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“Whose Son is He?”

Luke 3:21-38
Bob DeGray
January 13, 2019

Key Sentence

Jesus, Son of God and Son of Man, is the culmination of God’s plan.


I. Divine Son (Luke 3:21-22)
II. Son of God’s Promises (Luke 3:23-38)


When I began to write this message I wanted to find something that would illustrate how Jesus as Son of God, fully God, and Jesus as Son of Man, fully human came together in his life and ministry and especially his death and resurrection to make the rescue of fallen humanity and a fallen world possible. I toyed with many illustrations, but I kept coming back to one. Some of you may know that this year is the 50th anniversary of the lunar landing. Our friend Lee Norbraten provided a minute by minute analysis of the Apollo 8 lunar orbit mission over Christmas, but that was just preparation for the July 1969 landing mission of Apollo 11. I look forward to Lee’s first-person narrative of that anniversary.

One of the key components of the Apollo program was the Saturn V rocket. The first stage of that rocket generated 7.5 million pounds of thrust using just five F1 engines. It’s the ignition sequence of the F1 that intrigued me, an intricate step by step progression before the fuel finally burns in the combustion chamber. Each step in the progression is actually powered by the fuel, RP-1 and the liquid oxygen, LOX. But the thrust is provided by the fuel and oxidizer only. The analogy is that God uses a sequence of generations, the lives of Jesus’ ancestors, to set up the incarnation, but he’s the one that makes them happen and he himself, God the Son is what happens, the combustion that powers the rocket, the life that powers our salvation. Listen to the sequence involved in igniting an F1 engine. Don’t try to understand this, just catch the complexity:

“At T-8.9 seconds, four pyrotechnic devices fire. Two cause the fuel-rich turbine exhaust gas to ignite in the engine bell. The other two begin combustion within the gas generator. Links burned away by these igniters generate an electrical signal to move the start solenoid. The start solenoid directs hydraulic pressure to open the main LOX valves. LOX begins to flow through the LOX pump, starting it to rotate, then into the combustion chamber. Fuel and LOX also flow into the gas generator, where they ignite and accelerate the turbine. Fuel and LOX pressures rise as the turbine gains speed. The increasing pressure in the fuel lines ruptures the hypergol cartridge. Hypergolic fluid, followed by fuel, enters the chamber where it spontaneously ignites on contact with the LOX already in the chamber. Rising combustion pressure on the injector plate actuates an ignition monitor valve, directing hydraulic fluid to open the main fuel valves. Fuel flows through calibrated orifices enters the combustion chamber where it burns powerfully in the already flaming gases. In just over a second the thrust goes from near zero to over 1.5 million pounds. The five engines are the most powerful machine ever built.

This is a rough analogy for what we see in our text. Through their history God had been faithfully sequencing the lives of his people, people like Abraham and Judah and David. Jesus, on the human side of his nature was the final outcome, the fulfillment of that sequence. But Jesus, on his fully God side was also the fuel that powered those steps and the combustion that powered our salvation. 7.5 million pounds of thrust is nothing compared to the power of atonement or to the power of the resurrection. Today we’ll see, in Luke 3:21-38, that Jesus is both Son of God and Son of Man, the culmination of God’s plan.

Let’s begin by reading the baptism verses in Luke 3, verses 21 and 22, where we see Jesus as God the Son. Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, 22and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

Remember that John the Baptist is out by the Jordan River, and large crowds are coming out to him. We saw how he responded to these crowds last week, urging them to be prepared for the Messiah, to recognize their sin, to repent, to be baptized, and then to live in ways which show their repentance. Now Jesus comes to him, and Jesus is baptized too. The first question we ask is why was Jesus baptized? The baptism of John was a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. But Jesus didn’t have any sins. Peter will write: “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth.” John will say “he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin.” Paul says “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us.” Hebrews says our high priest “has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” We’ll see that in Luke 4.

If his baptism was not a sign of repentance from sin. what was it? It was, certainly, a sign of something. In Matthew Jesus tells John that he did it to fulfill all righteousness, that is, so that he would have done every right thing. In this, he shows himself to be fully identified with humanity, as he himself does every right thing that he expects other people to do. But Luke doesn’t record that conversation, and if we study the account just in Luke, we have to conclude that Jesus was baptized as the inauguration, the anointing of His ministry. This symbol, present in the other accounts, stands out in Luke. Jesus’ baptism was a public declaration of his commitment and readiness to begin the work God has called him to. God’s response is a public approval of that ministry.

We see in verse 21 that Jesus comes and is baptized. Luke actually words this in a very interesting way: Jesus having been baptized and having prayed, heaven was opened. The emphasis in the sentence is the opening of heaven, the sign from heaven. But don’t miss that Jesus was praying when this happened.

Luke often records Jesus praying, including prior to his transfiguration and while he was at Gethsemane. This attention to Jesus’ prayer life is important because it shows how Jesus was in tune with the Father and that while he was co-eternal and equal with the Father, he submitted himself to the Father in his ministry.

But it is the response of the Spirit and the Father that Luke wants us to focus on. First, verse 22: “the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove.” Both the Spirit and the Father, as we’ll see, attest to Jesus. The anointing of Jesus by the Spirit marks him as the promised Messiah, the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. Isaiah 11:1 “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. 2And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.” The promised Davidic Messiah, the shoot from the stump of Jesse, will be the one on whom the Spirit of the Lord rests. Isaiah 42:1 “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.” The Servant, the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 is the one on whom God puts his Spirit. Isaiah 61:1, the verse Jesus points to in Nazareth says “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.” The baptism was this moment of anointing. The Spirit visibly came on Jesus. Luke emphasizes this by noting the Spirit’s guidance four times in the next chapters.

How did they know this was the Spirit? You expect the answer to be that in the Old Testament the Spirit was pictured as a dove. Not so. The image, the name, for Spirit in the Old Testament is breath, a wind, as in the Spirit moving over the waters in Genesis. The breath of God. Nowhere is this image of a dove used in any way that strongly implies the Spirit. And that’s OK. Its OK for God to do something new. This was a new symbol for the presence of the Holy Spirit.

But then how did they recognize this as the Spirit? Simple answer: somebody told them, probably John the Baptist, who had it as a revelation from God. John 1:32 “John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ ” God revealed to John that the dove was the Spirit. In doing so God confirmed that the culmination of prophecy is in Jesus. He is the long-awaited messiah, servant and savior.

But if the Spirit himself wasn’t culmination enough, the Father also gets involved in this inauguration. Verse 22: and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

Remember that part of Luke’s purpose early in this Gospel is to show that Jesus is the Son of God. That was what the angel announced in chapter 1. That was why Jesus called the temple his Father’s house at age twelve, and that is a big reason for recounting the baptism, so we hear the voice from heaven saying: “You are my beloved Son.” The voice from heaven is without doubt, the voice of God. He is saying to the whole world: This is my Son and he is your Messiah. The phrase “This is my son, in whom I delight” is a combination of two verses: Psalm 2:7 “The Lord said to me, “You are my Son,” and Isaiah 42:1 “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight.” God the Father affirms Jesus as both the King and the Servant.

Jesus’ baptism is one of the clearest depictions of the Trinity in Scripture. The Father is speaking from heaven, the Spirit is descending in bodily form like a dove, and Jesus himself is submitting, being baptized. This is the One God, eternally existing in three persons. The early church affirmed the Trinity because scriptures like this one, present Father, Son and Spirit as divine, personal, co-equal, co-eternal, and uncreated. Any view that either separated God into parts such that there was more than one essence or diminished any member of the Trinity to a lower, created status were labelled heresy. This expression of the Trinity has withstood the test of time and is foundational to Christians across many traditions. Yet it always has been and is still contested. As recently as this week I got a comment on our YouTube channel that said “You named your church after a false idea that God is a trinity? Terrible.” I replied by pointing to a good book called “The Forgotten Trinity,” but of course he said he already knew what it would say and he rejected my suggestion.

So in these two verses, Luke has described the episode in such a way, that we clearly see Jesus to be the Son of God, anointed by the Holy Spirit, affirmed by the Father. Jesus is God the Son and the culmination of God’s promises. As such he is also the fulfillment of thousands of years of history, thousands of years of God at work in the lives of his people. This, I believe, is why Luke pauses at this point to insert the genealogy of Jesus. He wants to show that Jesus, in his family line, was also the culmination of God’s work with his people.

Luke 3:23-38 Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age, being the son (as was supposed) of Joseph, the son of Heli, 24the son of Matthat, the son of Levi, the son of Melchi, the son of Jannai, the son of Joseph, 25the son of Mattathias, the son of Amos, the son of Nahum, the son of Esli, the son of Naggai, 26the son of Maath, the son of Mattathias, the son of Semein, the son of Josech, the son of Joda, 27the son of Joanan, the son of Rhesa, the son of Zerubbabel, the son of Shealtiel, the son of Neri, 28the son of Melchi, the son of Addi, the son of Cosam, the son of Elmadam, the son of Er,

29the son of Joshua, the son of Eliezer, the son of Jorim, the son of Matthat, the son of Levi, 30the son of Simeon, the son of Judah, the son of Joseph, the son of Jonam, the son of Eliakim, 31the son of Melea, the son of Menna, the son of Mattatha, the son of Nathan, the son of David, 32the son of Jesse, the son of Obed, the son of Boaz, the son of Sala, the son of Nahshon, 33the son of Amminadab, the son of Admin, the son of Arni, the son of Hezron, the son of Perez, the son of Judah, 34the son of Jacob, the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham, the son of Terah, the son of Nahor, 35the son of Serug, the son of Reu, the son of Peleg, the son of Eber, the son of Shelah, 36the son of Cainan, the son of Arphaxad, the son of Shem, the son of Noah, the son of Lamech, 37the son of Methuselah, the son of Enoch, the son of Jared, the son of Mahalaleel, the son of Cainan, 38the son of Enos, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God.

Luke traces Jesus’ family line all the way to Adam, through David and Abraham and Noah. He completes all God had promised through all ages. But why this list? What kind of genealogy is this? It is very different from the one we find in Matthew chapter 1. There are seventy-eight names in Luke’s list, forty-two in Matthew’s. The genealogy in Matthew begins with Abraham and lists fourteen generations from Abraham to David, David to the exile, and the exile to Jesus. Only from Abraham to David is there good agreement with Luke.

But in the period from David to the exile, Luke’s genealogy lists the sons and heirs of Nathan, who was not even David’s firstborn son. Many of these names are unfamiliar. Matthew lists descendants of Solomon, the kings of Judah: Rehoboam, Uzziah, Ahaz, Josiah. Only Luke lists the family line from Adam to Abraham. They are very different lists. Students of the Bible through the centuries offer several explanations none of which is totally convincing, or provable from Scripture. Let me give you the two most common, as developed by Leon Morris in his commentary. Explanation one: Many believe that Matthew gives us the genealogy of Joseph, the legal father of Jesus, while Luke gives that of Mary, the actual genetic line of Jesus. This makes Heli, in Luke’s list, to be the father of Joseph by marriage. And it was typical in Hebrew genealogy, to which Luke may be trying to conform, to name only male names. Furthermore Luke has focused on Mary, whereas Matthew’s focus is on Joseph. While most genealogies were not traced through the female line, Morris points out that Luke is speaking of a virgin birth.

Explanation 2 is different. In this theory Heli was the legal father of Joseph, but he died childless, and Joseph was actually born to Jacob, through levirate marriage, the kind of thing that we see in the book of Ruth. The rest of the two lists, these scholars feel, can be similarly harmonized.

A modification of this says that Matthew gives us the legal descendants of David, legally heirs to the Davidic throne, while Luke gives the descendants of David in the particular line to which, finally, Joseph, the husband of Mary, belonged. The two come together in the person of Joseph. Leon Morris says, wisely, that in the present state of knowledge, it is impossible to say which of these is to be preferred, or which is a better explanation. I agree with that, though I must admit that in my lastest examination of this I’ve found myself leaning more toward the first explanation, that Luke gives the genetic descent of Jesus from David to Mary, while Matthew gives the kingly descent from David to Joseph.

But I firmly believe that Luke includes the genealogy to show the continuity between all that God has done, and Jesus. All these other lives are testimony to God’s work with His people, step by step. Each life on this list was an important part of the sequence and brought God’s salvation into greater focus. Each life that we know about in this list throws some light on Jesus. This reminds us that our lives are also important in God’s plan. Let me just pick three names, probably the most significant in the list, and remind you of the role that they played in the unfolding of God’s work. Working backward, we really don’t know much until we get to David. The only exception is we know a bit about Zerubbabel, who was governor of Israel after the exile, under the Persians.

But about David we know a great deal. We know about his life, his kingship, and we know that despite his sin he was a man after God’s heart. Most significantly for Luke, we know he was the focus of some of the great Messianic promises of the Old Testament. He was the one from whose line the Messiah would come. We’ve looked at many of those verses in recent weeks, because Luke has been so careful to show that Jesus was the ruler who would come to sit on David’s throne. Let’s turn instead to the book of Acts and listen to how the Apostle Peter understood this truth as early as Pentecost. Acts 2:29: “Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, 31he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ.” David knew Jesus was coming! Not by name and date, but as the ultimate expression of all the promises that God made to him. This is important to Luke. Jesus is the fulfillment of these Davidic promises.

When we see the word David here in the genealogy, we should think of and worship a God, who will faithfully keep his promises, generation by generation. We should think of the promise of a Savior who is coming again, and the promise of the Spirit who lives inside us. We should think of promises of love, and of comfort and of peace. We need those promises, we need that Savior.

Who else would Luke highlight in this list. I think maybe Abraham. Partially that’s for the same reason: great promises were made to Abraham, that were fulfilled in Jesus. But more than that, Abraham stands out because of his response to God’s promises. You know the story, Genesis 15: The word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” 2 But Abram said, “O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” … 4And behold, the word of the Lord came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” 5He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” 6And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.” Abraham believed the promises of God. Abraham had faith. He stood out there on that starry night, and believed what God said, and by faith he was counted righteous before God. In Jesus the one who would fulfill those promises, the source of that righteousness had come. All those who had believed over the years, from Abraham on down, all those who had faith were counted righteous, because of what Jesus would do. It’s the same for us. Our righteousness is not our own, not based on works, but it is righteousness given as free gift, to those who trust in Jesus.

Luke has already told us, through John the Baptist, that the Jews foolishly believed they would obtain righteousness based on Abraham’s merit. But it’s not his merit, it’s the merit of Jesus, expressed on the cross, that brings righteousness. And it is the faith we have in the work that Jesus did, that rescues us from sin.

So when we see the name of David we should think: Promises are fulfilled in Jesus. When we see the name Abraham we should think: Faith’s object is Jesus. One more. What do we think when we see the name Adam? Luke would have us think that sin’s cure is Jesus. Luke’s intent in taking the genealogy to Adam is fairly clear. First, he wants all his readers, Jew or Gentile, to see Jesus as their Messiah. Jesus is not just for the Jews. Luke shows him bringing salvation to the Gentiles as well. When Adam fell, the first hope given him was that the seed of Eve, her offspring, would strike Satan on the head. That promise was given to the whole world, to every person and every nation.

Second though, Luke is setting up a contrast. He calls Adam the Son of God. He calls Jesus the Son of God. But Jesus the Son of God rescues all men from the effect of Adam’s fall. Adam gave in to temptation, and humanity was doomed to sin and judgment. Jesus overcomes temptation and by a sinless life rescues the human race from sin and judgment. There is a contrast: one is the created offspring of God, who fell, the other the eternal Son of God who triumphed.

Third, by mentioning Adam, Luke is reminding us that Jesus is not only the Son of God, but the Son of Man. Much as Luke likes the concept of Son of God in this Gospel, he is more focused on the phrase “Son of Man,” which appears 25 times. It’s significant to Luke, as to Jesus, because only a man is worthy to die for the sins of men. Only a man who is truly human, yet also sinless, can die in our place. Jesus is the culmination of God’s work for his people, because Jesus is the man who cures the ills of Adam’s sin. When you see the name “Adam” you think of sin, but you should also think of Jesus, who is sin’s cure.

At the beginning of the message I compared this teaching to the sequence that ignites an F-1 rocket engine. Just as the countdown clock and the pyrotechnics and the hydraulics and the valves and the turbo-pump all work in sequence to bring about the ignition and the rocket thrust, so too the many lives in this genealogy and the promises they were given lead to the person of Jesus, the Son of Man who fulfills God’s promises. And just as the fuel itself, in a hugely powerful and barely contained combustion lifts the rocket from the pad, so the incomparable work, the incomparable sacrifice of Jesus, is the powerful force of salvation that lifts us from sin to forgiveness, from death to resurrection, from hell to eternal life. This is why we worship Jesus, the Son of God and Son of man who is the culmination of God’s Big Story, of all God’s promises.