Our singular subject today is our Lord Jesus Christ as we see him exalted by the Father himself in Luke 3:21 to 22. So you can go ahead and turn in your Bibles there. This is Luke’s record of the baptism of Jesus Christ, and this is our introduction to the Messiah. Jesus’ baptism was the context of his anointing by God for the unique role and the special ministry as Israel’s Messiah. I just want to start by reading these two verses. You know we talked about this last week, and we’re going to finish it up here today. We’re going to start by reading those verses, and then I’ll make a few comments just by way of review. It says in Luke 3:21:
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.”
As I mentioned last time, Luke has structured the text to emphasize for his readers this supernatural phenomenon. He wants to draw our attention to the divine activity, to this dramatic invasion, an intrusion of the invisible world into the visible world. And as you can see here in the text, there is a progression. The heavens opened, the Spirit descended, and a voice came out of heaven. That’s a logical progression, but it’s also a dramatic progression because it’s what the Father says at the very end there—that is the climax of the text. Last week we covered the first point in your outline: The Setting. The ministry of John. There should be three outline points printed in you bulletin: The Setting, The Occasion, The Response. Last week we looked at the setting in verse 21. The setting is there: “Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying.” That is the moment in history when God intervened. It happened when all the people were baptized, after Jesus was baptized. It happened while he was praying.
That first phrase we talked about last week, when all the people were baptized—that is during John’s baptism ministry, probably toward the end of it, the final months before the arrest and imprisonment that Luke just recorded in verse 18. John had been expecting this sign from heaven—the Spirit descending on the Christ. John had looked forward to that. On one level, that is what this is about, really; the immediate purpose of the heavenly signs is that God intended to reveal the Messiah to John. In fact, when you go over to Matthew’s account, when the voice from heaven speaks, it speaks directly to John, not to Jesus, but about Jesus. “This,” pointing to Jesus, the voice says, “This is my beloved Son; with whom I am well pleased.” Here, the voice speaks directly to Jesus, right? Both things were said. God pointed to Jesus and said to John, “This is my beloved Son.” And then he also spoke to Jesus, “You are my beloved Son.” That’s how those harmonize. God was telling John who the Messiah was. God was identifying him to John as the Messiah, the Son of God. God showed John so that he could fulfill his own ministry, so he could point to the Messiah. He was sent to direct Israel’s attention to Jesus. So John came expecting a sign from heaven. But Jesus didn’t expect a sign. He didn’t come seeking a sign. He simply came seeking to “fulfill all righteousness,” as Matthew 3 says.
As we talked about last week, Jesus had judged John to be a true prophet of God. So at the most basic level, Jesus came to obey the command of God’s prophet. That was one aspect of his fulfilling all righteousness. Further, Jesus knew his time had come. He had studied Scripture. He knew the significance of John’s ministry—that John was a forerunner of the Messiah. In fact, whenever John was questioned by the inquisitive public, whenever he was interrogated by the religious authorities, he didn’t describe himself as the Messiah, he didn’t describe himself at the Christ. John described himself as “the voice of one crying in the wilderness.” He described himself as one who said, “Prepare the way of the Lord.” John knew his Bible. He knew that Jesus was the Messiah. Jesus knew his Bible as well. He knew the prophesies of Isaiah 40, Malachi 3, Malachi 4. Jesus knew that John’s ministry was a signal, a sign to him to come forward, to leave the obscurity of Nazareth and enter into public ministry.
So, Jesus came forward, then, in obedience to a true prophet of God. He also came forward in anticipation of his own calling; he came forward in obedience to his own calling as well. I didn’t point this out last time, but we were really dipping our toes in the second point of the outline, which has to do with the occasion. The Occasion—the obedience of Jesus. Still looking at verse 21, which shows us not just the setting, but the occasion of this divine phenomenon here, “When all the people were baptized and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying”—that is to say, when this heavenly phenomenon happened, it happened on the occasion of Jesus’ obedience to the Father’s will. I don’t want you to miss that. It’s very important that we see Jesus is here obeying. We might summarize this by saying this all happened after Jesus submitted and while praying—after submitting, while worshipping. That’s what is going on here in the waters of baptism.
As we studied this last week, Jesus discerned the deep theological significance of his own baptism. Jesus had no sin to warrant his coming forward to a baptism of repentance, right? He didn’t come on his own behalf because he had any sin; he had no sin. Jesus knew his baptism represented the wider scope of redemptive history. And that is why Jesus encouraged John to go ahead and baptize him. Even though it didn’t fully make sense to John, Jesus said, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting [or proper or appropriate] for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Jesus saw the deeper significance to this simple act of obedience. You may remember how we read from Isaiah 53 last week. Verse 4 said, “Surely he has borne our griefs, he carried our sorrows.” And verse 5 says, “He was pierced for our transgressions; crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” Did you hear all that? There is a “he” in that passage and an “us.” There is a “him” and an “ours,” there’s a “we,” and there’s a “him.” Reading that chapter of prophesy from Isaiah, Jesus knew he had to be numbered with the transgressors. He knew, though he was sinless himself, he would bear the sin of many. It was this identification with sinners in the waters of John’s baptism of repentance, and by the show of solidarity with sinful men and sinful women, that Jesus embraced his role as Isaiah’s “suffering servant.” Jesus knew he would bear the punishment of the sins of his people; he would suffer as a substitutionary sacrifice. He was the very Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
And that’s what theologians refer to as the passive obedience of Christ. Not just passive in the fact that he didn’t have an active role. The word “passive” is the Latin word passio, which means suffering. Jesus embraced the suffering. But Jesus also knew from reading the Old Testament and understanding its theology that he would act as the representative head of a new race of people. Where the first Adam had failed leading the entire human race into sin, Jesus knew that he was the last Adam, the one who had come to fulfill all righteousness, the one whose active obedience would be reckoned or imputed or transferred to his people. Where did Jesus get that idea? Again, he had read Isaiah 53:11, which says plainly, “By his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous.” Accounted—that’s the word “reckoned.” That’s the word “imputed.” God intended to make “him who knew no sin to be sin”—that’s the passive obedience idea—so that his people would become in Christ, the very righteousness of God. That’s the active obedience part. Every act of Christ’s obedience, no matter how small, all mattered for our justification. “For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners”—Romans 5:19—“so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.”
I am so thankful that Jesus was meticulous about obedience, aren’t you? Because that is applied to us, beloved. Every act—no matter how great, no matter how small—he gave to as a gift to all who believe. Do you ever fail to execute your own obedience to God in a completely perfect way? Yes, you do. You fail to do it in an exactly perfect way. We all do, right? I’m so thankful that he obeyed God with absolute precision and perfection. Nothing less than the undiminished glory of God in our salvation was at stake. And listen, beloved, that’s what we owe to him, don’t we? Precision in our thinking, excellence in our obedience. Gary Brotherton coined the expression, “Close enough isn’t good enough.” I like that. We owe to God excellence in our worship and our praise. Excellence. We don’t sluff our way through life as Christians. Certainly not through church life, certainly not through worship. We’re not half-hearted or lazy about our Christian life. Listen, God gave his very best to secure our salvation—his Son. Jesus Christ gave his very best—to glorify God and to secure our salvation. Beloved, as we follow God, we give our very best as an offering of praise, as an offering of gratitude that is due to our great God. Amen!
Now after submitting to God’s will for his life, after submitting to this simple act of obedience, Jesus emerges, comes up out of the waters of baptism and he’s praying. That’s where we ended last time. He’s praying. So, what was Jesus praying about here? What’s he praying about? What’s on his mind? Phillip Ryken says we really can’t know, but then he goes on to suggest a few things Jesus might have been praying about. He’s curious, too, just as we are. Even if he says he can’t know. And ultimately Ryken is right. We can’t read Jesus’ mind here. It’s not recorded for us. But I believe that we can discern and ascertain at least part of the subject of Jesus’ prayers. I think we can learn that divine response. Prayer is one of the significant themes of Luke’s gospel. It started with the people of God—the faithful praying at the temple in Luke 1:10 while Zechariah was officiating at the hour of incense. It says, “The people were praying.” Anna—she is exemplified as one of the prayerful believers, a faithful believer. It says in Luke 2:37, “She did not depart from the temple, worshipping with fasting and prayer night and day.” She is an exemplary believer. Simeon also—he prayed in a moment of spontaneous joy when he saw the child Jesus at the temple. Luke records the substance of his prayer in Luke 2:28 to 32. So just in these first couple chapters of introduction, Luke is already been emphasizing the subject of prayer, which is a mark of genuine faith.
True believers—those who have faith—are those who pray. They pray, in fact, without ceasing. Believers are in a constant attitude of prayer. And listen, there is no greater demonstration of your spiritual maturity, no greater demonstration of the strength of your faith than with whether or not you pray and the substance of your praying, as well. Why? Because prayer, unlike almost every other virtue that we exercise in the Christian life, demands that we believe in an invisible God, in a God that we cannot see, that we believe in his power to be active and effective, that we believe that his heart inclined toward us. Prayer requires great faith. And that is why prayer was often the subject of Jesus’ teaching. In fact, it was after observing Jesus in prayer that his disciples asked him in Luke 11:1, “Lord, teach us to pray.” Believers want to know how to pray, and they want to know not just how to pray, but how to pray well, effectively. Jesus is eager to oblige them, to teach them how to pray. Why? Because he loved them. He wanted them to be in communion with his Father, just as he is in communion with his Father.
“so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.”Romans 5:19
Jesus knew how vital prayer would be to their spiritual health, to his disciples’ spiritual sustenance, to even their protection from sin and temptation. Jesus warned them in Luke 22:40, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” In Luke 22:46 after finding his disciples sleeping, overcome with sorrow, he didn’t just sympathize with their weakness, though he did. He didn’t stroke them and say, “That’s okay, I realize you’re tired. This is tough for you.” He rebuked them. In Luke 22:46 he says, “Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.” Evidently not entering into temptation was more important than sleep. That exhortation is so profound that it became the key text in John Owen’s classic treatise. That treatise is called, Of Temptation: The Nature and Power of; the Danger of Entering into it; and the Means of Preventing that Danger: With a Resolution of Various Cases Thereunto Belonging. I’ll readily acknowledge that titling has come a long way since the 17th Century, but those 60 pages have been used mightily of the Lord to help many believers in the battle against temptation. And it is based on that verse, “Rise…pray…watch,” and, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.”
Of Temptation: The Nature and Power of; the Danger of Entering into it; and the Means of Preventing that Danger: With a Resolution of Various Cases Thereunto Belongingth
Jesus taught his disciples with a parable in Luke 18:1 to 8 to the effect that believers “ought always to pray and not lose heart,” just like the persistent widow, petitioning an unrighteous judge. A judge in the seat of power, a hardened man, no sympathy for the widow’s plight, and a weak widow, nothing to commend her—no strength, no power of her own, and yet, because of her persistence she overcame the will of this unrighteous judge. God is not an unrighteous judge. He’s a benevolent God who loves. How much more will he answer our prayers? Jesus ended that parable with a rhetorical question of warning. And he ended it saying, “Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” That is, will Jesus find people praying when he returns? Petitioning God continually, daily, seeking him in earnest, fervent prayer?
Prayer is important, beloved. It’s modeled here by Jesus himself. It is a key factor in our Savior’s life as Luke records him praying throughout the entire Gospel narrative. As it says in Luke 5:16 that he would “often withdraw to a desolate place and pray.” The other Gospels show Jesus praying before meals, which is why we pray before meals, right? Praying before feeding the five thousand, before feeding the four thousand—I just feed seven or eight or nine at my table—feeding at the Last Supper. He is praying before a meal with the Emmaus Road disciples. Prayer was Jesus’ constant habit. It was his way of life. Luke records him praying especially before big events and significant decisions. We find that in Luke 6:12, where it says, “In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God.” A nightly vigil of prayer, a nighttime vigil. “When day came”—he did what?—“He called his disciples and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles.” So the naming of the Twelve—pretty important decision, right? Pretty significant. Jesus knew the significance of that decision, the far-reaching impact, so he bathed it in prayer. As it says, “All night he continued in prayer to God.”
Later on in Luke 9:18, he was praying in private. He was praying alone. And after praying, he turned to his disciples and drew out from Peter what we’ve come to call the Great Confession, which is about Jesus’ true identity. Jesus asked, “Who do the crowds say I am?” And they had a number of answers. “Then he said to them, ‘But you, who do you say that I am?’ And Peter answered, ‘The Christ of God.’” Right answer, Peter. That is the mark of a true disciple—to know who Jesus is, right? The Christ of God. The Transfiguration occurred in that same chapter, when Jesus said, “I tell you truly there are some standing here that will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.” And then starting in Luke 9:28 it says:
About eight days after these sayings, he took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to [again, what?] pray. And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white.
The Transfiguration. So before choosing the Twelve, he was praying. Before he revealed his identity as the Messiah, he was praying. Before revealing his divine glory, letting his disciples see the coming kingdom of God in his glory, he was praying. In Luke 22:40 to 50, when Jesus was in agony over his impeding arrest, his trial, his crucifixion, his betrayal, guess what? He was praying. Before every major event in his life, every major turning point, Jesus was in prayer.
So here at the outset of his Messianic ministry, what do you suppose he is praying about? Remember, Jesus had known his true identity at least since he was 12 years of age. He’s been waiting in prayerful, studied anticipation for 18 years. He’s been living in obscurity, in quiet submission to his earthly parents, and the more he studied Scripture, the clearer his own life purpose became. And now, knowing the prophetic significance of John the forerunner to the Messiah, what might have been the subject of Jesus’ prayers as he emerged from the waters of baptism. Perhaps it went something like this, “Father, is now the time? Is it now? When do you plan to anoint me for the ministry to which you called me?” Isaiah had to have been on his mind—one passage in particular because of its connection here between the Spirit and empowerment for Messianic ministry—Isaiah 61:1 to 3. It says:
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion—to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit, that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.
What a rich text. This time called the Year of the Lord’s Favor, this good news to the poor, this healing for the brokenhearted, freedom for imprisoned captives, comfort, gladness, praise, righteousness—all of that blessing cascaded out of that first crucial sentence. The indispensable prerequisite is this: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has”—what?—“anointed me.” You say, but wasn’t the Holy Spirit always with Jesus? Absolutely, you’re dead on. That’s right. The overpowering shadow of the Most High—Luke 1:35—sent the Holy Spirit to cause the supernatural conception, and ever since he was conceived, Jesus had with him the abiding presence of the Spirit. But Jesus also recognized the need for the anointing of the Spirit, the activating of the Spirit to send him into service. And that had to be on his mind at this moment. That, I believe, folks, is what Jesus was praying about. And God answered that prayer. He answered it emphatically, didn’t he?
So after submitting, while praying, God responded. God responded—that’s the third point in our text, by the way. This is the climax, the response, the affirmation of God. Jesus came to John’s baptism as a sincere, obedient Israelite, worshipping God in this act, this baptism of repentance, and while he was in that frame of mind, while praying, notice at the end of verse 21:
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.”
We noted last week when we introduced this section that this section in Scripture represents a Covenantal Divide. This is a Covenantal Divide. Luke closed out John’s ministry in the previous section, verses 18 to 20, and when Luke did that, he turned the page from the Old Testament to the New. He turned from looking at the last Old Testament prophet, one who pointed to the Christ, and he turned to listen to the first New Testament prophet, who is Jesus. This is the climax, folks, of this section. Not just to the scene, but of the first three chapters. This is where Luke has been taking us the entire time, and he wants to drive home the point. He wants us to hear from God, to consider God’s—not his opinion, but his judgment about Jesus. This is God’s judgment, and that’s what we are going to consider for the rest of our time this morning. There are three affirmations here from God. As we go through each point, we’re going to consider the sign and the significance of the sign—the sign and what is signified, okay?
The first affirmation—the ESV translates the end of verse 21 with that phrase, “The heavens were opened.” The word “heavens” is plural, right? Well, it’s not plural in the Greek. It’s the singular; it’s heaven. And also it’s definite in the Greek. It’s not just heaven, but it’s the heaven, referring to a very specific, a very particular heaven. To the Greek way of thinking—and we kind of think this way, too—there are three heavens. The first heaven, or first of the earth’s atmosphere is where the clouds are and the birds fly and all of that. The second heaven refers to the location of the planets and the stars, what we call outer space. David referred to this second heaven in Psalm 8:3 as “You heavens.” I love this, “The work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place.” But the third heaven refers to the hidden spiritual realm. This is the abode of the holy angels, the home of glorified saints. It’s the very throne room of God. The third heaven is what God showed Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:2 to 4 as what he describes as a paradise where he heard things that “cannot be told, which man may not utter.” Very special place. It’s in the third heaven that God exists, that God dwells, that the Holy angels dwell, that all of us—our spirits when we leave our body—will go to be with God. It’s that third heaven that opened to Jesus that day while he was praying because out of that place came the visible presence of the Holy Spirit. Out of that place came the audible voice of God the Father.
So what is the significance of this open heaven? Here’s the message: Jesus has free, unfettered and full access to heaven. He is the one for whom heaven is open wide. Do you remember that account of Philip bringing Nathanael to Jesus over in John 1? Turn over there real quickly to John 1:45. We will read just a little bit from there. That’s often used a great passage for how to do evangelism. You know, we don’t argue with the unbeliever, we just tell them, “Come and see Jesus.” And that’s true, that’s really good, but there’s something else here that we don’t want to miss in that account. It’s very important. Philip—when he told Nathanael in John 1:45,, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” So they had evidently been studying; they had evidently been searching themselves. And they found him—“The one of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote.” And guess who it is? It’s “Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” And do you remember how Nathanael responded there? He said, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” That is Nazareth, right? Philip answered wisely, right? Every Sunday school kids knows this. He’s a model for us. Philip didn’t confront Nathanael’s prejudice. He didn’t try to prove the merits of country living or extol the virtues of humble, hardworking people in Nazareth. He simply said, “Come and see.” “Come see for yourself. Look at Jesus and see if there is any doubt in your mind.”
So Nathanael followed Philip to go see Jesus. He was intrigued, even if he was at first a bit skeptical. Look at verse 47: “Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, ‘Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!’” Or “in whom there is no guile.” Jesus commended Nathanael as a guileless man, not prone to flattery. That is, you can trust Nathanael’s word to be a true reflection of what Nathanael really thinks. He’s never going to try to deceive you with flattery; even if his judgment is wrong at times, he is never going to deceive you about what is in his heart. People like that are rare. Even if they are refreshingly honest, they’re rare. Nathanael knew Jesus had him pegged. He knew Jesus had his number, and so he asked, perhaps still with an air of suspicion:
“How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.”
Some presume here that Jesus, though not physically present, supernaturally he had seen Nathanael at a significant moment like at a time of prayer under the cool shade of a fig tree. And whether that is true or not, Nathanael was immediately convinced of Jesus’ supernatural knowledge about himself. And so Nathanael answered him here—he’s stunned: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel.” So he identified him truly for who he truly is—the Son of God, Messiah.
Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? [Hmm, small stuff.] You will see greater things than these.” He said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
That last verse may provide insight into the subject of Nathanael’s meditation and prayer that day. He may have been meditating on Genesis 28:12, which says:
[Jacob] dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set upon the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it!
Whether or not Nathanael was thinking about that or not is beside the point. I think he was. Jesus clearly alluded to that account, but notice that when he quoted it, Jesus made a change. He made a significant change. Jesus replaced the ladder, this inanimate object, with the Son of Man—himself, the conduit. The pathway that connects heaven to earth and earth to heaven is no longer an undefined inanimate ladder. Jesus says, “It’s me.” Evidently, Jesus had done some thinking since heaven opened to him at his baptism.
You can go ahead and turn back to Luke 3:22. The sign of heaven opened signifies the access that Jesus has to God. It’s free, unfettered, full access. He is the ladder, the pathway, the conduit of God’s blessing to man and of man’s access to God. And that’s why in John 14:1 to 6, when Jesus told his disciples that he is going away to prepare a place for them, he said in verse 4, “You know the way to where I am going.” When Thomas protested, Jesus answered with one of our favorite memory verses, right? John 14:6, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” That’s the first affirmation coming out of heaven. Jesus has free, unhindered access to heaven. Heaven is wide open to him.
The second affirmation is beginning in verse 22. “The heavens were opened,” and then secondly, “The Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove.” To put it simply and plainly here, this is the anointing of Jesus by the Holy Spirit to be the Messiah. The Greek literally says here, “He descended the Spirit, the Holy.” Luke is drawing our attention to the holy, set-apart character of the anointing Spirit. A holy, set-apart Spirit is poured out on a holy, set-apart Messiah. Just like that Levitical anointing oil. It’s a holy, set-apart oil for a holy, set-apart anointing. That is this Holy Spirit. As we said before, this is exactly what God told John the Baptist to look for in John 1:33:
He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.”
John said, “I saw it. I was there and I can testify that this is the Christ, the Son of God.” Like Jesus, John also knew his Scriptures. He knew the prophecies of Isaiah that pertained to Christ. Isaiah said in Isaiah 11:2:
And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
Isaiah 42:1—God speaking in the first person says, “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights”—that shows up at the end, right? “I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.” Not just to his people, by the way, not just Israel, but the nations. There is another passage in Isaiah that we already referred to. This one comes from the Messiah’s perspective. This is Christ speaking. Isaiah 61:1 to 3, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me”—that’s Christ speaking. Anointing is this idea of setting someone apart for service, for special service, for a unique role. That is what God is doing here. He’s setting Jesus apart for a special calling, for this unique role as Messiah, King of Israel. This is what Gabriel told his mother, Mary, back in Luke 1:32 to 33. “The Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” This fulfills Genesis 49:10, “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.” Jesus is the “star [who] shall come out of Jacob, and [the] scepter [who] shall rise out of Israel; […] and he shall exercise [universal] dominion.”
This is what Hannah prayed—the humble Hannah, barren Hannah—giving birth to Samuel. Even before Israel had a king, she prayed the Spirit-inspired prayer, 1 Samuel 2:10, “The Lord will judge the ends of the earth; he will give strength to his king and exalt the horn of his anointed.” The word “anointed,” by the way, is the Hebrew word meshiach, and we translate that as Messiah, right? It is translated into Greek as Christ. Christ simply means, one who is anointed, christos. This refers back originally to David of the tribe of Judah. He was the anointed king of Israel. Hannah’s son, Samuel, anointed David as king with literal anointing oil, prepared according to Levitical prescription. God told Samuel in 1 Samuel 16, “Arise, anoint him, for this is he.” So Samuel took that flask, “the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers. And the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon David from that day forward.”
But it is David’s son Jesus who is the greater meshiach. He is what the Hebrew Christians now call the Ha-Mashiach. The Anointed One. This is the one whom God promised David in 2 Samuel 7:12 and following. In the Davidic Covenant he said:
I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son.
“I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.”Isaiah 42:1
That was just a brief bit of biblical background. I realize that was very brief. I just wanted you to get enough of a picture to make this one point. With that background, can you tell me, with your memory, when did anyone—priest, prophet, a man or a woman—come to anoint Jesus with anointing oil? No human being anointed Jesus with anointing oil. That is because God stepped in at this point and he said, “I will take care of anointing this one. I will anoint this one.” God himself promised Isaiah in Isaiah 11:2, Isaiah 42:1, Isaiah 61:1—“I will anoint this one with the Holy Spirit.” Right? It was the one anointed by the Spirit that God referred to when he told John the Baptist, “This is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” This is he who comes to baptize with a baptism greater than any baptism—the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Jesus was sent here to immerse his people in God’s Holy Spirit. It’s a profound ministry of amazing grace.
By the way, that ministry of grace is a ministry of mercy to his people, and it is pictured in the very way the Spirit descended up on him. I told you last week that the visible, bodily descendant of the Spirit resembled the way a dove comes out of flight and lights upon a branch or on the ground. This Spirit resembles a dove like that, coming out of flight, descending upon Jesus. Energetic, fervent—that’s part of the picture, but there’s more. And I wanted to save this—the best part I think—for this week. The way the Spirit descended on Christ like a dove implies something of the Spirit’s presence upon Christ, something about the nature of his Messianic mission. The picture of the dove is the picture of harmlessness, of gentleness. And not only is the dove not at all a threatening creature, it is the very picture of a victim used in sacrifice. Luke has already told us in Luke 2:24 that the humble couple, Mary and Joseph, had only enough money to purchase a pair of turtle doves or two young pigeons for a sacrifice. Do you remember that? The dove is the sacrifice of those with very little means. The dove is the sacrifice of the poor. Listen, Jesus came in the ministry of a sacrifice for the poor, which is why he could say without any qualification, Luke 6:20, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” Jesus’ ministry would be characterized by gentleness, by his concern for the poor and the needy, by his mercy to enslaved sinner. As Isaiah 42:2 to 3 says, “He will not cry out aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break.” He is the very picture of tenderness, of meekness.
With that in mind, I want you to turn ahead a page or two to Luke 4:16. Jesus has come out of the first thing that the Spirit took him into, which is his testing, his temptation in the wilderness, and he returned, it says in verse 14, “In the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report went out about him […] and he taught in the synagogues, being glorified by all.” And it says there in verse 16, “He came to Nazareth where he had been brought up.” Here is his home town. Hometown prophet come to preach.
As was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, “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, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth.
Do you recognize that? We read that earlier. That’s Isaiah 61:1 to 2. But when Jesus read that portion, as it says there directly from the scroll of Isaiah, he intentionally left something out of Isaiah 61:2. Do you remember what it is? That verse says, “To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God.” Jesus stopped reading after that first section, “To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And then he rolled up the scroll. He’s done reading. He gave it back to the attendant, he sat down and he told the people, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Very precise. It’s him. It’s Jesus. I don’t recommend that any of you pick and choose what parts of the Bible you want to read, okay? That’s for Jesus to do as Messiah. He is the Son of God. He has all authority to tell us not only what happened, but when it’s going to happen, okay? We read all passages in their context—full context.
We understand what he did here. Jesus has come as a gentle Savior—a meek Messiah—and God has anointed him with this visible manifestation of the Holy Spirit—this dove-like picture—because he is telegraphing the character of his ministry. In this first advent, Jesus is coming as a gentle victim. He’s coming as a tender Messiah. He comes to call people to salvation because he himself is the victim of sacrifice, just like a harmless little dove. But put in parenthesis in your mind, “He’s coming again, right?”—the Second Coming, the year of vengeance of our God.
Well, this is the first affirmation and the second affirmation. The first affirmation is that the heavens are wide open to Jesus. The second affirmation is that Jesus is the Messiah—he’s the Anointed One, not by man, but by the Spirit. It’s a holy, set-apart Spirit with the character of a gentle dove, one who comes as a substitutionary sacrifice for the poor, the very “least of these.” That is quite a preview of the nature of our Lord and Savior, isn’t it?
Well, one more affirmation. “A voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.’” That voice heard from the open heaven—all three persons of the Trinity were on the scene at one time. And notice, all three persons of the Trinity have joined the incarnate, visible Son as physical phenomena. John the Baptist was privileged to witness all of this. John touched the physical body of the Son as he baptized him in the Jordan River. John saw the physical presence of the Spirit as he descended from heaven and rested on Jesus. John heard with his physical ears, physical sound waves reverberating off of his ear drums as he understood the word spoken from the Father to his beloved Son. There are only two other times that God spoke from heaven in this way, affirming his Son. Once in Matthew 17:3 at Jesus’ transfiguration and once in John 12:28 in response to Jesus’ prayer request that the Father glorify his name. But here at his baptism is the only time that I know of when all three persons of the Trinity are manifested in some form of physical phenomenon here. Just that simple observation here tells us something important: Jesus is the one who makes the invisible God visible. As John 1:18 tell us, “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” Jesus makes the invisible God visible.
Now, while it’s very important to note the fact that the Father spoke here, let’s not fail to hear what the Father spoke about. Let’s understand what he said. He said, “You are my beloved Son.” He is speaking in the second person singular to the Son, “you.” This is Father speaking to Son: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” Literally, God said here, “You are the Son of me, the beloved.” The closer I have looked at those words, the more profound I find them to be. Just ten words in the Greek, but they provide us with the highest Christology, the strongest Trinitarian affirmation possible that comes directly from the mouth of God the Father. And in this affirmation of Trinitarian theology, we also find an affirmation of close, loving relationship. Not only that, but we also find an affirmation of Jesus’ utter uniqueness.
“There’s a jealousy that the Father has for the Son.”Travis Allen
So let’s break it down and go section by section, starting with first—an affirmation of Trinitarian theology. God said, “You are the Son, mine,” or “of me.” It’s an affirmation of divine paternity. God the Father is taking ownership of this Son—paternity. Therefore, eternal Son-ship. This man standing in the water of the Jordan River—he is more than just a man; he’s fully God, he is the second person of the Trinity. He is the very Son of God. And by distinguishing him here as the Son, that immediately sets this voice apart as the voice of the Father, right? Two persons of the Godhead in one simple statement. The Father speaking to the Son; the Son hearing from the Father. Two distinct persons. This refutes, by the way, the heresy of Sabellianism or Modalism as it’s commonly known today, which says that the three persons of the Trinity are simply three modes of divine manifestation. For example, I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of this, but when someone uses the analogy of water to explain the Trinity, as in the Trinity is like the substance H2O, which can be found in its solid form—ice, or its liquid form—water, or its gas form—vapor. That’s modalism. Don’t use that. While the H2O is in solid form, it is not at the same time in liquid and gas form, and vice versa. That analogy describes God falsely as one substance in three different modes, taking three different forms. That is not Trinitarian theology. And if you believe that about God, as T.D. Jakes does, you’ve confessed an ancient heresy. That’s not Christian theology. What God actually said in verse 22—those words represent the divine being of being in one substance, yet existing in three equal, yet distinct persons—Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
And there’s an even more profound point of Trinitarian theology here which we are not going to take time to develop, but when God called Jesus, “Mine, my Son,”—it’s a possessive pronoun in the Greek. Literally, “You are the Son of me.” And for the Father to say, “You are of me,” he’s saying, “You are of the same substance of me.” Theologians refer to this doctrine as the Doctrine of the Eternal Generation of the Son. It’s actually the Christology of the Nicene Creed, which was in part written to guard against Sabellianism. And the Creed says, “I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God.” That word “begotten”showing up—that’s talking about this issue of the eternal generation of the Son. “The only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.” All of those phrases of the Nicene Creed on its Christology there—they’re supported by this one statement of the voice out of heaven, “You are the Son of me, the beloved.”
As I said, we will resist the temptation to unpack the Doctrine of the Eternal Generation of the Son of God from the Father at this time, but I do want to connect this to an Old Testament text. It’s one you are familiar with. Psalm 2:7 says in the words of the Son, “I will tell of the decree [it’s an eternal decree]: The Lord said to me, ‘You are my Son; today I have begotten you.’” That Doctrine of the Eternal Son-ship, the Eternal Generation of the Son—that is the consistent teaching of Scripture.
But, second, notice the affirmation here of a close, loving relationship. God said, “You are the Son of me, the beloved.” Beloved. Nearness, closeness, familiarity, intimacy—that’s indicated by this Father-Son relationship. And that possessive pronoun is again translated “mine” in the ESV, or as we said, “of me,” in the literal Greek. That possessive idea indicates “You’re mine.” There’s a jealousy that the Father has for the Son. There is a jealous love that he has for his Son’s glory, his Son’s honor. He’s zealous for that affection. He’s protective of that reputation and that honor. That’s love. Most clearly, the loving relationship comes across in that term “beloved.” “You are my Son, the beloved.” The emphasis in the Greek is on that last word. “Beloved” comes from that word “agape” to us. That is the word many of us recognize. The Son is dearly, highly loved by the Father—jealously loved, zealously loved. As Jesus would say in John 3:35, “The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand.” In John 5:20, “The Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing.” Jesus was always assured of his Father and his love for him—never a doubt. Never, ever a doubt.
So we see affirmations of Trinitarian theology. We see affirmation of a close loving relationship between Father and Son. Third, there is an affirmation here of utter uniqueness. Interesting note—a fact about that word “beloved”—when it is used to speak of an only child, as it is here, it refers to someone who is absolutely unique, one-of-a-kind. As Greek students know, this is the monogenes. The one-of-a-kind, the only one, the only begotten of the Father—monogenes. There are several passages in John’s Gospel where he uses this term monogenes. But it will be sufficient to remind all of you—you’re familiar with these passages. “The word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the [monogenes] only Son [that is, “only begotten Son”] from the Father, full of grace and truth.” There is a uniqueness to him. There is an only-ness to him, an exclusivity. “No one has ever seen God”—John 1:18—the only God, the monogenes God, “Who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his [monogenes] his one and only, his only begotten] Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:18: “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already because he has not believed in the name of the [monogenes] the only [begotten] Son of God.”
All of these affirmations of Trinitarian theology—of close, loving relationship, of absolute uniqueness—all these come together in a passage in Hebrews Chapter 11, verse 17. It says there, “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his [monogenes] only son.” That word translated “only son,” is the word monogenes. It reminds us of that heart-wrenching passage in Genesis 22 when God calls Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. And in that great chapter, Genesis 22:2, verse 12 and verse 16, God said to Abraham, “Take your son, your only Son Isaac, whom you love.” “You have not”—verse 12—“withheld your son, your only son from me.” And verse 16: “Because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son.” Over and over it’s “Your son…your only son…the son whom you love.” It’s—let’s name him—Isaac. Knowing the end of that story, how it turned out, God stayed Abraham’s hand and wouldn’t let him sacrifice his son. He turned his attention to the ram caught in the thicket by his horns, indicating that God himself would provide a lamb for him to sacrifice.
It’s abundantly clear to us now that God spoke those words to Abraham with the utmost empathy. In Genesis 22, God is not speaking cold and heartless words, things that he himself has not felt and thought through. These things are absolutely gut-wrenching, filled with pathos as God called Abraham to do what he would one day do with his own son, his only Son, his beloved Son, his only Son, Jesus. That’s what our salvation costs, beloved. It is a free gift to be sure. But that free gift—let’s not forget—was so costly. Those three precise affirmations of Trinitarian theology, loving relationship, absolutely uniqueness—they show us here that there is no one like him. No one like him.
There’s a final statement from the voice out of heaven, and it seals the divine affirmation with unqualified approval. It’s that last phrase, “With you I am well pleased.” That is as emphatic an affirmation of approval as could be put into language, and it harkens back to what we read earlier in Isaiah 42:1, “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him.” God stamps his punctuation of approval emphatically on Jesus the Son of God, the Messiah, his beloved Son. And the tense and the mood of the verb in the Greek indicates here a timeless approval. Looking backward in time and forward in time—all of it taken in a glance of sovereign gaze and says, “Well pleasing.” Jesus’ entire life here is under the scrutiny of an all-seeing God, and all is declared well-pleasing to the holy, penetrating gaze of God. I love the way G. Campbell Morgan puts this. He says, “This phrase, ‘In you I am well pleased,’ first of all flashes light backwards upon the 30 years, God’s approval of the 30 years. Thirty years in which there had been no deflection from the straight path of obedience to the will of God. Thirty years—nothing in the life, nothing in thought, nothing in speech, nothing in deed, nothing in work that had not filled the heart of God with satisfaction. ‘In thee I have found delight.’”
“But there is something more,” G. Campbell Morgan goes on; “He was also the accepting of the three and a half years to come. The direction and purpose of which had been indicated by the baptism of this man in the Jordan. ‘Thou are the Son of me, the beloved, in thee I have found my delight.’ Thus has Luke set before us the person of the Word made flesh. In that person all human history is reborn. This is God’s new starting point for the human race.” That’s why I’ve called these verse the Covenantal Divide. It’s a watershed text, folks because after this, everything changes, everything has changed. As we look back, we know it’s all changed since the cross. Nothing is the same because of Jesus Christ, who has been approved and commissioned by the Father. Heaven is wide open to him and, thus, wide open to us. He has come in the Spirit of the dove, gentle and as a victim—as our substitutionary sacrifice and take all of our sins away. He’s the one who makes the invisible God visible. He’s the one who teaches us who God is, makes him known to us so we can learn who he is and what he’s like. He is the one who is approved by God, his full life of righteousness given to us as a gift. Now you will know why the Bible is emphatic—absolutely emphatic—about the exclusivity of salvation in and through Jesus Christ, and in and through Jesus Christ alone. As Paul told Timothy in 1 Timothy 2:5, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” Beloved, that is why we worship and praise him. Acts 4:12: “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
Let’s bow and praise him together. Lord Jesus, we pause for a moment to pray directly to you, thanking—we just want to thank you for saving us. Thank you for your perfect, meticulous obedience of all the Father’s will, with every single one of us—your beloved, your people—every single one of us on your mind. We’re so grateful that on the cross thought of us. You died for us. There is no merit in us; there’s only merit in you, and we’re so grateful that you lived the way you died and you died the way you died that you might bring us to God. We’re so thankful for your life and your death, your sacrifice for us. Your life that is raised from the dead with the resurrection power that you now give all of us. We’re thankful that you now dwell bodily at the Father’s right hand and you intercede for us, praying for us constantly. You’ve sent the Holy Spirit to us, baptizing each one of us, your people, by the Holy Spirit, by that same anointing. We’re so grateful that we are before you, in him, in you, in the Spirit and that we also benefit from the Spirit’s intercessory prayer for us. Thank you for your tender care for us. And thank you, Father, that we can turn to you and come boldly before the throne of grace. We thank you that we can stand before you in confidence, knowing as Romans 8:1 says, “There is now no condemnation for those of us in Christ Jesus.” Thank you for your tender care, your kindness toward us in Christ. We owe you our very life; we owe you our very best and give it to you. Amen.