Sunday, January 13, 2013

Sermon: Luke 3: 15-22 The Son Revealed

A football club which has been losing all its matches, and gone through more managers than kits. The fans are angry, but then a new manager is appointed. Could things be different now? Could he be the one they’ve been waiting for?

A school is under pressure. The Education and Library Board is asking questions; wondering why the pass rate is lower than average. The teachers are overworked and underpaid; morale is low. A new principal is appointed - could they turn things around? Is this the one they’ve needed all along?

A nation has been conquered. An enemy country is in control. Things aren’t how they used to be. The people long for freedom. They’ve heard about the promise of a new king coming. And so they wait. And they wait. And they wait. All of a sudden, bursting onto the nation’s awareness is a new preacher and leader. He’s calling the nation to turn around, to repent; it’s symbolised by baptism - being dipped in the water. Could this be the one?

Last week, we began our new series in Luke’s Gospel, and we witnessed the ministry of John the Baptist. Today we see the results of his ministry - look at verse 15. ‘the people were filled with expectation.’ They questioned in their heart: ‘whether he might be the Messiah.’ Is this the one we’ve been waiting for? Is John the deliverer, the anointed king we’ve been expecting? He’s here!

But John quickly steps in and declares that he’s not the messiah: ‘One who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals.’ (16) You think that I’m the messiah? I’m like nothing compared to him - in terms of person, and of ministry.

John says that you think I’m powerful, that I’m Messiah? I’m like the old style Mr Muscle (in the vest and biceps the size of a frozen pea) standing next to one of those weight lifters from the World’s Strongest Man. He is powerful, and important - I wouldn’t even qualify as the lowest slave who gets to deal with his feet and take off his shoes.

John also points to ministry - ‘I baptise you with water... He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire.’ (16) John deals purely with water, whereas the Messiah, when he comes, will deal in the fire of the Holy Spirit - again, much more powerful and important than John’s ministry.

John then pictures the Messiah as a thresher, as a farmer separating the wheat from the chaff - the Messiah, when he comes, will bring division, some like wheat gathered into his granary, others like chaff.

The stage is set. We’re looking out for someone who is more powerful than John, who overrules him. And in the middle section, we find a possible candidate. There’s no doubt that Herod is more powerful than John - he is the ruler of the region; he throws John in prison; but that’s about as far as he goes in the Messiah stakes.

Even though Herod is a ruler, he’s actually a really bad ruler - you see, that mention of Herodias is his brother’s wife - he took his sister-in-law in as his own wife; but that’s just a taster of his wickedness. Luke hints at ‘all the evil things that Herod has done.’

So we’re still looking, still searching for the Messiah, the promised king. Luke rewinds the video to when John was baptising, and the camera points to the moment when, among the crowds being baptised, Jesus was baptised. In that moment, there’s something to see and something to hear, both of which are confirmation of who Jesus is - that he is the one we’ve been waiting and watching for.

‘The heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove.’ John had said that the Holy Spirit would be a marker, an indicator of the Messiah, and he we have that sign. The Holy Spirit comes on him, equipping him for the task at hand as he begins his powerful ministry.

But there’s more than just the visual. There’s also the audio: ‘And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’’

John may have had the word of God coming to him which led him to go and proclaim and baptise, but here we have the three persons of the Trinity (as they always do - ) working together in perfect unity: God the Father speaks out this affirmation of God the Son, as God the Holy Spirit anoints and confirms him.

God’s word proclaims clearly that Jesus is his Son, the Beloved, that he is this unique position of Son, Messiah, ruler and King. Just think of how this has been growing through Luke’s gospel so far: Gabriel told Mary that her son ‘will be called the Son of the Most High’ (1:32); the angels told the shepherds that ‘a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord’ had been born (2:11); the boy Jesus asked Mary and Joseph ‘Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’ when he was found in the temple (2:49).

Now, at the age of thirty or so, God addresses him directly, in the hearing of all around him, and declares and confirms that he is God’s Son. Not only that, but with him, God is well pleased. This is the point Luke makes as he includes Jesus’ genealogy here, at this point.

It’s a long list of names, some of which are hard to pronounce, and it might remind you of someone listing a page from the phone book. All these names. What’s the point? As we trace Jesus’ family tree backwards, we find some familiar names - David, Abraham, but right at the end of the list we find ‘son of Adam, son of God.’

Adam could be regarded as a son of God because God had formed him and created him ‘in his own image.’ But as we discovered in the autumn as we studied the first part of Genesis, Adam threw away his God-likeness as he fell into sin. Seth was in the image of his father; and that trait of sin was passed on, and the image of God was further tainted and spoiled. That image is now marred and spoiled, like a smudged photograph.

We’re all in sin, we’re just like Herod - we may not have done the same things, but we’re wired the same way. We’re all like each other, we share in this image of Adam.

But now suddenly, as Jesus steps onto the stage, after thirty years of ordinary life, which was really, for us, extraordinary life because he was without sin, God’s voice confirms that here is one in whom he is pleased; here is his Son, his image-bearer, God’s king, here to establish the kingdom.

The good news is that the Son of God became a human, in order that we could become children of God, baptised not just with water, but with the Holy Spirit, transformed from chaff into wheat; and given the same Holy Spirit that empowered and equipped Jesus. It’s our prayer that Louise will grow up to trust in and follow Jesus, and be conformed to his likeness. We discover that Jesus is the one, the only one, who can truly rescue us and turn us around. Will you come to him today?

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 13th January 2013.

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