Baptism of the Lord: context

baptism-of-JesusIn our celebration of the Baptism of the Lord, we draw an excerpt from the Gospel of Luke (3:15-16, 21-22) which describes, in minimal terms, the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist.

15 Now the people were filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Messiah. 16 John answered them all, saying, “I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize you with the holy Spirit and fire……. 21 After all the people had been baptized and Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, heaven was opened 22 and the holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

This verses are part of a larger introduction by Luke for the public ministry of Jesus. Just as Luke did for the opening of the Gospel, he provides a historical context for Jesus’ entry into his messianic mission:

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas (Luke 3:1-2)

He casts the call of John the Baptist in the form of an Old Testament prophetic call (Luke 3:2) and extends the quotation from Isaiah found in the other gospels by the addition of Isaiah 40:4-5. In doing so, he presents the theme of the universality of salvation, which he has announced earlier in the words of Simeon (Luke 2:30-32).

…the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert. He went throughout (the) whole region of the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah: “A voice of one crying out in the desert: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God. (Luke 3:2-6)

Moreover, in describing the expectation of the people (Now the people were filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the MessiahNow the people were filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Messiah – Luke 3:15), Luke is characterizing the time of John’s preaching in the same way as he had earlier described the situation of other devout Israelites in the infancy narrative (Luke 2:25-26, 37-38). In Luke 3:7-18 Luke presents the preaching of John the Baptist who urges the crowds to reform in view of the coming wrath (Luke 3:7, 9: eschatological preaching), and who offers the crowds certain standards for reforming social conduct (Luke 3:10-14: ethical preaching), and who announces to the crowds the coming of one mightier than he (Luke 3:15-18: messianic preaching).

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