Luke 3:21-23a

 Luke 3:21-23a

The Messiah

“Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.’  Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age . . .”

Introduction

 

The world has known its share of Messiah-like figures.  In the comic realm, Superman, Batman and Spiderman have fought evil and brought some measure of redemption to their cities.  Athletically, icons like LeBron James have been called the savior of their franchise.  Politically, men like Adolf Hitler, and Saddam Hussein led masses of people into redemptive hysteria.  Our own Barack Obama has been heralded as the man of change, with multitudes of Americans weeping with joy over his presidential victory, having placed their hope in him.  Religiously, Islam hales Muhammad, Buddhism bows to Buddha, Mormonism follows the man Joseph Smith, spiritualism pumps Deepak Chopra, and Catholicism worships the Pope.

Our culture is pumped and primed to follow and worship charismatic men.  We love the limelight of others.  Where there is a crowd gathered, we are inclined to listen.  If a man makes many promises and follows through on one of them while forsaking the many thousands, we are spellbound.  Speak sweet words to the multitudes, tease their ears and deceive their hearts and they will acclaim you.  Be popular, and we will put you on our Ipod’s.  Have scores of men and women and children coming to you to be baptized, and they will wonder whether you are the Christ.  This last phrase was John’s nightmare.

As John the Baptist began his public ministry, he proclaimed “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” Luke 3:3.  It was a water baptism, an external cleansing, an internal preparation.  People were flocking to him to experience his message and his baptism, so much so that he, unlike most Messiah-like figures, begins to turn them away, for he perceives in them a flocking to his popularity or to the coolest thing of the contemporary hour, rather than hearts broken over sin and the desire to bear fruit in keeping with repentance.  They were seeking face time, not the true Messiah.  

Nevertheless, Luke 3:15 clues us in to the popular opinion about John.  “As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ . . .”

Now John had more reason to be the thought the Christ than any of the previously mentioned icons of our own culture combined.  In Luke 1, John is the promised forerunner, one who will be great before the Lord, filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb, greater than Elijah, turning the disobedient from their idolatry, preparing the way of the Lord.  In Luke 2, he is the prophet of the Most High, one who will give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, and as one who in Spirit-filled discipline was in the wilderness living on a diet of locusts and honey, growing and becoming strong in spirit, waiting for his public appearance.  In Luke 3, his ministry is extremely popular, as multitudes are coming to him to be baptized.  In Luke 7, Jesus speaks to the crowds about John saying, “What did you go out to see?  A prophet?  Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet,” and “I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John” 7:26, 28.  Is it any wonder then that the people were in great expectation?  Is it any wonder that they thought him to be the Christ?  

Now, taking all of these things into consideration, we must sit back and be truly amazed at one John says about Jesus: while the crowds wondered whether he was the Christ, “John answered them all, saying, ‘I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.  He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.  His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire’” Luke 3:16-17.  What does he say here?  To those who were saying, “Maybe John’s the Christ, maybe he is the one to redeem Israel,” John says, “He is mightier than I!”  In fact, “I am not worthy to be His lowest servant,” for this is what it means to untie the strap of another’s sandal.  John says, “my baptism is with water and is external, Jesus’ baptism is internal by the Holy Spirit and with fire – be baptized by Him and you will be a new man with a new heart and a new spirit.”   “I warn you against being baptized when your hearts are not right; He is your God who will gather His wheat into His barn, and cast the rest into the judgment of unquenchable fire.”  

Our doctrine for this morning, then, prepares us for the last 21 chapters of Luke’s Gospel, and its this: Jesus is the Christ, infinitely greater than that most righteous man John, as much as the Creator is over the creature, and the events of His baptism are the evidences of it.

We see this not only in what John testifies about Jesus, but also in Luke’s account of the baptism of Jesus.  And whereas Matthew places more emphasis on the baptism itself, Luke’s goal is clear – the baptism is not preeminent; the Person being baptized and those events that demarcate Him are!  Luke is making a clean break with the ministry of John and advancing us into the redemptive ministry of the Messiah, Jesus Christ.

What are the proofs, then, that Jesus is the Christ?

 

First, Jesus’ baptism occurs at a specific point in time, namely, the height of John’s baptismal ministry.  “Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized . . .”  Luke specifically places Jesus’ baptism at the pinnacle of John’s ministry.  After the multitudes had come to be baptized for the forgiveness of sins, the sinless Jesus identifies Himself with them in their sin, though He had none.  In John’s Gospel, the day after John had baptized Jesus, Jesus is seen walking towards John and this is John’s testimony, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).  This is John’s understanding of Jesus after baptizing Him, and so it should be our understanding as well that the significance of Jesus being baptized by John at the height of his baptismal ministry was ordained to set Jesus apart to Israel as the one who actually takes away the sin of the world.  Those whom John had baptized were baptized in the anticipation of the forgiveness of sins; John identifies Jesus as the Messiah who actually does this work.  On this text, John Piper writes, “Probably then—and this is what Luke picks up on—Jesus’ coming to be baptized was a decisive step of commitment to begin his public ministry. Thus he aligns himself with the people who turn from sin and trust God and resolves to fulfill his calling in that spirit. Luke focuses on God’s approval and confirmation of his Son’s resolve.”  Simply put, baptism was the outward sign of turning away from sin and trusting in God, and therefore, Jesus identifies Himself with those people not only in His baptism but throughout His ministry, even to the cross.

Second, upon Jesus’ baptismal prayer the heavens were opened.  “Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened . . .”  Now it is important to note that Jesus was praying when the heavens were literally opened even for John to gaze into.  Luke is the only one who records that Jesus was praying in the midst of His baptism.  Why was Jesus praying?  Here again I think that Piper is at least interesting when he writes, “I assume that Jesus was praying for a manifestation of the Spirit to confirm to him his Messiahship, and that God’s favor was on him as he set out on his public ministry. God answered his prayer.”  He gets this from Luke 11:13, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”  Regardless, when Jesus prayed something dynamic happened – the heavens were opened to Him!  At least two things can be briefly drawn from this: one, that the connection between Jesus praying and the events that followed indicate that He was receiving what He was asking for.  If that is the case, and I think it is, then He is praying for Divine confirmation concerning His redemptive role and equipment for the work.  And as Piper notes, “God answered his prayer.”   

Third, upon Jesus’ baptism the Holy Spirit descends and remains on Jesus confirming His redemptive ministry as the sinless Son, the compassionate Savior, the anointed Warrior, and the gracious Gospel.  “Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove . . .”  So we immediately see why the heavens were opened – the Spirit of God descended from heaven upon Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  The significance of the Spirit’s descent upon Jesus is not as telling as the fact that having descended it also remained upon Him.  John 1:32-33, “And John bore witness: ‘I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him.  I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’”  The significance is on the fact that God’s Spirit willingly remained on Jesus.  Several times in the Old Testament the Spirit of God rushed upon men to work mighty acts through them, but it did not remain on them.  But in this event, the Spirit of God descended and remained upon Jesus marking Him as the Spirit-filled Son of God.  By this permanence, the Holy Spirit entered into and agreed with the ministry that Jesus had identified Himself with – that of saving sinners who repent and believe in Christ.

But why did He descend in bodily form like a dove?  In Matthew 10:16, Jesus tells His disciples, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”  The Spirit’s descent mark Jesus as the compassionate Savior.  His ministry would be one of gentleness and compassion.  The prophet Isaiah writes of God’s servant, “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.  He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice.  He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law,” Isaiah 42:1-4.  

Friends, do not fear to come to Christ, indeed, He bids you come precisely because He is compassionate, gentle and merciful; but understand, He will deal with you innocently.  If you turn from sin and trust in Him, He will innocently pardon you from all of your sin; but if you do not, He will innocently condemn you because of them.  Give heed, then, to His invitation, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” Matthew 11:28-30.

But not only does the Spirit mark Jesus as the sinless Son, and the compassionate Savior, but Luke tells us also, Jesus is marked as the Spirit-anointed warrior.  In Luke 4:1, it is as “full of the Holy Spirit” that Jesus battles and overcomes the temptation of Satan and inaugurates His kingdom.  So we see that the Father has sent from His side the Spirit to equip Jesus for kingdom ministry, to do battle with Satan and a world in rebellion, both of which He has would and has overcome by giving Himself up to be murdered on our account.  

But He is also the Spirit-anointed embodiment of the Gospel.  In Luke 4:17, Jesus stands in the synagogue and finding Isaiah 61:1-2 he reads, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,” and having read it he states, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing,” Luke 4:21.  The giving of the Spirit for the work of redemption was necessary in order to fulfill Scripture, Scripture will Jesus proclaims “has been fulfilled in your hearing” – in other words, I am the good news, the liberty, the recovery of sight, the Lord’s favor, I am the Gospel of God’s grace!  So the Spirit permanently marked Jesus as the sinless Son, the compassionate Savior, the anointed Warrior, and the gracious Gospel.  On these accounts, Jesus is the Christ.

Fourth, upon Jesus’ baptism God the Father identifies Jesus as His beloved Son in agreement with His redemptive task.  “Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.’”  Two weeks ago I said that no Jew personally called God “Father” but Jesus the Son.  This morning, I tell you, the Father calls no one His “beloved Son” but Jesus Christ.  This is God’s Divine stamp of approval upon both Jesus and the work that He is about to accomplish.  We have seen that the Holy Spirit has entered into this saving work with Jesus, and now we see that the Father also comforts and confirms Jesus in the work, so that God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all in agreement as to the task of saving sinners from their sin and granting them new and eternal life through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone.

Before we close, I’d like to make one point of application from God’s proclamation about Jesus.  He says, “with you I am well pleased.”  What does this mean?  What does it mean to be well-pleasing to God?  It means that Jesus was as righteous, as sinless as God is righteous.  Listen to Colossians 1:19-20 and hear why this was absolutely necessary for our salvation.  “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,” and therefore, “through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.”  Jesus, being without sin and full of perfect righteousness, imaged forth God, and for this reason, the Father was pleased that the fullness of God should dwell in Him.  When the Father looked upon the Son from heaven He saw nothing less than the fullness of Himself and this is what we hear when we hear “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”  The reality that Jesus was well pleasing to the Father brings at least two reflections to mind: the one we have just seen, that this confirmation belonged to Jesus alone; and the second, is that the nature of this confirmation is intimately connected to His cross and your and my salvation.  Only Jesus, the beloved Son, the well-pleasing Son, by virtue of His being this well-pleasing Son was worthy to die on His redemptive cross.  Look at the text carefully and see the connection: “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,” and the fullness of God that was pleased to dwell in Him is connected to what it is pleased to do through Him, namely, the rest of the verse (so let’s look at it together), “and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross,” Colossians 1:19-20.  It was his cross!  It had to be, for only Jesus, pleasing to the Father, bearing the fullness of God, could accomplish redemption for the ungodly.  Jesus’ identification as the beloved Son and the well pleasing One goes hand in hand with Jesus’ qualification as God’s way of saving sinners by the blood of His cross.  In other words, it uniquely qualifies Him to die on His cross.  

Four weeks ago, we talked about the celebration of the angels at the birth of Jesus.  Their chorus went like this, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”  And we said that the problem there is that none of us are naturally pleasing to God.  So when the Father confirms Jesus’ identification as the Savior of sinners, as His beloved with whom He is well-pleased, we ought to hear the way of salvation.  You, the infinitely unpleasing, must be in Jesus Christ, the infinitely pleasing.  This exclusivity of Jesus to save sinners and make them pleasing to God proves that Jesus is the Christ.  

Now maybe you are thinking “how did we get from the baptism of Christ to the cross of Christ?”  Allow me two things here: first, as in His baptism, Jesus resolved that His ministry would be an identification with those who repent of a sinful lifestyle towards faith in Him, so in His cross, Jesus accomplished His resolve.  From the beginning of His earthly ministry to the accomplishment of it, Jesus identified and identifies Himself this day with those who embrace Him for the forgiveness of sin.  Second, Jesus, Himself, calls His cross a baptism.  Whereas in His baptism Christ identified the purpose of His ministry, so in His cross Christ laid hold of that purpose by dying His saving death on our account.  Luke 12:50, “I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished.”   

 

Uses of the doctrine, that Jesus is the Christ and that the events surrounding His baptism are the evidences of it.

First, the affirmation of the Godhead speaks to the exclusivity of Jesus as the Christ who saves the ungodly.  Jesus is no rogue member of the Trinity.  How comforting for our Lord must it have been when the Father affirmed His resolve with the anointing of the Spirit and, then, voiced His infinite pleasure with His Son and with His Son’s redemptive task.  The fullness of God, beloved, came after you if you are in Christ this morning.  Yes, the Son is the subject of the work, the object of faith, but it is the Father who gives the Son, and the Spirit who both leads and comforts Him in His work.  Be encouraged, therefore, in the salvation that Jesus has worked for you – it is an everlasting salvation, immovable, unchangeable, infinite.

But secondly, it speaks to our Lord’s supremacy.  What Christ’s have arisen in your life?  What idols do you have?  Whom do you worship?  To what do you attribute your salvation?  These are your Christ’s, your Lord’s, your Savior’s, your Treasures!  Be done with them this morning!  You men, do not drool of the athletic abilities of 17 year old football players!  You women, do not set your hope in Stacy and Clinton (from What Not to Wear) to dress you up in colorful garments that are going to be out of season tomorrow!  What are these things?  Youthful vitality will not save you!  “Feeling” better about your sinful soul will not separate your sins as far as the east is from the west!  No, away with these false Christ’s!  Indeed, that righteous man, John the Baptist, preached, “I am not the Christ!  He is mightier than I; I am unworthy to be His lowest servant!  There is no comparison between water and the Holy Spirit!”  No, beloved, Jesus is Christ – seek Him, commune with Him, worship Him, give Him honor, glory, and praise!  

And therefore thirdly, these things must abide in you, for there are many deceptive teachers proclaiming a false Christ!  Let us not be the kind of Christian who professes Jesus as the Christ with our lips but our hearts are far from Him, and our lives bear the fruit of that cold distance!  Do we not know, church, that the world denies that Jesus is the Christ by their unbelief, by sin, by ungodly affections, by lives lived in hopelessness, in pithy, little, unsatisfying pursuits, thinking, “This will give me joy; this will make me happy; yes, this is my Christ; this is that anointed thing that will save me – morality, religiosity, psychotherapy, and if not these, then pleasures, drugs, money, sex, alcohol; yes, this is my Christ!”  And when these don’t produce salvation, for they cannot, they plead, “Give me something else, something that will save me!”  And when we say, “Jesus!  Jesus is the Christ!  He will save you,” they respond,  “I deny Him!  It is His fault that I am as I am!  I have tried religion; I have tasted morality!  I do not want Him!”  1 John 2:22-25, “Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ?  That is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son.  No one who denies the Son has the Father.  Whoever confesses the Son as the Father also.  Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you.  If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father.  And this is the promise that he made to us – eternal life.”  Let the truth that Jesus is the Christ abide in you, for in this way you are distinguished from the world, for the world!

Fourthly, then, this doctrine and the previous application speak to our identification as those who confess that Jesus is the Christ.  This identification is as those who have repented and as eternal life depends upon it, embraced Christ.  John baptized with a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, pointing the people to the One who was to come, Jesus.  The baptism of Jesus was an identification with these people.  There were others that sought John’s baptism, but they wanted it without the repentance and public declaration of personal sins or need of the One who was to come – and John denied them baptism!  Beloved, how many have been unbiblically baptized and set on the course of soul deception?  If this morning you have not repented, not confessed that you are beyond reparation and in desperate need of Christ, then Christ has not identified Himself with you – though I pray He would and that you would!  Positively, having entered into these graces of repentance and faith in Christ, you are identified with Him, you are Christians – bear the name well!

Fifthly, how shall we bear that name well as those who are in Christ Jesus?  Our lives will be marked by those spiritual characteristics evident in the Spirit-filled ministry of Jesus.  Our lives will be characterized by dependence upon the Holy Spirit and thus will look a specific way – in fact, we, like our Lord, will be gentle, compassionate, loving, gracious to others (dove-like); we will be hotly pursuing conformity to Jesus Christ in the power of the Spirit; we will engage in spiritual warfare in the Spirit of Christ; we will know the Word of God and throw daggers at the heart of the devil, and we will relish the taste of victory; we will be proclaimers of the Gospel, of the excellencies of Christ to this world that denies Him, of those graces of repentance and faith in Him by which they may come to worship the Christ; in the midst of suffering, we will cry out to God as our Father, “Abba! Father!” and find refuge there in our dependence upon Him; we will be sons of hope, of light, of heat, of truth to the nations without it.  This is how we shall bear that name, and in many more gracious ways will He lead us to glory.

Finally, that there are practical, doctrinal considerations in knowing baptism in Jesus’ name.  In the book of Acts, Luke reports of a great preacher, Apollos, who “had been instructed in the way of the Lord.  And being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John,” 19:25.  One of his sermons was attended by two lay people, Priscilla and Aquila, and they – the two laypeople – took aside the eloquent preacher “and explained to him the way of God more accurately” the fruit of which was that, “he greatly helped those who through grace had believed, for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus,” 19:26-28.  Here is a preacher who had been instructed in the way of the Lord, was fervent in spirit, and spoke accurately the things concerning Jesus – but he only knew the baptism of John.  What does this mean?  Why does Luke throw this in the text?  Because it shows that Apollos didn’t have it all together theologically, and for that reason, was somewhat inaccurate in his application as well.  So you have a preacher who knew only the baptism of John, and two lay people who knew the baptism of Jesus – the difference is significant!  Perhaps they weren’t as eloquent as Apollos, but they were on the right side of the cross, of the New Covenant.  I love v. 26, they taught him the way of God “more accurately.”  So, Apollos taught the things concerning Jesus accurately, but Priscilla and Aquila taught him more accurately.  There is a difference between being baptized in expectation of the Christ, and being baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.  What is the difference?  The reality that that which has been longed for has now been fulfilled.  It is not only that the Christ is coming, but that He has come, that He has accomplished His baptismal resolve, and is bringing in His kingdom – Jesus is the Christ!  And so, having been taught more accurately, Apollos now not only teaches the things concerning Jesus accurately, but more pointedly that “by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus.”  

Friends, this morning, be assured that if you speak of all manner of things about Jesus and leave out that He is the Christ, you have left out that which changes the world, not to mention the eternal soul of man.  The Jews to this day await a Christ; let us not be like them in such vain expectation, living lives that give no evidence that Jesus is the Christ and that we know Him.  Let us be like Apollos, who though he was accomplished in the knowledge of Jesus, still yet submitted himself to a more thorough-going Christology.  His talk was transformed, that is, he at once began to speak of Jesus as the Christ, and this became the dominant theme of his lectures.  He became like Paul who said, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified,” 1 Corinthians 2:2.  Let our tongues be so clothed.  Let us endeavor to be Christ-centered people.  Let us herald a living Christ, our Lord Jesus, Spirit-anointed, the Beloved Son, yes, the Christ. Amen.

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