Isaiah 43.1-7, Psalm 29, Acts 8.14-17, Luke 3.15-17, 21-22
Each year, on the first Sunday in the Epiphany season, we hear the story of the baptism of Jesus. And each year, on the last Sunday in the Epiphany season, we hear the story of the transfiguration of Jesus. Each of these stories include a voice from above saying some version of “This is my son, the beloved, in him I am well pleased.” The season of Epiphany is bookend by this revelation of who Jesus is. In this season Jesus is revealed to us as the Son of God. Throughout these weeks we look to these stories to help us unpack what it means for Jesus to be the Son of God.
The story of Jesus’ baptism in the gospel of Luke is actually less about the baptism itself and much more about what happens after. The ‘main events’ of this baptismal story take place after he is baptized and while he is praying. The heavens open, the Holy Spirit descends and God’s voice speaks. We learn who Jesus is, but the following verses in Luke, after our reading today, are also very important to understanding what that means. After today’s reading leaves off, verses 23 to 38 contain a genealogy of Jesus. Then chapter four picks up with the Holy Spirit leading Jesus into the wilderness, where he is tempted by the devil.
Within this baptismal story and these two sections after it, a few important things about who Jesus is are revealed to us.
One. Jesus is a real person, just like us. Jesus is baptized alongside everyone else who was baptized that day. He is one of the people. We have a long genealogy of Jesus’ family, cementing his place as a human being, a part of human history.
Two. Jesus came for all. The genealogy we see here, unlike the one in the gospel of Matthew, goes all the way back to Adam. It doesn’t stop at Abraham. We are reminded here that Jesus is family to all people, not just those connected with God’s covenant with Abraham.
Three. Jesus is God’s son. It is stated clearly in the baptism story, but we are also reminded of it at the end of the genealogy. The very last verse states: son of Enos, son of Seth, son of Adam, son of God.
So what does it mean to be God’s son? The voice tells us that it means that Jesus is beloved. That God is well pleased with him. Since Jesus hasn’t even started his ministry yet, it must be that being God’s son, being part of God’s family comes with a deep, abiding love from God.
But we know from Jesus’ life and eventual death, that being beloved of God doesn’t mean a free ride on earth, a pass that gets Jesus around difficult or sticky situations. Being the son of God is less of a privilege and more of a calling. The first thing that Holy Spirit does with Jesus is send him to the wilderness to temptations. And the temptations that the devil offers Jesus are the privileges of power. He eggs Jesus on – asking him to turn stone to bread (because certainly he can – son of God and all!), to worship the devil instead of God (because that will come with the privilege of wealth and earthly kingdoms), and to fling himself off of the top of the temple (because as the beloved of God, surely he will be saved).
Jesus says no to these temptations. And then his ministry begins with the reading of a scroll of Isaiah. We will hear this text two Sundays from now, but what we need to know for today is that his mission and ministry is declared in this reading as being a servant to all those in need, to bring good news to the poor and release to the oppressed.
Jesus is God’s son. This is less of a privilege and more of a calling. But this story is not just about Jesus. It is about us. We too have been baptized. We have been named beloved and claimed by God as God’s children. And so we find that this story of Jesus’ baptism is a preview of Pentecost and our own baptisms. We find the story of Jesus’ ministry to be a preview of the church’s ministry.
And so, while being called into God’s family means we are called into God’s amazing grace, into boundless mercy and love, into God being well pleased with use BEFORE we even do anything; it also means we are called into a mission and ministry. We too are called to serve all in need, to bring good news to the poor and to release the oppressed. God calls all people beloved and children. And there are no earthly privileges that come with the fact that we name ourselves Christians and come to the font for baptism. What we do receive along with that water is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit’s presence means that there is a mission, that we may be led, like Jesus, into the face of evil. In order to do the work that the world so desperately needs, we may have to face temptations and trials.
Our baptisms, like Jesus’ baptism, is only the very beginning. Only beginning of the Holy Spirit moving and working in our lives. Only the beginning of the story. Only the beginning of God’s love for us. Our baptism, like Jesus’ baptism, is less of a privilege and more of a calling.