Sermon on Luke 3:15-17, 21, 22
Text: The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Christ. 16 John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire. 21 When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
Today is the first Sunday in the season of Epiphany. The word “epiphany” comes to us from the Greek language and means “an appearing.” During this season of the church year, we see Jesus as he showed himself to be the promised Messiah, the Son of God, to the people of Israel. We will see him as he performs his first miracle. We will hear him declare that he is the fulfillment of all of the Old Testament prophecies. This morning we have before us the account of the baptism of Jesus. By this act, we will see that JESUS IS DECLARED TO BE THE PROMISED MESSIAH. 1. John Bears Witness Of Him. 2. The Holy Spirit Anoints Him. 3. The Father Approves Him.
Our text begins as John the Baptist is at the height of his influence and popularity. As a matter of fact, he was getting such a large crowd that “people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Christ.” Because the people were waiting for the promised Messiah and when they saw all of the attention given to John and heard his preaching, they began to debate among themselves whether or not John could possibly be the Messiah or the Christ.
When John got word of the debate, he quickly silenced any such notion. He said, “I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come.” John pointed away from himself and to the one who would come after him. John remembered his role. He was to “prepare the way for the Lord.” He was to get the people ready for the coming of the Savior.
He shows his humble heart as he said of the one who would come after him, “the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.” The task of taking off the sandals of the guests belonged to the lowliest servant. It was the most humiliating job there was for a servant to do. Yet, John didn’t even feel worthy of such a task as this for the one who would come after him. He humbly would serve the Lord in whatever capacity he had in mind for John.
John compares his baptism to the baptism of Christ. He said, “I baptize you with water . . . He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” John’s baptism was powerful, for through it God worked the forgiveness of sins. Yet, one was coming who would baptize with the Holy Spirit. Of course, we see the greatest outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, as the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit. Often Pentecost is called the birthday of the Christian Church. The Christ would also baptize with fire. The fire that is meant here is a fire that purifies things, such as a refiner uses fire to get rid of the impurities in silver or gold. When Christ baptized with fire, the Old Adam, the sinful nature, that is in every human being is put to death. All that is left is the New Man, eager to do what is good.
That is exactly what happens when we are baptized. All of us are born with a sinful nature, which desires to do exactly what God has commanded us not to do. However, when we are baptized, he is put to death. He is drowned. The Holy Spirit is poured into our hearts. He creates faith in us, so that we might receive all of the blessings God has in store for us such as the forgiveness of sins, eternal life and salvation. It is in the name of Christ that we are baptized and made his own.
John continues to show the superiority of Christ as he uses a picture from their everyday lives. “His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” During the wheat harvest, the stalks of grain would be laid out on a threshing floor. Oxen would be driven over the stalks, loosening the wheat from the chaff. The harvester would take his fork and throw the wheat into the air. The kernels of wheat would fall to the ground, and the chaff would fly away. This is a picture of what the Messiah would do on the Last Day. He will separate the believers from the unbelievers. Just as the wheat would be gathered into the barns, the believers will be gathered into heaven forever. A far different fate awaits the unbelievers. Just as the chaff was gathered up to be burnt, so the unbelievers will be gathered into hell where there will be, as it says, “unquenchable fire.” The burning never stops. Let us value our faith, which is created in Baptism, for it is only by faith in Jesus as our Savior that we are saved.
John is not the only witness that Jesus is the promised Messiah. We read, “When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too.” We might wonder why Jesus was baptized. After all, one of the blessings of baptism is the forgiveness of sins. Jesus was sinless. Why was Jesus baptized? Jesus came as the one who would bear all sins. In essence, when Jesus, as our Substitute was baptized, it was for our sins. He came to fulfill every righteous decree of God and joined his baptism with the baptism of all sinners to take their place.
After Jesus was baptized, something amazing took place. We read, “as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove.” The dove is a symbol of purity and peace. It is, also, the form which the Holy Spirit took at this special occasion. The descent of the Holy Spirit is the anointing of Jesus. The words “Christ” and “Messiah” mean the “Anointed One.” In the Old Testament, kings and high priests were brought into office, when the high priest would pour a special oil on their heads. This signified that they were being set aside for a special task. When the Holy Spirit came down on Jesus, it showed that he was set apart for a special task. This idea is spoken of in Isaiah 61:1, where the Servant of the Lord, namely Christ is speaking: “The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.” This baptism marked the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. During the next three years, he went about “preaching the good news” to all people. The anointing of the Holy Spirit testified that Jesus was the promised Messiah.
Lest there be any doubts, there is one more who testifies that Jesus is the Christ. That person is God the Father, himself. “A voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’” We learn several things from these words. First of all, Jesus is God’s Son and is to be treated that way. So many religions speak of Jesus as a good man, a good example, a great prophet, but nothing more. However, he is the Son of God and deserves all of the glory and honor that goes with it.
Secondly, this testimony strengthened Jesus for the task ahead. A difficult road lay before Jesus. It was full of suffering, sorrow and ultimately death. Here the Father speaks of his approval of his Son and the task he was carrying out. The Father was pleased with what the Son was doing.
Thirdly, and connected to this previous point, the words of the Father assure us that Jesus is the sinless Son of God. The Father said that he was “well pleased” with his Son. Since we know that sin does not please God, but, rather, angers him, we know that Jesus is the sinless Savior who was sent into the world for all people. We know that when he went to the cross, he went as the perfect Sacrifice for our sins. Because he was sinless, we know that his sacrifice on the cross was able to pay for our sins. Not only do the words of the Father strengthen his Son, they also assure us that he is the Savior of all people.
We have spent some time this morning showing that, at Jesus’ baptism, he was declared to be the promised Messiah. Why is that so important? What difference does it really make? It makes all the difference in the world. It means the difference between an eternity of bliss in heaven and an eternity of punishment in hell. If Jesus were not the promised Messiah, if he is not the fulfillment of all the Old Testament prophecies, then our religion, our faith is worthless. Then Jesus would not be our Savior from sin. There would be no reason to gather together to worship. There would be no hope. We would be lost forever. We would be continually wondering where, when and whom the Savior was. What a horrible thought!
However, thanks be to God, we do not have to wonder if Jesus is the Christ. God has made it very clear in his Word. He has given us testimony upon testimony and proof upon proof that Jesus is the promised Christ. John the Baptist bore witness to the fact. The Holy Spirit pointed Jesus out to the world, when he anointed him. The Father told all that this was his Son. The proof is there for all to see in the Bible. May our hearts ever hold fast to this fact and may we testify of him every day of our lives. Amen.
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