13 January 2019Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
Jesus also had been baptised and was praying. (v. 21)
Psalm: Psalm 29
Today is celebrated in many churches as the festival of the Baptism of Jesus, which explains why this reading is chosen. Luke’s account of the baptism is brief – he simply tells us that it happened at the same time as large numbers of others (‘all the people’ – v. 21) were baptised. What seems to be of more interest to Luke is what occurred (immediately?) afterwards when Jesus was praying – the Spirit descended and a voice affirmed Jesus as God’s son. The voice addressed Jesus and it is not clear whether or not it was heard by anyone else; the dove, however, was in physical form and it seems likely that Luke intends us to understand that it was visible to those around. In the context of Luke’s narrative, this is the moment when Jesus’ ministry began – he was already 30 years old (v. 23) when, in Fred Pratt Green’s words, ‘the hidden years had ended’ (Singing the Faith 233 v. 2). He goes into the wilderness to be tempted "full of the Holy Spirit" (4:1) and begins his preaching ministry "filled with the power of the Spirit" (4:14). It is not surprising that the first words that we hear from him in the synagogue in Nazareth are "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me" (4:18).
If Luke’s account of Jesus’ baptism points us to his spirit-filled ministry, it also points us to a much broader understanding of baptism and the Holy Spirit. John the Baptist rejected the idea that he was the Messiah but promised that one more powerful would come. Luke clearly identifies Jesus as that more powerful person. The one to come would baptise with the Holy Spirit and fire (v. 16); the Greek word for Spirit can also be translated as ‘blowing’ or ‘wind’ so Luke seems to be pointing us forward not only to Jesus’ own ministry but to the experience of the disciples at Pentecost after Jesus had ascended into heaven (see Acts 2).
Luke alerts us to the expectation of the Messiah that was evident at the time. That expectation seems to have been derived from Nathan’s prophecy to David (in 2 Samuel 7); the words "you are my son" could be a quotation from Psalm 2, a psalm that speaks of God’s judgement enacted through the chosen king. Set in that context, the work of the Holy Spirit is not just to be understood as empowering Jesus or empowering the Church, but through Christ and his Church enacting the reign of God.
- There are many visual representations of this scene. Look at a few online. Which speaks to you and why?
- John is keen not to promote himself but to point the crowd to the one who will come after him. Can you think of a time when it has been your responsibility to make way for someone else?
- Luke records at many points in the Gospel that Jesus spent time praying. It was in prayer that he was affirmed by the Father and empowered by the Holy Spirit. Can you find time just to be in God’s presence so that you also might know God’s affirmation and empowering?