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Jan 11 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

January 9, 2011

Now when all the people were baptized, Jesus was also baptized, and while He was praying, heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in bodily form like a dove, and a voice came out of heaven, “You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased.” Luke 3:21-11 

INTRO: This last week I read the story of the flood and realized we had to return to Luke 3 

Jesus’ baptism deserves a closer look
– Peter saw a correspondence between the Genesis flood and baptism (1 Pe. 3:20-21)
– the flood gave the earth a good bathing – it washed away human corruption 

Think of the Earth after the flood as a “sterile field”
– it could have remained disinfected if God had not spared Noah and his family, because they carried in their hearts the germ of human corruption
– after the flood, God said 

I will never again curse the ground on account of man, for the intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth; and I will never again destroy every living thing as I have done. (Ge. 8:21) 

Before the story of Noah reaches its end, the sterile field has already been contaminated (Ge. 9:20-27) 

This raises the question, does baptism “work”?
– in Romans chapter 6, Paul says that baptism is the death of our old self and the birth of a new self, leaving us free from the compulsion to sin

But do I rise from the water of baptism, a totally new self?
– I am not always aware of that “newness of life” within me that requires only that I release it and follow its impulses (Ro. 6:4)
– instead, I find “the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good” (Ro. 7:21) 

  • Was there no germ of corruption that survived my baptism?
    – the reason Paul had to explain the theology of baptism was because it contradicted the Romans’ experience (Ro. 6:1-3)
    – Paul, himself, after baptism felt the tension of this contradiction and cried, “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?” (Ro. 7:24)
  • It seems dangerous to over-emphasize the transformation that occurs in baptism
    – perhaps it would be safer to assume there is no cure for my corrupt heart and then adopt a program of rigid self-discipline
    – theologically, I’m averse to legalism or asceticism, but sometimes it looks like my only hope
    – then, if my heart beats with evil intent, at least my body is chained and incapacitated

God wants us bound to him, but by love not chains
– he wants us free to make our own choices and yet to choose him
– therefore, God does something to help liberate us so we are able to choose him 

Helmut Thielicke distinguishes between the indicative and the imperative in Paul’s teaching 

  • indicative: a revelation of something God has done for us
  • imperative: a command; something we are required to do for God

The imperative is possible only because of the indicative – we can only do as God commands, because he has already given us what we need to obey his command (see Php. 2:12-13)

The indicative in baptism is a shared experience of death, burial and resurrection with Jesus (Ro. 6:5-6; Col. 2:12)
The imperative is that we must no longer surrender any part of our body to sin (Ro. 6:12-14; Col. 3:5-10)
– our death and life with Jesus is not something God gives us in theory only
– but it is crucial that we understand both the indicative and imperative as a process – we work these things our as God is working them into us

We saw last time that in his baptism, Jesus stood in solidarity with us (in our sins)
– does it work the other way? Are we also in solidarity with him and his experience of baptism?
– if we are, then our experience includes the gift of the Spirit of God who comes upon us as he did Christ 

The Spirit is intensely active in Jesus immediately following his baptism in each step he takes:

  • the Spirit comes upon him (Lk. 3:22)
  • he is “full of the Holy Spirit” ( 4:1)
  • he is “led around by the Spirit” (4:1)
  • he returns to Galilee “in the power of the Spirit (4:14)
  • in the synagogue at Nazareth he reads from Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me” and then says, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (4:18)

The solidarity we share in the Spirit with Jesus through his baptism is spelled out in Romans chapter 8
(see especially vv. 5-11, 14-15, 16, 26-27) 

Let’s take a closer look at Jesus’ baptism 

Baptism is elemental 

Baptism is the human body in relationship to earth, water and sky
– elements are the basic objects and forces that surround us
– yet they seem too common to draw our attention or too material to have any spiritual value 

All that God makes sacred in essence is derived from elements (see, for example, Ex. 20:24-25, “You shall make an altar of earth for Me . . .”)
– that is why John the Baptist could take a bend in the river and turn it into place of spiritual renewal

When we are able to see the mystery in the elemental, we awaken to the essential in prayer

“While He was praying” 

This the first time that a prayer of Jesus is reported
– Jesus begins and ends his ministry in prayer (Lk. 23:46) 

What was he praying? What words did he use? We do not know because his words were not recorded
– for Luke, the point was not what Jesus was saying but what he was doing
– this is an important lesson to learn about prayer: the priority in prayer is not content but connection 

St. Thomas Aquinas, “For prayer three things are required; first of all, that he who prays comes nigh to God . . . for prayer is ‘the uplifting of the mind towards God.’”
Helmut Thielicke, “. . . the most important part of prayer is to come into the presence of God . . .” 

When God told Ananias to go to Paul, the reason he gave was, “for he is praying” (Acts 9:11)
– was that significant? Don’t you think that a religious fanatic like Paul would be praying all the time?
– Luke (who told both storys in Acts and here) did not report what Paul said, only that he prayed
– Luke’s point is that this prayer was different – now that Paul had met Jesus, the whole dynamic of his prayer had changed
– he now had a connection with the One to whom he spoke

To see Jesus in prayer must have made an impression on people 

It happened that while Jesus was praying in a certain place, after He had finished, one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray . . .” (Lk. 11:1) 

“While He was praying” three things happened 

  • First, “heaven was opened”
    – the fabric of our four-dimensional universe gave way – it is merely a curtain (physicists refer to it as a membrane or simply brane)
    – it was pulled back exposing a dimension beyond our own
    – this happens in scripture, but it’s rare and usually signals an important revelation (Eze. 1:1; Acts 7:56)
    – the ultimate revelation through heaven’s opening is found in John 1:51
    – the heaven opened over Jesus’ prayer after his baptism

What does it feel like when heaven opens over our prayer?
No different than this present moment

  • Second, “the Holy Spirit descended upon Him,” taking the physical form of a dove
    – again we are reminded of the flood – only here the Spirit came to stay
    – the Spirit is a bridge (between the dimensions of heaven and earth)
    Jesus was conceived of the Spirit, why did he need this?
    – maybe it represents a new degree of intimacy with God and awareness of heaven
    – I doubt that it was only for the Lord’s benefit – I think it was to let others witness God’s presence on him just prior to him entering his ministry

Third, “a voice came out of heaven”
– God spoke and, unlike Jesus’ prayer, the Father’s words are recorded
– he spoke

  • a word of endorsement, “My Son” – trust him (9:35)
  • a word of affection, “beloved”
  • a word of affirmation, “well-pleased”
    – it was a word spoken to Jesus and most importantly, it was about Jesus

CONC: What if prayer is not primarily about getting God’s help? 

Or getting something from God?
– if that’s the case, we don’t have to keep waiting for something to change
– we don’t have to put our life on hold until we get a better job, our finances improve, our marriage becomes all we hoped for, we recover our health, etc. 

Rather than pray until God makes the changes we want to see in the world, we can pray with the expectation that we will be changed

Soren Kierkegaard said: 

“It’s a distressing absurdity, which is, however, altogether too general, always to be perpetually talking about how the object of love ought to be, in order to be worthy of love, instead of talking about how love ought to be in order to be love.”
(You may want to read this a couple of times to fully get it) 

This week, when you set aside time for sitting in the presence of God in prayer: 

  1. Open your mind to the opened window of heaven
  2. Be receptive to the descent of the Spirit of God
  3. Listen for God’s word and what it is that he has to say to you

When we are anxious, frustrated, disappointed, down, having a bad day, Jesus comes to us with the water of his baptism still dripping from his beard, and with a warm smile says, “Let’s pray” 

Are we going to realign the planets?
We’re going to get realigned – and from that realignment, we will find ourselves looking out on a whole new universe

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