NOTE: Sometimes in today’s study I quote from a new translation called The Message. I sometimes refer to that for a fresh look or for a little clarity. These words are shown in parentheses, as are some of my “side comments”.
This passage was written during Judah’s exile in Babylon. They are defeated and broken-hearted. Many questioned the power of Yahweh. They wondered if the Babylonian gods might be stronger, since Yahweh’s people were defeated by them. “Was our god weaker than theirs?”
- The Lord tells his people not to fear. He reminds them that He created them and formed them. These are reminders of Genesis 1 and 2. He redeemed them from slavery in Egypt. He has named them, so they are His very own. (v. 1)
- The Lord now speaks of the journey back home. This is the message of hope. The Lord has not abandoned them. He will ransom His people, just like an owner ransoms a servant from the bonds of slavery. (vv. 2-3)
- Why does He do this? He does it out of love for His own. (v. 4)
- He repeats—do not fear! I’m gathering everybody up, and you’re going home. (vv.5-7)
The Lord loves us, and calls us by name. We are his. He has redeemed us from our slavery to sin through the free gift of His son, who died on the cross for us. He does not promise that our lives will be without hardship. After all, His own son was crucified by his enemies. But He does promise that He loves us, will be by our side throughout our journey, and finally bring us home.
The people who chose the readings for the lectionary have chosen a story about baptism. This sort of matches the gospel lesson for today, which is about the baptism of Jesus. But this is an odd little story. For me, it raises more questions than answers. Maybe together we can figure it out. (With the help of the Holy Spirit, of course.)
- Apparently some people in Samaria had accepted “the Word of God” or “God’s Message”. Word gets back to Jerusalem, which was the center of the Christian church in the early days. They send Peter and John to check it out. Remember that Samaritans were universally hated by the Jews. The early church consisted mainly of Jews who had believed in Jesus as their Messiah and savior. Peter and John and all the apostles would have fallen into this category. They were headed into a region they despised. (v. 14)
- They must have gotten over it, because once they got there, they prayed for the presence of the Holy Spirit. (v. 15)
- Here’s the odd thing. These people has been baptized, but only “in the name of the Lord (or Master) Jesus”. The reason they prayed for the Holy Spirit was because it was evident to Peter and John that the Holy Spirit had not yet descended upon these Christians. We’ll chew on this bone in the takeaway. (v. 16)
- No matter. Once Peter and John prayed and laid their hands upon the Samaritans, they received the Holy Spirit. (v. 17)
In the early years, receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit was very obvious—you spoke in “tongues”. This is only one gift of the Spirit, but it is a very visible one. It is believed by most that over the centuries this gift of the Holy Spirit has faded, and most believers do not receive this gift. But a few churches today believe this gift is the only proof that one has received the Holy Spirit. I do not speak in tongues, but there is no doubt in my mind that the Holy Spirit helps me at certain times.
Why would the Holy Spirit be withheld from these Samaritan believers, until Peter and John intervened? Maybe the Lord wanted the church in Jerusalem to come to grips with their worldwide mission. They had to get over their prejudices, and pray for their new brothers and sisters in Christ. Maybe the Holy Spirit recognized a need in the Samaritan church’s understanding of Jesus, and called upon Peter and John to fill in the gaps of their understanding of Jesus. One thing is for certain. Peter and John set aside their personal feelings, and obeyed the Holy Spirit.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
All too often we want to keep Jesus for ourselves. If someone attends our church that is different than us, it is too easy to ignore them. The Holy Spirit calls us to do the opposite. We are to go to them, lay hands upon them, and welcome them as our brothers and sisters.
LUKE 3:15-17, 21-22
You may recall that back in the middle of Advent, we read about John the Baptist. We read that people heeded his call for repentance, and came to be baptized. Tax collectors and soldiers even came forward and repented. Today’s reading follows on the heels of that story—sort of. In between that story and today’s reading are three verses about Herod’s arresting John, and putting him in prison. (vv. 18-20, which are omitted from our lesson) Then, in verse 21 we get a flashback to John the Baptist in the River Jordan. It’s weird, but that’s how Luke presents the story. Maybe we should get out our biblical scissors and tape, and rearrange them. But no, let’s leave it be, and just skip over verses 18-20, like we have it in today’s selection.
- People are coming to John’s preaching, hoping and looking for the Messiah. John sets them straight. “I’M NOT THE GUY! But he is coming, so you’d better get ready.” (vv. 15-16)
- John then turns up the heat. “The Messiah is coming, and will separate the wheat from the chaff. Worse yet, he’s gonna throw the chaff into the fire. DON’T BE THE CHAFF!!!” (V. 17, my paraphrase)
- After everybody else has been taken care of, Jesus comes down to be baptized. In Luke’s account, we don’t get the little dialogue between Jesus and John (Mt. 3:14-15). In this story, he is simply baptized, and begins to pray. (v. 21a)
- As he is praying, the heavens open up. The Holy Spirit descends upon him in bodily form, sort of like a dove. (What does this mean? But how do you describe something heavenly, anyway?) I especially like The Message’s translation for the words spoken from heaven: “You are my Son, chosen and marked by my love, pride of my life.”
No, John was not the guy. But he was the one spoken of by the prophets who would prepare the way. And Jesus came and was baptized, which pleased his Father.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Why did Jesus come to be baptized? He certainly had no need for repentance. We get a hint from Matthew 3:15b “…it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” (Or, as The Message states it “God’s work, putting things right all these centuries, is coming together right now in this baptism.”)