Text: Lk 3:15-23a
It’s been a long time since Christmas. 30 years, in fact. The angels have long since returned to heaven. The Wise Men have gone back to the East, from whence they came. The shepherds have retired to a cottage by the sea. Simeon and Anna, who greeted the baby Jesus in the Temple, have gone the way of all flesh. Joseph, too, seems to have died at a relatively early age. That flurry of Messianic fervour seems a long time ago now. Nothing much has happened on the Messiah front for long time. But still the people cling on to the hope that God will send a deliverer, a Saviour, the Messiah. Suddenly, there bursts onto the scene strides a man with an unusual dress sense, peculiar diet, and an uncompromising message. Thousands flock to hear his preaching and to be baptized by him. Perhaps he is the Messiah? ‘No,’ says John, ‘I’m just the herald.
1. Why does Luke called John’s message ‘good news’ (v18), when John seems to have been obsessed with wrath and judgement?
It is not foolish or uncaring, but wise and loving, to warn people of impending danger.
The good news of which John spoke was Jesus himself: “the One whom you have been looking for; the One of whom I have been a herald, has arrived!” And this was ‘good news’ indeed! ‘Euangelion (which we call gospel) is a Greek word, and signifies good, merry, glad, and joyful tydings, that makes a mans heart glad, and makes him sing, dance, and leap for joy.’ William Tyndale (C. 1494-1536)
2. Why did Jesus submit to John’s baptism, even though he was himself sinless?
People were streaming out in their thousands to be baptized by John. Their souls had been touched, and they were tormented by their guilt, their inadequacy, their sense of need. They needed spiritual cleansing. John’s was a ‘baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins,’ v3. John recognised the dilemma, Mt 3:14. Right here at the outset of his ministry we find Jesus signalling his intention to stand where we stand, to experience all that we experience, to bear what we should have borne, to take from us our poverty and to give us his riches. 2 Cor 8:9 ‘For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.’ To take upon himself our sin, and to give us in its place his righteousness. 2 Cor 5:21, ‘God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.’
3. Why did Holy Spirit’s descend like a dove, and not (say) like fire?
John had just spoken of a baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire, v16. To him the fire meant judgement, v17. If he was going to see the Holy Spirit take on a visible form, it would have been the form of fire.
The appearance of a dove was a surprise to John, who continued to be plagued by doubts as to whom Jesus really was (Lk 7) But whereas with John the message of judgement was foremost, with Jesus it was the message of grace and mercy. Bruised reed and smouldering flax. Come to me. Compassion. Life, Jn 10:10.
4. What was it about the Son that made the Father well-pleased with him, even though he had not begun his public ministry yet?
We call the first 30 years of Jesus’ earthly life ‘the silent ‘years’. But even then he was obedient to his heavenly Father, and had been a delight to him. But theirs was an eternal relationship of love and pleasure. ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.’ But why did the Father take the trouble to tell his Son? We must not think of Jesus as being automatically immune from doubts and fears. In his humanity he needed the same kind of reasssurance that we need; he needed the assurance of the Father’s recognition of who he was. But John needed to know also; and so do we.
There is a commissioning sense to these words: ‘Because you are my well-beloved Son, I have chosen you for the task you are now about to enter’. Consider what happened straight after he was baptised and anointed by the Holy Spirit: he was sorely tested. Only then could he enter into that most colossal of spiritual battles, strong and poised.
Jesus is the one loved by the Father from all eternity, chosen by the Father to carry out his plan of redemption. This is the Jesus with whom we have to do. This is the one who calls us now to follow him. This is the one to whom we entrust our very lives. Is it worth it? Yes! Can he do it? Yes!!