Luke 3:21-23a

Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Jesus was about thirty years old when he began his work. Luke 3:21-23a

Before offering some thoughts on how Luke tells us the story of Jesus’ baptism, it is interesting to look at how Mark and Matthew do it.

Look at these verses.

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Mark 1:9-11

Clearly here the focus is on John actually baptizing Jesus. The affirmation that Jesus hears seems to be for “his ears only.” Mark has already told us in the title of his book that Jesus is the Son of God; his baptism is the next step toward that reality being revealed to the world.

Now look at what Matthew does with the story:

Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” Matthew 3:13-17

Matthew adds a new line, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” This fits with Matthew’s intention to tell the Jesus story with special attention to what the faith will look like in the absence of the Torah, temple, and synagogue. Jesus becomes the new Moses.

Then we go back to Luke and what do we see? Just like everybody else, Jesus was baptized. Unlike the other synoptic gospels, where the focus is clearly on Jesus actually being baptized by John, Luke’s telling of the story comes across almost as an off-hand remark. What do we make of that?

Jesus was baptized just like everybody else. To Luke’s big question, “What about the Gentiles?” the baptism of Jesus becomes the entry point for Christian discipleship, freely available and open to anyone.

One other quick word: This is the passage that tells us that Jesus was 30 years old when he first began his public ministry. While that fits with Luke’s intention to write an orderly account, it doesn’t necessarily mean that Jesus was actually 30 years old. It could just be a way to connect Jesus to Joseph (Genesis. 41-46), the priesthood (Numbers 4:3), David (2 Samuel 5:4), and Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1:1) – all of whom began their godly work at 30 years of age.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, with water and your Word you continue to claim us and name us your own. By our baptisms, we are reborn into your story and given our place as witnesses to your presence in the world. May our lives bear witness to your love for all. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

One Response to “Luke 3:21-23a”

  1. Linda Stoetzer Says:

    I hadn’t made the connection about 30 years being the beginning of the ministries of all those people.

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