Thursday, July 19, 2007

Thursdays with Luke #10

The Baptism and Ancestry of Jesus

Luke 3:21-38

Here we read of Jesus’ baptism and of his family lineage. We might get a sense of commonality with Jesus in our reading of this text. After all, most if not all of us have been baptized and we all have a family tree. Still, we are of course interested in the uniqueness of Jesus’ experience and his life, since he is our Savior and Lord. In this text, then, we will find inspiration both in what is unique about Jesus’ experience and in the extended meaning of that experience for our lives.

Empowerment comes in the context of prayer. Among the synoptic gospels only Luke tells us that Jesus was praying after his baptism when the events described occurred. As he prayed he had a revelatory experience. The experience was a confirming event for Jesus; he heard the kind of words that a child always wants and needs to hear: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” We learn at least two things from those words.

First, we learn about privilege and responsibility. As Fred Craddock pointed out, this statement “combines Ps. 2:7, used at the coronation of Israel’s king as son of God, and Isa. 42:1, a description of the servant of God. The two texts join sovereignty and service” (Luke, p. 51). Jesus knew both the privilege that came with being the Son of God and the responsibility that came with being his servant. Being a Christian is both a privilege and a responsibility. We are privileged to be saved but we have a responsibility to serve.

Second, we learn about grace and affirmation. I heard someone say that the Father said these words before Jesus had begun his earthly ministry; in a sense he had not done anything yet. He was loved by his Father because of who he was not because of what he had done. We need to embrace that truth in our own lives. To be sure, much was expected of Jesus. Much is expected of us. But God loves us before we do anything. That is wonderful to know.

The words are encouraging not only for what they affirm but also because they underscore his identity and point toward his mission. Jesus also experienced the coming of the Holy Spirit upon him. The Spirit had always been involved in the life of Jesus, but the picture here is one of empowerment. Jesus is going to need the power of God to face what he is going to face and to do what he is going to do.

So it is with us. We cannot believe that the Holy Spirit will lead us only into easy places and only down paths that lead to easy victory. The Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness where he was tempted by Satan. Then Jesus will go back to Galilee to begin his ministry and he will do so “filled with the power of the Spirit” (4:14). Ultimately that ministry will lead him to crucifixion and resurrection. The Spirit leads us in the right way but that doesn’t mean it will be the easy way. That reality just underscores our need for the Spirit’s power in our lives.

Prayer is very important for Luke and it was important for Jesus. It was important for the early church, too. It is no coincidence that the disciples were at prayer when the Holy Spirit fell upon them at Pentecost. How actively are we at prayer? Are we living in communion with God so that we can have access to the ministry-enabling power that he wants to pour into our lives? The attitude and stance of prayer make us open to the leadership and power of the Spirit.

Ministry is universal in its scope. The genealogy given here is interesting. It is different than the one offered by Matthew, but genealogies in ancient literature were more interested in making a point than in giving a literal ancestry. Matthew’s treatment only went back to Abraham, thus stressing the Jewish roots of Jesus. Luke’s treatment, on the other hand, goes all the way back to Adam. He certainly treats the Jewish roots as well, but he goes all the way back to the beginning of humankind. It is Luke’s way of telling us two things that he tells us over and over in various ways: Jesus’ ministry is to be seen against the backdrop of all that God has always been doing and it is to be seen as a ministry to everyone.

Should not our ministry emulate that of Jesus? Then we need to understand that what God is doing through us in the here and now is a part of what he has always been doing. What he is up to through us is a part of what he has always been up to and a part of what he will always be up to until Jesus comes back. And we need to affirm and to live out the fact that ministry is real ministry only if it knows no bounds and accepts no limitations in regards to those to whom it is offered. The ministry of a Christian church that is modeling its ministry after that of our Lord will be a ministry offered to all who need it.

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