Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:21-22 ESV). Today at International Lutheran Church we celebrate the baptism of our Lord. This is the season of Epiphany – the ever-increasing light and revelation of Jesus, the Son of God. The baptism of Jesus is the beginning of His public ministry. This is the moment and the reason that John came baptizing. All our expectations are redefined in this Epiphany. As the clouds give way, the Spirit descends and the voice booms; the focus is on Jesus – the Son of God standing in the water.
This year we will be reading through the gospel of Luke and enjoying his perspective on Jesus, both Jesus’ historical humanity, as well as His eternal divinity. This gospel is more than just a chronological repetition of the events of Jesus’ life. Luke’s gospel is a beautiful and theological reflection on these historic events as they took place in time and space with universal and profound purpose. Perhaps this unique aspect is first reflected in Paul’s letters and ministry when he writes in Galatians 4:4 “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law.” Jesus’ historical appearance was and remains the fulfillment of time, as God stepped into time and space.
From Luke’s perspective, the significance of Jesus’ baptism is just this: the fulfillment of all of God’s promises and actions. We actually begin with the expectations of the people and their wonderings if John could be the One to come. We often have expectations. This is part of our human nature. Perhaps this is even a part of that God-created identity that sees into events or people a significance that requires understanding and wisdom to see. That our expectations are often misplaced or remain unfulfilled is also a significant signal to us that we live a broken reality. “All the people were baptized.” They all heard the call of John and recognized that there was something happening even in the desert. While it was the tax collectors and sinners that responded, even the self-righteous people could not ignore the message. Herod even had to find a way to stop it by putting John in jail.
This is one of the unique aspects of Luke’s gospel – while historically we know that it was John who baptized Jesus, Jesus is the sole focus here. Jesus stands in solidarity with the people and associates with all who will come into the water. His presence in the water makes of this water a life-giving flood, a spring that wells up to eternal life, and a new identity in the name that is now attached to us. Paul talks about this new identity as being “in Christ” - both through His death but also through His life. Jesus gathers us to Himself even to the point that we hear and experience what He hears and experiences as He stands in the water. We receive the Spirit as the Spirit descended on Him. We hear the voice, even as the voice was heard by Him: “You are my beloved Son! In you I am well pleased.” These words are the words we now hear “in Christ.” You and I are beloved. We are no longer outsiders, but sons and daughters of God. We have been brought near and incorporated – in-fleshed through the bodily presence of the Son into God Himself.
Luke notes that this is the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry, and that Jesus was about 30 years of age (Luke 3:23). What follows then brings us to Luke’s second major theological interpretation of Jesus standing in the water, the voice booming from the clouds, and the Spirit’s descent – Jesus is the Son of God. But this sonship is not detached from the same humanity that you and I share, but one and the same. As much as you and I are God’s creation, Jesus shared in our humanity so that our identity would be restored to God and that His expectations would then be fully met in Jesus. Our restoration becomes part of God’s eternal Epiphany – the Light that has shone into our darkness and brought us to His perfect Light. In this Epiphany, we now shine and reflect that light. In earthly and ordinary ways God has transformed our expectations with His own Son, so that all people can know His love for them.