Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ
Today in our church year we celebrate the baptism of our Lord. And this year our gospel reading is from Luke. The other Gospel writers also tell of Jesus’ baptism, but Luke offers his own historical perspective. While Jesus’ baptism is the focus for us today, if we only focus on the baptism, we might miss other features of the Gospel. What about John the Baptist? How about the Holy Spirit? Without carefully studying them, they can easily get overlooked in the Gospel.
We will start with those first mentioned in the story. The people. Chances are, when we first heard the Gospel reading, we may have glossed over them all together…the unnamed general masses. And yet, in the Gospel reading I count about six references made to “the people.” This group of characters plays a significant part. We hear that they are filled with anticipation, they were in great expectancy, their hopes were rising, they wondered, they questioned in their hearts. Why were they so filled with expectation? As best we can, when we place ourselves in the context of the time of John the Baptist, the Jewish people have had no prophets for hundreds of years, and they are hungry for a voice from God. And now they have John. Could this John be their Messiah? They are filled with hope.
“The people” are not the only ones eager and filled with expectation. Interestingly, John and his disciples, his messengers, ask the same question later in the Gospel of Luke (Luke 7:19) when they inquire of Jesus.
Bringing us back to today… have you ever gone out to run an errand only to find that the store was closed? Ever need a doctor or pharmacy and it is after hours? Or how about trying to navigate your affairs when the government is shutdown? Closed for business. We may have feelings of frustration, inconvenience, and concern.
We might be thinking, either “Is anyone available to help me?” or “Are things getting out of control?” Now let’s picture ourselves in the time of the 1st century, of those who had not only spent 400 years waiting for something besides silence from heaven but had spent that time suffering through it. No word from God since the prophet Malachi. And now John is on the scene.
Here in our Gospel reading John is a speaker, and his presence is clear at the beginning of the text, but not at the end. This nicely mirrors his role in Jesus’ ministry. John paved the way for Jesus, but then he was subordinate to Jesus and was eventually no longer around. John tells the people that not only is he not the Messiah, but that the “latchet of whose shoes [he is] not worthy to unloose,” according to the King James Version. What does this mean? John the Baptist had his own disciples, and it was sort of the “law” that a rabbi was forbidden to allow one of his disciples to untie the rabbi’s sandals; that it was too menial a job for a disciple. And yet John is saying that he is not worthy to do this lowly task for Jesus, the Messiah. John is making it very clear to the people that one who is great is coming.
And now the Gospel introduces the Holy Spirit. This church year we will have a lot of readings from Luke, and Luke does a nice job of including the Holy Spirit. It is subtle, and we may miss all of Luke’s references of the Holy Spirit if we don’t keep an eye out for them. Luke mentions the Holy Spirit when the angel tells Zechariah that before John the Baptist is even born that John “will be filled with the Holy Spirit.” (Luke 1:15). Jesus’ mother, Mary, is told, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you.” (Luke 1:35). Before Jesus was born, when Mary went to visit Elizabeth, “Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.” (Luke 1:41). And all of these come from the first chapter of Luke, including when John the Baptist “grew and became strong in spirit.” (Luke 1:80). There are many occasions in Luke that the Holy Spirit plays a role.
Yes, the Holy Spirit plays a role. The Holy Spirit plays a role for Jesus throughout his life after his baptism, including accompanying him into the wilderness where Jesus faced temptation. And the Holy Spirit plays a role for all of us. The Holy Spirit is our Comforter, our Helper, and Guide. We can actively call on the Holy Spirit to rejuvenate our faith and give us the strength to go on.
The last part of the Gospel reading is so beautiful. This is the one of the few places in the Bible where we find the trinity, God the Father, Jesus the son, and the Holy Spirit gathered together. Jesus is filled with Holy Spirit while God speaks from Heaven telling Jesus that he is God’s son and is loved. We also read that Heaven was opened. Can you imagine, to have heaven opened? What do you think that was like? And if you notice, nowhere in the text do we read that heaven was ever closed back up. Heaven is still open to us.
It is possible that there are some who came here today thinking that heaven was closed, closed for business. Maybe there have been prayers that have seemed to go silently unanswered, and maybe we can relate all too well with “the people” mentioned in the Gospel reading who were waiting for hope. We can know that through Jesus, heaven is open to all of us and that God speaks. Through baptism we are God’s children and God loves each and every one of us so much. The Holy Spirit is fully present in our lives. We can invite the Holy Spirit to help strengthen our faith. There is a song called, “Come Holy Spirit,” written by Steve Kuban. (read the words from the song).
We can all ask the Holy Spirit to come and fall afresh on us. Amen.