The Baptism of Our Lord can be lost between the great seasons of Advent and Lent or overshadowed by the festivals of Epiphany or the flashier Transfiguration. But this occasion (noted by all four evangelists) marks not only the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry but its aim and goal as well. A preacher might take this opportunity to emphasize the Trinity or make a comparison between Jesus’ baptism and our own. Both have much value in getting to the gracious nature and work of God and speaking to questions that God’s people wrestle with today. Below are two other trajectories the preacher might pursue in proclaiming Christ in this occasion.
Jesus stands in, among, and for the people. Verses 21 and 22 are one sentence in Greek and in most English translations. Before we get to the main verbs about the heavens being opened, the Spirit descending, and the voice coming from Heaven, Luke gives us the context. The English Standard Version (ESV) translates it like this, “Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened.”
Jesus feels almost parenthetical. He is tucked in a subordinate clause, hidden in the sentence, and lost among the people. Jesus is found in there between the people receiving a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (3:3) and the voice of the Father declaring His sonship alongside the testimony of the Spirit.
What a most fitting way for the anticipated Christ to begin His public ministry! Jesus stands between God and the people. Jesus, the son of Mary, circumcised on the eighth day, goes out with all the people to the Jordan River. There, He stands among the people. He is not merely like one of them, He is one of them. One of us! But more than standing among us, He stands in for us as our substitute. He takes the people’s place so we might receive His place. He takes our place as one needing repentance because God made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us in our place so we might take His place as a beloved child of God.
Jesus stands in among and for the people. This is the syntax, the narrative, and the theology of our Lord’s baptism in Luke 3.
What a most fitting way for the anticipated Christ to begin His public ministry! Jesus stands between God and the people.
Jesus is the beloved praying Son of God. Luke is the only evangelist who tells us about Jesus praying at His baptism. As verse 21 reads in the English, we are even given the impression that this is a point of emphasis: “Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened.” What might Jesus have been praying or praying about? Obviously, God has not revealed it to us. But I wonder if this sermon might afford us an occasion to imagine with our people.
You may or may not want to mention how some manuscripts very explicitly quote Psalm 2 (as is noted in the ESV footnote, “Some manuscripts beloved Son; today I have begotten you”). Even without this footnote as an entry point into Psalm 2, the verbal and theological connections are clear. The preacher might dive into Psalm 2 from the “and was praying” and compare some of the key themes from the Psalm either to the events around Jesus’ baptism or the narrative of Luke’s Gospel as a whole.
Specifically, Psalm 2 begins by asking about the raging, plotting, and setting of the kings and rulers of the world against the Lord and His anointed. The force of the powers-that-be seems strong. Notice the piling on of synonyms for both the verbs and nouns in the opening verses of the Psalm. Over and against all their strength, the Lord laughs. And when God finally speaks in His terrifying wrath and fury, His opening words do not seem to live up to the hype: “I have set my King on Zion.” Any reader of the Old Testament or dilettante of world history would know that such kings in Zion come and go as easily as any other temporary ruler. But as the Psalm continues, we see God is speaking about His Son. The final lines point us to a vision of the End Times, where God’s wrath burns hot and when finding refuge in God Himself is one’s only hope. In fact, the “He” of Psalm 2:12 seems to intentionally blur the lines between God and the Son, so that it is not entirely clear to which person the pronoun is referring.
Such a reflection adds depth and color to Luke’s seemingly odd note in verses 19-20 of chapter 3. The first 18 verses give us a picture of John as a bold and faithful witness, who speaks both Law and Gospel with divine authority. So far so good. But just before Jesus is baptized, Luke tells us John’s voice is silenced because the powers of this age will only put up with so much. Luke’s past-tense description of what will happen to John is so firm that this future event seems to have even removed John from the scene at hand; John is not mentioned (by name or even with a pronoun) in the actual baptism of Jesus in verses 21-22.
Yet, Jesus “had been baptized and was praying.” If we can imagine Him praying through the second Psalm, this will highlight same great Epiphany themes for us. Not only does God reveal the identity of Jesus in this season through what we see and hear Jesus doing and saying, but God also reveals His gracious will through Jesus despite what we see and hear. This is the theme of Psalm 2 and Luke 3:19-20. Even when we cannot see, we can believe, but God is faithful, and His Word is sure.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Luke 3:15-22.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Luke 3:15-22 .
Lectionary Podcast-Dr. David Scaer of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through Luke 3:15-22.