Baptism Of The Lord ( Luke3:15-22 )

THE CONTEXT:The Holy Spirit is mentioned in both halves of our Gospel lesson (vv.16,22)......
THE CONTEXT:The Holy Spirit is mentioned in both halves of our Gospel lesson (vv.16,22).

The Holy Spirit is important to Luke, and we find references to the Holy Spirit throughout Luke-Acts (both written by Luke) (see 1:15,35,41-45; 2:27-32; see also Luke 4:1,18; 10:21; 11:13; 12:10,12 and Acts 1:5; 2:1-4,17,38; 4:8,25,31; 5:3,32; 6:5; 7:51,55; 8:15-19,29,39; 9:17,31; 10:19,38,44-48; 11:12,15,24; 13:2,4,9,52; 15:8,28; 16:6-7; 19:1-17; 20:22-23,28; 21:4,11; 28:25).

15 As the people were in expectation, and all men reasoned in their hearts concerning John, whether perhaps he was the Christ, 16 John answered them all, "I indeed baptize you with water, but he comes who is mightier than I, the latchet of whose sandals I am not worthy to loosen. He will baptize you in the Holy Spirit ( pneumati hagio ) and fire, 17 whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly cleanse his threshing floor, and will gather the wheat into his barn; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire."...21 Now it happened, when all the people were baptized, Jesus also had been baptized, and was praying. The sky was opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended in a bodily form as a dove on him; and a voice came out of the sky, saying "You are my beloved Son. In you I am well pleased."

The ministry of John the Baptist and the baptism of Jesus are inextricably linked. John bears witness to Jesus and baptizes him. All four Gospels are careful to subordinate John to Jesus — making it clear that John is not the messiah, but is only preparing the way for the messiah.

VERSES 15-17:JOHN ANSWERED THEM ALL

"all men reasoned in their hearts concerning John, whether perhaps he was the Christ" (v.15). The Jews have experienced four hundred prophetless years. Now John's ministry brings the kind of spiritual intensity that they have known previously only by reading long-dead prophets. It is no wonder that they think that John might be the promised one — the messiah.

"John answered them all" (v.16a). John distinguishes himself from Jesus in three ways:

1."I indeed baptize you with water, but he comes who is mightier than I, the latchet of whose sandals I am not worthy to loosen" (v.16b).

2."He will baptize you in the Holy Spirit ( pneumati hagio ) and fire" (v.16c).

3."whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly cleanse his threshing floor, and will gather the wheat into his barn" (v.17a). A winnowing fork is somewhat like a pitchfork. It is used to toss grain into the air so that the wind will carry away the lighter chaff and allow the heavier, more valuable grain to fall back to the floor. Winnowing is a way of separating that which is worthless (the chaff) from that which is valuable (the grain). Winnowing thus serves as a metaphor for Jesus separating the faithful from the unfaithful — the saved from the lost — on Judgment Day.

"he will thoroughly cleanse his threshing floor, and will gather the wheat into his barn" (v.17b). A threshing floor is a large, hard-packed surface where oxen pull a heavy sled over sheaves of wheat to pull the chaff away from the grain, preparing it for the winnowing fork.

After the pure grain is collected on the threshing floor, it is gathered into a granary or storage area where it will be protected from the weather. This serves as a metaphor for Jesus gathering the redeemed into their heavenly home.

The "unquenchable fire" (v.17b) serves as a metaphor for the eternal punishment of those who are not redeemed, and thus speaks of the eternal consequences of our choices.

While a frightful image, the chaff-burning does not celebrate the sinner's demise. The primary aim is to save the wheat, not to burn the chaff" (Craddock,Interpretation,49).

VERSES 18-19:JOHN'S ARREST

The lectionary excludes these verses — the story of John's arrest — thus pulling together John's testimony about the baptism that Jesus offers (v.16) and the baptism that Jesus receives (v.21). Mark and Matthew tell of John's arrest and death much later in their accounts (Mark6:14-29; Matthew14:1-12). If Luke's chronology were correct, John could not have baptized Jesus, because he would have been in prison when Jesus was baptized. Luke places the arrest early as another way of emphasizing John's subordinate role.

VERSES 21-22:WHEN JESUS WAS PRAYING, THE SKY WAS OPENED

Luke's account of Jesus' baptism is very spare. The emphasis is the descent of the Spirit and the voice from heaven (Nickle,36).

"when all the people were baptized, Jesus also had been baptized, and was praying. The sky was opened" (v.21b). Luke does not describe the baptism itself — does not mention John — does not say that Jesus came up out of the water (Mark1:10; Matthew3:16) — does not tell us that Jesus was baptized to fulfill all righteousness (Matthew3:15). His concern is with the opened heaven, the descent of the Holy Spirit, and the voice from heaven. This is Jesus' anointing - his preparation for service — his empowerment.

Heaven opens, not at Jesus' baptism, but during his prayer following his baptism. Heaven opens so that the voice can be heard and the Spirit can descend. The opening of heaven announces the presence and intervention of God.

John baptizes for repentance (3:11). Jesus is the uniquely sinless one who needs no repentance, so we wonder why he chose to be baptized. Scholars have advanced a number of possibilities — none conclusive — perhaps all true to some degree.

"and the Holy Spirit descended in bodily form as a dove on him" (v.22). This is Jesus' anointing as Messiah (Evans,56). The descent of the Spirit at Jesus' baptism empowers him for ministry. After Jesus' baptism, Luke mentions several times that Jesus is filled with — or led by or empowered by the Spirit (4:1,14,18) — or that he rejoices in the Spirit (10:21). He also emphasizes the place of the Spirit in the life of the church (11:23; 12:12; Acts1:5,8).

"in bodily form as a dove" (v.22b). The Spirit is visible — no figment of anyone's imagination. The Spirit is not a dove, but is like a dove.

"and a voice came out of the sky, saying, 'You are my beloved Son. In you I am well pleased" (v.22c). Luke doesn't identify the one who speaks, but the voice from heaven is obviously that of God the Heavenly Father (see 9:35; Psalm2:7; Isaiah41:1).

Jesus does not become God's son at his baptism, but has been God's son all along (1:35). Son of God is far superior to son of Abraham. John warned the people that their claim to Abraham as their ancestor would avail them nothing, and that they were, in fact, sons of vipers (3:7-8).


Copyright 2007, 2010, Richard Niell Donovan
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