He Can Place It
He Can Place It
"I just can't place it," is one of the most frustrating sensations. "The name is on the tip of my tongue." "I know I've seen that person before." There's a lot I can't place. Jesus can always place it.
The place where God says His prayers is one such thing. G. K. Chesterton tells of touring Jerusalem when a child from one of the villages said to him in broken English that "this is the place where God said His prayers" (Collected Works, Vol. XX, 353). Yes, Jerusalem is the place the Boy Jesus was found in the temple; this is the place Jesus referred to the House of Prayer. This is the place in a nearby garden that Jesus would pray in agony, and just outside her gates is the place Jesus would utter the last prayer of His Passionate life: "Father, into Thy hands I commend My Spirit." But the deeper truth the child in his simplicity confessed was that not only did God pray in this place, but Jesus is the God who prays.
Jesus at prayer is a theme of Luke. He focuses on Jesus praying more than the 3 other Gospels. He alone reports Jesus praying after His Baptism. Likewise, Luke alone tells you Jesus prayed before choosing the 12, before Peter's confession, and at the Transfiguration; Luke alone reports Jesus was praying before teaching the Lord's Prayers, in the upper room for Peter, out in Gethsemane for the Lord's will to be done, and on the cross twice. And while Luke sometimes tells you what Jesus was praying many times he doesn't. By doing this, the Holy Spirit indicates the fact Jesus prayed is more important than what He prayed.
The fact Jesus prays teaches us Jesus is 100% true Man. Though 100% true God, Jesus not only needs to pray, He needs people to pray for Him. He asks 3 of His disciples to in Gethsemane. In Luke Bible class we're covering a section of Luke where the repeated question before the 12 is "Who is this Man?" Who is this Man who is God put prays like Man? How can God the Son who is a Person of the Trinity pray to God the Father who is also a Person of the Triune God? More mysterious, more wonderous than any of the miracles Jesus did is His very Person. I can't get my head around this; nor can I get it around that at the Jordan River, at one time and place, is the One God in 3 Persons. The Son is baptized; the Spirit descends and the Father speaks.
I can't get my ahead around any of this, but I know all of it is for us and our salvation. God the Son is in flesh and blood for my salvation. He prays because I don't. He prays at His Baptism because it is a momentous event to Him while mine is something I rarely think about it. Jesus prays at joyous, difficult, painful occasions because men ought to turn to God in prayer at such times. But we don't keep the commandment "pray without ceasing" any more than we do any other law. So God came down at Christmas, all the way down, to do them in our place.
Jesus places for us where God prays and where heaven opens. If you have an evolutionary cosmology which is the only one accepted by our fallen world than this is no big deal to you. This is just a fairy tale. It's Alice falling through the looking glass. It's Dorothy landing in Oz. An evolutionary cosmology recognizes no reality beyond the 5 senses. There is no realm of the spirit, no place outside of this time and space. The Voyager 1 spacecraft, now over 13 billion miles away from earth, is as far as we, to date, can physically go. Our telescopes take our eyes and ears much further, but they tell unbelief what the Soviet cosmonaut has been saying since 1961 on his famous poster: "There's no god [here]!"
But if you believe there is a realm of angles, archangels, and all the company of heaven; if you believe God created the heavens and the earth and holds these in the palm of His hand; if you believe there exists a city of the living God filled with myriads of angels in joyful assembly, where the Judge of all men dwells, moreover if you believe that Adam slammed the door to heaven shut when he bit the hand of the God who walked with him in Eden's evening, then heaven being opened again is a very big deal. Luke describes heaven as being opened, passive. It's opened from the inside. A door has been opened again that leads out of this realm of sin, death, devils, and despair into the realm of holiness, life, angels, and alleluias.
This too is a theme that runs through the Gospel of Luke. Only Luke tells you God in heaven sends an angel to the aged Zechariah to announce the coming of John the Baptist. Only Luke tells you this same heavenly person, Gabriel, was sent to the Virgin Mary to announce the Christ would be conceived in her. Only Luke tells you that angels travel from the realms of heaven to explode into light declaring to shepherds that the Savior has been born. Only Luke tells you God opened heaven to send an angel to strengthen the overwhelmed Man Jesus in Gethsemane. And only Luke records the Ascension where heaven opens to receive Jesus and to send angels to earth to announce how Jesus will return.
Luke focuses on fallen man getting back to the garden, into heaven, back into communion with the Holy God. And if you believe Paul that "what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal" (2 Cor. 4:18), it's much bigger news that heaven was opened at the Baptism of Jesus than that the New Horizons spacecraft recently flew by Ultima Thule. The concept of Ultima Thule is the physical equivalent of last week's "time out of mind." Ultima Thule is the traditional name for the end of the known world. My point is that to unbelief the world ends where sight, smell, touch, taste, ears fail. Contrast this with what we sing: "This shall calm my trembling breath when I pass death's gloomy portal. Faith shall cry as fails each sense, Jesus is my confidence."
Jesus is a Son of this realm sensible to sense, but He is the eternal Son of Ultima Thule and "time out of mind." He "reascends His native heaven" we sing. The Mighty Gates of heaven must open wide for the Man Jesus. Only a pure Man, only a holy Man could safely enter into the realm of angels and archangels. Only a Man whom the Law could not accuse of wicked deeds, evil words, bad thoughts could enter there. Only a Man who owed the Law nothing no obedience, no unpaid debts, no suffering, sorrowing, bleeding, damning or dying could enter heaven. And at the Baptism of Jesus heaven opens for the Father to declare that Jesus is that Man. And the Father doesn't just say "with you I am well-pleased" but literally "in You" I am well pleased. Anyone placed in Jesus is safe and heaven is opened wide to them. Over 150 times Paul uses the phrase "in Christ." You are baptized into Christ. You are absolved in Christ. You commune with angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven in Christ.
Jesus places for us where God prays, where heaven opens, and where the Holy Spirit descends. Apart from Jesus we can't place where the Holy Spirit descends on mankind. Only Luke records it's the Holy Spirit who descends. Mark says the "Spirit" does. Matthew says "God's Spirit" does. The Holy Spirit won't land just anywhere. He will only land on what is holy and that ain't me or you or any of the thousands on Jordan's Bank. Just as the dove sent from the ark returns the first time because it can't find any place to land while the raven who eats dead things doesn't return because in a flooded world there are lots of dead things to land on, so the Holy Spirit is first seen visibly landing on the Man Jesus. That means the sins Jesus confessed to be baptized by John because John only baptized confessed sinners (Matthew 3:6) - weren't His own, but yours.
It's salutary to eavesdrop as Jesus makes confession of your sins: "I confess: I lusted, I doubted, I hated, I worried, I stole, I overate, I overdrank, I under-loved." There's not a sin you've done or thought that Jesus didn't confess at His Baptism, and so start carrying to the cross, start suffering and dying for. But you'll never believe that apart from the Holy Spirit creating faith in you. I can tell you this "time out of mind" until we reach Ultima Thule and you won't believe it, can't believe it because without the Spirit no man can see spiritual things. Our text shows us Jesus is the place where the Holy Spirit descends on mankind. You don't get the Spirit by asking for Him, deciding to receive Him, choosing to be spiritual whatever that means. You get the Spirit by Jesus giving Him to you.
In the same way He opened the eyes of the blind, the ears of the deaf; in the same way that He healed the leprous and the lame; in the same way that He raised the dying and the dead, without any merit, worthiness, or even faith in them, so He gives you the Holy Spirit. You have the Spirit of forgiveness, hope, and life since you've been baptized into His name. The Spirit was breathed upon you when I forgave you your sins in Jesus' name. And our prayer after the sermon "Renew a right Spirit within me", is answered by what follows: The Communion of Jesus' Body and Blood to sinners like us.
As Jesus is the Second Adam, so He is the Second Jonah. Jonah means "dove." What the first dove-man did reluctantly preach repentance and forgiveness of sins to an unbelieving, vicious enemy of God, so the Second Dove-Man does willingly, joyfully. Go home and read the short book of Jonah. It ends with a petulant Jonah sitting across from Nineveh grumpy at the fact that God had turned their hearts to repentance and so isn't going to destroy them. God, on the other hand, expresses His great compassion for the children and even the animals of Nineveh. The first dove-man's lack of compassion and mercy didn't please God. The Second Dove-Man is nothing but well-pleasing to His Father.
This is where Jesus would place you. In, with, and under Him where the pleasure of God floods down upon you in the waters of Holy Baptism, where heaven's door stands wide-open to you, where the Holy Spirit flutters down to land on you, and where the prayers of God are all answered "amen" for you (2 Cor. 1:20). Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Baptism of Our Lord (20190113); Luke 3: 21-22