The Lord's Day Morning
March 22, 2009
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
Both Matthew and Mark record the baptism of Jesus. Interestingly, Luke's account of the baptism is shorter than both Matthew and Mark. It is not surprising that it's shorter than Matthew. It's perhaps surprising that it's shorter than Mark. Mark typically is pretty quick and to the point as he recounts history, and Luke is even briefer in describing the baptism than Mark is. In fact, Luke only gives the baptism one verse (3:21). But Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record the baptism. John (in John 1) records what happens immediately after the baptism and elaborates on it in a manner very similar to Matthew and to Luke. So all four of the Gospels recount this bit of history.
And you may be scratching your heads and asking yourselves the question, “Why in the world did Jesus need to be baptized?” That's actually a very good question, and it is a question that John the Baptist himself asks. John first of all wanted to know why Jesus needed to be baptized. He tells us that. Matthew records it for us in Matthew 3, and John tells it to us in his own way in John 1. John the Baptist wondered why in the world Jesus needed to be baptized, and John not only wondered why He needed to be baptized, John wondered why it was that he needed to be the one baptizing Him! Do you remember what John says to Jesus? ‘Lord, I don't need to be baptizing You; You need to be baptizing me!’
Well, right you are, John. How true. But it still leaves us with the question, why does Jesus need to be baptized? And you know of course that Jesus (Matthew tells us in Matthew 3:15) said to John, “John, it is fitting for us to do this, in order that we might fulfill all righteousness.” So that takes a step in the direction of answering the question why did Jesus need to be baptized: to fulfill all righteousness. Now that's the kind of answer that your professor gives you, and you’re looking at him and you go, “Okay, I know what you just said…but I don't know what you just said. What does that mean?” Right! It invites you to ask, 'Well, what does it mean to fulfill all righteousness?' That's a good question, too, and that's in part what we're going to answer as we look at this passage today.
The three words in particular I want you to zero in on in this passage, the first word is baptize, or baptism, because that's the first thing that Luke is going to tell us about in passing the baptism of Jesus. The second word is prayer. As Luke is going to hasten past the baptism of Jesus to point us to the fact that Jesus was praying at and after His baptism. That's something that Luke likes to do — point us to Jesus praying. And then the final word that I want you to fix on is the word affection, because we're going to see something of the heavenly Father's affection for Jesus expressed in the climactic sentence in this passage. The very last thing that Luke is going to tell us in this little section of two verses is what God the Father said to and about Jesus from heaven (that everybody heard), and Jesus. And it is a word of affection from the heavenly Father to and about Jesus. And so I want us to look at the baptism, the prayer, and the affection in this passage. Before we read God's word, let's look to Him in prayer and ask for His help and blessing as we study His word.
Lord, this is Your word, and that means that we need it more than we need bread, for we do not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God. And so we ask that by Your Spirit, You would give us understanding of this word, and that by Your same Spirit You would bring this truth home to our hearts in such a way that we not only believe it and trust you, but that we are transformed by our minds being renewed in accordance with Your word. This we ask in Jesus' name. Amen.
Hear the word of God from Luke 3, beginning in verse 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.’”
Amen. And thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
I want to ask you three questions. First question is this: Do you think that it would be a help to you in your Christian life to know how much Jesus is for you in your struggle against sin? To know just how closely He has identified himself to you and with you in your struggle against sin? Think that might help? Think that might help in those dark hours of conflict in the soul when you’re wrestling with sins committed that you hate, sins committed that were they ever uncovered and discovered they would lead to your utter shame and humiliation? And in those dark hours do you think that it would help you in your struggle to know that He is there with you in solidarity with you, identified with You as close as He could possibly be in that struggle? Or that when you’re struggling to resist a habitual sin that has captured you for so long, and there is a new resolution in your heart and life given by the Holy Spirit to fight against that sin, and to live in a way that is different from a way that you have lived in the past, do you think it might help you if you felt that He was so closely identified with you and so near to you that it was as if He were inside of you when you are fighting against that sin? You think it might help you? Well, then this passage is for you today, because the baptism of Jesus is about His identification with you in the struggle against sin.
Do you think it might help you in the Christian life if you wanted to pray more, and you were more disciplined in the way that you talked with your heavenly Father? Do you think it might help if your practice of prayer was something that you always longed to be engaged in, that you wanted to be talking to your heavenly Father? You didn't have to be cajoled into it, you didn't have to be beaten into it, you didn't have to be rushed into it by someone else or pressed into it, but you wanted to be with your heavenly Father? And at the same time that you want to be with your heavenly Father, you are actually disciplined in the way you plan for it and structure it and practice it? Do you think that might help your Christian life? Well, then this passage is for you, because Luke deliberately draws our attention to Jesus’ prayer in order to help you, His people.
Here's my third question. Do you think that it might help in your Christian life to know how much your heavenly Father loves you? To actually sense experientially your Father's delight in you, the way He takes pleasure in you, the way He pours out His affection and love upon you? Do you think it might help you in the Christian life to know that? You know there are a lot of really wonderful people in this world who, for a lot of reasons, struggle with sensing the love and affection of those who love them most in this life, and there are lots of reasons for that. But do you think it might help you if you knew experientially more the love and affection and delight of your heavenly Father for you? If so, this passage is for you because it not only displays the Father's affection for the Son, it displays the Father's affection for His children that is enabled to come to the fullness of its fruition because of the work of the Son. It's those three things that I want to look at with you today: baptism; prayer; and affection. Let's walk through them together.
First of all, look at what Luke says in verse 21:
“Now when all the people were baptized,
and when Jesus also had been baptized…”
Let's just stop there. That's his description of the baptism of Jesus. You know, you go back to Matthew, and Matthew will give you…there will be five verses on the baptism of Jesus, and there it is in Luke, one verse. Or if you go back to Mark, he’ll give you three verses on the baptism of Jesus. Or if you go to John 1, he’ll give you three verses on the aftermath of the baptism of Jesus, but here in Luke 3:21 you get one quick passing phrase: “When Jesus also had been baptized….” That's it. Luke doesn't even tell you who baptized Him! (Although he expects you to remember that he had just been talking about John the Baptist.) The other gospel writers make it clear that it was John the Baptist that performed this baptism, but Luke is wanting to zero you in on one thing in particular, and it's the one thing he mentions. Listen: “When all the people were baptized, Jesus also was baptized.”
What's Luke drawing your attention to? Jesus’ identification with the people. Now what's significant about that? What's significant about that is that these people had come out to be baptized by John because they all acknowledged that they were sinners, and their baptism was a public acknowledgement that they were sinners that needed to be forgiven, and they were confessing their sins and they were repenting of their sins to God, and asking Him to cleanse them and forgive them. And here Luke says when they were being baptized for that, Jesus was baptized also. And that makes your mind explode with questions! Why? First and foremost, because Luke has already made it clear to you that Jesus isn't a sinner and He doesn't need to be forgiven of sins and He doesn't need to confess, and He doesn't need to repent. And so why in the world would Jesus need to receive baptism? Well, the Gospels actually (if you look at all of them together) tell you a number of reasons why Jesus needed to be baptized.
First of all, Jesus’ baptism by John linked Jesus and John's ministries together. John was the forerunner of the Messiah. Jesus was the Messiah. Luke has already told you the birth of John the Baptist before he tells you about the birth of Jesus, in order to show that John's ministry (which was preparing the way for the Messiah) was directly connected to Jesus who was the Messiah. And so the baptism of Jesus by John links their ministries together, and the baptism of Jesus by John and the words of God from heaven, and the dove — the Holy Spirit descending in bodily form — displays the fact that Jesus is who He says He is. He's the Messiah. And it shows publicly that He is the one who has come to take away the sins of the world. And it shows that it's the Father himself anointing Him for ministry. In the Old Testament, in Numbers 8:5-20, the Levitical priests, before they entered into the service of the Lord in the temple, had to be baptized when they were thirty years old…before they started their public ministry. Why? Because they needed to be cleansed in order to serve in the house of the Lord. They had to be anointed by the Lord to go into the service of the temple. And Jesus is being anointed not by a priest, but by His own heavenly Father to go about His priestly work on our behalf. And of course the baptism of Jesus shows that He willingly took on himself this service as our Messiah — the anointed one, the sin bearer, our Savior. He wanted this job. He accepted this job. The Father had appointed it for Him. The Father had anointed Him for it, and He was gladly receiving this job on our behalf.
The baptism of the Lord Jesus Christ teaches us all these things, but the thing that Luke wants us to see is that the baptism of Jesus shows His identification with His people in their plight, because He is not a sinner, and they are.
Do you remember what John says when Jesus comes out on this day when He's baptized? When Jesus is coming towards him, he says, “Look! Behold! He is the Lamb of God who comes to take away the sins of the world.” Now there's your clue right there. Jesus is baptized at the same time these others are baptized, who were baptized because they know they’re sinners and they know they need cleansing, and they have repented and confessed their sins. They've repented of and confessed their sins, and they are looking to God to provide cleansing and forgiveness. And John says, ‘By the way, He is the one who is going to take away the sins of the world.’ And He takes on the same symbol that they take in order to indicate to them not that He needs forgiveness of sins, but that He is going to provide for them and for you and me the forgiveness that we know that we need. You couldn't have identified Jesus more closely with needy sinners than giving him the very sign that was given to needy sinners.
And I want to ask you today, do you realize how closely identified He is to you and with you in your sin? So that those sins that you hope no one ever, ever discovers — your deepest sin, your deepest shames, your deepest humiliations, your greatest offenses — He says, ‘I'm taking those on myself for you. If you trust in Me, if you believe on Me, as you put your faith in Me, I'm taking on those sins on myself.’ So when you fear that there are sins that can put you outside the reach of God's grace, He's saying ‘You trust in Me and I will take that sin on me — [the one] that you think that no one can heal, no one can touch, no one can forgive, no one can set you free from. I’ll take that on Me.’ And I want to say, my friends, if you’re here today and you’re wondering if God can forgive you for what you've done , and you’re living a double life–there's this outside and there's this inside, and the outside's all shiny and well dressed and all smiles, and on the inside there is a sin or sins that will not let go of you, and you’re living a double life and you wonder, “If I believe the gospel, if I trust in Jesus Christ, is there any possibility that I can be set free from this?” And here is Jesus saying this: ‘My friend, I was baptized with the baptism of sinners. I was baptized with the baptism of sinners because I came to take away the sins of the world — the ugly sins, the despicable sins, the humiliating sins, the shameful sins, the extreme sins of the world. Those are the sins that I came for. Here's what you do. You trust in Me, and you decide that My lovingkindness is better than the delight that you get from that sin, and you turn from that sin to Me. I guarantee you I’ll take that sin for you. I guarantee you I’ll stand you before God one day, and when the evil one is licking his chops getting ready to display your sin to the world, my Father will look down at you and say, ‘My child has no sin in her. My child has no sin in him. It has all been taken away. It has been borne on the back of My Son. My child has trusted in Him! My child has preferred Him over her sin, over his sin. She has no sin! He's borne it all away. There is nothing but light and life and affection and love on My child! What do you have to say, O accuser of My people?’ That's what Jesus is saying: I've been baptized with the baptism of sinners. I've identified myself with you. Look to Me and be saved.’
And then there's prayer. Did you notice how Luke gets there? “Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized….” That's it! That's all he has to say about the baptism of Jesus!–“When all the people had been baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized, and was praying….
That's so typical of Luke. Luke is constantly drawing your attention to Jesus’ patterns of prayer. Luke is forever telling you about Jesus getting up early in the morning and going off somewhere to pray, or going up onto a mountain to pray. Luke's very interested in the prayer life, the prayer practice, and the patterns of prayer in the life of the Lord Jesus Christ. And I ask you this question: Why do you think that Jesus wanted to pray? Do you think it's because He needed to ask God's forgiveness of His sins? No. Do you think it was because somebody told Him that He had to? My friends, the prayer of Jesus recorded in the Gospel of Luke is the prayer of one who likes to talk to His heavenly Father. He loves to commune with His heavenly Father. It's a reflection of Jesus’ affection for His Father. He loves the Father. He loves to be with the Father. He loves to talk with the Father, and so He loves to pray. Is He disciplined in it? Yes, He's disciplined. But the reason that He wants to do it is because He has an affection for His heavenly Father. He loves His heavenly Father. He wants, He needs, to talk to His heavenly Father.
A friend of mine was saying a number of years ago that in the middle of just the normal trials and pains of family life he was at the end of his rope knowing how to discipline his children and rear his children. And he found himself at a restaurant alone one day, and he found himself almost crying out to his father who had already passed away — his earthly father. Now my friend didn't believe in the intercession of the saints; he didn't believe that he could communicate with his Dad in heaven. He knew that his prayers were to go to the Father through the Son in the name of Jesus. It wasn't some sort of superstition, but he said he almost found himself crying out, “Dad, I could use a little help down here.” What he meant by that was that his father was so wise that he missed having the communication, the conversation where he could say, “Dad, what should I do with my kids? I don't know exactly how to handle this. I could use some help down here.” Well, the Lord Jesus loved that kind of communion with His heavenly Father. He had an affection for His Father. He had an admiration for His Father. He trusted in the wisdom of His Father, and He loved to communicate with His heavenly Father. What does that say to us? My friends, this is a picture and an example to us. We ought to want to have conversation with our heavenly Father; and disciplining ourselves for that, planning for that, is not a contradiction to the natural desire to have a conversation with our heavenly Father.
I love what John Piper says about this in his own in-your-face sort of way:
“Is it true,” he says, “…is it true that intentional, regular, disciplined, earnest, Christ-dependent, God-glorifying, joyful prayer is a duty, is a discipline? You can call it that. It's a duty the way it's the duty of a scuba diver to put on his air tank before he goes under water. It's a duty the way that pilots have to listen to air traffic controllers. It's a duty the way that soldiers in combat have to clean their rifles and load their guns. It's a duty the way that hungry people have to eat food. It's a duty that first these people have to drink water. It's a duty the way a deaf man has to put in his hearing aid. It's a duty the way a diabetic has to take insulin. It's a duty the way that Pooh-bear looks for honey. It's a duty the way that pirates look for gold.
“I hate the devil,” Piper goes on to say. “I hate the devil, and the way that he's killing some of you is by persuading you that it is legalistic to be regular in your prayers as you are in your eating and sleeping and using the internet. Do you not see what a sucker he's making out of you? He's laughing up his sleeve at how easy it is to deceive Christians about the importance of prayer. God has given us means of grace. If we do not use them to our fullest advantage, then our complaints against him will not stick. If we don't eat, we’ll starve. If we don't drink, we’ll get dehydrated. If we don't exercise a muscle, it atrophies. If we don't breathe, we suffocate. And just as there are physical means of life, so there are spiritual means of grace, and prayer is one of them. You need it as much as you need to breathe. Is it your duty to breathe?”
Jesus wants to and He plans to and He practices speaking with God, conversing with God, praying to God, and it's an example to us. And Luke is always drawing our attention to it.
One last thing. It's the most important thing (and we don't have but a few seconds): the affection of the heavenly Father in this passage for Jesus. It's the thing that Luke spends most of his words on. You see it at the end of verse 21 and all the way through verse 22. When Jesus is baptized, what happens? Heaven is opened. This is a scene…it's a cosmic Red Sea and Jordan event. Just as the Red Sea is parted and Israel goes through, just as the Jordan is parted and Israel goes through, heaven is parted and down comes the Holy Spirit in bodily form, Luke says.
You know, we could pause right here and spend an hour on the doctrine of the Trinity. We really could. The doctrine of the Trinity is not some arcane, obscure doctrine derived from one passage or two in the New Testament. It's everywhere! And this is one of the places where the doctrine of the Trinity is all over this passage: the Son lifting up a prayer to the Father; the Spirit descending on the Son; the Father speaking from heaven to the Son; the one true God, eternally existing in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This passage lets you know that the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are not just three manifestations of a God who is only one; they are not simply three modes of being of a God who is only one. They are three persons in the one true God. There is one God who eternally exists in three persons, and those three persons are capable of fellowship and communication with one another, and it's displayed here. We could spend an hour on that, but here's what I want you to see. What does the Father say about Jesus? ‘Son, listen to Me. You are My beloved Son. I am pleased with You. I delight in You. I love you. All of My affection is for You.’
Now, my friends, you understand that Jesus by His baptism has so identified with you as sinners that not only when you trust on Him are you forgiven for your sins because they are transferred to Him, but you are now brought into a new relationship to His heavenly Father because all of His benefits are transferred to you. And one of the greatest of those benefits is that now His heavenly Father's love for Him is gifted to you.
Now, that would be heresy if Jesus hadn't said it himself, and He says it the night that He was betrayed — the night before He was crucified. In John 17 — you go check it out — He prays this prayer to His heavenly Father: ‘Father, I would that the love that You have had for Me from eternity would be in them.’ And do you know what Jesus is praying? He is praying that you, Christian; you, believer in the Lord Jesus Christ; you, who have repented of your sins and trusted in Jesus Christ alone for salvation as He is offered in the gospel.
He is praying that you would know, experience, be the object of, partake of the love of the heavenly Father as He loves the Son; that you would know that your heavenly Father does not love you less than He loves His only begotten Son; and, that you would participate as the recipient of that same love.
Now that's Jesus’ prayer. If you've got a problem with it, take it up with Him. That's Jesus’ prayer. That's His prayer for you. But I know…I know that there are Christians here today — lovely people, godly people, faithful — who have a hard time experiencing that kind of love. Frankly, you have a hard time believing that God loves you in that way. And here's what God's word has to say to you. Look at the cross. You see that cross? That cross is not only the means by which God has secured your everlasting redemption; it is the display of the costly love that your heavenly Father has shown you in His Son, and that the Son has shown to you in order that you might experience the costly and extravagant love of the Father for you. There in the baptism of Jesus Christ, the very words spoken to Him (“You are My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased”) are a portent of the words that the Father will speak to all those who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ on the Last Day, for when you gain those portals you will hear Him say, “Well, done, good and faithful servant. Now, my child in Jesus Christ, you are my beloved, and in you I take pleasure. I delight in you.’
And I want to ask, my friends, would it make a difference in the Christian life if you knew that truth? Yes, it would. Because if you really have tasted and seen that the Lord is good and if you really know that His lovingkindness is better than life, then there is nothing in this world that anyone can take away from you that matters, because you've already tasted the best thing there is. Jesus’ baptism is there to say to you, ‘Sinner, you trust in Him and there's no sin He can't take away. And, sinner, you trust in Him and He will give you a taste of the depths of the Father's love; and once you drink of that, nothing else matters.’