God's Man par excellence
People like lists and you can find them just about everywhere and about anything. There are lists that tell you which books you ought to read, which films you ought to see, which tourist attractions you ought to visit etc.etc.
I found one list (drawn up in 2013) that tried to determine who the most important people in history were. The list was made up by combining the number of Google searches made for a person's name with the number of books written about them. (If the book bit was left out Michael Jackson would have made the top 10 but I think we would all instinctively recognise that historical importance was not his strongest suit!)
The top six in this list were all religious characters: in ascending order of importance it listed: the apostle Paul, the Buddha, Moses, Abraham, Mohammed and Jesus!
There are apparently more than 24 million searches made every month for information about Jesus. And somehow Google estimates that of all the different books ever written some 40% of them refer in some way to Jesus – that would mean some 52 million different books. The number is staggering isn't it but shouldn't really surprise us for the apostle John concluded his Gospel with the following words written 2.000 years ago:
Jn.22:25 "Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written."
There is such an interest in this man Jesus and yet such ignorance concerning him as well. How well do you know this man? Do you understand who he was and what made him tick? Do you know how he lived his life and why? And how have you arrived at the opinion you have of Jesus today? While many are interested many more never think seriously about him at all – they can't be bothered – but don't you be like them. Jesus is simply too important for you to adopt unthinkingly the half-baked ideas of others – consider the facts about him for yourself.
This morning we'll begin to do just that by focusing our thoughts on what is said about him particularly in Luke 3:21-22
"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 wants us to know about Jesus
Luke has just been describing the ministry of John the Baptist. John had impressed the crowds so much that numbers began to ask whether John was God's long-promised Messiah, the One who was coming to deliver God's people. The Messiah that God had promised to send would secure salvation for his followers by delivering them from sin. His ministry would prove to effective not only for the Jews but also for men and women from all over the world and from every type of background.
When John learned that some were wondering if he was this Messiah he made it very clear indeed that he was not – there was another coming who was far greater than he, John, was. Part of what John said about the coming Messiah Luke recorded for us in vv.16-18.
Now, with people's attention drawn to the coming of the Messiah Luke identifies him as Jesus publicly enters upon his unique ministry and mission.
With this little episode Luke has at least five things he wants to say about Jesus.
Jesus was (and is) a real man
This third chapter of Luke's gospel both begins and ends with lists of people. The opening list contains the names of people who occupied important positions in the Middle East in the first century of the Christian era. The second list contains Jesus' family tree in which his human ancestry is traced all the way back to Adam. Part of Luke's purpose in including both these lists is to underscore the historical nature of the account that he had set himself to write.
Truth matters in the world of history, in the real world, and Luke wants us to know, without the shadow of a doubt, that this extraordinary man, Jesus Christ, who lies at the very heart and centre of the Christian message is no figment of the imagination but was, and is, a real man.
In other words Jesus is not simply a "nice idea" because "nice ideas" don't necessarily have any relevance or application to the real world in which we live. "Nice ideas" remain just that "nice ideas" sometimes you may be able to test their accuracy but many times you won't. And one man's "nice idea" may well be rejected and over-turned by the next thinker who comes along.
But Jesus lived and moved in the world of real men and women. His teaching was given not in the abstract but in the raw. And he backed up what he said with what he did. The Christian faith, as a direct consequence, is not primarily a set of teachings or even a moral code it is about a real man who lived and went about doing good, a man who would carry out miracles of various different types demonstrating the compassion of God and the power of God. The Christian faith is about a real man who died and then rose again from the dead. He showed himself to his followers convincing them that it was really him, alive again and no ghostly apparition.
The Messiah was an historical character, a real man called Jesus and he entered upon his public ministry at about the age of thirty – even this little detail concerning his age is significant. Jesus came in order to offer his life as a voluntary sacrifice in the place of sinners. Those authorized to offer sacrifices in the OT were the priests. While Jesus was not a member of the tribe of Levi from which priests were drawn he was later described in the NT as exercising another priesthood after the order of Melchisedek – I won't go into details – but the age at which a Levite began to function as a priest was – you've guessed it – 30 years of age!
Everything about the life of Jesus smacks of reality or history even if many of the details of his life were totally unique!
As a man Jesus identified with sinners
John the Baptist was preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins and the crowds flocked to him for baptism. Baptism was something that the Jews knew about but had up till now reserved for proselytes, Gentiles who wanted to adopt Jewishness. The waters of baptism spoke of the need for "unclean" Gentiles to be "cleansed" – but Jews generally assumed that as Jews they were clean already!
John's message was radical proclaiming as it did that the mere outward belonging to a nation did not automatically make a person clean, and hence right, with God. Jews too needed their sins to be forgiven.
Jesus did not hold himself aloof from the crowds who responded to John's message and he recognised the divine authority of John's ministry by himself being willing to be baptised along with the rest.
In this way Jesus was identifying himself with the very sinners he had come into the world to save. He underwent the same baptism as them even though he had no sin of his own for which to repent and for which he needed to be forgiven.
Was this an empty gesture?
By no means! Jesus was now moving along in his life – during the first 30 years of his life he had "increased in wisdom and in stature and in favour with God and man" (Lk.2:52) – but now he was embarking publicly upon his ministry. He had come in order to deal with his people's sin and to do that he would so identify with them that he would become the/their sin-bearer. He would be their representative before God – he would suffer the punishment that was rightfully and truly theirs so that they might never need to suffer it themselves. His identification with sinners right at the very outset of his ministry demonstrates his commitment to accomplish his mission – it is also another indication that his subsequent death was no mistake or anomaly but part and parcel of the divine plan of salvation.
This identification with sinners is developed and explained more fully by the apostle Paul in his letter to the Philippians:
Phil.2:5-8 "Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross."
Throughout his life Jesus identified with sinners – he ate and drank with them and did not shun them as did the religious leaders of his day – and yet he never did so in such a way as to encourage them to remain in their sin. He came to be the friend of sinners and to save his people from their sins!
He was a praying man
Jesus had been baptised and coming up out of the water he was praying. He was a spiritual man who was in touch with God and who was concerned above all else to be pleasing to his Heavenly Father.
As we look on and consider his life – exactly who he was and how he lived we might well be tempted to say that if a man ever existed who didn't need to pray then Jesus would be that man and yet we find that he delighted in prayer and was to be often found in prayer. He didn't only pray when in trouble he prayed at all times – how he enjoyed his Father's company!
He was a perfect man and in his perfection he prayed! What a lesson for us!! Why is it that I can live so much of my life prayerlessly, Why is it that I seem to imagine that I can get through without prayer when Jesus who is infinitely better than me in every way imaginable prayed so much?
Let me ask you: Are you a praying man, a praying woman? I'm not asking do you sometimes pray but does prayer characterise your life? It did Jesus!
Luke it seems was particularly interested in this aspect of our Lord's life referring to it again and again in his gospel.
Luke tells us that Jesus prayed on his own in quiet desolate places, that he prayed through the night, that he prayed in the company of others and with them. Such was his praying that his disciples longed to be like him and asked him to teach them which he did. He called upon his disciples to pray and encouraged them to keep at it and not to give up. He prayed for these others and he prayed for himself. And he warned us not to pray for show's sake, not to pray in order to impress others – that is a kind of prayer that is offensive to God and we must take care that we don't turn prayer into a mechanism or a routine – it is a meeting with God and Jesus himself delighted in it!
Jesus was a man with a Heavenly Anointing
When Jesus came up out of the water following his baptism the heavens opened to allow the Holy Spirit in the visible form of a dove descend and rest upon him.
That the HOLY Spirit should come upon Jesus at just such a moment is highly instructive and there are several things to see here.
As Jesus enters publicly on his mission the Spirit descends on him. Jesus will filled with the Spirit throughout his ministry. Luke will tell us about the intimate relation that exists between Jesus and the Spirit as he unfolds his gospel narrative:
Jesus will be led by the Spirit – as becomes immediately clear when we turn into ch.4.
Lk.4:1 "And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness…"
Jesus will de strengthened by the Spirit:
Lk.4:14 And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country.
Jesus entire ministry will be enabled by the Spirit:
Lk.4:18 "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed,"
Jesus would also rejoice in the Spirit:
Lk.10:21 "In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit"
The entire Trinity is presented in this episode as being thoroughly united in Jesus' mission of salvation. We'll see in a moment how the Father expressed his approval but here we are thinking about the readiness of the Spirit to associate himself with the Son in ministry. I highlighted the fact that it was the Holy Spirit who descended on Jesus and that as Jesus fully identified himself with sinful men and women in accepting the same baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins that they did. To be holy means to be separated from sin but that evidently does not mean to withdraw from contact with sinners! Jesus had come to save such and the Spirit is just as fully committed to seeing sinners saved as the Son is himself.
We should never for a moment imagine that there is any half-heartedness about the divine intention to secure the salvation of sinners. Nor must we ever water divine love down and think that having done his bit, as it were, God leave us with a take it or leave it indifference.
Jesus was a man openly owned and approved by the Father
Do you see how clearly all three members of the Trinity are involved here as Jesus was baptised?
Jesus is the One baptised and the Spirit descends on him but then there is a voice that speaks and it can only be the Father who publicly declares his full approval of all that he sees Jesus doing. The Father goes further still and identifies Jesus as more than a man, he is the very Son of God.
Public declarations of affection are important to us aren't they? We like to hear the words "I love you". How glad we are when a declaration of love is made before witnesses! Do you remember the words of the marriage service?
In the modern version of the marriage vows the bridegroom is asked this set of questions:
Will you love her, comfort her, honour and protect her, and, forsaking all others, be faithful to her as long as you both shall live?
Then comes the turn of the bride who is asked the same set of questions. The appropriate answer on both counts is "I will".
Rings are also exchanged as a pledge of love. How special marriages are!
The event of Jesus' baptism was no marriage ceremony and there was no expectation that a voice from heaven should speak but such was the Father's love for his Son and such was his appreciation of all that the Son was setting out to do that he publicly aligned himself with Jesus.
My friends this is who Jesus is! This is the One who is sent forth from heaven to secure the salvation of sinners. There was no tug of war between the different members of the Trinity – all of God was and is thoroughly committed to this glorious and gracious work of salvation for undeserving sinners.
The spotlight is turned upon Jesus and you are invited to consider him. You are invited to trust him. Indeed God commands you to honour and to obey his Son. And if Jesus indeed be the One in whom you place your faith and trust you can be sure that you will never be lost!
What a man this Jesus was and is! Believe on the name of the Lord Jesus and you shall be saved.
To God be the Glory.