Luke 3:15-22 –With the Holy Spirit and with Fire
We are called to live into our baptism by sharing in Jesus’ mission to bring healing and salvation to our broken world.
Through this lesson students should:
Recognize that in Jesus’ baptism he is confirmed as God’s Son who is to embark on God’s mission of redemption and salvation for the world.
Recognize that as Jesus has been sent through his baptism, so we have been sent through ours.
Seek to live into his or her baptism by finding ways to practically participate in Jesus’ mission of redemption and salvation for the world.
Catching up on the story:
John was the last of a long line of prophets who proclaimed God’s message to Israel prior to Jesus. For a long time, no prophets have spoken to Israel. John’s dress and his behavior indicated to those who heard and saw him his status as a prophet. Since there had been such a long time since Israel had seen a prophet he would have caused quite a stir. Which was indeed the case.
At this time Israel had been under the oppressive rule of the Roman Empire. The people of Israel often formed armed resistance groups to throw off the yoke of the Romans in an attempt to bring about a restoration of Israel as a kingdom. John’s proclamation that the Kingdom of Heaven is near would have conjured up visions of open rebellion against Rome. Current Jewish thought looked for a visitation of God’s wrath that would fall upon the Gentiles. Instead, John turns the wrath upon the Jews who will not repent.
Previously, John the Baptist has been about proclaiming the good news concerning the coming Messiah. He has also been about baptizing people for the forgiveness of sins so that they might be ready for the coming Messiah and begin to bear good fruit. John is very careful to remind his listeners that those who do not begin to bear good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire. John is faithfully fulfilling his call to prepare the way for the coming Messiah. Jesus will now make his first public appearance as an adult.
Fire Not Water: 3:15-17
John has finished baptizing the people and has left them with a sense of awe and wonderment as to his true identity. The people wonder if John might truly be the one for whom they have waited, the Messiah. John very clearly states that he is not the one they have been waiting for; rather the one for whom they have been waiting is about to arrive.
He goes on to say that his baptism is one of water for the forgiveness of sins. Baptism was not unknown in John’s day. Indeed, it was practiced as a ritual for cleansing and purification. It was not a one-time event, as we understand baptism today, but a ritual that could be repeated. The one who is coming, however, is going to baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire.
Of course, baptism with the Holy Spirit will become significant in Luke’s follow up work, Acts. Because we know how the story continues, we can understand what John the Baptist is getting at. The Messiah will come and God’s Holy Spirit will fall on those who come to Jesus to cleanse and empower them. John the Baptist’s original audience knew of the Spirit of God, but the Spirit was given to specific people at specific times to accomplish God’s saving mission for Israel. In the Old Testament, we are told that the Spirit of God falls on people like Samson, David, Elijah and Elisha. The one who is coming will give the Spirit to all who believe.
Fire, on the other hand, here symbolizes purifying and cleansing. As we have said, Israel was expecting judgment, and fire, as Luke uses it with John, is a symbol of sweeping judgment. Only, there is a sense here that the judgment that Jesus’ baptism will bring is one that will be directed at those who claim to be religious but who fail to bear the kind of fruit John, and later Jesus, will talk about.
In Prison: 3:18-20
Here we have a narrative break in the action. The chronology might be a bit misleading, but Luke includes this snippet about John the Baptist being locked up by Herod as a way to wrap up this particular story line so that the focus could shift to Jesus. Just because Luke has placed this story here does not mean that John gets put in jail and then released to baptize Jesus. The major part that John has played in the Gospel so far has all but concluded. We now move on to the real star, Jesus.
The Baptism: 3:21-22
We aren’t given an exact recount of Jesus’ baptism like we find in Mark and Matthew. Luke simply tells us that after all the people who had come had been baptized by John, Jesus arrives on the scene. We have already heard John say that this Jesus is much greater than him, so much so that John is not worthy to untie his shoes. Again, we do not get John protesting baptizing Jesus like we get in the other Gospels. Rather, the scene jumps straight to right after Jesus has been baptized.
After Jesus was baptized he began to pray. This seems like an appropriate response to what Jesus has experienced. We might question why Jesus would need to be baptized. Obviously, Jesus was without sin, so there was no need for purification. Through his baptism, Jesus stands in solidarity with sinners and makes a public declaration about his commitment to the God of Israel, as he has already done when he declared that God was his Father in his response to Mary when they had found him in the Temple (Luke 2:49).
In Luke, prayer often comes right before a significant event is about to take place. As Jesus is praying something significant does happen. The sky splits and the Holy Spirit comes and rests on Jesus in the form of a dove. The reason why it is important for those who witnessed Jesus’ baptism and the Spirit’s descent is that they would have understood that an opening in the sky and a manifestation like this would have indicated that God was about to act in a decisive and tangible way through the one on whom the Spirit rested. The Spirit has already been with Jesus, but now those who witness it can begin to understand that something is about to happen.
This revelatory event is not just visual, however; its audible as well. As the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus we are told there was heard a voice coming from heaven saying, “You are my son, the beloved, with you I am well pleased.” The voice of God confirms Jesus’ mission and direction. The phrase itself is an echo of two different Old Testament texts, Psalm 2:7 and Isaiah 42:1-4. Both of these passages concern a servant whom God will establish to do God’s will and work in the world. The reference would not have been lost to those who witnessed this event. Jesus, through his baptism, marks his commitment and intention to the God of Israel, to do his will and work. God, in response to Jesus’ obedience, affirms Jesus as the one who is expected, the Messiah.
Something happens when we are baptized. Sure, baptism marks our repentance, our turning from our sin and old way of life, but it is more than that. Baptism not only marks our movement away from sin, it marks our movement toward something as well. Some will argue that it marks our movement toward purity and holiness as we seek to allow the Holy Spirit to baptize us as well. They would be right, of course. We come up out of the baptismal waters clean, washed of our sins and ready to continue to walk toward Christ. Some will also say that in our baptism we walk toward inclusion in a new family, the family of God known as the church. We have been adopted as children of God. They too, would be correct. These images are important for us as we seek to live our faith. There is, however, another thing that we move toward as we emerge from the baptismal water: our God-given mission.
We stand at the beginning of a brand new year with new challenges and new goals. Many of us will create a list of resolutions, goals which we would like to keep in the coming year. Let us add one more: living into our baptism with a sense of our God-given mission. Our passage depicts for us Jesus’ baptism, and it is in that baptism that we have revealed to us the identity of Jesus. We see the heavens ripped open wide. We see the Spirit of God rest on Jesus to signify that Jesus will indeed be the one who comes to be our rescuer. We hear the very voice of God proclaim that he loves and is well pleased with Jesus. What we do not hear (explicitly anyway) but pick up in the verses that lead up to Jesus’ emerging from the water is that Jesus’ baptism marks the beginning of Jesus’ divine mission. Jesus is up to something.
It is the same way with our baptisms. We may not visibly see the heavens tear open. We may not see the Spirit of God descend upon us and we may not hear the words of God himself declare us to be his sons and daughters, the children he loves and is pleased with, but that does not mean that this is not what is happening. As we emerge from the baptismal waters we begin our journey. Yes, it is a journey away from sin and the death that is a result of our sin, but we also begin to take the first steps in fulfilling the mission that Jesus has given us. And what is our mission? It is the same mission that Jesus embarked on after his baptism and declares to those gathered in a synagogue one Sabbath day,
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
20 And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:18-21).
We too, by virtue of our baptism, have been anointed to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim freedom to those who find themselves enslaved to all sorts of things and to offer healing to those who are broken in body and soul.
Like Jesus, as he began his mission, we will be tested and tried. We will be told that the way of Jesus is not practical, that it does not work. We will suffer as Jesus suffered. We will go unrecognized as ones who know the truth about the world and how it should work. We might even be called upon to die. But we will be vindicated by the resurrection power of God.
As we move into this New Year, may we walk toward fulfilling our mission. May we do so knowing that the one who has called us loves us, is pleased with us, and will help us on our way.
Critical Discussion Questions:
What does God look like in this text/Who is God in this text/What is God doing in this text?
Mark wants us to see very clearly that God is the same God who has been working in, through, and for Israel. This same God now walks among men as Jesus. Israel’s hope for salvation can now be touched and felt. God is in the process of sending Jesus to fulfill his mission. God sends us too.
What does holiness/salvation look like in this text?
Prior to the sending that takes place at our baptism, we must first repent and confess our sins. This is a turning away from the old life and mindset to a new life and a new family. As we turn from our old life we turn toward our new life with our new identity and new mission. We are defined by our status as beloved children of God.
How does an encounter with this story shape who we are and who we should become?
Unlike Jesus, who did not need to repent, we must repent. That means more than just feeling sorry for our sin, but turning to walk in a new direction. It is only as we repent, and repentance must be a continual thing, that we can live into our baptism and participate in the mission that God has for us here and now.
Specific Discussion Questions:
Read the text aloud. Then, read the text to yourself quietly. Read it slowly, as if you were very unfamiliar with the story.
Why would the people who had come out to be baptized by John have wondered if he was the expected Messiah?
How does John differentiate his baptism with the baptism that Jesus will bring?
How do you think John understood what it meant to be baptized with “the Holy Spirit and fire?”
Fire can symbolize purification and also judgment. John clearly believes that judgment is coming. On whom does he think this judgment will come? How might this be different then what his audience might have hoped for?
Luke doesn’t give us a full account of Jesus’ baptism. Why do you think this is so? What is the clear focus for Luke in his depiction of Jesus’ baptism?
Why is “the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove” important?
God also speaks, affirming Jesus as his son, in whom he is pleased. Why is this important for all that Jesus will do in the pages that follow?
Jesus’ baptism is a public sending. Jesus is commissioned to go on his mission of redemption and salvation for the world. Is our baptism similar or different than Jesus’? If similar, why? If different, why? What is our mission after our baptism?