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A VOICE CRYING IN THE WILDERNESS
The first two verses of this chapter establish the precise time of the appearance of John the Baptist in his ministry, so that the reality of it cannot be disputed, and they indicate that this solemn call of Israel to repentance was at a time when wickedness was prospering in high places. Tiberius Caesar was notorious for his cruelty to the Jews, specially bitter toward them, though other religions meant nothing to him either. Pontius Pilate's administration was one of cruel injustice. Herod and his brother Philip were both characterized by moral depravity (Matthew 14:3-4). Also there were two high priests -- Annas and Caiaphas -- in total opposition to the Word of God (v.2). They were appointed by the Romans, who chose those they favored most, in this case both Sadducees, those who refused the truth of resurrection and denied the existence of angels or spirits (Acts 23:8). This was the dark setting for the solemn message of John, his own nation being enmeshed in corruption!
The Spirit of God laid upon the heart of John the Word of God so needed at that moment by Israel. But though of the priestly family, he did not go near the temple in Jerusalem nor seek any authority from priestly dignities before preaching the truth of God. He preached in the wilderness of Judea, in the vicinity of the Jordan River (v.3). He was not interested in seeking crowds or he would have begun in the city, but crowds nevertheless came to him in the wilderness. This was God's doing, not man's. John maintained a decided separation from the established religious center of the nation, for he preached the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.
Only those who admitted they had sinned would come to him therefore, for everyone baptized with John's baptism was in this act admitting that he had broken the law of God and therefore death and burial (typified in baptism) was a just sentence against him. This baptism was in view of remission of sins, for a confession of guilt is required if there is be forgiveness, Symbolically, this baptism looks forward to the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus, in which alone forgiveness is to be obtained.
Isaiah 40:1-31 is quoted in verse 4-6 as referring directly to John as a voice crying in the wilderness, "Prepare the way of the Lord." Repentance was certainly a prime necessity in this preparation, an honest facing of sin that had dishonored God. The Lord's paths were to be made straight, for He would allow no tortuous, twisting deceit of men's minds: they could not approach Him in a state of dishonesty.
Valleys would be filled, that is, those willingly of lowly character, would be lifted up, but mountains and hills (people in a state of self-exaltation) would be brought low. The crooked (perverted principles commonly accepted) would be made straight, and rough ways (the paths in which sin has caused trouble and sorrow) would be made smooth, for sin would be judged. He speaks of the salvation of God being seen, not only by Israel, but by "all flesh" (vs.5-6). This prophesied-salvation is accomplished only in the One whose way John was preparing.
Matthew 3:7 tells us that it was when John saw many Pharisees and Sadducees watching him baptize that he said, "Brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?" Yet Luke shows that this was spoken to all the crowd who came, for there were many who were cunning and deceitful (v.7). Whoever might have such moral character, let him take to heart John's words. He pressed that if they would claim to repent, let their repentance be proven by fruits consistent with it. To boastfully say that Abraham was their father was no repentance at all, but self-justification. God could raise up children to Abraham "of these stones," that is, those present whom the Pharisees considered of no value (as Peter, by definition "a stone").
The axe was laid to the root of the trees (v.9): no measure of self-improvement on the part of Israel would be recognized by God. If the tree was bad, as evidenced by its fruit, the tree would be cut down (not only some of its branches) and thrown into the fire. Solemn warning of the judgment of God against falsehood in any of us or in any nation, no matter how appealing an impression falsehood seeks to make.
Only Luke records the people asking John what they ought to do, for Luke singles out those things that have to do with moral character. John's Gospel rather dwells on the Baptist's testimony to the glory of the Lord Jesus. Here John answered the common people to the effect that they should willingly share what they had with those in need (v.11). This is not the gospel of grace, but it challenges Israelites as to whether they were willing to act by faith in the true God. Not that this necessarily would be a proof of faith, for some would do such things with selfish motives, but it was a challenge nevertheless. John did not have the full answer to people's needs, but he pointed to the One who did.
The hated tax gatherers also inquired and were told simply to collect no more taxes than the government appointed. This is an elementary matter, but it confirms the fact that it was a common practice for these men to profit by dishonesty. Jewish soldiers -- the police of that time -- were warned against intimidating or oppressing anyone, as is a temptation for this class of men; also against false accusations, and were told to be content with their wages, which is possibly the least appreciated exhortation (vs.12-14). But reality of faith would welcome such instruction.
The atmosphere of expectancy among the people had been awakened by God. But though the birth of the Lord Jesus had been heralded by the shepherds and confirmed by wise men from the east, yet the people had evidently forgotten this and reasoned as to whether John was the Messiah. John unhesitatingly denied this. In fact he had said before that he was merely sent to prepare the way for the Lord. He baptized with water (which the Lord personally did not -- John 4:2), baptism being simply a formal rite that symbolized putting a dead person in his grave. But one mightier than he was coming after him, whose shoe-lace he was unworthy to unloose. This coming one would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire (v.16).
The time of the baptism of (or in the power of) the Spirit was not until after Christ had died, risen and ascended back to glory. It would be a marvelous, miraculous work of grace, infinitely greater than John's baptism. John did not know the details of this unusual baptism. It is Paul, in 1 Corinthians 12:13, who is given the privilege to explain that by this baptism all believers, Jewish and Gentile, are baptized into one body, the Church of God. The term "baptized" is used because all mere natural distinctions are buried, that there might be a full, true unity of believers from every nation under heaven, thus forming a completely new and wonderful company, distinct from the nation Israel and from the Gentiles as well. Thus, the power and grace of God are wonderfully displayed.
Baptizing with fire is the solemn alternative of this, as verse 17 shows. It is virtually burial by fire, the devastating judgment of God upon unbelievers. John uses the symbol of the threshing-floor where the wheat (believers) is separated from the chaff (unbelievers), the wheat gathered into the granary, the chaff burned with fire not to be quenched, an eternal, abiding judgment. How awesome a contrast to the greatness of blessing of those redeemed by the blood of Christ! Here Luke ends the ministry of John with the observation that he had more than this to say in exhorting the people.
John's brief public ministry is silenced by the vicious enmity of King Herod toward God (vs.1-20). It was right that John should reprove Herod for his serious sin in taking his brother's wife as his own, for Herod was king of that nation chosen by God and responsible to be subject to God's authority. So there is no doubt the prophet spoke for God. There were other evils also for which John reproved him. but rather than taking this to heart, Herod added the wickedness of imprisoning the Lord's servant. Matthew 14:3 indicates also that Herod was influenced by his evil unlawful wife to do this.
THE LORD JESUS BAPTIZED BY JOHN
John's ministry occupied very little time: as he said, he must decrease while the Lord must increase (John 3:30). This chapter illustrates the fact that the order in Luke's Gospel is not chronological, but moral, for the event of verses 21-22 took place before that of verses 19 and 20, yet here is recorded after. John had certainly not been put in prison at the time He baptized the Lord. John 3:22-23 is clear also that the ministry of John the Baptist overlapped that of the Lord Jesus for a short time.
So verse 21 does not mean that John baptized no one after baptizing the Lord, but it emphasizes that there is an important connection between their baptism and His. By being baptized the Lord was virtually pledging to take on Himself the responsibility for the sins of repentant Israelites, and would fulfill this pledge in His own death on the cross, of which His baptism is symbolic. Thus, the Lord was devoting Himself fully to the will of God. Only Luke mentions that He was praying at this time. God answered Him by the great miracle of opening the heavens. On four occasions we have such an event recorded in scripture -- inEzekiel 1:1; Ezekiel 1:1; Luke 3:21 (recorded also in Matthew and Mark); Acts 10:11 and Revelation 19:11. The last is future, andJohn 1:51; John 1:51 prophesies of this same future event.
With this opening of the heavens the Spirit of God descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon the Lord. Only in this Gospel is a bodily shape mentioned. This marvelous event, witnessed by many, was to make known unmistakably the Father's pure delight in, and approval of this blessed Man who was more than Man, the beloved Son of the Father. Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all engaged in this wonderful event. How could it be that those who witnessed this could ever forget it? Yet the religious leaders chose to ignore it. Notice too that Luke speaks of the Father personally addressing the Son in the intimacy of living relationship and expressing delight in Him.
THE GENEALOGY OF THE LORD JESUS
The time of this initial act preceding the public ministry of the Lord is told us here as being when He was about 30 years of age (v.23). What years of patient, unobserved preparation those 30 years were, compared to the brief three and one half years of His public ministry! But John the Baptist's time of ministry was much less, comparatively, while his lonely, isolated preparation was just as long.
The Lord's genealogy given in these verses proceeds back to Adam. The genealogy ofMatthew 1:1-25; Matthew 1:1-25 begins with Abraham and comes forward to Joseph and Christ. Matthew gives the kingly line, so there the official title of Christ to the throne of Israel is established. This is through Joseph who was not actually in the line of the Lord Jesus at all. Though verse 23 speaks of Christ as supposedly the son of Joseph, yet the line is manifestly that of Mary, for Joseph had a different father, Jacob (Matthew 1:16). Both lines go back to David. Luke, however, giving the actual genealogy, goes back to Adam to emphasize the reality of the Manhood of the Lord Jesus and to remind us that man as such proceeded-from God (v.38).
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Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Luke 3". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 12 / Ordinary 17