Friends, I want you to think back to some of your favorite superhero movies. What is that makes for a great superhero? What are the qualities that are necessary for a great character?
Comic book writer Stan Lee would know. Since 1939, Lee created or co-created some of the world’s most popular superheroes including Black Panther, Spider-Man, the X-Men, Iron Man, just to name a few. (Gosh, I really should have saved this for the kids message, right?)
Lee was clearly something of a titan and leader when it came to creating superheroes. And yet, what exactly set his stories apart from all the others?
Well, Lee explained his secret in a 1984 interview:
The whole formula went something like this: “Let’s assume that somebody really could walk on walls like Spider-Man, or turn green and become a monster like The Hulk. That’s a given; we’ll accept that. But, accepting that, what would that person be like in the real world if he really existed? Wouldn’t he still have to worry about making a living? Or having acne and dandruff? Or his girlfriend jilting him? What are the real problems people would have? I think that’s what made the books popular.”
Interesting, right? The two words that came to mind for me when I read that were the words capable and relatable. We want our superheroes to be simultaneously both – both capable and relatable.
We all want our superhero to be capable – heroes with superpowers who can come to the rescue and rescue us from our enemies and from our calamities – we want them to be capable, otherwise, they wouldn’t be heroes, they’d just be average and ordinary. And yet, with that said, we also simultaneously want our heroes to be relatable – we want them to be someone with whom we can identify with, who are like us to some extent and who face the same struggles and challenges that we face. Capable and relatable.
It’s a dynamic that’s not only true of our favorite superheroes, it’s a dynamic of our Lord and Savior, Jesus himself, who, as we’ll see in our scripture today, is both capable and relatable.
This morning we continue on in our sermon series on Luke’s Gospel, we’re six weeks in now, and believe it or not, even six weeks in, in a book that tells the story of Jesus’s life, death and resurrection, we’re just barely scratching the surface of Jesus’s ministry still, in fact, we’re still very much in the introductory, preamble stage of his ministry, as Luke is ever so slowly and methodically setting the table for the rest of the book.
Last week we were re-introduced to John the Baptist, who served as the forerunner to Jesus, to help prepare the way and prepare God’s people for the coming of our Lord. And now, we are re-introduced to Jesus himself, as we read about two signature preparatory events that launch Jesus into his public ministry, first his baptism, and then his temptation, where he’s led by the Spirit into the wilderness where he’ll be tempted by the devil for 40 days.
And yet in the midst of all of that, Luke, as the author of this gospel, does something quite strange. Unique to the other gospel writers who share these same two stories of Jesus’s baptism and temptation, Luke makes the interesting literary choice of putting a long genealogy smack dab in the middle of the two, essentially taking a break to plant Jesus’s family tree right in the midst of it all.
It’s kind of like if you’re watching a great sporting event on TV, and in the midst of it, Tom Brokaw surprisingly comes up on your screen saying, “We’re interrupting tonight’s broadcast with a special world news report.” And then instead of giving you breaking news, instead he starts reading from a phone book. And meanwhile, you’re thinking, “Wait, we had a great story going on here, and you’re interrupting things with this?” It would be strange, right? That is, in a sense, is what Luke is doing here.
And yet, I’m convinced Luke is doing something really, really cool here as he weaves these stories and details together. Where he’s establishing who this Jesus is and what he is like and in doing so setting the table for the rest of the book, as he establishes this reality that this Jesus is both fully God and fully human. And that by being fully God, he is powerful, he is qualified, he is our chosen Lord and Savior. In other words, he is capable. And yet at the same time, he is fully human, he is like us, he is related to us, our chosen Lord and Savior is a descendent from among us. In other words, he is relatable.
Luke is telling us up front that this Jesus, is perfectly qualified to assume this role of Lord and Savior. As both God and human, he is fully capable and extremely relatable. And in doing so, he’s perfectly qualified to be your Lord and Savior too.
So with all that said, let’s dive a little deeper into our scripture here today, anchored by those two words, capable and relatable. And as we do, I’ll try and highlight why it all matters for us today.
First, Jesus is our capable Lord and Savior.
He’s capable because he is fully God. Notice all that’s happening surrounding Jesus’s baptism. Luke goes to great lengths to record this reality that through his baptism, Jesus is God in the flesh.
The people are coming to John the Baptist to be baptized and then last of all, here comes Jesus. His baptism looks completely different than all the others. When for everyone else, their baptism might have seemed as some unceremonious dunking, when Jesus gets baptized, heaven was opened, time begins to stand still, the Holy Spirit descends upon him, and a voice from heaven says, “This is my Son, whom I love, with him I am well pleased.” This is a heavenly endorsement like no other, where God and Luke are making it abundantly clear, telling us with bright flashing lights, this is the true Son of God. And as God, he is capable of handling and conquering whatever challenges and obstacles come before him.
And yet, Luke goes even further to establish how capable and qualified and credible this Jesus by giving us this genealogy, this incredibly long list of names, Jesus’s family tree.
(Koen Malesich, who read the scripture this morning, I’d like to think he and I are buddies, we have a fun back and forth, I can tease him, he can tease me. When I learned that he would be reading today’s scripture, I thought to myself, oh my gosh, what a moment, how many of these names should I ask him to read? Kolby, his dad, is probably thinking, “all of them. Make him read all of them.” No, instead I had him read less than a quarter of them, I simply wanted you all to get a feel for what Luke is doing here. )
Anyway … notice, what Luke does here when he lays out before us Jesus’s family tree, he names some of the heroes and pillars of the faith, people like David and Abraham. People with whom God had made all of these covenant promises with, promising that a Messiah King, would come from their line. Luke is saying, Jesus is the promised one from David and Abraham’s line, meaning just by association, he meets all the qualifications of the job. He is fully capable.
In a way, it’s kind of like when you apply for a job and you get it largely because of a key person’s recommendation or your connection to a prominent figure. I remember applying for a job one time and in large part getting the job because of one key person’s recommendation on my behalf. The whole experience was kind of like, hey, don’t you want to get to know me better?, and the employer was kind of like, “Sure, but I don’t need to. If you’re connected to so and so, if you’ve got their blessing, that’s all I need to know.” You see, Jesus is doing a similar thing here through this genealogy. By connecting Jesus to the heroes of the faith, David and Abraham, he’s telling us this Jesus is fully capable and qualified for the job of Lord and Savior he’s applied for.
As the Son of God, Jesus is our fully capable Lord and Savior. Which means, you can trust him, you can go to him, you can lean on him. Whatever your struggles, whatever your pain, he can take it, he can handle it, he can absorb it. He’s the God who healed the sick, who made blind men see and the paralyzed walk. He’s the God who turned water into wine and then later walked on water. He’s the God who silenced the stormy seas and then later turned a kid’s sack lunch into a meal for 5,000. He is capable. And friends you can go to him with your prayers.
I wonder if sometimes the reasons you and I fail to persevere in prayer is because we forget who this Jesus really is.
Pastor John Piper says this about a Christian who fails to pray, saying, a prayerless Christian is like a bus driver trying to push his bus out of a rut by himself because he doesn’t know that Clark Kent is on board. If we knew, we would ask for his help.
I love that. Friends, we’ve got our own Clark Kent like superhero in the back seat ready to help. We just need to ask.
For my newsletter article this month (shameless plug), I reflected on an article that Callie and I have been reflecting on together written by Pastor Don Whitney, who shared 10 Questions for a New Year, one of them being, “What’s an impossible prayer you can pray?” What a great question, right?
What thing do you want to ask God for that you think to yourself, “no way, that’s too big, that’s too crazy, that could never happen”? Maybe it’s to see a difficult relationship reconciled, healing for a loved one who’s in dire straits, unexpected financial provision, maybe it’s something for our church. What prayer feels so out of reach that it doesn’t feel worth praying for anymore? Pray for it!! Jesus is more than capable. And yet of course, his answer may be “no”, or simply “not yet”, but even still, never forget, he is fully capable.
He is our fully capable Lord and Savior and yet, at the same time, this Jesus is our relatable Lord and Savior.
This is one of the things that is central to and unique about the Christian faith. That through the person of Jesus Christ, God took on flesh and lived and dwelt among us. He became like us. Through his physical embodiment and life experiences here on earth, he identified with us.
He is not only capable, he is relatable. And here again, Luke goes to great detail to highlight all of this.
He does so first through Jesus’s baptism. Here John the Baptist was baptizing people in the Jordan River, calling the people to repent of their sins, to turn away from their sin and rebellion and to turn back to and reorient themselves back to God. As a renewal ceremony of sorts, these baptisms served as a way for people to identify with and give their allegiance to God, and still today, that is in many ways what baptism is, it’s to identify with and pledge ourselves to God. And yet, here in this story, in a shocking turn of events, Jesus asks to be baptized himself, which is interesting, right? He had nothing to repent of, no recommitment to make. You see, when he went down into and reemerged from the water, he was identifying with us. It was his way of associating with and becoming like one of us.
And yet, even still, through his genealogy, Luke goes even further than that. Notice how far he traces back Jesus’s genealogy. He doesn’t stop with Abraham, the father of Israel, like Matthew does in his genealogy. Rather, he goes back all the way to Adam, the very first person, the very first person to have ever walked this earth. And here Luke is making a profound theological statement. Saying that for everyone who has ever lived, if you peel back the family tree far enough, they all come back to the same source, to the same place, to the same person. They all trace back to Adam (and Eve, I suppose). Each and every one of us, both literally and metaphorically, is a descendent of Adam. And if Jesus is a relative of Adam’s, and if we’re a relative of Adam’s, do you see what this means? It means that Jesus is for everyone. It means that the gospel is for everyone. And that this good news is the hope not just of Israel, it’s the hope of the entire human race.
Jesus is our relatable Lord and Savior. Which yet again, means you can trust him, you can go to him, you can lean on him. Whatever your struggles, whatever your pain, he can take it, he can handle it, he can absorb it, not only because he’s capable, but because he’s relatable, he’s been there, he knows the depths of your pain for he himself experienced the full depth of the human experience. Have you ever struggled or been lacking in terms of financial or material provision, well, as a homeless vagabond throughout his public ministry, Jesus can relate to that. Have you ever been at odds or distant with your family, well, Jesus can relate to that. Have you ever faced and wrestled with temptation, well, Jesus can relate to that. Have you ever felt lonely or abandoned, rejected or forgotten, well, through his experience on the cross, Jesus can relate to that.
Whatever it is that you’re struggling with, Jesus can relate to that. So yes, you can go to him.
You see, in many ways, these tandem realities of capable and relatable are intertwined, and oddly enough, we see this incredibly clearly, in an unexpected place, the world of stand up comedy. There’s an interesting dynamic that I’ve read about in stand up comedy. In order to be capable, that is successful, in standup comedy, you must be relatable. After all, humor is often found in our shared experiences. And yet the more capable and successful a person becomes in standup comedy, the more money they make and often the less relatable they become, where all of a sudden they are living lives that are completely different than your average person. And jokes about how your butler drove you around in your Ferrari on Miami Beach don’t play very well in the Rust Belt or small town Montana or New York City for that matter. Because they are no longer relatable, because they no longer stand in long lines at the grocery store or scrap ice off their windshield at 7 in the morning like we do, they’re simultaneously no longer capable. And all jokes aside, there’s a similar dynamic with Jesus.
This Jesus we worship is both fully God and fully human. Both capable and relatable, and in fact he is capable, in part, because he is relatable. In order for Jesus to capably stand in as our Lord and Savior, to stand in as our representative and atone for our sins, it is imperative for him to be like us, to identify with us, he must be relatable. God alone cannot atone for the sins of mankind. God had to become human, human for human, standing in our place, and yet the only kind of person who is capable of defeating death itself, by rising from the grave, something no mere mortal has done before, well, that can only be accomplished by God himself. You see this Jesus is wonderfully, miraculously, astonishingly both fully God and fully Human. Both capable and relatable.
And I’ll finish with this. There’s one last thing from our scripture today that I want you to see, because when Luke links the stories of Jesus’s baptism and temptation with a genealogy that points all the way back to Adam, he is doing something incredibly powerful and deeply profound.
Where, as Luke connects Jesus to Adam, through his storytelling in Luke chapter 3, he is trying to take back down memory lane, all the way back to Genesis 1, the very first moments in human history.
Where in Jesus’s baptism, we find the Spirit hovering over the water of the Jordan River like a dove, just as it was in very beginning of scripture, where in midst of an uncreated world, we’re told that the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And then like Adam, Jesus receives God’s blessing, “This is my Son, whom I love, with him I am well pleased.” And then, after connecting Jesus to Adam through a genealogy, what’s the very next story Luke tells us?
We’re told that Jesus was led into the wilderness where he was tempted by the Devil, echoing that moment long ago when Adam and Eve were in their own garden wilderness, being tempted by a cunning serpent, the Devil himself.
And of course, this is where their stories break. Though Adam and Eve gave into temptation, Jesus, being the true and better Adam, the superhero that he is, held his ground against the temptation until that future day when he would slay the giant once and for all.
Friends, no matter what comes your way, no matter what you experience, Jesus has been there too – he’s endlessly relatable. And no matter how many times you sin and fall and stumble, Jesus is standing their waiting to pick you right back up – he’s more than capable.
And as for that temptation story, we’ll study that one in greater detail next week ☺
Heavenly Father, we ask that by the grace of Your
Holy Spirit You would open our eyes to our own sin and our own need, and that
You would point us then to the Savior, Your Son, Jesus Christ — son of David,
son of Abraham, son of Adam, son of God — and that we would put our trust in
Christ alone. This we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen. (Ligon Duncan)