|Luke #11 Truly The Son of God!
Truly The Son of God!
Reading: Luke 3:21-38
Introduction: One of our stops in Washington D.C. was the National Archives, where the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and the Bill of Rights are all on display. While there we also went around to the back entrance of the building where research is done. The first brochure I picked up there was one on how to use the resources of the National Archives for doing genealogy research. I assumed by the number and availability of those brochures that this is one of the primary uses of the Archives by the general public. Since coming to Nashville, I have had a number of people ask me about my lineage. Particularly, people want to know if I am related to Alvin York, but others have also inquired about when my clan of Yorks came from England and where they first settled. I have had to confess that, like many of my generation, I know little about my ancestors past about two generations.
Understanding one's roots, knowing one's ancestors has, until very recent times, been quite important to people. In Biblical times, the pursuit of such genealogical roots seems to have been not just important, but at times obsessively important. In Paul's opening comments to Timothy in the first letter, he writes: “As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to occupy themselves with myths and endless genealogies which promote speculations rather than the divine training that is in faith.” Someone or some ones in Ephesus were making certain claims to authority based on their lineage, which Paul suggests was fraudulent in its length and its mythical content. Those genealogies became sidetracks to the gospel and led to identities and the search for identity that was contrary to the gospel. “Endless genealogy” may be what some of you were thinking just now as David recited the genealogy from Luke chapter three. Aside from the many names--77 in all--and their difficulty in pronunciation, if you are like me this is one of those passages that you skip when reading through the Gospel because it just doesn't seem to have much relevance to us. And we even wonder, aside from Luke's ability to list off all of these names, what relevance it had then, especially when he begins by telling us that Jesus was the son, “as was supposed,” of Joseph, the son of, the son of, etc.
This morning, as we seek to hear this text as Theophilus would have heard it, perhaps we will also gain some understanding of why it is here. As the words from Paul to Timothy suggest, people were greatly concerned about heritage in the first century. It was the means of proving identity, and social class, and therefore self-worth and identity in society. We have already seen in Luke's account of the infancy narrative important genealogical markers. Zechariah and Elizabeth were both descendants of Levi, the priestly tribe. Zechariah was a descendant of Abijah; Elizabeth was a descendant of the daughters of Aaron. We were reminded more than once that Joseph was of the house of David. The prophetess Anna was a descendent of Asher. Those who came to John the Baptist evidently were interested in defending their claim to be descendants of Abraham. Tracing one’s lineage was very much a part of one's self understanding in the Jewish world.
In the Gentile world that was equally true, only with one strange twist. Members of the noble classes all had genealogies that traced their ancestry to one of the gods. All of the great heroes of the past like Alexander the Great or Augustus Caesar had legendary genealogies that traced their lineage to one of the gods. It is arguable that in the Gentile world, anyone claiming to have divine powers must also have a divine lineage to be considered authentic--even if the claims to divine lineage were clearly made up. So for example, according to legends of the time the father of Augustus Caesar was the god Apollo. Plato also was supposedly fathered by Apollo.
For those without such immediate claims to divinity it was quite common to have genealogies that traced one's lineage back 4 or 5 generations and then to a god. Rare occurrences have been found in the archaeology collections of genealogies going back as many as 15 generations, which would have been considered really remarkable. All of that forms the context for Luke introducing a genealogy of Jesus at this point in his orderly account. Remember that from the beginning, there was a very clear structure of the presentations of the birth of Jesus and the birth of John. First there were parallel announcements of the birth, then the two stories came together with Mary's visit to Elizabeth. Then John was born, and following Zechariah's song, there was a summary statement about John's growth. Luke then told of the birth of Jesus, with an extended story from his childhood.
Chapter three then switched back to John and briefly described his ministry and even the content of his preaching. As we saw last week, Luke concluded that discussion by telling us that John was now locked up in prison. The literary effect of that is to maintain the separate stories of John and Jesus. With verse 21 we return to Jesus. Throughout these three chapters, John has been presented as a great prophet of God, but Jesus has continually been shown to be greater--John is a prophet of God, but Jesus is Son of God. The child was miraculously formed in the womb of Mary when the Holy Spirit came upon her and the power of the most high overshadowed her. In the rest of the birth story, Jesus was presented as the Savior, as Christ the Lord, as the Lord's Messiah, as a boy teaching the teachers in the temple.
Now as Luke moves once more, for the last time, from John to Jesus, the literary structure creates a curious situation. He tells of John being put in prison before he tells of Jesus being baptized by John. You see, in Luke's orderly account, it is not so much questions about why Jesus would be baptized by John that are important. Rather, what Luke emphasizes is what he has been interested in showing all along. It is what happened at that baptism that is important. So he says, “Now when all the people had been baptized and when Jesus also had been baptized”--he mentions the fact but does not dwell on it. Instead, this becomes the moment of open conversation between God the father and Jesus the Son that Luke wants us to listen in on. “While Jesus was praying”--we will hear of Jesus praying over and over in Luke's gospel, but what happens this time is critical to all that will follow. While Jesus was praying the heavens open up and the Holy Spirit descends "in bodily form." Luke wants us to understand this really was a physical as well as mental and emotional experience. The Holy Spirit descends and God speaks directly to Jesus. "You are beloved son, I am well pleased with you!" Jesus receives from God the father this confirming testimony as he is about to embark on the mission that brought him to earth. You are my son, the son of my love! I am well pleased with you.
As fathers and as children we can just barely imagine the impact of such a confirmation through our own experiences of pride in our children, or the reception of such proud statements from our parents. But somehow, this moment must have been more than that, coming from the creator of the universe, coming in this moment of empowerment by the Holy Spirit.
Luke wants Theophilus and his church audience of the first century to hear these authenticating words that God spoke to Jesus. And then, as if to give one final support to these claims, he gives the genealogy. It differs considerably from the genealogy found in Matthew, not just in the names themselves but in the purpose for which it is given. Matthew's audience needed to know that Jesus truly was a descendent of David and a descendent of Abraham. Luke's Gentile audience doesn't need to be shown that fact. But what does matter is the tracing back of the lineage to the first human, and then to God himself. With all of these names, there are two important changes in the standard genealogy apart from the fact that Luke lists it in ascending order rather than descending order like we find in Matthew. Luke begins by saying that Jesus was the son, "as was supposed" of Joseph, and then he traces the heritage all the way back to Adam, where Adam also was not a son in the same sense that Seth was a son of Adam. There was no sexual union that produced Adam, just as there was no sexual union that produced Jesus. God had formed Adam, the first man; now God had formed Jesus in the womb of Mary. This Son would restore paradise; This Son of God was more than the genealogy of Joseph, more than the first created human being, Adam. This was truly the Son of God.
Adam had been a creature given the image of God. But this was God having come in the flesh, taking the form and image of man. For Theophilus and those with him who expected great heroes and divine men to have divine lineage, Jesus could more than meet such expectations. And for those who wondered whether John was Messiah instead of Jesus, the heavens never opened for John. The Holy Spirit was with John but it never descended in bodily form upon him. And no voice from heaven ever spoke and said, "You are my son; I am well pleased with you!"
Almost 2000 years later we have come together in this place because we believe the heavens really did open on that day, and a voice really did speak, and a dove actually descended upon this man. His father truly was the creator of the universe, not Joseph as was supposed. And the Son was pleasing to his father, not just at the beginning of his ministry but throughout his ministry. And it even pleased God that the ministry of the son should culminate in the death of a savior. By his wounds, we who believe today are healed.
So this morning we celebrate the identity of Jesus as Messiah, God's anointed one. We celebrate his identity as Savior, the one who paid a debt he did not owe. We celebrate his identity as resurrected Lord, as the one who now reigns in our lives as master and king. But he is Messiah and Savior and Lord only because he is first and foremost the Son--the one and only Son of God.
Do you believe that this morning? I know you do, or you wouldn't be here! But as you worship him and celebrate his identity as the son, do you also live as though he is Lord? Have you received the gift of grace and forgiveness by claiming him as Savior? If you cannot fully celebrate his identity this morning, why not decide not to believe and surrender your life fully to him as together we stand and sing.
Delivered at Brentwood Hills, December 5, 1993 a.m.
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