would the real messiah please stand up!

Luke 3:15-17, 21-22 (Isaiah 43:1-7, Psalm 29, Acts 8:14-17)
Many of the readers of this devotion will remember with fondness the old television show To Tell the Truth. During the show, the contestants and the viewers were presented with a several people each of whom claimed to be something/someone interesting – a lion tamer, or some such thing. At the end of the show, the constants were asked to guess who was for real “Would the real lion tamer please stand up!” As Luke’s gospel progresses, the issue becomes, “would the real messiah please stand up!” Is it John the baptizer, or is it Jesus?  The issue is important, as John himself points out:

I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire (Luke 3:16-17).

This passage tells us a lot about both John and Jesus. John self-deprecatingly says that he is not worthy to do for Jesus something that only a slave is to do: untie his sandals.  And Jesus metaphorically wields the “winnowing fan,“a fork-like shovel used to lift the wheat and chaff into the air. The wheat being heavy, falls to the ground, and the lighter chaff is caught by the wind and is thus separated from the wheat. The Hebrew word ruach and the Greek word penuma are translated into English as Spirit, but both literally mean air or wind.  So, Jesus wields the fork and the Spirit separates the righteous (wheat) from the unrighteous (chaff). Thus, John refines with water; and Jesus with fire and with the Holy Spirit.  (Note: it is the Holy Spirit that separates – that is not our task!.) Then Luke describes Jesus’ baptism.  In the passage between this week’s two sections (vs. 18-20) John is imprisoned. Therefore, Luke does not explicitly say that John baptized Jesus. Nor does Luke give as much narrative detail as Matthew does; nor the central place that Mark does.  (Luke’s detailed account of Jesus’ birth has already revealed much about Jesus.) And Luke does not have John proclaiming that the Kingdom of God is at hand, because in his gospel account that central role belongs to Jesus himself. The question of why Jesus desired to be baptized at all is unclear.  Suggestions include:

  • He is sin conscious, and wishes to highlight personal conversion of the believer.
  • To show that he approves of John’s ministry.
  • He is a disciple of John’s as an initial preparation for his own ministry.
  • His baptism is symbolic of his future passion.
  • Jesus’ baptism is his consecration.

However, Luke does provide some interesting details:

Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased” (vs. 21-22).

Jesus in prayer is a distinctive theme of Luke’s (see also 5:16; 6:12; 9:18 & 28f; 11:1; 22:41; 23:46). It is in the moment of prayer (Son to Father) that this epiphany (revelation or manifestation) occurs. And the response of the father is powerful: “With you I am well pleased” (v. 22). Another way to faithfully render the words of the Father would be “With you I have taken delight.” This reflects Isaiah:

Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.  He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice.  He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his teaching (42:1-4).

This devotion began with the question, “Will the real Messiah please stand up.” It ends with an existential question addressed to each believer, each disciple, in light of their relationship with the Messiah: “Will the real ‘you’ please stand up!” That sound like material for a sermon, does it not?
Pastor Ken+