Rooted in Christ

This sermon was preached on April 15, 2018 by Brian Watson.
MP3 recording of the sermon.
PDF of the written sermon (see also below).

This past week, we had a memorial service. It was somewhat typical for a church service. A lot of the people there are churchgoers or used to be churchgoers. People generally dressed appropriately for the occasion. And that’s usually how things go. But several years ago, I was part of an interesting memorial service at my last church, where I was associate pastor. A man named Henry had died and his family came to our church because they needed a place where they could have a service. Henry wasn’t a member of that church. His family and friends were not members of the church. But the senior pastor agreed to conduct the service because he thought it would be a good opportunity to tell people about Jesus.

So, on that Saturday, we had an entirely different congregation show up at our church. The service started late because at least half the group was outside smoking. As I remember it, there were a lot of people in denim and leather. During the service, there was an opportunity for anyone to share memories or thoughts about Henry. One man stood up and said, “The thing about Henry is, he stuck to his roots. No matter what, he was true to his roots.” That was about all he said. Now, from hearing people speak, I got the sense that Henry touched many lives. He seemed to be a good friend and the people there loved him. But this friend, the one who stood up and spoke, didn’t say what Henry’s roots were. I suppose his friend meant that Henry was true to himself, a “what you see is what you get” kind of guy who was loyal to the people around him.

Who among us wouldn’t want someone to say at our funeral, “He stuck to his roots”? When we first hear that, it seems like a good thing. It sounds like this person didn’t compromise. No, he stuck to his guns. He didn’t sell out.

But we’re only as good as our roots. I don’t mean historical roots, or genealogical roots. We all have those, and sometimes they’re not good, but we can move away from them.

What I mean is that each one of our lives is rooted in something. Our lives are based on something, they’re built upon some foundation. Usually, this is what we believe is true or what is most valuable to us. For Christians, that root, that foundation, is Jesus Christ, our Lord. Today, in a passage from Colossians, we’re going to see how Christians need to stay rooted in Christ by continuing in their faith, avoiding all other philosophies and religions, and remembering the gospel.

Today, we’re going to be looking at Colossians 2:6–15. This is part of a letter that the apostle Paul wrote to a group of Christians in the city of Colossae. Let’s start by reading the first two verses:

6 Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, 7 rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.[1]

In the first two verses of this passage, Paul tells the Colossians to walk in Christ as they have received him. “Received” is a technical term that refers to receiving the teachings of Christ. The Colossians have heard about Jesus and they have believed in him. So, Paul tells them to continue to follow Jesus as their Lord. They are supposed to be rooted in him and built up in him, as they are established in the faith, just as they were taught. This kind of life should result in an abundance of thanksgiving.

This passage teaches us something very important about Christianity. It shows us that making a commitment to Jesus, professing faith in him, is merely the beginning of a relationship with God. Real faith, or trust, in Jesus is not one moment in your life. Real faith, the kind that unites you to Jesus and puts you into a right relationship with God, is a lifelong thing. We need to continue in our faith and live as though Jesus is the Lord of our lives. Jesus should be our King, our Master, the one who “commands our destiny” as we just sang.[2] When Paul says, “built up in him,” he implies that we are a work in progress. We are supposed to grow into what God wants us to be as his children.

These two verses alone also show that salvation should lead to thanksgiving. Christians, we should be thankful that God has saved us out of a dark future of condemnation and a bleak present of a meaningless, hopeless life. As Paul says in Colossians 1:13–14,

13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

And this passage touches on a very important theme that runs through the whole Bible. It is the theme of the temple. The church is God’s temple. We are supposed to be the “place” where God dwells on earth, where God is worshiped, and where the forgiveness of sins can be found. I think that’s why later Paul says that we—together, as the body of Christ, as the temple of the living God—have been filled by and in Jesus. Our purpose is to glorify God by worshiping him in all areas of our lives. And our lives should be marked by thanksgiving as we respond to the gospel of grace. We who were once dead have been made alive in Christ. We are now his servants and he is our Master. For that reason, we shouldn’t let anything else take us captive.

That is why Paul warns the Colossians not to be taken captive by any other philosophies. Let’s read verse 8: See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.” If we are to stay rooted in Christ, we must avoid all other empty, deceitful, rival philosophies. Paul doesn’t condemn all philosophy. After all, the word simply means “love of wisdom.” Paul has just told us in verse 3 that “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” are hidden in Christ. The kind of philosophy that Paul warns about is the philosophy according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. The key is that these philosophies are described as “empty deceit.” They are empty because they cannot fill us up the way that Jesus does. And they are deceitful because they are not true.

We know that there are a lot of manmade philosophies out there. And these philosophies are godless ones, such as naturalism, the view that there is no God or anything supernatural, or scientism, that all of reality can be explained through science. These are essentially worldviews in which God does not exist, and all can be explained by science or by human reasoning. In Colossae, the “empty philosophy” might have combined Jewish regulations, such as dietary laws and circumcision, with mysticism and a form of asceticism. If you look at the next passage in Colossians, verses 16–23, you can see that. The Roman Empire was full of many different religions, and there might have been a temptation for these Christians in Colossae (a city in what is now known as Turkey) to add other religions or philosophies to Jesus. Certain people in Colossae might have believed that these things were necessary in order to have a right standing with God. But Paul says that the Colossians need nothing other than Christ.

It’s a little harder to know what Paul means when he writes about philosophies according to “the elemental spirits of the world.” The “elemental spirits” can either mean the physical elements of this world, such as air, earth, fire, and water. They can also mean spiritual beings like demons. Perhaps the best way to understand this phrase is to see it as both. Unbelievers worship the creation instead of the Creator. These “elemental spirits” somehow represent idols, or rivals to God. Paul could have meant that these “elemental spirits,” or “elemental principles,” were being taught by some false teachers. Ultimately, false teaching and false religious practices are rooted in the demonic realm. They belong to Satan, the father of all lies (John 8:44).

In our day, many empty and deceitful philosophies try to usurp the throne of Christ. Any form of idolatry is a rival to Christ as Lord. Obsession with romance, wealth, fitness, or politics can prove to be an empty philosophy.

There are many false teachings that creep into the church, like the postmodern thought that no one religion can be true, or that all religions lead to the same place, or that everyone is saved and there is no hell. There are other false teachings that become popular, such as New Age teachings. The specifics come and go, but they all tend to do with finding spiritual healing and peace outside of Jesus. And there are many false teachings that attempt to say that Christianity is false. I like to call this “Dan Brown history.” You know the story: there were many competing Gospels, and the Church decided which Gospels to keep and which ones to cover up.

I realize that there are many people who don’t regard themselves as religious, or who don’t think they have become captive to any philosophy or ideology. I think all of us are religious. We all think something is ultimate, and that something doesn’t require any other explanation. That something tends to be our god. And people seem to do a lot of irrational things.

This week I heard about a man named Braco the Gazer. He’s a Croatian man who appears to thousands of people and just gazes at them for several minutes. He doesn’t speak. He doesn’t stare. He just sincerely gazes. And people claim that his gaze gives them feelings of love and light and energy and heat, and that his gaze can even bring healing.

Perhaps such things have a kind of placebo effect. But they don’t unite us to God. They don’t make us right with him or give us eternal life. That’s why we need to reject all of these false teachings. Christianity is a true view of all of reality. Christians need to develop a Christian worldview that tells us that the purpose of life is to glorify God; all truth comes from God; the problem of the world is sin; and the only solution is Jesus. We need to guard our doctrine and the doctrine of our churches.

Sadly, I have seen many examples of people leaving their Christian roots because of empty philosophies. I have a friend whom I met in Austin when I was a graduate student at the University of Texas. We met at the church that I was attending and eventually joined. I was studying voice at the university and he was a singer, too. Thought he had a day job working in a government office, he wanted to be a Christian R&B singer. He had even recorded an album. We became friends and occasionally had lunch together. We would talk about life and music.

From what I knew of this man when I lived in Austin, he was a godly man. He had a wife and three daughters, and it seemed to me that he wanted to use his musical abilities to serve the Lord. It was only after I left Austin that I noticed a change. The next time I came back to visit, I had lunch with this man. He started to tell me how he had been doing some “research” on the Internet. He told me there were other Gospels, like the Gospel of Thomas. He told me other religions featured a virgin birth and a resurrection. I wasn’t very familiar with these things at the time, but now I know that there is a lot of bad history out there. The other Gospels were written in the second century or later. For example, the Gospel of Thomas was written towards the end of the second century. Thomas certainly did not write it. The same is true for the Gospel of Judas and other false gospels.

At any rate, this man was reading this inaccurate history and he was starting to doubt his faith. On my next trip to Austin, I once again had lunch with this man. He told me he was starting to look into Judaism. After all, if he couldn’t trust Christianity, he might as well go back to the roots of Christianity.

The last time I saw this man, he said he was just trying to live his life. He said he meditated on Leviticus 19:18: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” He told me he realized he needed to work on loving himself better. He also hinted at having some desire for contact with men. His comments were very ambiguous, but I could tell he had struggled with same-sex attraction.

This was the last time I saw him, but every few months, we would talk on the phone. Eventually, he told me some big news. He had decided to leave his wife. He had also tried out homosexuality. Though he had sex with a man, he didn’t know if he wanted to pursue being gay. He was obviously very mixed up. The last time I talked to him, he told me he was doing naked yoga and be was still trying to sort out his sexual orientation. From the looks of his Facebook profile, he is involved in some group that makes sexual pleasure their religion.

That’s just one example of someone I know who has left the faith. Another, closer friend I had seemed to be a strong Christian. But something has happened in her life, and I’m not sure what. All I know is that she divorced her husband and is now exploring astrology.

Now, you don’t have to get caught up in strange things to be taken captive by an empty, deceitful philosophy. People leave the faith in order to pursue desires, relationships, careers, or simply because they don’t want Jesus to be Lord over their lives.

We must guard our hearts, guard our doctrine, and even guard each other so that we can continue to stay rooted in Christ. We don’t need any other philosophies, because all true wisdom is found in Christ. And he is the only one who can save us.

If we are to stay rooted in Christ, we need to remember the gospel message. That means we must continue worshiping, reading the Bible, and even preaching the gospel to ourselves. We must remember that in Christ, we have access to the fullness of God. If we are in Christ, our old self has died. If we are in Christ, we are risen to new life. If we are in Christ, we have forgiveness of sins. And if we are in Christ, our enemies have been defeated.

Let’s read verses 9–15:

9 For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. 11 In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.

Verses 9–15 summarize the key elements of the gospel message. In Christ, we have access to the fullness of God. In verses 9 and 10, Paul reminds us once again that the fullness of God dwells in the physical body of Christ. “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.” Jesus is God, or, to put it more accurately, the God-man. And if we are united to Jesus, we have access to the fullness of God. Think about that: if the fullness of God dwells in Jesus, and we are “in Christ” through faith, we have direct access to all of God. If we are the body of Christ and he is the head of that body, we are connected to the one who is over all rulers and all authorities. If we are the temple, God’s dwelling place on Earth is in us. Our Lord is the Lord of the universe. He is the Creator and Sustainer of the universe. There is no greater power out there. Why would we want to worship something else or pursue any other philosophy? In Christ, we have everything we need.

That doesn’t mean we can’t learn other things, like math and science and history. But we should learn those subjects knowing that math and science are possible because they reflect the orderliness of the mind of God and the order and design of his creation. All truth is God’s truth. So, we should learn to connect all of life, including everything we learn, to God. We should learn to interpret every fact in light of the existence of God.

Beginning in verse 11, Paul gets to the heart of the gospel. In Christ, our old selves have died. Paul talks about this transformation that God performs in Christians by using the metaphor of circumcision. God told Abraham, the father of all the Israelites, that all of the men among God’s covenant people had to be circumcised (Genesis 17). Literally, this was a surgery, a putting off of part of the flesh. But even in the Old Testament, circumcision took on a metaphorical quality. Israelites were told they needed to have circumcised hearts, which meant they needed to have new hearts, hearts changed by God (Deut. 10:12; 30:6; Jer. 4:4). We might say that to be right with God, we need to have spiritual heart surgery. That’s because before that transformation, we don’t desire or love rightly. Our problem is that we don’t love God and other people the way we should. We don’t desire to do what is noble and right, at least not all the time and not with the right motives.

Here, Paul says that all Christians have been “circumcised with a circumcision made without hands.” In other words, God is the one who did this circumcision. God has performed this spiritual heart surgery on his people. It was done “by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ.” The meaning of this is debated. Some people think the circumcision of Christ refers to his actual circumcision, which is a reminder that Jesus obeyed the law, the covenant demands of God. Paedobaptists—those who believe children of believers should be baptized while they are infants—believe that Christian baptism is the equivalent of circumcision, and this is what they baptize babies. However, the mention of faith in verse 12 shows why this view is wrong. Baptism apart from faith does nothing.

Other people think the circumcision of Christ is a way of referring to his death. When Jesus died, he was “cut off.” Still others think that it refers to the spiritual circumcision that Christ performs on us. Even in the Old Testament, circumcision language was used for regeneration, or being “born again.”[3] God told the stubborn, rebellious people of Israel that they needed circumcised hearts and even ears (Jer. 6:10; Acts 7:51). To listen to God’s voice and respond to it rightly, we need to be transformed. We often think of the gospel as dealing with Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. And that’s right. But part of the good news is also that God transforms us so that we can respond rightly to Jesus. He gives us the Holy Spirit.

I think the “circumcision of Christ” refers both to his death and to our regeneration. If we are united to Christ in faith, we participate in his death. This is very similar to what Paul writes in Romans 6:3–4. “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”

True circumcision is also described in Romans. Romans 2:28–29 says, “For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter.” To be circumcised by God is to have a radical heart surgery performed by God the Father, through the Son, by means of the Holy Spirit.

In Christ, we become spiritually alive. Not only do we die with Christ, but we rise with him, too. This dying and rising is represented in baptism, which is considered part of the complex of events—faith, repentance, receiving the Spirit—that marks our initiation into the family of God. The key element in verse 12 is faith in God’s ability to do powerful things. If God can raise Jesus from the grave, he can make us into new creations. This is very similar to what Paul writes in Ephesians 2. We once were dead in our sins and now we are alive in Christ.

In Christ, we have forgiveness of sins. Because of what Jesus did on the cross, by dying in our place, we have the forgiveness of sins. Our debt to God that stood over us with its legal demands was nailed to the cross. This reminds me of that verse in “It Is Well with My Soul”:

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

On the cross, Jesus paid our debt. We all have turned our backs on God. Sure, we may think of him when we have a need, but the rest of the time we don’t think of him and love him as we should. We don’t live life on his terms. Our lives are rooted in something else. God cannot have this, because our sin ruins his creation, and because he is a righteous, perfect judge. Yet Jesus lived the perfect life that we don’t live—always rooted in God—and he died in our place, paying the penalty for our crimes against God. And his resurrection proves that his death paid that debt in full. Jesus took on the sentence for our crimes against God and walked out of the grave a free man, having satisfied the penalty for our sin.

Finally, Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension to heaven have accomplished one last, important thing. On the cross, God “disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.” Ultimately, Jesus died because it was God’s plan to save us through Jesus. But Jesus also died because Satan and the unbelieving Jewish leaders in Jerusalem wanted him eliminated. The devil and the Sanhedrin thought that they defeated Christ when he was crucified, but the irony is that through death, God defeated his enemies. When Jesus died, the authorities stripped him naked, paraded him in front of angry crowds, and celebrated their triumph over him. But Paul tells us the reality is quite different. Through Jesus’ death and subsequent vindication, God stripped his enemies naked, paraded them in public, and celebrated his triumph over them. This may not be apparent to the world right now, but when Jesus returns, it will be.

Once again, we see that Jesus is Lord over all authorities and rulers, on earth and in heaven. If our root is in Christ, no enemy can defeat us. We must remember to preach this gospel message of regeneration and forgiveness and triumph to ourselves, to remember that we have everything we need in Christ. We need to do this in the midst of temptation or discouragement, to keep us from slipping away from Jesus.

Now that we’ve looked at the details of this passage, how should we respond?

Let me first ask this: what is your life rooted in? What is your life built on? If it’s not truly built on Jesus, or on the one true, three-in-one God that is the Father, Son, and Spirit, it will be built on something else, something that isn’t lasting.

If you haven’t built your life on Jesus, I would urge you to do that. Other things may sound good. Other ideas, ways of life, or even religions may sound very attractive. But they either won’t be true (in the case of other religions) or they won’t put you in the right with God (in the case of philosophies). Only Jesus can forgive our sins, change our hearts, and give us eternal life. But we must be rooted in Jesus. We can’t plant Jesus into another root. It doesn’t work that way. He won’t be built on our lives. It’s the other way around.

A lot of people have wrongly been taught that to become a Christian means saying a prayer, or making a one-time confession of faith. Now, we can and should pray to God when we come to faith, and we should confess that we believe that Jesus is Lord and God and that he died for our sins. But real faith isn’t just saying words. Real faith is a living, continuing trust in Jesus. There are many false converts, people who once said they believed and were baptized and are not following Jesus. Let’s not be fooled. Those people are not Christians. Anyone can say some words. Anyone can get wet. Anyone can appear to follow Jesus for a short time. But real Christians continue to follow Christ.

If you’re not a Christian, or if you’re not sure you’re really a Christian, I would love to talk to you about what it means to follow Jesus.

If you are a Christian, how do we stay rooted in Christ?

There are some practical ways to help us stay rooted in Christ. We need to continue to read our Bibles. My goal is to read the entire Bible every year. I think it’s a reasonable goal—though I’ve often failed. You can do it by reading twenty-three chapters each week, or a little over three chapters a day. We need to remember that “man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4; Deut. 8:3). But there’s no law saying you have to read in the Bible in one year. Try reading it over the course of two years. If you read two chapters a day, even if you miss a day here or there, you can read it two years’ time. Staying in the Bible helps us remember what is true and what is valuable. It keeps us rooted in Christ.

We can also read other books that help us understand the Bible or help understand how to connect the Bible to every area of life. What’s important is that we are careful about our inputs. You will only be as good as the diet your brain and your heart are getting. So, choose wisely.

Here’s something I want you to think about. We have a limited amount of time, and we should be careful how we spend our time. Think only about reading. Tony Reinke, in his book on reading called Lit!, makes the following observations. There are currently eighteen million books in the Library of Congress. In fifty years, there will probably be at least twenty-eight million books. If in the next fifty years we read one book a week, which is a lot of reading, we could read 2,600 books. That sounds impressive. But that means that for every book we read, we choose not to read ten thousand other books. We will only be able to read one out of every ten thousand books, and only if we read one book per week.[4] So choose your reading wisely. Don’t waste all your time on the Internet, watching TV and movies, and reading bad books.

We can also stay rooted in Christ by worshiping him, particularly on the Lord’s Day with other Christians. Remember that Paul said we should abound in thanksgiving. Be thankful that God saved you and show your thanks through prayer and through praise. Sing of how good God is and talk to him regularly.

Staying rooted in Christ means that we have to dig up weeds that would threaten us. Whether those weeds are sinful practices or distractions or philosophies, ideologies, or even other religious ideas, if they are contrary to Jesus, we need to root them out of our lives so that we can stay rooted in Christ.

Finally, remember the gospel. Remind yourself that you have sinned against the holy Creator and are deserving of eternal condemnation, and you have been saved by God’s grace, which is available at great cost: Jesus’ death on the cross. Preach the gospel to the people around you, whether it’s your congregation, your Sunday school class, your family, or your friends. Never assume that they know the good news of Jesus Christ. And even if they know it, we never move past the gospel. We need to keep hearing it and thinking about it. It keeps us rooted in Christ.

When we continue in our faith, reject the world’s deceitful philosophies, and remember the gospel, we stay rooted in Christ. If you do these things, when you die, someone will stand up at your funeral and say, “He stuck to his roots, no matter what.”


  1. Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from the English Standard Version (ESV).
  2. These words come from the hymn “In Christ Alone.”
  3. For the role of the Holy Spirit in regeneration, even in the Old Testament, see James M. Hamilton Jr., God’s Indwelling Spirit: The Holy Spirit in the Old and New Testaments, NAC Studies in Bible & Theology (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2006).
  4. Tony Reinke, Lit! (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011), 93–94.


Rooted in Christ (Colossians 2:6-15)

What is your life rooted in? What is it built on? If it’s not built on Jesus, it’s on shaky ground. Find out why it matters that our lives are rooted in Christ and how we can keep our lives rooted in Christ. This sermon on Colossians 2:6-15 was preached by Brian Watson.

The Son of God (Luke 3:21-38)

This sermon was preached on January 21, 2018 by Brian Watson.
MP3 recording of the sermon.
PDF of the written sermon, prepared in advance (see also below)

You may not know this, but there’s a football team that plays just a few towns away, in Foxboro. They’re called the New England Patriots, and they’re pretty good. In fact, this afternoon, they’re playing the AFC Championship game. This is the seventh season in a row that they’re playing in that game and twelfth time in seventeen years. During that stretch of time, when Tom Brady has been the quarterback and Bill Belichick the coach, the team has gone to seven Super Bowls and won five of them. They may go again to the Super Bowl this year. This is an unprecedented run of success. Only the San Francisco 49ers have had a similar seventeen-year run, and it’s not likely that another NFL team will have a similar run in the future.[1]

In short, it’s good to be a New England Patriots fan. The team has won five Super Bowls on behalf of New England. We can share in those victories. They are our champions.

It’s good to be a Pats fan. But it’s quite another thing to play for the Pats in the future. Imagine the quarterback who starts for the Patriots after Tom Brady retires. According to Brady’s plan, that will be about five years from now. But at some point in time, he’ll have to step down as the starting quarterback. Imagine the man who will follow in his footsteps. I won’t feel bad for him. After all, he’ll make millions of dollars and he’ll be famous. But the fact is he’ll never be as good or as successful as Tom Brady. For him, Brady won’t be a champion. No, he’ll be an example, someone to emulate. But the sad thing is that man will always fall short. Brady will cast a long shadow on whoever follows him.

If the Patriots are your champions, they’ve won titles for you. No one can take those Super Bowl victories away from New England. In fact, every time I fly, which isn’t that often, in the terminal I usually use (Terminal C), right above the long, snaking line to go through security, the championship banners of all the Boston teams hang on the wall. If you look to the left, you see the early World Series victories of the Red Sox. As you start to look to the right, you see a lot of green, for all the Celtics championships. But as you continue to look to the right, you see more Red Sox banners, and then the five Patriot banners. This is a reminder of the what Boston teams have done for their fans.

But if you’re a player for any of those teams and haven’t yet won a championship, those banners don’t mean much. Those aren’t your victories. The player who follows Tom Brady can’t claim Brady’s five Super Bowl rings. He’ll have to earn his own. And it’s highly unlikely that he’ll ever get that many.

Now, why am I talking about sports? Because they illustrate an important concept related to Jesus. It’s one thing for Jesus to be your champion, and it’s another thing for him to be your example. A lot of people look at Jesus only as an example. Many people see Jesus as a great man, a wise teacher, but something less than God. Thomas Jefferson held this view. Many people who call themselves Christians but have unorthodox beliefs hold this view. Muslims believe Jesus is a prophet, but not the Son of God. New Age spiritualists think of Jesus as an enlightened teacher, but not the God-man who died for the sins of the world.

But Christianity says that while Jesus is an example, is not just or merely an example. There are certainly ways that we can emulate Jesus. But there are things that only he could do. Only he could live a perfectly righteous life. Only he could die for the sins of a multitude of people.

Almost a hundred years ago, a theologian named John Gresham Machen made a distinction between biblical, historical Christian and so-called “liberalism.” I often don’t use words like “conservative” and “liberal” because they instantly bring to mind all kinds of political ideas, some of which aren’t helpful. But when Machen talked about “liberalism,” he meant a drifting away from orthodox Christianity, a movement away from the Bible. And he said that Christianity and liberalism were two different religions. For the so-called liberal, “Jesus for him is an example of faith, not the object of faith. The modern liberal tries to have faith in God like the faith which he supposes Jesus had in God; but he does not have faith in Jesus.”[2] But that was not the Christianity of the apostles, including Paul. “Jesus was not for Paul merely an example for faith; He was primarily the object of faith. . . . Not the example of Jesus, but the redeeming work of Jesus, was the primary thing for Paul.”[3]

The apostles knew that Jesus was their champion. If we were to go back to our sports analogy, he won the “big game” for them. Yet so many people today think they can win the game on their own, and that their job is to follow the example of Jesus. The irony is that if you try to win on your own, even if you follow Jesus’ example to the best of your ability, you’ll never win. But if you admit you can’t win, and you trust Jesus’ victory on your behalf, you’ll win the trophy, and that prize will never be taken from you.

We get a sense of Jesus’ unique role in history in today’s passage, Luke 3:21–38. This passage consists of Jesus’ baptism and a genealogy that connects Jesus to the first man, Adam. This passage teaches us that Jesus is God’s unique, beloved Son, the one who comes to repair that damage that Adam, the first “son of God,” caused.

Let’s begin by reading the first two verses, Luke 3:21–22:

21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”[4]

Last week, we saw that Jesus’ relative, John, was baptizing people as a way of preparing them for the coming of the Messiah. He was “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Luke 3:3). He was showing the people of Israel that they were rebels against God, they were unclean from their sin, and they needed to be washed. John’s job was to point the way to the one who came after him, the one mightier than him, the one who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire (Luke 3:16).

Now, Jesus is baptized. Luke doesn’t say that it was John the Baptist who performed the baptism, but Matthew tells us that. Matthew also gives us a little more information about Jesus’ baptism, so I’ll go ahead and read Matthew 3:13–17:

13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16 And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; 17 and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

Now, if you’re paying attention, and if you know anything about Jesus, you may wonder why Jesus would be baptized. In fact, that’s what John wondered. John tried to stop Jesus, but Jesus says he needed to be baptized.

The reason that Jesus gives is that “it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matt. 3:15). Jesus has come to save his people from their sin (Matt. 1:21). As we see in this passage, he is the Son of God. Yet though Jesus has always existed as the Son of God, over two thousand years ago, he also became a human being. He came to live a perfect human life. Earlier, I quoted J. Gresham Machen from his book, Christianity and Liberalism. In that same book, he writes, “Jesus was the most religious man who ever lived; He did nothing and said nothing and thought nothing without the thought of God.”[5] We cannot say the same thing about ourselves. We do not do everything in life with a proper reverence for God. We don’t put God at the center of our lives, where he deserves to be. Though Jesus lived the perfect life, he came to identify with sinful human beings.[6]

So, here’s the point: Jesus wasn’t baptized for his sins. He didn’t have any sins to be cleansed of. But he was baptized for our sins. All of us have broken God’s laws. Israel broke the laws God gave to them. All of us have broken God’s moral law. That is why Jesus came: to be the one who obeys God’s law in our place and to be the one who pays the penalty for our law-breaking. He was baptized in order to identify with sinful human beings.

He was probably also baptized in order to affirm John’s ministry. In other words, by being baptized by John, he was setting his seal on what John was doing. He was saying, “I affirm this message.”

And during his baptism, God the Father set his seal on his Son. Jesus’ baptism was the occasion when he was anointed by the Holy Spirit, and when God the Father said, for all to hear, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” God didn’t say these words to John the Baptist. God didn’t say these words to the other people John baptized. God the Father only said these words to Jesus, because Jesus alone is God’s one-of-kind, unique Son.

Before I explain what it means for Jesus to be the Son of God, I want to pick up on three images that are found in these two verses in Luke (3:21–22). First, the heavens are opened. Second, the Holy Spirit descends on Jesus right after he is baptized. Third, the Holy Spirit “descended on him in bodily form, like a dove.”

The idea that heavens are opened shows that Jesus is the connection between God and humans, between heaven and earth. The heavens weren’t opened for anyone else. The prophet Isaiah said to God, hundreds of years earlier, “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down” (Isa. 64:1). God has done that. God has torn open the heavens and come down in the person of Jesus.

The Holy Spirit is significant. Here, in this passage, we have all three Persons of God. The Father’s voice is heard, telling his Son that he is pleased with him. The Son of God is on earth. And the Holy Spirit anoints Jesus. The fact that the Holy Spirit comes on Jesus, along with the Father’s voice, shows that God has set his seal on Jesus. The Father has set his seal on his Son. The man Jesus is empowered by the Holy Spirit to perform the Father’s mission.

The fact that God the Father, Jesus—the Son of God who is also called the Word of God (John 1:1)—and the Holy Spirit are present at a body of water reminds me of the beginning of the Bible. The Bible begins with these words: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters” (Gen. 1:1–2). When God the Father created the world, he ordered and arranged it by his word, as the following verses show. And the Holy Spirit hovered over the face of the waters before creation took form. When Jesus’ mother, Mary, became pregnant, she was a virgin, and the Holy Spirit came upon her to produce a special child, Jesus. As I said last month, when that happened, it was a new start. It reminds us of Genesis and this is no accident, because in Jesus God is bringing about a new creation. The first creation was created by a miracle. But it was spoiled by sin. Jesus, too, is created by a miracle. But Jesus is not spoiled by sin.

Jesus’ baptism is another moment that reminds us of the first creation. This is important, because Jesus is about to begin his ministry. In a moment, we’ll see that Jesus was “about thirty” when he began his public ministry. This was the age when men could begin to serve as priests (Num. 4:3), when Joseph started working for Pharaoh in Egypt (Gen. 41:46), and when David started his reign as king (2 Sam. 5:4). It’s also when the prophet Ezekiel saw a vision when the heavens were opened (Ezek. 1:1). Jesus is the true prophet, priest, and king.

Also, when God fashioned the world to be the way he wanted to be, a temple, a theater for his glory, God saw that it was “good” (Gen. 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25). We’re told the creation was “very good” (Gen. 1:31). Here, God says of his Son, “with you I am well pleased.” The man Jesus is God’s truly pleasing, perfect creation.

And before we move on, let’s talk briefly about why the Holy Spirit appears to look something like a dove. Perhaps that is so because the dove reminds us of the story of Noah. In the days of Noah, the world was so wicked that God decided to flood it (Gen. 6:5–7). The flood was a judgment on sin. We may think of it as something like an extreme baptism. It swept away sinners, cleansing the world. (Of course, it didn’t work, which shows that the world needs more than just judgment to be made right. It needs transforming.) And as the flood waters subsided, Noah sent out a dove to see if the land had reemerged. In time, a dove brought back an olive leaf (Gen. 8:11). The symbols of a dove and an olive branch represent peace. God’s judgment has passed. In Jesus, God brings peace to those who will trust Jesus. Those who know that Jesus is their only hope, the only Son of God, the only Savior, will be restored to a right relationship with God.

After Luke’s brief description of Jesus’ baptism, his anointing by the Holy Spirit, and the Father’s words, which declare that Jesus is his beloved Son, Luke presents us with a genealogy of Jesus. This is one of two genealogies of Jesus in the Bible, and they serve two different purposes. That’s why they are different. Matthew’s Gospel begins with a genealogy that starts with Abraham, goes to David, and then ends with Jesus. The point is that Jesus is the offspring of Abraham and the son of David. That matters because God told Abraham that he would bless the world through his offspring (Gen. 12:1–3; 22:18), and Jesus is that special offspring (Gal. 3:8, 16). God told David that his “offspring” would inherit his throne and reign forever (2 Sam. 7:12–13). Matthew’s genealogy has some other differences, but we don’t need to get into those now.[7]

Luke’s genealogy doesn’t come at the beginning of his Gospel, unlike Matthew’s. It comes between Jesus’ baptism and his temptation in the wilderness, for theological reasons. And it is in reverse chronological order. In other words, it moves backward, from Jesus all the back to Abraham and then further back all the way to Adam, the first man, and to God.

Without further ado, I’m going to read the genealogy presented in Luke 3:23–38:

23 Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age, being the son (as was supposed) of Joseph, the son of Heli, 24 the son of Matthat, the son of Levi, the son of Melchi, the son of Jannai, the son of Joseph, 25 the son of Mattathias, the son of Amos, the son of Nahum, the son of Esli, the son of Naggai, 26 the son of Maath, the son of Mattathias, the son of Semein, the son of Josech, the son of Joda, 27 the son of Joanan, the son of Rhesa, the son of Zerubbabel, the son of Shealtiel, the son of Neri, 28 the son of Melchi, the son of Addi, the son of Cosam, the son of Elmadam, the son of Er, 29 the son of Joshua, the son of Eliezer, the son of Jorim, the son of Matthat, the son of Levi, 30 the son of Simeon, the son of Judah, the son of Joseph, the son of Jonam, the son of Eliakim, 31 the son of Melea, the son of Menna, the son of Mattatha, the son of Nathan, the son of David, 32 the son of Jesse, the son of Obed, the son of Boaz, the son of Sala, the son of Nahshon, 33 the son of Amminadab, the son of Admin, the son of Arni, the son of Hezron, the son of Perez, the son of Judah, 34 the son of Jacob, the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham, the son of Terah, the son of Nahor, 35 the son of Serug, the son of Reu, the son of Peleg, the son of Eber, the son of Shelah, 36 the son of Cainan, the son of Arphaxad, the son of Shem, the son of Noah, the son of Lamech, 37 the son of Methuselah, the son of Enoch, the son of Jared, the son of Mahalaleel, the son of Cainan, 38 the son of Enos, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God.

If you compare this genealogy with Matthew’s, you will notice there are many differences. Some people assume this means there is a contradiction. However, for these genealogies to contradict one another, they would have to be the same in sense or the same in relation.[8] If you want to know more about this, you can read an article that I wrote on our website titled, “Are There Contradictions in the Bible?”[9]

But what if these genealogies have different purposes? It seems that Matthew is demonstrating that Jesus is the Messiah, the promised King who was a descendant of David. In other words, Matthew presents a royal genealogy. Luke, however, seems to trace a biological and legal genealogy that connects Adam, the first man, to Joseph, Jesus’ adoptive father. Jesus is both the heir to David’s throne and the legal descendant of Adam.

Why do these genealogies diverge? Shouldn’t these genealogies be one and the same?

Gerald Bray, a British theologian, demonstrates how genealogies can diverge by using an example from his homeland.

To understand just how complex genealogies can be, we need look no further than that of the British royal family. Queen Elizabeth II can trace her ancestry back more or less directly to the accession of George I in 1714, but there is not a straightforward succession from father to son. When we go back to the Tudors (1485–1603) and Stuarts (1603–1714), we find that of the twelve rulers they produced between them, the present queen is descended from only two—Henry VII (1485–1509) and James I (1603–1625). Ironically, although she cannot claim the first Elizabeth as her ancestor, she can include Elizabeth’s great rival, Mary Queen of Scots, whom Elizabeth I executed for her pretensions to the throne of England! Legal and physical descent are very different, and if we do not know the details, we might easily think that one (or both) of the competing genealogies had been made up. We do not have the background information we need to decide what the different genealogies of Jesus mean, but the British example is a warning that we must be careful not to draw conclusions that may seem obvious on the surface but that are actually quite mistaken.[10]

Bray includes a footnote to that passage: “Of the eleven monarchs since 1714, George II was succeeded by his grandson (1760), George IV by his brother (1830), William IV by his niece (1837), and Edward VIII by his brother (1936).”[11] The point Bray is making is that biological and royal ancestry are not always one and the same. This historical example demonstrates that the suggestion that Matthew and Luke are using two different genealogies—both true in their own senses—is possible.

Again, Luke’s point is to connect Jesus to Adam. Adam, the first son of God, was made in God’s image and likeness. He was made to represent God, to reflect his glory, to rule over the earth by coming under God’s rule, to worship and serve God, and to love and obey him. All of this is reflected in Genesis 1:26–28:

26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

27  So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

In the ancient Near East, images of gods were placed in temples dedicated to those gods. The images represented that god’s supposed rule and presence in that land. It seems that God made human beings in his image to function in that same way.

But the language of “in our image, after our likeness” also suggests the relationship of a son. We see this a few chapters later in Genesis. In Genesis 5:1–3, we read this:

1 This is the book of the generations of Adam. When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Man when they were created. When Adam had lived 130 years, he fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth.

Just as Adam’s son was made in his image and likeness, so Adam was made in God’s image and likeness. That doesn’t mean that Adam looked like God. God doesn’t have a body. But he resembled God in some ways, he represented God, and he was supposed to love God and obey God the way a good son would love and obey his father.

In Genesis 2:15–17, we read,

15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

On a basic level, if God placed Adam in the garden, that suggests there is a wilderness outside of the garden. If Adam would later bear fruit and multiply with his wife, Eve, they would have children, and together they would expand the size of the garden. But on a deeper level, the garden is like a temple, the place where God dwells with his people and is glorified. And Adam and Eve were like priests. The verbs translated here as “work” and “keep” are later applied to the Levites and priests, who were supposed to “minister” at the tabernacle and “keep guard” over it (Num. 3:8). So, Adam was made to be like a king, having dominion, but also like a priest. And he was given a commandment not to eat of a certain tree. This commandment was given to him alone, and the idea was that he was supposed to tell his wife the commandment later. He was responsible for her conduct as well as his own.[12]

Many of us know what happens next (in Genesis 3). Satan, in the form of a serpent, tempted Eve, who knew the commandment. She knew not to eat the fruit of that tree. But she ate, and she gave some fruit to Adam, who also ate. They ate because they didn’t trust God’s word. They trusted the words of the serpent instead. And because of their sin, division and death entered into the world and the first human beings were removed from that garden paradise.

All humanity has been wandering in the wilderness since that time. We are not born with a right relationship with God. We’re born into a world that is cursed because of Adam’s sin. Hosea 6:7 says that God made a covenant with Adam. He represented all humanity, and he failed. And we reap the consequences. That might not seem fair. But people represent us whether we want them to or not. The Patriots represent New England whether you like the team or not. (And if you don’t, what’s wrong with you?) Whether you voted for our president or not, he leads our nation. We didn’t choose our military leaders and personnel, but they serve on our behalf. Adam represented all humanity and he failed. And if we were in his place, we would fail, too.

But the Bible refers to Jesus as the “second Adam.” And he succeeds where Adam failed. Unlike Adam, Jesus always obeyed God the Father. As we’ll see next week, when he was tempted, he didn’t sin. He was and is the perfect priestly king, the true image of God (2 Cor. 4:4; Col. 1:15). In Romans 5:12–21, which we don’t have time to read this morning, the apostle Paul says that death came to the world through Adam, but grace and life come through Jesus. Adam’s sin led to condemnation, but Jesus’ obedience leads to righteousness. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul says that death came through Adam, but those who are united to Jesus will be resurrected to eternal life, just as Jesus was resurrected after he died on the cross (1 Cor. 15:20–22; see also vv. 42–49).

Paul’s point is that every human being will be represented by the first Adam or the “second Adam,” Jesus. We start out in life being represented by the first Adam. We have a sinful nature, one that leads us to disobey God and not love him as we should. But if we put our faith in Jesus, we are represented by him. His perfectly righteous life is credited to us. If we are united to Jesus, it’s as if we never sinned. And his death pays the penalty for our sins, so that we can be forgiven. And because Jesus rose from the grave in a body that can never die again, all who are united to him will one day be raised in indestructible, immortal bodies and they will live in restored world, one that is perfect, one that has no sin, no diseases, no wars, and no death.

And all of this leads us to a choice. We must choose to trust in Jesus, to rely on him as our champion, our representative. Or we must choose to rely on our efforts. In a similar way, we will choose to believe that Jesus is Lord and King, and that his way of life is right and true. Or we will trust that we are own kings and queens, and we will build our little kingdoms. You can’t have it both ways. To go back to our sports analogy, if we want to have a share of an NFL title, Tom Brady has to be our champion. He is the star of the show, we are not. And if we trust in Jesus, we’ll see that our lives should be centered on him.

As we close today, I want us to think about three ways to apply this message.

The first thing we should do upon hearing this message is simply to trust in Jesus. He is unique. There is no one like him. He is an example, but he’s much more than an example. He is our champion. If you don’t really know Jesus, if you’re not sure whether you have put your faith in him, I would love to talk to you about that.

The second thing is that we can learn from Jesus’ example. In this passage, God sends the Holy Spirit when Jesus obeys and prays. God’s blessings come often in response to obedience, which includes prayer. Prayer is a big theme for Luke. Jesus prays at important times in his life. So do his followers. And God often responds in big ways. That doesn’t mean that if we pray, God will always respond the way we think he should. God can’t be manipulated. But after Jesus prayed, the Holy Spirit came on him. After Jesus ascended to heaven, his followers prayed (Acts 1:14), and then Jesus poured out the Holy Spirit on the church (Acts 2). If we want the Holy Spirit to do important things in our lives, we should obey God and we should pray.

Here’s one last thought. Whenever I read genealogies in the Bible, I think about how all those names represent real people who lived real lives. They had their own hopes and dreams, their own stories. But the important role they played was being part of the chain that connected Jesus to the first human being. All of us play a small role in God’s plans. We are but links in a very long chain, cogs in a large gear, bricks in a very big wall. Each of us must respond to Jesus personally. Each of us will be called to account by God one day. Each Christian will do his or her small part for God’s kingdom. It’s said there are no small actors, only small parts to play. Each person is made in God’s image. Therefore, each person matters. And each Christian is being remade into the image of God’s son (Rom. 8:29; 2 Cor. 3:18; 4:4). Each Christian has an important role. We play the roles that God has assigned to us. Not all will be famous. Not all will be pastors or missionaries. But our lives matter. Our work matters. Our obedience matters. If we’re connected to Jesus, he has done all the work that is needed to reconcile us to God. That liberates us to work not for our salvation, but because of it. That frees us to work for God and the benefit of others.

So, let us follow Jesus’ example. But, more importantly, let us find our life in him. And when we trust Jesus, God says of us, “You are my beloved son; you are my beloved daughter; with you I am well pleased.”


  1. From 1981–1997, the 49ers had a record of 195-68-1, won 13 division titles, played in 10 NFC Championships, and played in five Super Bowls, winning them all. From 2001–2017, the Patriots had a record of 209-63, won 15 division titles, played in 12 AFC Championships, played in seven Super Bowls, and won five of them.
  2. J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism, new ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2009), 73. This book was originally published in 1923, yet much of the book is still quite timely.
  3. Ibid., 70.
  4. Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from the English Standard Version (ESV).
  5. Machen, Christianity and Liberalism, 80.
  6. John the Baptist came to Israel to let them know that they had broken the law that God had given them. And all of us have broken God’s moral law. No set of laws has the power to save us, to transform us, or to pay for our sins. But there’s a passage in Romans, at the beginning of chapter 8, where Paul gives us a hint of what it means for Jesus to fulfill all righteousness:There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit (Rom. 8:1–4).Jesus came “in the likeness of sinful flesh,” though he was not sinful. And when he died on the cross, God the Father “condemned sin in the flesh.” Jesus’ perfect life and his sacrificial death on the cross fulfilled “the righteous requirement of the law.”
  7. There are only forty-two generations listed in Matthew (Matt. 1:1–17). It’s clear that Matthew skips some generations, probably for numerical reasons. Jewish people at that time found significance in numbers. The number seven was considered a perfect number, a number that represents completeness. Forty-two is a multiple of seven. But it’s also a multiple of fourteen, and if you assign numbers to the three Hebrew consonants that spell the name “David,” you get the number fourteen. (In the Hebrew alphabet, D = 4, V = 6, D = 4). This may be another way of paying homage to David and showing that Jesus is the promised King that will reign forever.
  8. Someone could say, “John Doe is my father” and “Jim Doe is my father” without contradiction as long as that person was not claiming to have two biological fathers. (Each of us only has one biological father.) If one father is biological and the other adoptive, there is no contradiction. If Matthew and Luke were tracing different types of fathers in their genealogies, then their genealogies would be very different.
  10. Gerald Bray, God Is Love: A Biblical and Systematic Theology (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 565.
  11. Ibid., 565 n. 26.
  12. For more information on the opening chapters of Genesis, see the first few sermons in the sermon series, “What Is the Story of the Bible?” (


The Son of God (Luke 3:21-38)

In describing Jesus’ baptism and in listing a genealogy that connects Jesus to Adam, Luke shows that Jesus is the true Son of God. Listen to this sermon on Luke 3:21-38, preached by Brian Watson, to find out why this matters.

Bear Fruits in Keeping with Repentance (Luke 3:1-20)

Pastor Brian Watson preaches a sermon based on Luke 3:1-20. John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus by telling people that they needed to repent, or turn from the old ways and to God. He announced that we have a problem and that the solution, the one mightier than he, would come.

A Question about Divorce

When is it permissible to divorce? If someone gets a divorce, will that separate that person from the love of God? Pastor Brian Watson teaches what the Bible has to say about marriage, divorce, and remarriage.

On Baptism

Pastor Brian Watson preaches a message on what the Bible says about baptism. He talks about the origins of baptism, what Jesus says about baptism, the meaning of baptism, and who should be baptized and why they should be baptized.