Sermon Briefs: Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
Homiletical examples from the text Luke 3:15-17 and 21-22 seem scarce, but we take three good examples for our purpose. H. A. Ironside, in his offering, emphasizes John the Baptist's role in preaching and baptizing as preparation for the coming Messiah Jesus. John Halvorson, on the other hand, dwells on the baptism of Jesus, speaks much of the suffering Servant (with Jonah as a poignant illustration), and ends with significant observations on the meaning of our baptism. A third homily, by Frederick Kemper, is from a series on the Cross.
H. A. Ironside preached a 1946 sermon from Luke 3:1-22 on The Baptism of Jesus. Jesus submitted to baptism by John the Baptist, a person less understood than anyone else in the Bible, yet one of whom Jesus said there was none greater, and one chosen of God to prepare the way for the coming of Jesus Christ the Savior and Lord.
Luke writes a careful account of the events of this time of political confusion, and when two persons, Annas and Caiaphas, were both recognized as high priests. John the Baptist, after dwelling in the wilderness for some time perhaps graduated from this "school" which Moses, David and Elijah had also attended. Of course, Jesus himself was to spend forty days later in the wilderness being tempted.
John came around the region of the Jordan preaching the baptism of repentance and remission of sins. He did not say that through baptism sins would be remitted, but that by baptism one confesses that he deserves to die. He preached the gospel of the grace of God ("Behold the Lamb of God..."). In baptism they acknowledged their lostness. He asks how he is to comfort God's people (Is 40), and his answer is not to bolster people's self-righteousness but to present men's lost condition and the need of a Savior.
Many in John the Baptist's audience were only sightseers, and he called them to self-judgment, to be honest with God and face up to their covenant relationship with God. John says "...the axe is laid to the root of the trees..," but Ironside says that many sermons tell us "The axe is laid to the fruit of the trees." Urging us to give up our evil ways and reform is like simply removing all the imperfect fruit of the tree, which does not change the nature of the tree at all. A bad tree will never bear good fruit, and a sinner must be born again in order to bear good fruit.
When the people were repentant, and confessed their sins, John baptized them and expected them to show evidence of their sincerity by helping someone else and being good to others. The people asked if John were the promised Messiah, but he said Another is coming who would baptize either with the Holy Ghost, if they admit or accept him, or with the fire of judgment if they reject him.
Even godless Herod the king liked to hear John the Baptist, this strange desert preacher, talk; but when John condemned Herod's adulterous relation with his brother's wife, Herod did not like this meddling in his personal affairs, so he imprisoned John.
Jesus came to be baptized of John, but John said Jesus should be baptizing him. Nevertheless, Jesus wanted baptism as a pledge to go to the cross for all sinners; and the descending spirit and the voice blessed him and expressed God's delight in him.1
On the text Luke 3:15-17 and 21-22, John Halvorson preached a sermon entitled Christ's Baptism and Yours, in 1973. The new lectionary, he says, seeks to restore the baptism of Jesus to a place of prominence in Epiphany season long accorded it in the Eastern church; whereas the Western church has tended to emphasize the showing forth of Christ to the world.
Halvorson says he needs someone to identify with, and it seems to be Jonah. He tells the story we know so well, and Jonah went to sea when God spoke to him, but the sailors cast him overboard and after a time in a large fish he called on the Lord and was delivered at their place of departure. At the second word from the Lord, Jonah goes to Nineveh, as ordered, preaching judgment effectively; however, God repents and responds with grace rather than judgment. Jonah had a plant to grow up and shade him, but a worm ate it, and he felt self-pity. He kicked against the purpose of God, while in contradiction he had faithfully done God's work.
Halvorson likens the servant of the Lord to Jonah. Israel had rebelled against God, and went in the opposite direction from God's directions. Eventually Judah was devoured by the monster Babylon and in 587 B.C. a second deportation from Jerusalem to Babylon took place. They were spewed forth by Cyrus of Persia when he took over Babylon and returned them to Jerusalem.
Second Isaiah, living with these people in captivity, speaks of a servant at times a collective group and at other times individual. He will gently, very unobtrusively bring real justice to the nations. He will be a more suffering, obedient servant than Jonah. Isaiah says God will liberate this faithful remnant of people, and they will be a light to the nations.
Our Lord identifies with this servant, and he will bring a new kind of time. Luke believed a new reality was coming upon them. John the Baptist expressed the truth in the way farmers would toss strands of wheat in the air. All the heavier grain would fall to the ground, but wind would blow the chaff aside to be burned by the fire.
At his baptism, Jesus identified himself with the servant people of God, believing that he undoubtedly must die now as servant that all people might become a part of this group. Because of his action, we can become a part of the community which formed about the risen Lord (Acts 10).
Baptism also identifies us with the saving presence of Christ. God's work in Christ began with his baptism. Your baptism is God's act incorporating you into this new reality, calling for your commitment of your whole self. As the baptism of Jesus led to the cross and resurrection, so it is intended for you. Like Jonah, we feel sorry for ourselves and want to have our own way. However, we must die to self and be raised with Christ in newness of life. Baptism prompts me to strive endlessly to become what I am already in Christ. He will not let me remain as I am. The saving presence of Christ is a contemporary event for the servant people and every individual in it.2
In a series of sermons with a Cross theme, Frederick W. Kemper preached one on Cross Section, from Luke 3:21-22, in 1977. When you want to sin, you must first get rid of God, he says, and the First Table of the Law.
In a "Cross Section" called "The World," Kemper recounts Moses' forty days in the mountain, followed by the people's rebellion, smashing of the First Table, and worship of the golden calf. The golden calf is a symbol for the world through all the world's history, for the "world" is humanity rebelling against God. This generation, having smashed the First Table, has discarded the Second--away with authority, integrity, institutions, morality, ethics.
The second "Cross Section" is about God, the Just and Righteous, who hated sin and could only send the Son in love to be the expiation for the sins of a rebellious world.
The third "Cross Section" is concerning Jesus. In his baptism, God commissioned him to redeem the world. Whether or not he knew from childhood, he knew it now, and led by the Spirit into the wilderness and his short ministry, he walked the narrow way against all the evil forces of the world, and all for our salvation.
The final "Cross Section" is about us. Jesus gave the Great Commission to his disciples, and in our baptism our sins are forgiven, we are transplanted into the body of Christ and ordained to the royal priesthood. We are given newness of life before the world. We bear effective witness to Christ and the Father by quiet words to the world about Jesus the Lord who wants all the human family in his kingdom.3
A. F. McClung
1. H. A. Ironside, Addresses on the Gospel of Luke, Vol. 1 (Loizeaux Brothers, New York, 1946), pp. 90-100. 2. John V. Halvorson, Augsburg Sermons, Gospels, Series C (Augsburg Publishing House, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1973), pp. 56-60. 3. Frederick W. Kemper, The Trials of Jesus (Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, Mo., 1977), pp. 43-47.