Luke 3 – The Work of John the Baptist
A. The mission of John the Baptist.
1. (1-2a) The time is described in reference to the contemporary political and religious leaders.
Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, while Annas and Caiaphas were high priests,
a. In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar: Biblical chronology can be a complicated matter. From secular historical records we know with certainty the general time this was, but it is difficult to be certain exactly when this was. The best reckonings set it anywhere from A.D. 27 to 29.
b. Tiberius Caesar… Pontius Pilate… Herod… Philip… Lysanias: Luke listed the political leaders of the region Jesus lived and served in. Like any good historian, Luke gave a real, historical framework. This is not a fairy tale beginning with “once upon a time.”
i. Luke gave more than a chronological measure; he also told us something of the tenor of the times.
· Tiberius was an emperor known for his cruelty and severity.
· Pontius Pilate was also renowned for his brutal massacres of the Jewish people in Judea, and his insensitivity towards the Jews.
· The rulers from the family of Herod the Great (Herod, Philip, and Lysanias) were known for their corruption and cruelty.
ii. With all this, Luke reminds both his original readers and us today of the corruption and moral degradation of the Roman Empire, especially in the distant provinces like Judea.
iii. The historical reality of these rulers is beyond dispute. Archaeologists have discovered specific, undeniable evidence that these people lived and ruled in these places and at these times.
iv. When Herod the Great died, he divided his kingdom among his three sons Herod, Philip, and Lysanias. “The title tetrarch literally means governor of a fourth part…later the word widened its meaning and came to mean the governor of any part.” (Barclay)
c. Caiaphas… Annas: Luke also listed the religious leaders of Judea in the period of Jesus’ ministry. Caiaphas was actually the High Priest, but his father-in-law Annas (the patriarch of the family) was the real influence among the priestly class.
i. The mention of these two corrupt high priests reminds us that the Jewish leaders were more interested in power politics than in serving God.
ii. In November 1990, scholars discovered what they believe to be the family tomb of Caiaphas. On an ancient burial box (an ossuary) from the era is an inscription reading Joseph, Son of Caiaphas. Remains of a 60 year-old male were discovered in the box.
2. (2b-3) The ministry of John the Baptist.
The word of God came to John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness. And he went into all the region around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins,
a. The word of God came to John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness: John lived in the desert since his youth (Luke 1:80). But now, prompted by the word of God, John began to fulfill his ultimate calling: to be a forerunner of the Messiah.
i. Luke carefully set the work of John in historical context, because “To Luke the emergence of John the Baptist was one of the hinges on which history turned.” (Barclay)
b. Preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins: The idea behind remission is not only forgiveness, but also liberty and deliverance (as in to preach deliverance…to set at liberty in Luke 4:18). Repentance could bring true liberty in the Messiah for those who received it.
i. John’s message was a call to repentance. Some people think that repentance is mostly about feelings, especially feeling sorry for your sin. It is wonderful to feel sorry about your sin, but repent isn’t a “feelings” word. It is an action word. John told his listeners to make a change of the mind, not merely to feel sorry for what they had done. Repentance speaks of a change of direction, not a sorrow in the heart.
c. Baptism of repentance: There was nothing strange in the ceremony of baptism (a ceremonial immersion) itself. The strange thing was that Jews submitted to baptism. This was a common ritual for Gentiles who wanted to become Jews. For a Jew to submit to baptism was to say something like, “I’m as bad as a heathen Gentile.” This was a true mark of humble repentance, a radical rededication to the Lord.
i. “Baptism by water, whether understood by the Qumran community as applicable to itself or as preached by Jewish missionaries to Gentile converts symbolized spiritual cleansing from sin, the result of forgiveness.” (Pate)
ii. This is different than our baptism into Christ (Romans 6:3-4) where our immersion in water identifies us with Jesus’ death and resurrection. This baptism of repentance John presented identified a person with their need to get right with God and be cleansed.
3. (4-6) John’s ministry as a fulfillment of prophecy.
As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, saying:
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the LORD;
Make His paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled
And every mountain and hill brought low;
The crooked places shall be made straight
And the rough ways smooth;
And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”
a. As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet: Luke connected John the Baptist with the one prophesied by Isaiah (Isaiah 40:3-5). John himself was aware of this from his early days, because his father was aware of it from before John’s birth (Luke 1:76-77).
b. Prepare the way of the LORD: John’s great message was that things can be set right. The Messiah is here to do things that are too big for man: filling valleys, leveling mountains, setting crooked roads straight and rough roads smooth.
i. The Jews at that time thought that the problem was mainly “them” – that is, the Romans who politically oppressed them. John made them see that when you got right down to it, the problem was really with me, not them. I have to get right with God.
c. All flesh shall see the salvation of God: The way of the Messiah must be made ready. He came to all mankind. (NIV)
i. “Simply stated, the theme of John’s preaching was that the messianic age was at hand.” (Pate)
B. The message of John the Baptist.
1. (7-9) John’s message to the multitudes.
Then he said to the multitudes that came out to be baptized by him, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
a. Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Addressing your audience as a family of snakes is not a customary way to begin a sermon. Asking them “why are you here anyway?” isn’t a smooth introduction. But John wasn’t interested in preaching a soft message or in tickling ears.
i. Simply said, John was weird. Any man who preached like this, lived in the desert, wore funny clothes and lived on grasshoppers and wild honey was just plain strange. Jesus didn’t have a polished advance man with a thousand-dollar suit and a two-hundred-dollar haircut. God often uses weird people.
b. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father’: John cautioned against trusting in Abraham’s merits as sufficient for salvation. It was widely taught that Abraham’s merits were plenty for any Jew’s salvation, and that it was impossible for any descendant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to go to hell.
c. Bear fruits worthy of repentance: John was not unreasonable in demanding good fruit. True repentance will always have fruit – and the basic fruit of the Christian life is love (Galatians 5:22 and 1 Corinthians 13:1-3).
2. (10-14) John’s message to specific individuals.
So the people asked him, saying, “What shall we do then?” He answered and said to them, “He who has two tunics, let him give to him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise.” Then tax collectors also came to be baptized, and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Collect no more than what is appointed for you.” Likewise the soldiers asked him, saying, “And what shall we do?” So he said to them, “Do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely, and be content with your wages.”
a. What shall we do then? John’s instructions were quite ordinary. He demanded that people share, that they be fair with each other, and that they not be mean and cruel; that they be happy with what they get. These are things we teach our smallest children.
i. Integrity in the ordinary things is still a mark of true repentance. We sometimes think God requires us to do great or impossible things to demonstrate repentance. Often, He instead looks for integrity in the ordinary things.
ii. He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)
b. Collect no more than what is appointed for you…Do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely, and be content with your wages: John did not see tax collecting or soldiering as inherently evil. He did not command these to quit their professions, but to conduct themselves honestly in them.
i. The Romans taxed by auctioning the rights to collect taxes to the highest bidder. Because the tax collector could only cover his costs and make a profit by getting as much as he could, these men were hated intensely.
ii. “These were the toll-takers, custom-gatherers for the Romans, and most of them greedy gripers. Publicans they were called, because they took up publica, the goods of the empire.” (Trapp)
3. (15-18) John points forward to a greater One and a greater baptism.
Now as the people were in expectation, and all reasoned in their hearts about John, whether he was the Christ or not, John answered, saying to all, “I indeed baptize you with water; but One mightier than I is coming, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather the wheat into His barn; but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire.” And with many other exhortations he preached to the people.
a. All reasoned in their hearts about John, whether he was the Christ or not: John made such an impact that people logically wondered if he was the Messiah. Instead of cultivating his own popularity, he gave it all to Jesus. John pointed to One mightier than I.
b. Whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose: The rabbis of Jesus’ day taught that a teacher might require just about anything of his followers except to have them take off his sandals. That was considered too humiliating to demand. Yet John said that he was not even worthy to do this for Jesus.
i. John had many reasons to be proud, yet he was humble. He had a miraculous birth, a prophesied destiny, a man called to personally fulfill great prophetic promises, a powerful preacher, and a man with a great following.
ii. “What was the reason, think you, of John’s always retaining his proper position? Was it not because he had a high idea of his Master, and a deep reverence for him? Ah, brethren, because of our little estimate of Christ, it is often unsafe for the Lord to trust us in any but the very lowest positions.” (Spurgeon)
iii. John was both strict and humble. That is an all-too-rare combination.
c. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire: John said that the Messiah was coming with a different baptism. The Holy Spirit’s outpouring was promised as part of the New Covenant. We are promised an immersion, an overflowing of the Holy Spirit in our lives. This was often experienced as people were prayed for with hands laid on them (Acts 6:6, 8:17, 9:17, 13:3-4, and 19:6).
d. His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor: The Messiah would also bring a baptism of fire, fire that would both purify and destroy what is lacking, like fire burns up the worthless chaff. God’s power is always a transforming power, a purifying power.
i. The Messiah will also be the one to divide the true from the false, to separate the wheat from the chaff; the winnowing fan is in His hand. Judas is set apart from Peter; one thief blasphemes, another believes.
4. (19-20) The boldness of John’s message is illustrated.
But Herod the tetrarch, being rebuked by him concerning Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, and for all the evils which Herod had done, also added this, above all, that he shut John up in prison.
a. Herod the tetrarch, being rebuked by him concerning Herodias: The relationship between Herod and Herodias was both complicated and sinful. He was her uncle, and he seduced her from his half-brother. In marrying Herodias, Herod at once married a woman both his niece and his sister-in-law.
i. “In light of passages like Leviticus 18:16 and 20:21, which specifically forbid a man having sexual relations with his brother’s wife, Herod’s actions called for condemnation.” (Pate)
b. He shut John up in prison: Because John made such a bold stand for the truth, Herod, who was steeped in immorality, punished him.
i. “Josephus says that the reason for the arrest was that Herod ‘feared lest the great influence John had over the people might put it in his power and inclination to raise a rebellion; for they seemed ready to do anything he should advise.’” (Barclay)
C. John baptizes Jesus.
1. (21a) Jesus is baptized along with the others.
When all the people were baptized, it came to pass that Jesus also was baptized;
a. When all the people were baptized: There was a remarkable response to the work of John the Baptist, and many came to repent and receive baptism. One day, in the midst of the crowd, Jesus came to also be baptized.
b. Jesus also was baptized: Jesus did not receive baptism because He was a sinner that needed to repent and be cleansed from His sins. He did it to completely identify Himself with sinful man. This was the same heart that would lead to His ultimate identification with sinful man on the cross.
2. (21b-22) The Divine witness to Jesus’ standing as the Son of God.
And while He prayed, the heaven was opened. And the Holy Spirit descended in bodily form like a dove upon Him, and a voice came from heaven which said, “You are My beloved Son; in You I am well pleased.”
a. And while He prayed: We notice Luke’s repeated emphasis on prayer. Other gospel writers describe this occasion, but only Luke points out that it happened while He prayed.
b. The Holy Spirit… and a voice came from heaven: The three Persons of the Trinity were all manifested at once. The Holy Spirit came in bodily form like a dove. The voice of God the Father was heard, and the beloved Son was baptized.
i. There was some visible, tangible evidence that the Holy Spirit had come upon Jesus. A similar thing happened with the apostles when something like tongues of fire appeared over their heads on Pentecost.
ii. “What this scene was in the life of the Lord, Pentecost was for the Church. Then she was anointed for her divine mission among men; the unction of the Holy One rested upon her, to be continued and renewed as the centuries slowly passed.” (Meyer)
c. You are My beloved Son; in You I am well pleased: The voice from heaven left no doubt. This wasn’t just another sinner being baptized; this was the sinless, Eternal Son of God, pleasing the Father by His identification with sinful man.
· You are My beloved Son is an echo of Psalm 2:7, a glorious Messianic Psalm.
· In You I am well pleased is an echo of Isaiah 42:7, marking Jesus as the suffering Servant spoken of in that broader passage.
d. In You I am well pleased: Jesus began His earthly ministry with the blessing of the Father and the enabling power of the Holy Spirit. In Jesus, we can have the same things.
i. In Jesus, we can hear the Father say to us, This is My beloved son, in you I am well pleased.
ii. In Jesus, the Holy Spirit can come upon us for empowering and blessing.
D. The genealogy of Jesus.
1. (23a) The age of Jesus when He began His ministry.
Now Jesus Himself began His ministry at about thirty years of age,
a. Thirty years of age: This seems to have been the age of full maturity in the Jewish mind. Priests could begin their service only at 30 (Numbers 4:2-3).
2. (23b-38) Luke’s genealogy of Jesus.
Being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, the son of Heli, the son of Matthat, the son of Levi, the son of Melchi, the son of Janna, the son of Joseph, the son of Mattathiah, the son of Amos, the son of Nahum, the son of Esli, the son of Naggai, the son of Maath, the son of Mattathiah, the son of Semei, the son of Joseph, the son of Judah, the son of Joannas, the son of Rhesa, the son of Zerubbabel, the son of Shealtiel, the son of Neri, the son of Melchi, the son of Addi, the son of Cosam, the son of Elmodam, the son of Er, the son of Jose, the son of Eliezer, the son of Jorim, the son of Matthat, the son of Levi, the son of Simeon, the son of Judah, the son of Joseph, the son of Jonan, the son of Eliakim, the son of Melea, the son of Menan, the son of Mattathah, the son of Nathan, the son of David, the son of Jesse, the son of Obed, the son of Boaz, the son of Salmon, the son of Nahshon, the son of Amminadab, the son of Ram, the son of Hezron, the son of Perez, the son of Judah, the son of Jacob, the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham, the son of Terah, the son of Nahor, the son of Serug, the son of Reu, the son of Peleg, the son of Eber, the son of Shelah, the son of Cainan, the son of Arphaxad, the son of Shem, the son of Noah, the son of Lamech, the son of Methuselah, the son of Enoch, the son of Jared, the son of Mahalalel, the son of Cainan, the son of Enos, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God.
a. Being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph: According to ancient custom, genealogies were almost always traced through the father, not the mother. This was a problem in the unique situation of a virgin birth.
i. Luke differs in the account of Matthew from David onward, but they both end their genealogies with Joseph. The best explanation for this seems to be that Luke followed Mary’s line (Jesus’ actual lineage) while Matthew followed Joseph’s line (His legal lineage by adoption). This was Luke’s point in his important phrase “being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph.”
ii. Luke began with Joseph because he followed proper form and included no women in his genealogy
b. The son of… the son of: The fact that Luke could give Jesus’ genealogical history was not unusual. Josephus traced his own genealogy from “the public records” (Autobiography, paragraph 1). It was also well known that the famous Rabbi Hillel could prove his descent from King David with reference from the public registers.
c. The son of Adam, the son of God: Luke traced his genealogy all the way back to Adam, to show that Jesus belonged to all mankind, not only to the Jewish people.
i. A genealogy may not seem like much, but it exactly established Jesus’ credentials as a member of the human race. A Bible translator to a distant tribe saved the genealogies for last because he thought them the least important part of the gospels. But when he finally finished them last of all, the tribesmen were astounded – they told the translator, “You mean to tell us that this Jesus was a real person, with real ancestors? We had no idea!”
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission