Dr. John Piper
Desiring God
"God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him"
John Piper
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    February 22, 1981 (Evening)
    Bethlehem Baptist Church
    John Piper, Pastor

    (Luke 3:21-38)


        21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized
and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in
bodily form, as a dove, and a voice came from heaven, "Thou art my beloved Son; with
thee I am well pleased."

        23 Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age, being the son
(as was supposed) of Joseph, the son of Heli, 24 the son of Matthat, the son of Levi, the
son of Melchi, the son of Jannai, the son of Joseph, 25 the son of Mattathias, the son of
Amos, the son of Nahum, the son of Esli, the son of Naggai, 26 the son of Maath, the
son of Mattathias, the son of Semein, the son of Josech, the son of Joda, 27 the son of
Joanan, the son of Rhesa, the son of Zerubbabel, the son of Shealtiel, the son of Neri,
28 the son of Melchi, the son of Addi, the son of Cosam, the son of Elmadam, the son
of Er, 29 the son of Joshua, the son of Eliezer, the son of Jorim, the son of Matthat, the
son of Levi, 30 the son of Simeon, the son of Judah, the son of Joseph, the son of
Jonam, the son of Eliakim, 31 the son of Melea, the son of Menna, the son of Mattatha,
the son of Nathan, the son of David, 32 the son of Jesse, the son of Obed, the son of
Boaz, the son of Sala, the son of Nahshon, 33 the son of Amminadab, the son of
Admin, the son of Arni, the son of Hezron, the son of Perez, the son of Judah, 34 the
son of Jacob, the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham, the son of Terah, the son of Nahor,
35 the son of Serug, the son of Reu, the son of Peleg, the son of Eber, the son of
Shelah, 36 the son of Cainan, the son of Arphaxad, the son of Shem, the son of Noah,
the son of Lamech, 37 the son of Methuselah, the son of Enoch, the son of Jared, the
son of Mahalaleel, the son of Cainan, 38 the son of Enos, the son of Seth, the son of
Adam, the son of God.

    You can learn more from a book if you stop and ask it questions than if you just read it
passively. That includes the Bible too. One of the great problems in Bible reading is that we
move our eyes over the words and come to the end of a column and don't know what we've
read; we don't feel our minds or spirits expanded because we saw nothing fresh. It was purely
mechanical. There was no discovery, no life, no breakthroughs to new insight. One of the
best ways to change that is to train yourself to ask questions of the text. Often the posing of
the question itself will already carry its answer with it and will open your mind to new things.
This fairly prosaic historical text in Luke 3:21-38 gives me an opportunity to show you what I
mean. I'll simply take you with me through this text pointing out the questions I asked and
the answers I came up with. My guess is that as you follow me questions of your own will
arise. Good questions usually beget other questions and that's how insight grows and grows.

    1) Why does Luke record the imprisonment of John the Baptist (3:20) before he records
Jesus' baptism by John? This is such an odd order of events that there must be some point.

    The answer would seem to be that Luke wants to emphasize the break between John's
ministry and Jesus' ministry. Verse 15 shows that some people thought John might be the
Messiah. Others could think that Jesus was one of John's disciples. One way to keep clear
in the reader's mind that a tremendous turning point in redemptive history came when Jesus
started preaching, was to mention John's imprisonment even before Jesus comes on the
scene. Luke 16:16 says, "The law and the prophets were until John, since then the good
news of the kingdom of God is preached." There is a break between the period of the law and
prophets and the period of Jesus preaching of the Kingdom. John belonged to the former
period and so Luke did not want to stress the slight overlap in Jesus' and John's ministry
(John 3:22f). In Luke 7:26-28 Jesus says John was a prophet and more than a prophet; the
preparer of my way. "I tell you among those born of women none is greater than John; yet he
who is least in the Kingdom of God is greater than he." John was a great prophet but now
something new has come; the Messiah is here and calling people into his Kingdom, and the
least person in the Messiah's Kingdom has a greater privilege than John. So in Luke's mind
there was a great break between John's work and Jesus' work and the odd order of his
narrative stresses this break.

    Even in v. 21 I think this is confirmed in the word "all": "now when all the people were
baptized. . ." This means that Jesus' baptism was not just a part of John's work but its
climax. We don't have to press "all" to mean that Jesus was the very last person John
baptized, but it must mean that John's ministry was virtually done when Jesus was baptized.
This too shows that the coming of Jesus meant the going of John: "He must increase but I
must decrease" (John 3:30). This also gives us help in answering my second question.

    2) Why did Jesus come to be baptized since John's baptism was a "baptism of
repentance for the forgiveness of sins" (3:3) and Jesus was without sin (2 Corinthians 5:21;
Hebrews 4:15)?

    Luke shows in two ways that what is happening here is not important mainly because of
the baptism but because of what happens afterward. First, Luke shows that Jesus came at
the climax of John's ministry, "when all the people were baptized," and, therefore, that Jesus
was not just one of the crowd. His coming had special significance. Second, the way Luke
put his sentence together in verses 22 and 23 shows that the baptism is secondary and what
happened afterwards is primary: the baptism of the people and then of Jesus are simply
introductory time clauses telling when the last three things happened: "After all were baptized
and Jesus was baptized and praying, then (the amazing thing happened) the heaven was
opened, the Spirit came and God spoke." So Luke's interest is different from Matthew's, who
focuses on the baptism itself and poses the very question we have posed. He tells (in
Matthew 3:14-15) how John tried to prevent Jesus saying, "'I need to be baptized by you and
do you come to me?' But Jesus answered him, 'Let it be so now; for thus it is fitting for us to
fulfill all righteousness.'" So Luke treats the baptism of Jesus simply as the occasion when
God spoke to him from heaven, but Matthew deals with the baptism itself as a problem for
one who had no sins to be forgiven. The answer he gives is that it is fitting for him to do
everything that is right. There was enough in John's baptism for Jesus to affirm that the event
was not meaningless: negatively it meant turning from sin, and positively it meant trusting
God. Jesus could affirm both: he resolved not to sin but always to turn from it and he
committed himself always to trust God.

    Probably then--and this is what Luke picks up on--Jesus' coming to be baptized was a
decisive step of commitment to begin his public ministry. Thus he aligns himself with the
people who turn from sin and trust God and resolves to fulfill his calling in that spirit. Luke
focuses on God's approval and confirmation of his Son's resolve.

    3) But before we look at God's confirmation in verse 22 there was another question on
verse 21: Why does Luke mention that Jesus was praying when the heavens opened and the
Spirit came and God spoke? None of the other gospels tell us this. We are going to see in
this gospel that Luke loves to picture Jesus in prayer. He shows him praying at all the crucial
turning points of his life: here at the baptism, at the selection of the twelve apostles (6:12), at
Peter's confession (9:18), at the transfiguration (9:28) in Gethsemane (22:41); on the cross
(23:34). He tells us that Jesus went repeatedly to the wilderness to pray (5:16) and that he
spent whole nights in prayer (6:12). The point of all this must be to show that even in Jesus'
life there is a correlation between earnest prayer and the blessing of God. Now what blessing
was Jesus praying for after his baptism? Luke 11:13 suggests the answer I think; Luke's
version is different from Matthew's: "If you then who are evil know how to give good gifts to
your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask
him?" What should obedient children ask from their heavenly Father? The Holy Spirit. Not
that we or Jesus did not already have the Holy Spirit within us--even the weakest believer is
the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19). But the Holy Spirit is infinite and always
has more of himself to give and his means of manifesting himself are so varied there is
always some new experience awaiting those who go hard after his fullness.

    I assume that Jesus was praying for a manifestation of the Spirit to confirm to him his
Messiahship and that God's favor was on him as he set out on his public ministry. God
answered his prayer. And that leads to a fourth question.

    4) What is the significance of the Spirit's descending in the form of a dove and God's
declaration of his love? God answers Jesus' prayer by sending his Spirit in a visible form and
then declaring verbally his delight in his Son: "You are my beloved son; in you I delight." This
is a green light for Jesus. And not just a green light but a powerful enablement and directive.

    The way the Spirit comes gives a direction for how its power is to be used. The word
"dove" occurs on Jesus' lips one time in the gospels, namely Matthew 10:16: "Behold I send
you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves." The
dove suggests to Jesus' purity, meekness, innocence It was not majestic like the eagle or
fierce like the hawk or flamboyant like the cardinal. It was simple, common, innocent, the
kind of bird poor people could offer for a sacrifice (Luke 2:24; Leviticus 12:8). This was a
directive to Jesus from the Father: the Spirit with which I anoint you is not for ostentation or
for earthly battle. What is it for?

    An answer comes from Isaiah 42:1-4. This text is relevant because this is where the words
of God the Father come from which follow the giving of the Spirit: "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. He will not cry or lift up his voice or make it heard in the street; a
bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully
bring forth justice. He will not fail or be discouraged till he has established justice in the
earth; and the coastlands wait for his law." The beauty of this picture is that he has the power
to bring forth justice to the nations but he will not use it to "break a bruised reed or quench a
dimly burning wick." That is he will be tender with the weak and failing. He will be dove-like
not hawk-like. So when God anoints Jesus with the Spirit in the form of a dove he directs him
to use his power in meekness and tenderness and love. Which Jesus does: "Come to me all
you who labor and are heavy-laden and I will give you rest . . . for I am meek and lowly"--I
have the Spirit of a dove not a hawk. He says in Luke 4:18 "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me
because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor . . ."--the bruised reeds of the
world and the smoldering wicks. To these he comes with his dove-like Spirit and heals and
fans into flame.

    So in summary, what Luke is doing in verses 21 and 22 is setting Jesus' ministry off from
John's, demonstrating that he has God's fullest approval and blessing and revealing the kind
of ministry he will have--namely a dove-like ministry.

    Now comes the genealogy and a whole bunch of questions leap off the page into our
minds. In Matthew and Mark the account of Jesus' temptations comes right after the account
of his baptism, but Luke inserts the genealogy between these two accounts. Why? Luke's
genealogy goes all the way back to Adam while Matthew's goes back only to Abraham.
Why? The names in the two genealogies from Jesus back to king David are almost all
different. Why? And are we to imagine that man is only as old as the number of years that
can be calculated for all these names back to Adam? Let's look at some answers to these
four questions very briefly in reverse order.

    1) No, we need not think that the sum of each of these person's life equals the age of man.
The main reason is that in Jewish lineage lists "son" was often used also in the sense of
"grandson" or even "descendant." In fact in Luke 3:24-38 the word "son" does not even occur
in Greek. It simply says Heli was "of Matthat, of Levi, of Melchi" and so on. What matters in
a lineage is not that every member be included but that the genuine line of descent be

    We know from Matthew's genealogy that some names were left out. In Matthew 1:8 it
says Joram was the father of Uzziah; but in 1 Chronicles 3:11 there are three other names
listed between these two. One of the reasons for this is so that Matthew could have three
equal groups of 14 names each (Matthew 1:17). The same motive might have been at work in
Luke's genealogy because there appear to be 11 groups of 7 names each with all the
important figures either at the beginning or end of a group. But Luke doesn't draw attention to
this like Matthew does so we shouldn't press it. So I don't think we are bound to Ussher
chronology which makes man about 6000 years old. Just how old man is is a problem we'll
leave for another time.

    2) Why, when you compare Matthew's genealogy with Luke's between David and Jesus
are they almost completely different? All the names but two are different. A major
commentary published in 1978 by I. H. Marshall says, "It is only right therefore to admit that
the problem caused by the existence of the two genealogies is insoluble with the evidence
presently at our disposal" (p. 159). What he means is not that the two are in unresolvable
conflict. There are suggested solutions, but we just don't know enough to be sure these
solutions are the proper ones. I'll just mention two. One suggestion is that from David to
Jesus, Matthew "gives the legal descendants of David--the men who would have been legally
the heir to the Davidic throne if that throne had continued--while Luke gives the descendants
of David in that particular time to which finally Joseph, the husband of Mary, belonged"
(Machen, Virgin Birth, p. 204). So, for example Luke says in 3:31 that the son of David was
Nathan (2 Samuel 5:14) while Matthew in 1:6 says the son of David was Solomon, who was
heir to the throne. The two lines could easily merge whenever one of Nathan's descendants
became the rightful heir to the throne.

    The other suggested solution is that Luke gives Mary's genealogy and Matthew gives
Joseph's as Jesus' legal father. The key to this interpretation is extending the parenthesis of
verse 23 to include Joseph. So it would read, "Jesus was about 30 years old being the son
(as was supposed of Joseph) of Heli etc." By including "of Joseph" in the parenthesis the
point is made that Jesus is really the son of Mary not Joseph and Heli is his grandfather
(Mary's father). Both of these solutions are possible; the first is more probable; but neither
can be proved.

    3) The last two questions are more important because they help us understand Luke's
message. Why does the genealogy go back to Adam while Matthew's stops at Abraham?
The reason surely is that Matthew is writing for Jews who are interested in Jesus' connection
with father Abraham, but Luke is writing for a Gentile and therefore is more interested in
Jesus' solidarity with all men through his descent from Adam. This fits beautifully with the
emphasis we have seen already on the universality of the gospel--it is open to all men; Jesus
is not just a son of Abraham; more importantly he is son of Adam; he is a man. His humanity
not his ethnicity is the crucial thing. That seems to be Luke's point in attaching him to Adam.
But there may be more as we pose our last question.

    4) Why did Luke insert the genealogy here between the baptism and temptation of Jesus
which Matthew and Mark put together? I find the key in the surprising ending of the
genealogy: Luke doesn't stop with Adam but says Adam was "son of God." I doubt that Luke
wants us to think of Jesus as the son of God in the same sense that Abraham and David and
all the other descendants of Adam were. Luke 1:35 shows that his sonship depends on his
unique creation in Mary's womb by the Holy Spirit. So it has seemed to many commentators
that the reason Adam is called the son of God is to establish a comparison between Adam
and Jesus as uniquely and immediately, though not identically, created by God. This then
calls to mind Paul's teaching that Christ is a second Adam, the beginner of a new humanity.
In 1 Corinthians 15:47-49 Paul says, "The first man was from the earth a man of dust, the
second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust so are those who are of the dust; and
as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. Just as we have born the image of
the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven." There is no reason to
think Luke was ignorant of this idea since he was with Paul as much as anyone. If this was
before his mind then one reason he inserted the genealogy here was to stress that like Adam
Jesus was man and was uniquely created by God, and that therefore he is a new and second
Adam whose ministry will be to create and assemble a new race of humans who are not
marked by Jewishness or non-Jewishness but by the dove-like character of the Holy Spirit.