his son who is a judge, a righteous judge, who offers refuge,
The son in Psalm 2 will defeat those who do evil.
The one whom God calls his son in Psalm 2 will rule the earth.
You can see why God calling Jesus my son is such an affirmation of Jesus’ ministry.
My sister is visiting from the UK at the moment, and so we’re introducing them to Australian things, like lemon, lime and bitters! And as many of you will know, a great South Australian product, Bickfords lime cordial, says on the label, “on account of spurious imitations, none is original, unless bearing the signature of A M Bickford”, and then there’s a big squiggly signature.
Friends, there are plenty of people claiming to bring a message about God,
Claiming to offer you a relationship with God,
Claiming to offer you life in all its fullness.
But on account of spurious imitations, none is original, unless bearing the stamp of trustworthiness and authenticity, of the creator God in heaven.
Imagine having that on the label!
Well, Luke is putting on the label.
Here we see Jesus presented both as the suffering servant from Isaiah, God’s affirmation here echoes those words, but also Jesus is pictured as the eternal son of God, on whom God’s plans for salvation rest.
Jesus is the son from Psalm 2 who defeats evil and rules with justice.
Jesus is the suffering servant from Isaiah 42, who will himself pay the price for sinful rebels to be brought back to God.
Can we believe it?
But can we believe it?
The Holy Spirit in the form of a dove,
The heavens opening, whatever that is!
A voice from heaven, linking Jesus’ ministry to the long-promised ministry of God’s son and God’s suffering servant.
Is it all just too hard to believe?
There was a big survey done last year looking at people’s beliefs and understanding about Jesus. 68% of the several thousand people surveyed said that they believed that Jesus was God, or the Son of God. Their language varied.
The article I read also noted that 77% of people believed that aliens had visited earth, so it wasn’t all encouraging reading!
But still, that’s more than half of people believe Jesus was God. And I imagine most of us are in that category.
But if Jesus is God, then we’d have to expect his life on earth would be accompanied by some stuff that is out of the ordinary, wouldn’t we?
Things like, strange openings in the heavens,
The visible appearance of the Spirit of God,
They fit the bill entirely, don’t they!
I think I’ve said before, that some of my friends say to me, they know I’m a Christian, they say to me, “I don’t believe in God, because there’s no evidence.” But when I ask them to think about something like this, they say “You can’t expect me to believe in that! As if that ever happened!”
But you can’t have it both ways!
If you want God to give you evidence, then make sure you pay attention to the evidence when he gives it.
If Jesus was God, it seems to me this is exactly the sort of thing we’d see from time to time in his ministry.
Don’t be put off, because it’s dramatic, unrepeated.
History, by its very nature is unrepeated, isn’t it?
But if what the rest of the Bible says about Jesus is true,
If what he claimed about himself is true, then this kind of dramatic display of God’s power is absolutely par for the course.
What does Jesus family tree tell us about him?
Some of you I know, are fans of the show “Who Do You Think You Are?” on SBS. Each episode some celebrity is taken through their family tree, learning all kinds of interesting things about their ancestors.
The name of that show is just terrific! because although it’s a TV show all about ancestors, it’s not called “Who do you think your ancestors were?”
It’s “Who Do You Think You Are?”
The whole thing is premised on the understanding that who you are, is massively determined by who’s in your family tree.
If ever you’ve wondered “Why do they included genealogies in the Bible, especially genealogies of Jesus, who really could only have ever had half a genealogy! there’s your answer!
Because it actually tells us something about who Jesus is.
We’re not going to do the whole genealogy,
We’ve spent some time together in Matthew’s genealogy, so if you do want to invest some in time in Jesus’ family tree, grab those talks off the website.
But Luke includes it for a reason, even beyond what we saw in echoing Moses genealogy in Exodus 6.
But the genealogy that Matthew presents starts with Abraham, and runs through to Jesus. Abraham was the father of the nation of Israel. It was his family, his descendants through his son Isaac and his son Jacob, named here in verse 34, who became the nation of Israel.
And that fits with Matthew’s focus. He’s trying to present Jesus to a Jewish audience. He says, “Jesus really is the king the Jews have been waiting for.
Here’s the evidence,
Here are his credentials.”
Now of course, that’s not to say that people who aren’t Jews, don’t get anything from Matthew’s gospel, absolutely not. But that was Matthew’s initial audience, and so he structures his gospel, including his genealogy, in such a way as to be most helpful to them.
Luke, our historian here, he’s not writing particularly for a Jewish audience, he actually wants to be helpful to people who didn’t have a Jewish background, and so his genealogy, among other things, is different. Not that he says that Jesus came from a different family or anything like that!
But look at where this genealogy finishes. It runs the other way, from end to beginning, but don’t let that worry you. We’ll see why Luke’s done that in a moment.
But look at the last 3 humans in the list, Enosh, the son of Seth, the son of Adam
We saw when we were thinking about why Jesus was baptised, that he wanted to identify with the people of Israel, but in taking the genealogy past Abraham, and going all the way back to Adam, Luke goes one step further. He’s showing Jesus’ relationship and significance to all of humanity.
Jesus is not just good news for Jewish people.
Jesus is good news for all people on earth,
All people who have ever lived.
The whole family of humanity traces its family line from Adam , And so does Jesus. In this genealogy, as much as it might look like just a long list of names to us, Luke connects Jesus, to the entire human race.
See, no matter who you are,
What religion your parents followed, whatever!
Luke wants you to know that Jesus is relevant to you.
Jesus is in your family.
There’s a photo at my parents’ place, of me as a , 2 year old. And when my son Jamie was younger, he was convinced that it was a picture of him! He, of course, didn’t realise that the blue velour suit was an obvious indicator of the 70s, not the 2000s!
But now that he knows it’s not him, he sees that photo and says to me, “Daddy, we’re the same, because we’re in the same family.”
That’s what Luke wants you to know about Jesus.
He is in your family.
But of course the genealogy doesn’t end with Adam, does it?
It goes all the way back to God!
And we’ve just heard from God’s own mouth, that Jesus is the Son of God. Here’s the genealogical evidence.
There’s only one other person in all of humanity, who is linked to God in this kind of way. And that’s Adam.
Now Jesus and Adam are not entirely equal, Jesus is not a carbon copy of Adam. But Adam didn’t have a human father. God himself gave him life, just as God, through the creative work of the Spirit, was the Father of Jesus.
There’s not a single genealogy in the Old Testament, or in any of the other ancient Jewish writings, that connects somebody to God like this. Luke’s done everything he can in relating the facts, to connect Jesus, to his Father in heaven.
Of course, that’s where the genealogy ends, but it’s also a great long list of names that demonstrates that Jesus was very much a real man. The heroes of the ancient world, especially in Greek and Roman thought, were gods, demigods, not really human.
Luke’s point is that if you want to go and run a DNA test on any one of these blokes, you could, and you’ll find that Jesus is a real man, from this family.
And Luke runs his genealogy, what we might call the wrong way, so that he finishes with Adam, reminding us that Jesus was a real human, right where the genealogy butts up against the account of Jesus being tempted.
We’re not going to have time to look at the temptation account, but Luke wants us to know, Jesus is a real human,
He’s a real bloke,
The temptation is real.
Could Luke, our historian possibly have found any more ways to demonstrate that Jesus is relevant to you , today?
Well he gives it a pretty good shot, doesn’t he?
And he does say a bit more, even in the genealogy,
We get David in verse 31, showing that Jesus has the credential to be the king from David’s dynasty, long-promised to Israel.
We get Abraham, verse 34, and Isaac and Jacob, again demonstrating that Jesus is a true Israelite, and setting up the expectation for us, preparing us;,
Here is the one who will fulfil those promises of blessing that God made to Abraham, and repeated to his family.
In fact we could say, in the light of this, the genealogy, the events of Jesus’ baptism, we could say that it’s impossible to make too much of Jesus. There’s really nothing you could say about Jesus, in terms of his significance,
There’s really nothing you can say, that goes beyond what happens here.
Of course, the danger for us is not really that we’re likely to try and make too much of Jesus, but that we make too little of Jesus.
I think, we’re much more likely to underestimate his importance.
In a world of competing claims to truth, we all too easily imagine Jesus to be one name among many.
In a society that values personal experience as the ultimate verification, we all too easily overlook these historical statements about the role of Jesus, his unique identity.
But there’s really no getting around the picture of Jesus presented here, is there?
The true Israel,
The one who identifies with his people,
Gentle and innocent like a dove,
The suffering servant from Isaiah,
The regal, righteous son, from Psalm 2,
The real human,
The son of God.