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Luke 3:21-3:38
Key Verse: 3:22

In the last lesson we studied about the ministry of John the Baptist. When the word of God came to him, he could do the work of God: He preached the message of repentance for the forgiveness of sins and for fruit-bearing life. Today’s passage is about the baptism and genealogy of Jesus. At this point God’s ministry transits from John the Baptist to Jesus. Luke’s description of Jesus’ baptism and genealogy excellently shows who Jesus is.

First, the baptism of Jesus (21-22). Look at verse 21a. “When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too.” This was Luke’s description of Jesus’ baptism. In contrast, Matthew wrote, “Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John” (Mt 3:13), and Mark, “At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan” (Mk 1:9). According to Luke, Jesus was baptized as one of the people. Recall that at that time, the people were being baptized as the expression of their repentance. They obviously recognized themselves as sinners before God. Jesus was the sinless Son of God. But he was baptized like all other people. In Matthew’s gospel, when Jesus was coming to be baptized by John, John was so burdened that he tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” As we studied in the previous passage, John said that he was not worthy even to untie the thongs of Jesus’ sandals. Jesus was the Son of God in nature, and John was a mere man. Yet, Jesus was willing to be baptized by John as his submission to God’s righteous will (Mt 3:14-15). It was a great humiliation to Jesus that he was baptized like all other people and by John. Yet, in truth he was baptized in our place. As our high priest and Saviour, Jesus went through circumcision, purification and consecration under the law, now baptism, and later on the baptism of death (Lk 12:50), that is, to die on the cross, taking upon himself all our sins. The author of Hebrews wrote its meaning: “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity…For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people” (Heb 2:14-17, NIV 2011). No one wants to be humiliated. But Jesus who bore all the humiliation for us. We thank Jesus.

We remember Luke’s description of Jesus’ humble birth in 2:7, “She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room in the inn.” Around the 4th century, the Emperor Constantine’s mother, Helena, came to Bethlehem and built a church, called the church of nativity. The church was decorated with beautiful mosaic sacred pictures, and in the supposed the birthplace of Jesus under the pulpit was the mark of a star. But historically there has been only one entrance, small and low, called the Entry of Humility. So no one can enter without bending his neck and back and lowering his head. It seems to be inconvenient. Yet, the Entry of Humility was the reminder of Jesus’ humble birth in a manger and of the truth that a humble heart is a fitting place for Jesus.

One characteristic of God’s children should be humbleness. In our sinful nature we want to be treated specially, particularly after doing something. And it is not easy for us to bear when we are treated less than we think we are to deserve. But Jesus said to his disciples about the attitude of unworthy servants in Luke 17:10, “So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.” And he promised, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he humbles himself will be exalted” (Lk 14:11).We need to firmly believe this promise of Jesus.

Look at verse 21b-22a. “And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove.” According to Luke, Jesus prayed at the time of baptism. We have learned that Jesus was baptized in our place. Here, another significance of Jesus’ baptism is as an inauguration ceremony before God to begin his public messianic ministry. For this Jesus prayed. It seems that he did not need to pray as the Son of God, but he prayed. On important occasions in his life, such as this, Jesus prayed to listen to God and to trust and rely on him. Luke portrays the praying Jesus more than other gospels. There are other examples: in Luke 9:18, before asking his disciples, “Who do you say I am?” and revealing his person as the Christ, Jesus prayed in private (9:18); and before his transfiguration on a mountain he prayed (9:29). The praying Jesus is definitely a divine and humble image of Jesus. If Jesus prayed at the significant moments in his life, how much more should we pray humbly?

What happened as he was praying? Heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him. [According to other gospels, at the time of his baptism the Holy Spirit descended on him without his prayer (Mt 3:16; Mk 1:10; Jn 1:32). Undoubtedly the Father God would equip his Son with the Holy Spirit anyway as he carried out his messianic mission. ][Or: other gospel accounts of Jesus’ baptism do not depict the descending of the Holy Spirit as a result of Jesus’ prayer. Undoubtedly, prayer was not a necessary prerequisite for the Father God—he would equip his Son with the Holy Spirit anyway as he carried out his messianic mission.] Yet, it is meaningful that as Jesus was praying, the Holy Spirit descended on him. Probably this is the reason Jesus said to his disciples in Luke 9:13, “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give you the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” Even though we know that the Holy Spirit dwells in us as we believe in Christ Jesus, we also need to pray for the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts—humbly and earnestly, as did Jesus.

Finally, at the time of Jesus’ baptism in prayer, a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” The Father God was so pleased with the Son Jesus, who was humbly, prayerfully, and trustingly taking up the messianic mission in accordance with God’s salvation plan for mankind. This was truly the beautiful love relationship between God the Father and the Son. This voice from heaven came once again on the transfiguration mountain (Mt 17:5; Mk 9:7; Lk 9:35) after Jesus finally told his disciples the way of the Messiah, who would suffer many things and be rejected by religious leaders and be killed…” (Mt 16:21; Mk 8:31; Lk 9:22). This would be the climax of his humility.

In this part we pray that we may follow the footsteps of our Lord Jesus, who showed his humility and humble dependence on God in prayer at the time of baptism so that we can also please God as his humble children.

Second, the genealogy of Jesus (23-37). Look at verse 23a, “Now Jesus himself was about thirty years old when he began his ministry.” In his gospel Luke traces the age of Jesus. When Jesus went to Jerusalem at the Feast of Passover with his parents, he was twelve years old. Now when he was about thirty years old, he began his ministry. What is specific about being thirty years old? When we read the Bible, we see that Levites began to do the work of serving and carrying the Tent of Meeting when they became thirty (Num 4:47-48). Joseph was thirty years old when he entered the service of Pharaoh king of Egypt (Ge 41:46). David was thirty years old when he became king of Israel” (2 Sa 5:4). We know what Joseph and David suffered much before entering the service of a king or being a king. We feel that in Luke’s description Jesus was like them, although he is the Son of God. He also had to prepare to enter his ministry, the service of God. Of course, as the Son of God, he could have begun his ministry in his twenties or even before. Yet, he waited on God, preparing himself like other humans who were used by God. As for Jesus, he prepared himself by learning obedience what he suffered and growing in wisdom and in favour with God and men (Lk 2:51,52). This is another beautiful side of Jesus, the Son of God.

This does not mean that young people here must wait until they become thirty in order to serve God. Some can be called by God earlier or later. Charles Spurgeon (1834-92), known as king of preachers, was converted at 17 and called to serve a church in London at 20. Moses could be used by God at the age of 80. Even in the world history, Nelson Mandela (1918-2013) became the president of South Africa at the age of 76 after 30 years of imprisonment. The point is that we should be prepared and at the same time wait on God. God’s time is always accurate, never too early or too late. Luke, in writing his gospel, paid particularly keen attention to timing. The angel Gabriel visited Mary in the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy (1:26). When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son (1:57). While Joseph and Mary were in Bethlehem, the time came for the baby Jesus to be born (2:6). On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise him, he was named Jesus (2:21). And, as we have studied, Luke uniquely recorded what happened when Jesus was twelve and about thirty. We all should learn to follow God’s time schedule. Those who are humble before God and trust in him can follow God’s timing.

Look at verse 23b. “He was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph, the son of Heli.” We know that Jesus is the son of Mary. In his genealogy the genealogy of Jesus Matthew writes: “…Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham: Abraham was the father of Isaac…Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ” (1:1-17). And in Matthew 1:18 Mary was called his mother Mary. It is interesting that in other gospels Joseph was not identified as the father of Jesus or Jesus, the son of Joseph, although they all unambiguously wrote that Mary was his mother. But Luke wrote clearly in his gospel that Joseph and Mary were his parents and Joseph was his father. In this genealogy it is written, “He was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph” in NIV and “Jesus being the son (as was supposed) of Joseph” in ESV and KJV. To be called the son of Joseph could be another humiliation for Jesus. However, Luke clearly and carefully described Jesus’ human side recording that Jesus was thought to be the son of Jesus.

And Luke followed Mary’s line in this genealogy. There are no records of maternal genealogies in the Bible, other than Jesus. In that sense, Jesus’ genealogy is a unique one. It says, “Joseph, the son of Heli...” In Greek the word ‘son’ was interchangeable with ‘son in law’, indicating that verse 23 could be read: “Joseph, the son in law of Heli.” Yet, the genealogy reaches David and Abraham, which meant Mary also was the descendant of David and Abraham. And then it goes up to Adam, the ancestor of human race. Here we are reminded of Genesis 3 that God promised to send a Saviour through the offspring of a woman. According to Luke, Jesus is the representative of human race as the Saviour of all mankind. In this way Luke emphasizes the universality of the gospel, the good news of Jesus. Matthew wrote his genealogy in such a way that presented Jesus as the last descendant of Abraham—i.e. that from God’s viewpoint, Jesus was the last physical Jew of the line of Abraham. Matthew thus showed that in Jesus all believers are children of Abraham. Likewise, Luke shows that Jesus would be the last Adam (1 Cor 15:45) and that as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive (1 Cor 15:22).

We also cannot neglect that Luke, in his genealogy, does not compromise with the truth that Jesus is the Son of God. Jesus is “the son of Adam…the son of God.” This confirms the voice from heaven at the time of Jesus’ baptism, “You are my Son…”. Consider the placement of this genealogy: Luke records the genealogy of Jesus right before Jesus’ temptation. Jesus would be ready to confront the devil as both the representative of mankind after Adam and as the Son of God. Adam failed in the battle against the devil because of his pride, but Jesus the Son of God would win the battle for Adam’s race in his complete humbleness. It is good to remember the words of proverbs, “Pride goes before destruction” (15:33b) and “Humility comes before honour” (16:18a).

In this study we praise God for the beauty of Jesus, who is both the Son of God and the son of man, fully divine and fully human, and thus is our Saviour. We ask for God’s mercy that we may follow the footstep of Jesus, going through required humiliations and praying at each critical time and so be used by God in his redemptive work and history.

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