The Baptism and the Genealogy of Jesus Christ
- Wednesday, May 23, 2007
Even in v. 21 I think this is confirmed in the word "all": "now when all the people were baptized . . . " This means that Jesus' baptism was not just a part of John's work, but its climax. We don't have to press "all" to mean that Jesus was the very last person John baptized, but it must mean that John's ministry was virtually done when Jesus was baptized. This too shows that the coming of Jesus meant the going of John: "He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:30). This also gives us help in answering my second question.
Why Did Jesus Come to Be Baptized?
2) Why did Jesus come to be baptized, since John's baptism was a "baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins" (3:3), and Jesus was without sin (2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 4:15)?
Luke shows in two ways that what is happening here is not important mainly because of the baptism but because of what happens afterward. First, Luke shows that Jesus came at the climax of John's ministry, "when all the people were baptized," and, therefore, that Jesus was not just one of the crowd. His coming had special significance. Second, the way Luke put his sentence together in verses 22 and 23 shows that the baptism is secondary and what happened afterwards is primary: the baptism of the people and then of Jesus are simply introductory time clauses telling when the last three things happened: "After all were baptized and Jesus was baptized and praying, then (the amazing thing happened) the heaven was opened, the Spirit came, and God spoke." So Luke's interest is different from Matthew's, who focuses on the baptism itself and poses the very question we have posed. He tells (in Matthew 3:14, 15) how John tried to prevent Jesus saying, "'I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?' But Jesus answered him, 'Let it be so now; for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.'" So Luke treats the baptism of Jesus simply as the occasion when God spoke to him from heaven, but Matthew deals with the baptism itself as a problem for one who had no sins to be forgiven. The answer he gives is that it is fitting for him to do everything that is right. There was enough in John's baptism for Jesus to affirm that the event was not meaningless: negatively it meant turning from sin, and positively it meant trusting God. Jesus could affirm both: he resolved not to sin but always to turn from it, and he committed himself always to trust God.
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.
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Why Mention That Jesus Was Praying?
3) But before we look at God's confirmation in verse 22, there was another question on verse 21: Why does Luke mention that Jesus was praying when the heavens opened and the Spirit came and God spoke? None of the other gospels tell us this. We are going to see in this gospel that Luke loves to picture Jesus in prayer. He shows him praying at all the crucial turning points of his life: here at the baptism, at the selection of the twelve apostles (6:12), at Peter's confession (9:18), at the transfiguration (9:28), in Gethsemane (22:41), on the cross (23:34). He tells us that Jesus went repeatedly to the wilderness to pray (5:16) and that he spent whole nights in prayer (6:12). The point of all this must be to show that even in Jesus' life there is a correlation between earnest prayer and the blessing of God. Now what blessing was Jesus praying for after his baptism? Luke 11:13 suggests the answer, I think. Luke's version is different from Matthew's: "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?" What should obedient children ask from their heavenly Father? The Holy Spirit. Not that we or Jesus did not already have the Holy Spirit within us—even the weakest believer is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19). But the Holy Spirit is infinite and always has more of himself to give, and his means of manifesting himself are so varied, there is always some new experience awaiting those who go hard after his fullness.
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