The First Sunday after Epiphany
January 9, 2022
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
Jesus of Nazareth Becomes
Jesus the Christ!
The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Christ. 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. 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.” When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened 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.” (NIV1984)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Last Sunday after church I was in my office taking off my robe and getting ready to drive up to Windsor when Isaac asked me a question. He noted that in my sermon I talked about a boy who had finally received a last name. Then he asked me, “Did Jesus have a last name?” How would you have answered Isaac’s question? Think about it. As you go through the names of all the people you read about in the Bible, how many of them have a last name? Adam? Eve? Abraham? David? Mary? Joseph? Paul? Luke? While we would be hard-pressed to come up with a list of people in the Bible who had both a first and a last name, it is very easy to come up with a list of people who have a designation after their name. There is “Isaiah son of Amoz” (Isaiah 1:1), “Jeremiah son of Hilkiah” (Jeremiah 1:1), “Joseph son of David” (Matthew 1:20), “Mary Magdalene” or “Mary of Magdala” Mark 16:1), “Joseph of Arimathea” (Mark 15:42), and of course, “Jesus of Nazareth” (John 19:19).
Technically speaking Jesus did not have a “last name” the way you and I all have a “last name.” But the description that is added to Jesus’ name— now that is far more important than my last name or your last name or anyone’s last name! Today let’s see how God the Holy Spirit uses His servant Luke to remind us of how: Jesus of Nazareth Becomes Jesus the Christ!
Our text begins by focusing our attention on the faithfulness of John the Baptist. When the angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah to reveal to him that he and his wife Elizabeth were going to have a son, Gabriel said to Zechariah, “And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous— to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Luke 1:17). Did John live up to the task the Lord had given to him? Absolutely! That’s why Luke is able to tell us in the opening portion of our text, “The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Christ. 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. 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.”
Notice how clearly and how powerfully John lived up to his God-given role of “making ready a people prepared for the Lord.” Not only did John focus God’s people on “the one who was more powerful” than John, but he also focused God’s people on the two-fold work that the Messiah, the Christ, would carry out.
The first aspect of the work that the Messiah, the Christ, would carry out is found in John’s words, “I baptize you with water…He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” The distinction that John is emphasizing here centers on the person who is doing the baptizing. In faithfulness to the role that God had given to him, John “proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Luke 3:3). The One who was to come, however, the One who was so much more powerful than John that John was not “worthy to untie” the thongs of His sandals, this was the One who would baptize “with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”
From our perspective this is not only a clear reference to what Jesus the Christ would do for His disciples on the Day of Pentecost, but it is also a clear reference to what Jesus the Christ continues to do for everyone who is baptized “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). Through the Sacrament of Holy Baptism Jesus has poured out on you a “washing” that is characterized by the cleansing fire and the sanctifying grace of the Holy Spirit. While a pastor or some other ordinary sinful human being is the one who literally pours the water over a child’s head, the unique authority of the One who is “more powerful” than us is made clear when Paul wrote in our Epistle lesson for today, “He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior” (See Titus 3:3-7).
The second aspect of the work that the Messiah, the Christ, would carry out is found in John’s words, “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.” Once again, from our perspective this is a clear refence to what Jesus the Christ will do on Judgment Day. In fact, Jesus Himself uses a very similar picture in His Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds. (See Matthew 13:24ff) Only the Messiah, only the Christ, has the power and the authority to send His holy angels out all across the earth to “harvest” the human race, to separate the wheat from the weeds, the believers from the unbelievers, to gather the believers into the Kingdom of His heavenly Father and to condemn the unbelievers to “the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41).
After reminding us of how faithfully John proclaimed to the people that he was not “the Christ,” after reminding us of how faithfully John proclaimed to the people the two-fold work of the “One who is more powerful” than John, Luke turns his attention— and he turns our attention— to the day that Jesus of Nazareth became Jesus the Christ. Luke writes, “When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened 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.’”
One of the first questions that needs to be addressed here is— Why? As the “Son of the Most High” God (Luke 1:32), as the One who came into this world to “save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21), Jesus of Nazareth had never committed any sins— nor would He ever commit any sins! (See 2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 4:15). So why did Jesus come to the Jordan to be baptized by John? There are two answers to that question— two answers that are inseparable from each other.
First, Jesus came to the Jordan to be baptized by John because it was necessary for Him to be “anointed” by the Holy Spirit. Just as it was necessary for someone to be “anointed” as king over God’s Chosen People (think of David’s “anointing” in our Old Testament lesson for today, 1 Samuel 16:1-13), so also it was necessary for Jesus to be “anointed” into His office as the Messiah, as the Christ. Yes, here at the Jordan River is where and when and how Jesus of Nazareth became Jesus the Christ— Jesus the “Anointed One.” Here at the Jordan River Jesus the Christ entered into the public phase of His ministry here on this earth— the ministry that would ultimately and necessarily lead Him to the cross on Calvary’s hill. (Pointing to the cross)
Second, here at the Jordan River Jesus “the Christ,” Jesus “the Anointed One” joins His baptism with the baptism of all sinners of all time in order to take their place and to serve as their Substitute. Yes, my friends, even though He had no sin of His own, Jesus the Christ took all of your sins upon Himself so that through His perfect life, through His innocent suffering and death (Pointing to the cross) and through His physical resurrection from the dead He could exchange your sins for His righteousness— the perfect righteousness that you need to enter into the heavenly Father’s Home. As the apostle Paul told the Romans, “Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Romans 6:3-4).
With Jesus’ baptism so closely connected to our own baptism we would all do well to examine our heart, to examine our life and ask ourselves, “Am I living my life in a way which clearly reveals to everyone around me that I am a baptized child of God?” Look back over the course of just this past week. What have your actions revealed to the people around you? What has your attitude exposed concerning your priorities in life? Because Jesus’ baptism is so closely intertwined with our baptism those are the types of questions we need to be asking ourselves. Why? Because of what Luke tells us in the closing words of our text, “And a voice came from heaven: You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’”
Here at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry as “the Christ,” as “the Anointed One” and again near the end of Jesus ministry as “the Christ,” as “the Anointed One,” God the Father not only declared His love for His Son, but He also declared that He accepted the work that Jesus was doing on your behalf! The result of Jesus’ ministry as “the Christ,” as “the Anointed One” is that at your baptism the heavenly Father was able to say concerning you, “You are My beloved child; with you I am well pleased!” With God’s guidance and by God’s grace our goal as the baptized children of God is to openly live in the light of that glorious proclamation!
We can’t close today without highlighting one more truth contained here in our text. Jesus’ baptism gives us a clear and direct example of how the Bible teaches that the only true God is the Triune God. While you won’t find the word “Trinity” recorded anywhere on the pages of holy Scripture, you will find the teaching of the Trinity clearly proclaimed throughout the Bible. Look at how that truth is brought out here in our text: God the Son is standing in the waters of the Jordan. God the Holy Spirit descends on Him “in bodily form like a dove.” And God the Father is revealed in the voice that came from heaven, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” Anyone who denies the existence of the Triune God is deceiving themself. This is the God who made a plan for our salvation. This is the God who carried out that plan— to perfection!
If your child or if your grandchild comes up to you and asks, “What was Jesus’ last name?” how would you answer them? My prayer is that you will try to help them understand that Jesus has something that is far more important than a last name. Take them back to the Jordan River and explain to them that at the time of His baptism Jesus of Nazareth became Jesus the Christ so that at the time of their baptism they could become a dearly beloved child of the heavenly Father.
To God be the glory!