Sermon preached on Luke 3:21-4:13 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 08/08/2021 in Novato, CA.
This might seem like a strange place to put a genealogy. In comparison, Matthew’s gospel puts it right at the start, which might seem to make more sense in general. But what we find here is that Luke places this genealogy into the center of a passage about the beginning of Jesus ministry. He seems to do so in such a way to further bring out how the truth that Jesus is both Son of Man and Son of God. In other words, as Jesus starts his ministry, Luke reminds us that it was important for Jesus to both God and Man. So then, today we will look at the beginning of Jesus ministry and how Luke highlights Jesus as both Son of Adam and Son of God. Jesus is indeed our perfect mediator of a new, better covenant between God and Man.
So then, let’s begin in our first point for today to briefly observe how Luke is telling us about the start of Jesus ministry in this section. Verse 23 uses this language, speaking of Jesus “when he began his ministry”. He says this to introduce the genealogy, but right before it was his baptism and right after is his wilderness temptation which he then immediately begins to teach in Galilee. Luke is explaining to us that Jesus’ baptism and wilderness temptation are key events in the start of his earthly ministry. And Luke includes Jesus’ genealogical record here to further complement what he is teaching us about this start of his ministry. Namely, we see how at the start of Jesus’ ministry there is reference to Jesus both in terms of the Spirit and the flesh. This is intimately related to Jesus being both Son of God and Son of Man.
So then, as Jesus begins his ministry, notice what Luke notes about Jesus according to the flesh. Verse 23 he tells us that Jesus was about thirty years old. We are not given a precise date, which tells us not to over think the specific age. But when we read this, we should remember back to chapter 2 and what we saw of Jesus in the temple at Passover when he was twelve years old. There too, we mentioned how Luke brought out aspects of both Jesus’ humanity and divinity. There, we saw the text emphasize how according to the flesh, Jesus was growing up, and that growing up involved learning and maturing, even though he was the Son of God. As the Son of God, he possessed all knowledge and wisdom and was already perfect. But as a human, as a Son of Adam, he had to grow up and go from a boy to a man. Already back in chapter 2, we saw how perfectly he was growing up. But he wasn’t yet ready to begin his ministry, despite his great beginnings. Then he was still just a boy. But now he had grown up. He had learned and matured. Now, as a human adult he would begin the ministry which God had called him unto. And so, this reference here to Jesus being about thirty years old reminds us of his humanity by which he had to grow up before officially beginning the ministry God had given him to do. Of course, the fact that there is the genealogical record right here, also reminds us of the humanity of Jesus – but we’ll delve more into that in a moment in our second point.
But then, as Jesus begins his ministry, notice what Luke also notes about Jesus according to the Spirit. To initiate his ministry, Jesus is baptized in verse 22. But it’s not just an outward baptism. He is baptized by the Holy Spirit to equip him for ministry. Jesus, while being a human Son of Adam, was endowed with the Spirit for such a ministry. We can thus appreciate why his baptism is a key marker here to the start of his ministry. But notice in verse 22 what goes along with that demonstration of the Spirit. God the Father speaks forth from the heavens and declares Jesus is the Son of God. Before in his youth, Luke said that Jesus was growing in favor with God and man. Now, as a man, he gets baptized by the Spirit and God declares his pleasure of Jesus and even acknowledges that he is the Son of God.
Then, what is the next thing God does by the Spirit for Jesus, the Son of God? Chapter 4, verse 1, the Spirit leads him into the wilderness to be tempted. The genealogy that is placed in between might make us miss that connection. But in terms of the narrative, that’s the succession of events. Jesus is baptized by the Spirit, and the Spirit then leads him into the wilderness to be tempted, before he then begins to teach. Jesus is equipped by the Spirit and then proved by the Spirit to be ready to start his ministry. But in between these key markers to the start of his ministry, Luke interrupts to tell us about Jesus’ genealogy. And we’ll see, it just further highlights how Jesus is both human and divine, a human son of David and Adam according to the flesh, and the divine Son of God according to the Spirit.
Let us then in our second point reflect on this genealogy. Of course, the Bible contains lots of genealogies. As it pertains to the Messiah, we recognize the religious importance of recognizing how the promises of God were worked out and fulfilled through the generations and the promised lineage. But as a quick aside, let me start by addressing the common question of how this reconciles with the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew’s gospel. Matthew’s genealogical record differs in several ways from Luke’s most notably that Matthew only brings the record back to the patriarch Abraham while Luke brings us all the way back to the start with Adam at creation. Yet, a close review will see that Matthew and Luke’s genealogies deviates after David. Matthew’s takes us through a line from Solomon son of David, whereas Luke takes us through a line from Nathan son of David. On an interesting side note, those were both sons of David through Bathsheba, but I digress.
The question then is how to harmonize Matthew and Luke’s genealogies. There are several ways in which they could be harmonized with each other, though at this point we don’t know definitively which option is the correct one. The Bible nowhere addresses this question, nor even raises it as a concern. Today, it is popularly thought that Matthew’s genealogy gives Jesus’ legal lineage through Joseph and that Luke’s genealogy shows his lineage through his mother Mary. Certainly, Luke’s early chapters paints things more from Mary’s perspective and Matthew’s more from Joseph’s, so that not inconceivable. Yet this view only gained popularity around the time of the Reformation. And both accounts state their genealogy is given through Joseph. Some think verse 23’s reference that Jesus was the son of Joseph “as was supposed” allows for this to really be Mary’s genealogy, but that doesn’t strike me as the natural way to read that statement. So, this view is a possibility, but it doesn’t strike me as the strongest explanation. An alternative explanation that was also an ancient explanation can be found in the early church historian Eusebius who himself is quoting an earlier source (i.e. Africanus) who claims to have received the official explanation handed down to him. That explanation was that the genealogy difference can be explained due to the practice of the levirate law where a brother or close relative would take a deceased family member’s wife and raise up a child on his behalf if he had died before having any heirs. Eusebius’ citation claims that this happened between Matthew’s grandfather of Jesus being listed as a Jacob whereas Luke’s list it as a Heli. Eusebius explains this involved a rather complex set of circumstances that resulted in a levitate law situation where Luke’s Heli died before having children so Matthew’s Jacob had a child on behalf of Heli. That would result in Luke’s genealogy being the legal reckoning and Matthew’s being the physical line. Eusebius’ quoted explanation sounds fairly compelling if not complex. The main problem with it is that there are a few other details in the explanation that seem to skip past two other names in Luke’s genealogy, which calls the whole explanation into question. That being said, I suspect the ultimate resolution is something along these lines of the levirate law situation. Regardless, we can’t be dogmatic on this, and it is one of rare times in Scripture where there is a harmonization question that we just don’t know with certainty the correct solution at this point in human history. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a solution, just that its an unknow for us.
So then, what should really be of interest here is not in an arbitrary attempt to harmonize Matthew and Luke, but to understand what we have in Luke about the genealogy of Jesus. Let me then do a quick walkthrough of some of the more notable names in this genealogy. We’ll work backward in time like Luke does. Starting with Joseph in verse 23 and reaching back to Zerubbabel in verse 27 we acknowledge first the post-exilic generations. Zerubbabel was the son of David who led the people in rebuilding the temple after Babylonian exile and he’s the Davidic heir we might have thought would have ushered in the promised restoration of Israel. In a sense he did, in terms of a physically rebuilding the temple. But as verses 23-27 show, there was then a long line of generations afterwards until finally Jesus was born. The return from exile and restoration under Zerubbabel was only a start to a far greater restoration that would come in Jesus.
Then we can stretch farther back to David in verse 31. That should call to mind the Davidic covenant how God promised one from his own lineage would become king over an everlasting kingdom. Going further back in verse 32, we see Boaz and remember the story of Ruth and how God preserved his line to the Messiah through the dark times of the period of the Judges when everyone did what was right in their own eyes because they didn’t have a king to lead them in righteousness. Still further back we go in verse 33 to the tribal patriarch of Judah, who also through a levirate law of sorts preserved the messianic lineage and secured the fact as prophesied in Genesis 49:10 that the Messiah would come through the tribe of Judah. Going further back, we come to Shem and Noah in verse 36 and remember how wicked the world had become at that time, and the watery judgment of the flood that God brought, but that God didn’t completely wipe out humanity, but preserved a remnant until one day he would bring forth the Messiah Jesus to save the world from their sins. Likewise, if we then trace the line of Noah back to Seth in verse 38, we remember that that line was in contrast to the wicked line of Cain. Cain’s family lineage went the way of the devil, but Seth’s line was the one that began to call upon the name of the Lord in worship. That brings us back to Adam in verse 38, the first parent of all us humans. Adam with his wife Eve fell into sin, choosing to heed the temptations of the devil in the garden over God. While that made all humanity fall into sin and subject to death, God then graciously gave them the first promise of a coming Messiah and savior in Genesis 3:15, one who would be a seed of Adam and Eve who would one day battle the devil and win. That started off the importance of genealogies in searching for the promised one to come. He finally came in Jesus.
But then the genealogy doesn’t end there with Adam. That is where you would expect it to end. That is where such genealogies normally end. But Luke takes it back one step further. Verse 38, Jesus, the son of Adam, the son of God. This acknowledges something about that first Adam. He was not born of ordinary generation. He was created by God who formed him out of the dust of the earth and breathed into him the spirit of life. In all this list, from Seth to Joseph, each of these fathers was born in ordinary generation and born into original sin and a state of total depravity. But that is not how Adam began. Nor is it how Jesus began. You see, Luke’s genealogy stands out in how it causes us to remember back to chapter 1 when the angel Gabriel told Mary she would give birth to the messiah Jesus. In one breath, Luke 1 speaks there of Jesus’ connection with Joseph and how he would be a Son of David, just like how Luke’s genealogy does here. But in the same passage in Luke 1, the angel then goes on to explain how Jesus would be born by the overshadowing of the Spirit and that he would thus be the Son of God. In other words, Gabriel first explained to us there with Mary how Jesus would be both a Son of Adam and a Son of God. And his genealogy here reiterates that truth again to us in the context of Jesus beginning his work of ministry.
And this is so important then in understanding our final point for today as we briefly connect this with the wilderness temptation. You see, we often study the wilderness temptation on its own. But do you see how important it is to see the wilderness temptation in light of Jesus being the Son of Adam who also was born not of ordinary generation but as the Son of God who came into this world to save us? The reason the Spirit immediately brings Jesus into the wilderness before he really starts his ministry is to accomplish what the first Adam failed to accomplish. Jesus, as a second Adam, is brought by the Holy Spirit to face off against the devil and to be tempted by the devil, and yet overcome. In that, Jesus would show himself to be the righteous one of God. As the Son of God who took on flesh, he would certainly pass this test. But as the Son of Adam who would represent the elect as their covenant head, he needed to take the test and pass it in his humanity. So then, while baptized by the Spirit as the Son of Adam, he immediately is brought not to a peaceful garden to face the devil’s temptations, but to the rugged wilderness which befits the current fallen state of the world and humanity.
Here then, we see the same themes found in the wilderness temptation that we’ve been talking about today. Verse 23 had told us that it was supposed that Jesus was the son of Joseph. I actually would prefer to translate that not as “supposed” but as “reckoned” which is a possible nuance of that word. The translation of “supposed” might make it sound like it wasn’t really a true or valid genealogy. But this word can refer to how things are reckoned according to normal custom and convention. Thus, Jesus, as was commonly reckoned, was the son of Joseph, etc. I don’t think Luke wants to cast any doubt on this being a legitimate genealogy, but rather what is highlighted is that this was the legally and customary genealogy as humans tracked things and from the human perspective. From a human way of reckoning Jesus was son of Joseph, son of Heli, son of David, son of Abraham, etc. Yet from God’s way of reckoning, he wasn’t just son of Joseph, he was also Son of God. This tension comes out in the wilderness temptation. Whereas when Jesus then begins his ministry in Nazareth they will dismissively ask the question, isn’t this just the son of Joseph, 4:22, Satan does not see things according to such mere human reckoning.
See then, how Satan addresses Jesus twice in the wilderness temptation. Verse 3, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” Verse 9, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here.” Satan saw beyond what the people of Nazareth saw, who had said Jesus was just the son of Joseph, just another son of Adam. Satan rightly reckoned that Jesus was not a mere human, but also the Son of God. Yet, notice Jesus’ illuminating response to such calls by the devil. Satan twice tries to get Jesus to make use of his divine prerogatives as the Son of God. Jesus twice refuses to make use of such prerogatives. Why? Because while he was indeed the Son of God, he was there in the wilderness to act as the Son of Adam. He was there in the wilderness to be our second Adam, our better Adam, our federal head of a new covenant, to represent us unto success after the first Adam represented us unto failure. Remember Hebrews 4:15 and 2:17-18. Jesus had to be like us in every respect so he could be tempted like us in every respect, yet without sin. To endure these temptations as only the Son of God would not do. He had to endure them as the Son of Adam for us. Yes, while also being the Son of God he would surely pass the test. But he had to go through the temptations as the Son of Adam to be the second, better Adam we needed.
I hope you see how the genealogy helps to bring again the fact that Jesus is both Son of Adam and Son of God into focus so we can then appreciate how Jesus responded in the wilderness temptation. We most often think of Jesus’ saving work for us in terms of the end of his ministry when he went to the cross to pay for all our sins. But in some sense equally important is this start of Jesus’ ministry during this wilderness temptation when as the second Adam he passed his probation and showed himself as our righteous head.
So then, the Bible declares to us that in Christ Jesus, by faith, we have Christ’s righteousness reckoned to us. Turn and believe in Jesus, and you will be clothed in the righteousness of Christ and you will be enrolled and reckoned on the register of heaven. This is our heritage in Christ as those adopted as sons of God who are considered such in Jesus who is both Son of Adam and Son of God. Amen.
Copyright © 2021 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
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