Sermon for Luke 3:15-17, 21-22 - John The Baptist Prepares the Way
Baptism of the Lord -
Sermon: Have You Got A Prayer?

In the season of Epiphany we look at those special events in Jesus' life where his presence was especially manifested with power. Jesus' baptism is one of those epiphanies. You heard Luke's version read this morning. The Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form as a dove, and a voice came from heaven, "Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased." In newer translations, which are thought to be more accurate, the adjective "beloved" is made a separate phrase to emphasize the intensity of the personal nature of this experience. "You are my Son. My beloved. In thee I am well pleased." br>
That is Luke's version. All four gospels portray this scene. But Luke's version is a little different than the others. In each version, though, the Spirit descends "like a dove." The Holy Spirit is not a bird. Luke and the other apostles use the dove as a metaphor for the Spirit's coming into our lives. It is a beautiful metaphor. Have you ever seen a dove descend and land? It is graceful, gentle, and quiet. That's the point being made. That is the way the Holy Spirit will enter into our lives. The Holy Spirit came to Jesus gently, quietly, and in Luke's version, privately.

That is why Luke is different than the other three gospels. The other writers imply that the Spirit descended upon Jesus at his baptism, apparently when he was still in the water. That is the way this scene is often portrayed in religious art, especially those beautiful paintings out of the Middle Ages. Jesus, standing waist deep in water. John the Baptist standing next to him, pointing at Jesus, as if to say, "This is the one!" or, in the words of the Gospel of John, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!" Above Jesus' head in these scenes is the Spirit, as a dove, descending. It is like the symbol that is in the baptismal font here, a nimbus around the Holy Spirit as he hovers above Jesus' head.

That's the way all the other gospels picture it. But Luke is different. He says, "Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the Holy Spirit descended upon him." Which means that the Epiphany, this special presence of God in this event, came to Jesus when he was by himself, praying. In other words, it wasn't a public event. It was a personal and private experience. No one else saw it. No one else heard that voice from heaven. He came out of the water, went off by himself, and prayed. That is when it happened.

Luke, more than any other gospel, emphasizes that Jesus prayed....

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