God’s Son

Baptism of Jesus 2010
Luke 3:15-22
Marian Free

In the name of God who is revealed to us through Jesus his son. Amen.

A few weeks ago, I pointed out that in Luke’s gospel, the stories of Jesus and John the Baptist are closely intertwined, albeit in such a way that it is clear that of the two men Jesus is the superior. This pattern continues in chapter three until Luke neatly ties up John’s role in the story and begins to deal in earnest with Jesus’ ministry.
Luke’s new goal – to differentiate Jesus and John – means that his account is awkward chronologically. He records John’s arrest and imprisonment before introducing Jesus’ baptism – an order of events which could not be possible if John baptizes Jesus. However, his intention is to conclude John’s story before he begins that of Jesus’ ministry and thus give John no role in Jesus’ ministry.  In Luke’s mind, Jesus’ baptism belongs to the account of Jesus’ life, not to the story of the Baptist and so Jesus’ story begins where John’s ends: “Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized.”
By doing this, Luke emphasises the fact that John is only the precursor – the last of the OT prophets, the one who makes way for Jesus. John himself points out that Jesus is the more powerful of the two. He claims that he is unworthy to untie the thong of Jesus’ sandals – an act no disciple would dare to perform. He attributes to Jesus the function of the eschatological judge – “His winnowing fork is in his hand” and he suggests that to be baptized by Jesus will be of greater significance that John’s baptism: “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
Clarifying the Baptist’s role is important as Luke shares with the other gospel writers a certain embarrassment with regard to Jesus’ baptism. Why does the one anointed by God need to be baptized for the forgiveness of sins? The problem is dealt with somewhat differently by each gospel writer. In Matthew, John the Baptist himself expresses confusion as to why Jesus should come to him, to which Jesus replies that everything should be done in an orderly way, so making it clear that Jesus is baptized for forms sake, not because he needs to be forgiven. John’s gospel manages not to mention Jesus’ baptism specifically and instead has the Baptist report the descent of the spirit on Jesus. Luke, as I have said, disposes of John’s ministry before turning to Jesus’ baptism and the focus on Jesus’ ministry.
For the same reason the gospel writers seem to distance the descent of the dove and the voice from heaven, from the act of baptism. In John’s gospel, the Baptist reports the signs as evidence of who Jesus is. In the Synoptic gospels, the dove and the voice appear to be for Jesus’ alone, though it is not entirely clear whether anyone else sees or hears. In Matthew and Mark these signs occur as Jesus comes up out of the water. Luke completely separates these events from the actual baptism by reporting that they appear in response to Jesus’ prayer after he has been baptised.

Luke’s account of the baptism is quite abrupt. The adult Jesus appears from nowhere and without introduction. He is baptized simply as one of the crowd. There is no record of any discussion between Jesus and John, nor of any interaction with the crowds. The report of the baptism is not elaborate – in fact, Luke dispenses with it in two words: Jesus had been baptized – in Greek “ Jesou baptisthento”. Luke is anxious to move on to what happens after the baptism – the voice from heaven affirming Jesus as God’s son.

The birth narratives have made it clear that Jesus will be the Son of the Most high who will inherit the throne of his ancestor David and the Holy Spirit has played a significant role in the story. Now, however, Jesus is addressed directly: “You are my beloved Son” – the dove and the voice are for him affirming what he already knows.
The voice from heaven, using allusions to Psalm 2 and Isaiah 42, identifies Jesus’ relationship to God as that between a father and a son. The idea of a filial relationship to God is not new to Judaism. In the OT Israel is referred to as God’s son and the kings of Israel, specifically David are sometimes referred to in this way. Psalm 2 was used in the enthronement liturgy and contains ideology in relation to God’s choice of the line of kings, so it is a fitting Psalm to use to identify the anointed one, who is of David’s line. In the OT also, divine sonship was associated with commissioning and authorization. The son represents the father and to some extent acts with the authority of the father.
Jesus’ sonship is important for a number of reasons. Firstly, it indentifies the nature of the relationship between Jesus and God as one of deep affection and intimacy – such as that between a father and a son. Secondly, it indicates a legal relationship. The son and heir acts as the father, with the father’s authority. Thirdly, as we will discover, the relationship between God as father and Jesus as son is such that to know one is to know the other: “no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Luke 10:21-22). Jesus’ authority as son is further affirmed during the Transfiguration when the voice from the cloud says: ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!’
In Luke this divine sonship is grounded in the activity of the spirit. It is present at Jesus’ baptism and is the driving force when Jesus is driven into the wilderness, when he returns to Galilee and when he reads from the scroll of Isaiah in the synagogue in Nazareth.
John’s ministry comes to an end with a proclamation of the one who is greater than him. Jesus’ ministry begins as God affirms his nature and purpose.
In our own baptism the promises of God are visibly signed and sealed for us, we are filled with the Holy Spirit and commissioned for ministry in the world around us. May our lives be directed by the Spirit as we seek to do God’s will and may the presence of the Spirit is our lives make God known is the world.

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