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THE BAPTISM OF JOHN.
Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar. St. Luke's Gospel is framed after the model of approved histories. He commenced with an elaborate rhetorical preface, most carefully worded, stating, in a few well-chosen sentences, the reasons which had induced him to undertake the work. He then (Luke 1:5-2:52) skillfully wove into the text of his narrative one or more original documents; these he translated, preserving, with great art, as closely as possible, the spirit, and oftentimes the very words, of his original authority. Now, in this chapter he comes to a period more generally known. Here he has a vast number of sources for his story, written and oral; these he shapes into a regular history, beginning, as was the ordinary custom with works of this description, with the names of the chief rulers of the countries in which the events, which he proposed to relate, took place. He first speaks generally of the great Roman Empire under whose shadow the Holy Land at that time cowered. Then he proceeds to describe more fully the political divisions of Palestine; and, lastly, he writes of the great Jewish ecclesiastical governors of the day. Tiberius was the stepson of the Emperor Augustus, whom he succeeded. It was about this time that this monarch retired to the island of Capreae, where his life was disfigured with the grossest crimes. The government of his ministers, who ruled absolutely in his name, has become a byword for evil and tyrannical government. The influence of the Roman emperors at this time in Palestine appears from the attempts at adulation on the part of the local rulers, who, among many other localities, renamed the Lake of Galilee, where so many of the scenes narrated in our story took place, "the Sea of Tiberius." The city of Tiberius, on the shores of this inland sea, was named after the emperor. Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea. His proper title was ἐπίτροπος, procurator. In Judaea this civil functionary was also military commander. This double office gave the procurator of Judaea a higher rank and title; his official superior was the Roman Governor of Syria. Pilate became procurator in a.d. 26, and held the appointment for ten years. Herod being tetrarch of Galilee. This Herod is usually known as "Antipas" (properly, Antipater). He was a son of Herod the Great, and reigned for more than forty years; he was eventually deposed by the Roman authorities and' banished to Gaul. Galilee at this period was the most flourishing and densely populated portion of the land of promise. Roughly speaking, it occupied all the center of Palestine, the rich plain of Esdraelon (Jezreel) and the surrounding districts. His brother Philip tetrarch of Ituraea and of the region of Trachonitis. Herod Philip, another of the great Herod's sons, is well spoken of as a fair and judicious ruler. Caesarea Philippi was built by him. His tetrarchate included the ancient Bashan and the Hauran, and the country lying round the base of Hermon. Lysanias the tetrarch of Abilene. This district lay to the east of the mountain range of Anti-Libanus, the river Barada flowing through it.
Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests. The older authorities read, "in the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas." The mention of two high priests arises from the fact of the legitimate high priest, Annas, having been deposed some fifteen years previously by the action of the then Roman procurator, Valerius Gratus In spite of this official deposition, he still apparently continued to be regarded as the legitimate high priest by the great majority of his countrymen. His great position and claim to the pontifical office, as we shall see, was markedly recognized at the time of the state trial of our Lord. Since his deposition by the Roman government, four high priests had been promoted in succession to the office of chief pontiff. It appears that at this time and for a long series of years, this great and powerful man, although not daring publicly to defy the Roman authority by assuming the insignia of the high priest, filled the office of Nasi, or president of the Sanhedrin. The word of God came unto John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness. In the days of the above-mentioned rulers—pagan and Jewish, civil and ecclesiastical-came the summons to the son of Zacharias in his solitude in the wilderness. From childhood he had been designated for some great work, and he knew it; his whole early life had been a training for it; and at last the summons came. We are not told of its special form; it was doubtless a theophany, or a vision somewhat similar to the which revealed to Moses and Isaiah, to Jeremiah and Ezekiel, their special work, and the way in which that special work was to be done.
And he came into all the country about Jordan. The reputation of John probably preceded the Divine summons. His family—the son of a well-known priestly family—the marvellous circumstances attendant on his birth, his ascetic manner of life from the beginning,—all this had contributed to make him a marked personage; so, when he left his solitude, we read in the other evangelists how multitudes came forth to hear the strange burning words, the Divine eloquence of one long looked upon by the people as set apart for a great work. He seems to have principally preached and taught in the Jordan valley—no doubt for the convenience of his candidates for baptism. But he evidently did not confine his preaching to one spot or even to one neighborhood. The district here alluded to was about a hundred and fifty miles in length. The expectation of Messiah for centuries had been the root of all true life in Israel; gradually, as the clouds of evil fortune gathered thick over the people, the figure of the coming Messiah assumed a different aspect. At first a holier Monarch than their loved David, a grander Sovereign and a mightier than the Solomon of whom they were so proud, a King whose dominions should be broader far than even the wide realm ruled over by the son of Jesse and his greater son, was the ideal dreamed of by the Hebrew. In the long period of misfortune which succeeded the golden days of the monarchy, the people at first longed for a deliverer, and then—as never a ray of sunlight pierced the clouds which surrounded them—an avenger took the place of a deliverer. The Messiah of the future must be One who should restore his people certainly, but in the restoration must exact a sharp and severe reckoning from those who had so long oppressed his Israel. They had no conception of their true state,—their hypocrisy, their formalism, their total ignorance of all true spiritual religion. Their higher and cultured classes were selfish, grasping, impure, untrue. The mass of the people were ignorant and degraded, cruel fanatics, excited and untutored, zealots. From this mistaken notion of Messiah and his work it was necessary that a prophet, eminent and gifted like those mighty men who had wrought great things in times past among the people, should arise among them, and with strong, powerful, inspired words convince them of their fatal error—one who, in the language of the greatest of the order, should prepare the way of the Lord. How imperatively necessary, for the work of the Redeemer, this work of the pioneer was, is seen from the extreme difficulty which Jesus Christ himself found in persuading even his own little faithful band to realize anything of the nature of his work; in good truth they never, not even the noblest spirits among them, really grasped the secret of their Master's mission till the cross and the Passion belonged to history, and the Crucified had become the Risen, and the Risen the ascended God. The baptism of repentance. What, first, did John mean by repentance? The word translates the Greek μετάοεῖτε, which signifies "change of mind." In the Gospel of St. Matthew, where John's work is told in slightly different language, he is represented as saying, "Repent ye" (μετανοεῖτε). There his words might be paraphrased, "Turn ye from your old thoughts, from your state of self-content, self-satisfaction; mend your ways; reform." Here, then, the baptism (what that signified we shall discuss presently) which he preached and summoned men to, must be accompanied with a change of mind; the baptized must be no longer content with their present state or conduct; they must change their ways and reform their lives. Let them, those who were convinced that he was indeed a man of God, that his words were right and true—let them come to him, determined to change their conduct in life, and receive from his hands a baptism, a washing—the symbol of the means of purification; for John's baptism was nothing more. Now, baptism, it is clear, was not at this time practiced among the Jews. It was not, as far as we can trace, even used in the case of pagan proselytes to Judaism. This apparently only became a national custom after the fall of Jerusalem, a.d. 70, forty years later. His very title, "the Baptist," in some way shows us that he practiced an unusual, if not a novel, rite in the course of his preaching and teaching. John's baptism (to use Dr. Morrison's vivid expressions, Commentary on Matthew 3:6) was just the embodiment, in significant optical symbolism, of the significant audible symbolism of the Old Testament prophets, when they cried aloud and said, "Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes" (Isaiah 1:16); "In float day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for uncleanness" (Zechariah 13:1-9 :l); "Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you. and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you" (Ezekiel 36:25, Ezekiel 36:26). This view of John's baptism, viz. that it was a symbol, and nothing more, was suggested by Josephus writing for the Jews. "John," he says, "enjoined upon the Jews first to cultivate virtue and to put in practice righteousness toward one another, and piety toward God, and then to come to his baptism, for thus only would the baptism be acceptable to God" ('Ant.,' John 18:5, John 18:2).
As it is written in the book of the words of Esaias the prophet, saying, voice of one crying in the wilderness. The prophet quoted (Isaiah 40:3) had been writing in his solitude, or more probably in some great popular assembly preaching to the people. There was doubtless at that time much national trouble threatening Israel; the future of the chosen race looked very dark and gloomy, within and without. We can hear the man of God speaking with intense earnestness, and looking on to brighter times. "Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned," etc.; and then a sudden burst when the prophet, bending forward and straining his ears to hear some sound none other caught but he, goes on in his rapt utterance—I hear a voice, "The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord." Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. The image is a simple one, and in the East one well knows, where the roads are comparatively few, and where they do exist are often in a bad state, when a sovereign is about to visit any part of his dominions, or still more if the march of an army has to be arranged for, the roads require considerable preparation. Josephus ('Bell. Jud.,' Luke 3:6) describes the advance of the Emperor Vespasian's army, and specially mentions how the pioneers and the vanguard had to make the road even and straight, and, if it were anywhere rough hard to be passed over, to plane it. There was a Jewish legend that this special pioneering work in the desert was done by the pillar of cloud and fire, which brought low the mountains and filled the valleys before the Israelitic march. John's special work was to prepare the way for the advent of a Messiah very different to the one the people looked for—to prepare his way by a spiritual reformation in the heart, the mind, and the character.
Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth. Godet and other commentators suggest, though they do not press, a particular application to each of the details of the picture. "For instance, the mountains that must be levelled may be referred to the pride of the Pharisees; the valleys to filled up, to the moral and religious indifference of such as the Sadducees; the crooked places to be made straight, to the frauds and lying excuses of the publicans; and lastly, the rough places, to the sinful habits found in all, even the best.'
And all flesh shall see the salvation of God. And when this preparation is complete, then shall Messiah publicly appear. And the Baptist faithfully performed his work as pioneer of the Christ. He awoke men's slumbering consciences; his note of alarm aroused through Palestine multitudes of men and women who afterwards, no doubt, formed the nucleus at least of the crowds who thronged round Jesus as he preached in the cities washed by the Lake of Galilee, or in the streets and temple courts of Jerusalem.
Then said he to the multitude that came forth to be baptized of him. The following grave cutting rebukes, the burning reminders, must not be read as an extract from any one particular sermon of the Baptist, or even as a report of any of his discourses, but rather as a general sketch of the line of argument the great prophet adopted in his teaching. O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? In St. Matthew's account of John's work such scathing words as these were addressed to members of the Pharisee and Sadducee sects, who evidently flocked in great numbers to his baptism. They were alarmed and disturbed at his preaching; they feared that that drear time of awful suffering, generally known as the "woes of Messiah," a period which their great rabbis had told them would precede Messiah's advent, was at hand; they would provide themselves with some talisman against this time of sore calamity. The inspired predictor of these "woes"—men evidently looked on John as such—bade them come to his baptism; this baptism would be surely a safeguard, an easy bit of ritual, thought they, and one that readily approved itself to men trained in the rabbis' schools of that age, so they came to him in numbers. But John read their hearts; hence his stern fiery rebukes. "Let it be horse in mind that only teachers of transcendent holiness, and immediately inspired by God with fervency and insight, may dare to use such language" (Farrar).
Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance. In other words, "Since you profess to have taken flight from the wrath to come, show at once, by your change of life, that your repentance is worth something, has some meaning in it." Begin not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father. These words show that John had the splendid courage to strike boldly at the very root of Jewish pride. Gradually Jewish belief in the especial favor of God, which they were to enjoy through all eternity, had grown up till it resulted in such extravagant expressions as these: "Abraham would sit at the gates of hell, and would not permit any circumcised Israelite of decent moral character to enter it;" "A single Israelite is worth more in God's sight than all the nations of the world;" "The world was made for their (Israel's) sake." This incredible arrogancy grew as their earthly fortunes became darker and darker. Only an eternity of bliss, of which they alone were to be partakers, could make up for the woes they were made to suffer here, while an eternity of anguish for the Gentile world outside Israel was a necessary vengeance for the indignities this Gentile world had inflicted upon the chosen people. Long ago the great Hebrew prophets had warned the deluded race that their election would profit them nothing if they failed in their duties to their God and their neighbor. For I say unto you, That God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham; pointing, no doubt, to the rough shingle lying on the river Jordan's banks. John's thought was the same which Paul afterwards expressed to the Galatians in his own nervous language, "Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham;" "And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise" (Galatians 3:7, Galatians 3:29).
And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: every tree therefore which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. This intensifies the statement respecting the power of God to raise up, out of the very river shingle at their feet, children who should inherit the glorious promises made to Abraham. Nay, more, the Divine Woodman had already laid the axe at the root of the tree of Israel; its hours, as the peculiar people, were indeed numbered. Let these, who said they were willing to wash and be clean, be ready and bring forth fruit worthy of their high calling and the lofty prerogative of which they boasted. The last of the prophets, from his lonely watch-tower of unerring insight into the future, saw the awful coming doom of the loved city, the scattering and captivity of the remnant of the chosen people. Within forty years of that time would the fatal axe, now lying at the root of the tree, be lifted. In uttering this stern prophetic saying, we believe John was gazing at the storm gathering round Jerusalem, which in a.d. 70 swept away city and temple, and destroyed the existence of Israel as a nation. When he preached it was about a.d. 30-32.
And the people asked him, saying, What shall we do then? Dean Plumptre's note here is interesting and suggestive: "The questions that follow are peculiar to St. Luke. They are interesting as showing that the work of the Baptist was not that of a mere preacher of repentance. Confession of sins followed naturally on the part of the penitents; that was followed, as naturally, by guidance for the conscience. St. Luke, as a physician of the soul, may well have delighted to place on record this example of true spiritual therapeutics." The same train of thought is followed out by Godet in his remark on the question contained in this verse: "It is the confessional after preaching." This little section (verses 10-14), containing an epitome of questions placed before John by different classes of hearers touched by his soul-stirring preaching, is peculiar to our evangelist. It is clear that here, in the story of the ministry of the Baptist, Luke derived his knowledge of the details from an independent authority not used either by Matthew or Mark.
He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do likewise. This advice is simple and practical. No difficult counsels of perfection are recommended, no useless penance. The great confessor simply presses home to his penitents the duty of unselfishness, the beauty of quiet generosity in the sight of God. The whole teaching of this eminent man of God was thoroughly practical. His predecessor, Micah, centuries before had given the luxurious and selfish Israel of his time the same Divine lesson: "He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?" (Micah 6:8).
Then came also publicans to be baptized, and said unto him, Master, what shall we do? This is the first time this class of men, who on several occasions come before us in the gospel story, is mentioned. The English rendering is most unhappy, for to many of our people it either suggests nothing, or else supplies a wrong chain of reasoning. The τελῶναι, the Latin publicani (whence our rendering), were men who collected the Roman taxes or imposts. These imperial taxes, the most painful and everpresent reminder to the Jew of his subject and dependent position, were in the first instance leased out to jobbers and speculators of the equestrian order; these were properly the publicani. Beneath them and in their employ were a numerous staff who performed for these farmers of the imperial revenue the various disagreeable duties connected with the collection of the taxes. Then, as now in the East, bribery, corruption, oppression, and unfair dealing, were too common among all ranks of officials First, then, the duty itself, the being concerned in the collection of a tribute—for that is what these taxes really were—for Gentile Rome, and, secondly, the various iniquities connected with the gathering of this tribute, made the tax or tribute collectors of all ranks odious among the Jews dwelling in Palestine. Many of the posts, especially the subordinate ones, in this department of tribute and taxes, were held by Jews, in all ages singularly gifted in matters which have to do with finance. The Jew, however in the days of John the Baptist, who could stoop to such an employment, lucrative though it might be, was looked upon by his stricter fellow-countrymen with feelings of intense scorn. Yet even these men are not bidden by this inspired prophet of the Highest to change their way of life, but only its manner. "Would you," he says to these men who belonged to the hated calling, "indeed wash and be clean in the eyes of the All-Seeing? then in that profession of yours, remember, be scrupulous, be honest."
And the soldiers likewise demanded of him, saying, And what shall we do? Commentators generally discuss here who these soldiers were. The question is of little moment whether they were legionaries of Rome, or mercenaries in the pay of one of the tetrarchs or neighboring princes. The lesson is clear. As above to the publicans, so here to the soldiers, John says, "Remain in that profession of arms; you may. if you will, serve God in it, for it is never the work which ennobles, hut the way in which the work is done."
All men mused in their hearts of John, whether he were the Christ, or not. There was general expectation at that time among the Jews that Messiah's coming was at hand. This strange feeling that something momentous was about to happen to mankind was not confined to the Jews of Palestine, it strongly influenced the Jews who were dispersed in foreign countries—Egypt, Greece, Italy, etc., and through them it had even reached many of the Gentiles who were brought into contact with the chosen people. This idea among the Jews, that John was probably the looked-for deliverer, is only mentioned by St. Luke-another proof that the source of his information was quite distinct from that used by Matthew and Mark.
I indeed baptize you with water; but One mightier than I cometh. To refute this growing conviction that he was the Messiah, John tells the people plainly tidal Another far greater than he was coming. He, John, certainly washed (baptized) those who came to him, but his washing was merely symbolical—it could not purify them; his work had been to stir them up to repentance, to arouse them to change their lives. But the One who was coming, before whom he (John) was unworthy to stand and perform the humblest menial office, that great One should baptize too, but his baptism would be a very different thing. He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost. There was, indeed, a difference between John's baptism and the baptism of the Messiah who was to come after him. John could do no more with his words and symbol baptism than rouse the people to struggle after repentance and a change of heart and life, while Messiah would furnish to men the influence from above, that was really needed in order to purity of heart and life. He would procure and pour out the influence of the Divine Spirit. And with fire. Not with punitive fire, which interpretation would be quite alien from the context here. Those expositors who have adopted this meaning of the fire here have been most likely influenced by the mention of the unquenchable fire in the next sentence. The fire which was to enter into Messiah's baptism was rather the flame of purification. So we read of the coal of fire taken from off the altar and laid on the mouth of Isaiah the prophet (Isaiah 6:6, Isaiah 6:7). "With fire," writes Bishop Wordsworth, "to purify, illumine, transform, inflame with holy fervor and zeal, and carry upward, as Elijah was carried up to heaven in a chariot of fire."
Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and will gather the wheat into his garner. But not only, taught John, was Messiah's work to consist in baptizing those who sought his face with the mighty baptism of the Holy Ghost and fire, there was another terrible aspect of his mission. The useless, the selfish, the oppressor, and the false-hearted,—these were to be separated and then destroyed. When will this separation and subsequent destruction take place? The separation will begin in this life. The effect of the revelation of a Savior would be to intensify at once the antagonism between good and evil. Between the followers of Christ and the enemies of Christ would a sharp line of demarcation be speedily drawn even here; but the real separation would only take place on the great day when Messiah should judge the world; then would the two classes, the righteous and the unrighteous, be gathered into two bands; condemnation, sweeping, irresistible, would hurry the hapless evil-doers into destruction, while the righteous would be welcomed in his own blessed city. The imagery used is rough, but striking. It was taken, as is so much of Oriental teaching, from scenes from the everyday life of the working world around them. The theater is one of those rough Eastern threshingfloors on the top or side of a hill, so chosen for the purpose of having the benefit of the wind. The actor, a peasant employed in winnowing. "Not far from the site of ancient Corinth," writes a modern traveler in Greece, "where the peasants in many of their customs approach near to Oriental nations, I passed a heap of grain which some laborers were employed in winnowing: they used for throwing up the mingled wheat and chaff, a three-pronged wooden fork, having a handle three or four feet long. Like this, no doubt, was the fan, or winnowing-shovel, which John the Baptist represents Christ as bearing" (Dr. Hackett, quoted by Dr. Morrison, on Matthew 3:12). The fan thus described would throw up against the breeze the mingled wheat and chaff; the light particles would be wafted to the side, while the grain would fall and remain on the threshing floor. With fire unquenchable. This image in itself is a terrible one; still, it must not be used in the question of eternity of punishment. The tire is here termed "unquenchable" because, when once the dry chaff was set on fire, nothing the peasants could do would arrest the swift work of the devouring flame. All that is here said of the condemned is that they will be destroyed from before the presence of the great Husbandman with a swift, certain destruction. If it points to anything, the imagery here would hint at the total annihilation of the wicked; for the flames, unquenchable while any chaff remained to be consumed, would, when the rubbish was burnt up, die quickly down, and a little heap of charred ashes would alone mark the place of its burning. But it is highly improbable that any deduction of this kind was intended to be drawn. The Baptist's lesson is severely simple.
And many other things in his exhortation preached he unto the people. These words tell us that the above was merely a "specimen" of John the Baptist's preaching, trenchant, fearless, practical, piercing the hearts of all classes and orders of the people who thronged to hear the earnest, fiery appeals of the great desert preacher. In this and in the next two verses St. Luke once more gives us a little picture of the events which were spread over a considerable area or' time. It is here introduced out of its proper place to explain the abrupt termination of the popular career of John the Baptist.
He shut up John in prison. It did not enter into St. Luke's plan to write any detailed account of the circumstances which led to the death of the Baptist. The story (related at length by St. Matthew) was, no doubt, well known in all the Gentile Churches. He simply mentions the act which consigned the dauntless preacher to the dungeons of Herod's palace-fortress, close to the Dead Sea; it was termed Macha, or Machaerus. In closing his little sketch of the work of his Master's great pioneer, St. Luke wishes to show that the fearless Baptist was no respecter of persons. The despised collector of Roman tribute, the rough free lance or mercenary, the nameless legionary of Rome, was attacked for his evil life and his wanton excesses, with no greater hardihood than the prince who sat on the throne of the mighty Herods. True servant of his brave and patient Master, he paid the penalty of his splendid courage and, "like so many of earth's great ones, he passed through pain and agony to his rest."
Luke 3:21, Luke 3:22
The baptism of Jesus.
Luke 3:21, Luke 3:22
Now when all the people were baptized. This is the shortest account of the first three Gospels of this event. Two circumstances related are, however, peculiar to St. Luke—the fact that he ascended "praying" from the water, and the opening words of this verse, which probably signify that on this day Jesus waited till the crowds who were in the habit of coming to John had been baptized. Jesus also being baptized. There is a curious addition to the Gospel narratives of the baptism of the Lord preserved by Jerome. He tells us he extracted it from the Hebrew Gospel used by the Nazarenes, a copy of which in his day was preserved at Caesarea. "Lo, the mother of the Lord and his brethren said to him, John the Baptist is baptizing for the remission of sins; let us go and be baptized by him. But he answered and said unto them, In what have I sinned, that I should go and be baptized by him? unless, indeed, it be in ignorance that I have said what I have just said." It is, no doubt, a very ancient traditional saying, and is perhaps founded on stone well-authenticated oral tradition. If St. Luke knew of it, he did not consider it of sufficient importance to incorporate it in his narrative. In St. Matthew's account of the "baptism," John at first resists when asked to perform the rite on his kinsman Jesus. His knowledge of Jesus at this time was evidently considerable. He was acquainted, of course, with all that had already happened in his "cousin's" life, and probably it had been revealed to him, or told him by his mother (Luke 1:43), that in the Nazareth Carpenter, the Son of Mary, he was to look for the promised Messiah, with whose life-story his was so closely bound up. The answers to the question, What was the reason of Jesus' baptism? have been many. In this, as in many things connected with the earthly life of our Lord, there is much that is mysterious, and we can never hope here to solve these difficulties with any completeness. The mystic comments of the Fathers, though not perfectly satisfactory, are, however, after all the best of the many notes that have been made on this difficult question. Bishop Wordsworth sums them up well in his words: "He came to baptize water, by being baptized in it." Ignatius ('Ad. Eph.,' 18, beginning of the second century) writes, "He was baptized that, by his submission to the rite, he might purify the water." Jerome, in the same strain, says, "He did not so much get cleansing from baptism, as impart cleansing to it." It would seem that Jesus, in submitting to the rite himself, did it with the intention of sanctifying the blessed sacrament in the future. And praying. Peculiar to St. Luke. This evangelist on eight other occasions mentions the praying of Jesus. The heaven was opened, and the Holy Ghost descended … upon him. While he was praying and gazing up into heaven, the deep blue vault was rent asunder, and the Sinless One gazed far into the realms of eternal light; and as he gazed he saw descend a ray of glory, which, dove-like, brooded above his head, and then lighted upon him. This strange bright vision was seen, not only by him, but by the Baptist (John 1:32, John 1:33). That the form of a dove absolutely descended and lighted upon Jesus seems unlikely; a radiant glorious Something both Jesus and the Baptist saw descending. John compares it to a dove—this cloud of glory sailing through the clear heaven, then, bird-like, sinking, hovering, or brooding, over the head of the Sinless One, then lighting, as it were, upon him. In likening the radiant vision to a dove, probably John had heard of the rabbinical comment (it is in the Talmud) on Genesis 1:2, that the Spirit of God moved on the face of the waters like a dove. Milton has reproduced the thought—
"And with mighty wings outspread
Dove-like sat'st brooding on the vast abyss."
('Paradise Lost,' 1.20.)
John, for want of a better simile, reproduced the image which he had doubtless heard from his teacher in the Law, when he desired to represent in earthly language the Divine Thing which in some bodily form he had seen. In the early Church there was a legend very commonly current—we find it in Justin Martyr ('Dialogue with Trypho,' 88), and also in the Apocryphal Gospels—that at the baptism of Jesus a fire was kindled in Jordan. This was doubtless another, though a more confused memory of the glory-appearance which John saw falling on the Messiah. And a voice came from heaven; better rendered, out of heaven. We read in the Talmud that "on the death of the last prophets—Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi—the Holy Spirit departed from Israel; but they (i.e. Israeli were availing themselves of the daughter (echo) of a voice, Bath-Kol, for the reception of Divine communications" ('Treatise Yoma,' fol. 9, Colossians 2:0). In the Gospels there is a mention of the heavenly voice being again heard at the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:5), and during the last week of the earthly ministry (John 12:28-30). In the story of Israel the Persons of the everblessed Trinity were pleased to manifest themselves on various occasions to mortal eye and mortal ear. Very frequently to the eye, in the visible glory of the pillar of cloud and fire in the desert journeys; in the glorious light which shone in the holy of holies, first in the tabernacle of the wanderings, then in the temple; in the flame as in the burning bush, and in the visions of Isaiah and Ezekiel; in appearances as in the meeting with Abraham and with Joshua. To the ear the word of the Lord spoke, amongst others, to Abraham, Moses, Samuel, and the later prophets. So in this, the transition period of Messiah, the visible glory of God and the audible voice of God were again seen and heard by mortal man. Jerome calls attention here to the distinctness of each of the Persons of the blessed Trinity, as shown in this baptism of the Messiah. "The mystery of the Trinity is shown in the baptism of Christ The Lord is baptized, the Spirit descends in the likeness of a dove, the voice of the Father is heard bearing witness to his Son, and the dove settles on the head of Jesus, lest any one should imagine that the voice was for John and not for Christ." We may with all reverence conclude that, after the hearing of the voice from heaven, "the Messianic self- consciousness would undoubtedly expand with rapidity, both intensively and extensively, into complete maturity. That self- consciousness, it must be borne in mind, would necessarily, so far as this human side of his Being was concerned, be subject, in its development, to the condition of time" (Dr. Morrison, on Matthew 3:17).
And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age. This was the age at which the Levites entered upon their work; the age, too, at which it was lawful for scribes to teach. Generally speaking, thirty among the Jews was looked upon as the time of life when manhood had reached its full development.
THE EARTHLY GENEALOGY OF JESUS CHRIST. Although in every Hebrew family the hope seems to have been cherished that the promised Messiah would be born among them, yet generally the prophetic utterances were understood to point to the Deliverer springing from the royal house of David. To demonstrate that this was actually true in the case of the reputed Son of Mary and Joseph, both the genealogies contained in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke were compiled from private and public records. It is well known that these family trees were preserved with care in well-nigh every Jewish family. The sacred books compiled after the return from Babylon—1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah—with their long tables of descent, show us that these family records existed then. Josephus (second century) thus writes: "I relate my genealogy as I find it recorded in the public tables" ('Life,' Nehemiah 1:1-11.). In his work against Apion (Nehemiah 1:7) he says, "From all the countries in which our priests are scattered abroad, they send to Jerusalem [in order that their children may be placed on the official roll] papers with the names of their parents and their ancestors; these papers are formally witnessed."
It follows that, if such care were taken in the case of the numerous priestly houses, equal attention would be paid to their family records by the comparatively few families who boasted their descent from King David and the ancient royal house. R. Hillel, the renowned teacher, who lived in the days of Jesus Christ, belonged to the poor among the people, and yet he was able to prove, from existent records, that he was one of David's descendants. Some seventy years later, the grandchildren of Jude, the reputed brother of the Lord, a son of Joseph, were summoned to Rome, and appeared before the Emperor Domitian as descendants of the old royal house of David.
Now, no further comment would be necessary upon this elaborate "table" of St. Luke did there not exist in St. Matthew's Gospel another family tree, purporting to be the line of Messiah's ancestors. Between these two tables there are many important differences. How are these to be explained? On this subject in different times many works have been written. In the present Commentary the writer does not propose to examine the details of the two tables of SS. Matthew and Luke; the question of the existence of the two records will alone be dealt with. The various smaller points of discrepancy in the registers of SS. Matthew and Luke, although curious and striking, are utterly barren of interest to the great majority of students of the Divine Word. The reader who may wish to examine these is referred—among modern scholars' works on this subject—to Bishop Harvey's exhaustive work on the genealogy of the Lord; to Archdeacon Farrar's Excursus in his 'Commentary on St, Luke' in the 'Cambridge Bible for Schools;' and to Professor Godet's Commentary on this Gospel.
We will confine ourselves here to three points.
(1) Why does St. Luke insert his table of Messiah's earthly descent in this place?
(2) For what reason does he trace up the long ancestral line to Adam?
(3) What is the broad outline of the explanation of St. Luke's divergency from the genealogical table of St. Matthew?
(1) and (2) can be shortly answered.
(1) St. Luke felt that this was the most suitable place in his narrative for such a table. His work was evidently most carefully and skillfully arranged upon the lines of formal history. Up to this point the story was mainly concerned with other personages—with the parents of the great forerunner John, with Mary the Virgin and Joseph, with the angels, with the shepherds, with Simeon and with Anna, and especially with the work of John the Baptist. But from henceforth all the minor persons of the Divine story pass into the background. There is now one central figure upon whom the whole interest of the Divine drama centers—Jesus. This, the moment of his real introduction on the world's stage, was, as St. Luke rightly judged it, the time to give the formal table of his earthly ancestry.
(2) Different from the Hebrew evangelist St. Matthew, whose thoughts were centred on the chosen race, and whose horizon was bounded by Palestine, or at least by those cities where his countrymen of the dispersion lived and worked, and who only cared to show that his Messiah had sprung from the great patriarch, the father of the tribes of Israel, St. Luke, feeling that the scene of the work of his Messiah was bounded by no Jewish horizon, traces up his Lord's reputed line of earthly ancestors to the first father of the human race. The Jesus of Luke was the Savior, not only of the children of Abraham, but of the children of Adam. The noble Isaiah-prophecy, which we feel was one of the great mainsprings of Paul's life and work, was the real reason of Luke, the disciple of Paul, tracing up Messiah's family line to Adam. "It is a light thing that thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give thee for a Light to the Gentiles" (Isaiah 49:6). Luke alone records the incident and the words of Simeon in the temple.
(3) The genealogy given by St. Luke differs from that presented by St. Matthew, because St. Luke has extricated from family records the line of Mary, while St. Matthew has elected to chronicle the family of Joseph. This solution of the differences between the two lists was apparently first suggested by Annius of Viterbo, at the close of the fifteenth century. Among the many eminent modern scholars who accept it, I would instance Professor Godet and Dean Plumptre. The arguments in favor of this view—viz, that the genealogy is Mary's, not Joseph's—are the following.
The table begins as follows: "And Jesus … being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, which was the son of Hell, which was the son of Matthat," etc. In the original Greek all the older authorities, before the name Joseph, omit the article τοῦ, of the. This article is found before all the names in the long list with this solitary exception. This absence of the article τοῦ certainly puts the name of Joseph in a special position in the series of names, and leads us to suppose that the genealogy is not that of Joseph, but of Hell The twenty-third verse would then read thus: "And Jesus,… (being as was supposed the son of Joseph)," after which parenthesis the first link in the chain would be Jesus, the heir and grandson, and in that sense the son of Heli.
It is by no means unusual in the Old Testament to find the grandson termed the "son" of his grandfather (compare, for instance, 1 Chronicles 8:1 and 1 Chronicles 8:3 with Genesis 46:21; Ezra 5:1 and Ezra 6:14 with Zechariah 1:1, Zechariah 1:7). On the omission of Mary's name, Godet quotes from the Talmud, and urges with great truth that not only among the Hebrews did ancient sentiment not accord with the mention of a mother as the genealogical link. The Talmud treatise most singularly comes to our help again by mentioning that Mary the mother of Jesus was called the daughter of Heli. We have before dwelt upon the fact that not only general ancient tradition, but the plain sense of the gospel story, ascribed to Mary a royal Davidic descent. 'Bava Bathra' (quoted by Godet), with great force, asks (though with a different design), what sensible man, after declaring at the commencement of the list that the relationship of Joseph and Jesus was destitute of all reality (ὡς ἐνομίζετο), could take pleasure in drawing up such a list of ancestors? This most pertinent question can only be answered by showing that the list is a list, not of Joseph's ancestors, but of Mary's, who was in very truth the mother of Jesus.
In coming to any conclusion respecting the real history of the drawing up the two distinct genealogical tables, the one of Joseph, the other of Mary, it will be ever well to bear in mind that the early chapters of the two narratives of SS. Matthew and Luke, where the events of the birth and infancy of the Lord are told, were most probably based on memories written and oral, proceeding from two distinct centres or circles of believers, eye-witnesses many of them of the things they related or of which they preserved a faithful memory in writing. The one circle—to use Godet's words—of which Joseph was the center, and which we suppose consisted of Cleopas, his brothers James and Jude the sons of Joseph, of whom one was the first bishop of the flock in Jerusalem, included, too, Simeon a son of Cleopas, the first successor of James. The narratives preserved amongst these persons might easily reach the ears of the author of the First Gospel, who doubtless lived in the midst of this flock. But a cycle of narratives must also have formed itself round Mary. These doubtless are those which Luke has preserved.
The genealogy, then, of St. Matthew, which has Joseph in view, must have proceeded from his family. That given, on the other hand, by St. Luke, no doubt issued from the circle of which Mary was the center.
The other differences in the two genealogies are minor and of far less interest; they are exhaustively discussed in the various monographs which have been written on this subject, and to which reference has been made above.
The forerunner, and his ministry.
Some thirty years have passed since the birth of a son of the old age had filled the house of the good priest Eacharias with the voice of rejoicing. The blameless priest and his blameless wife are dead. The son who, when an unconscious babe, was called "the prophet of the Highest," has lived the life of a recluse, receiving his inspirations wholly from the study of the Law of the Lord, from lonely communings with God and truth in the great temple of nature. There were many solitaries in that period. There were the Essenes, one of the sects of the Jewish nation. Eremites, too, dwelt in dens and eaves, fleeing far from the world, with its strife and tumult. But this man was no mere Essene, no mere Eremite. There was a vocation before him; like the Master who was to come after him, he was being filled with the Holy Ghost for the work the striking of whose hour is related in the passage. A man sternly, austerely simple. No phylacteries and fringes about him; no soft clothing and signs of luxurious culture. For dress there is only the skin of a camel thrown around him and held together by a rough leather band. His sole nourishment is the honey which he gathers in the moorland, and locusts steeped in water and dried in the sun. He wants nothing which the world can give to him, and he fears nothing which the world can do to him. He can stand alone, for God is with him. To him, in the fifteenth year of Tiberius, comes the Word of the Lord.
I. Observe, at the outset, THE TIME AND THE PROPHETIC DESIGNATION OF THEIR MINISTRY. The date bids us back to one of those times of confusion and uncertainty which mark the passing away of the old and the preparation for a new day or period. Note the names in Luke 3:1. Tiberius, a low, dull, sottish despot; Pontius Pilate, indolent, overbearing, greedy; Herod, disgracing his tetrarchate by by open licentiousness; Caiaphas and Anuas disputing for the priesthood, and neither of them worthy of respect Typical of the world on which from his Judaean retreat the son of Zacharias looked forth. "The godly man ceased, for the faithful were failing from the children of men." Then—reminding us of Elijah the Tishbite, who abruptly confronts Ahab in his purple, protesting, "as the Lord God of Israel liveth before whom I stand"—on a sudden the popular vision is arrested, the popular imagination is excited, by the figure and preaching of John. The evangelist sees in this preaching the fulfillment of the sublime prophecy of Isaiah (Isaiah 40:3-5). Looking at this prophecy, we are struck with the greatness of the announcement, and the apparent insignificance of the fulfillment. There is nothing incongruous in applying to John the description, "a voice crying in the wilderness." But the results declared—the filling of every valley, the bringing low of every mountain and hill, etc.—seem too vast as a representation of the effect of John's cry. Reading Isaiah's sentences we imagine a work with inspiring circumstances, with grand, striking evidences of its accomplishment; turning to the Gospel pages we are introduced only to a rough preacher of the desert, uttering sharp sentences, and aiming at a spiritual repentance for the remission of sins. Yet in this preacher and in his work the prediction was fulfilled—in God's way. Let no one despise the poverty of the instrument. "The excellency of the power is of God." The chapter reminds us of a wonderful blaze of popularity. On the effete religiousness of Judea it came as a new sensation to hear that a man, recalling the image of Elijah, was speaking in sentences which fell like thunderbolts; and forth from priestly Hebron, from Pharisee-worshipping Jerusalem, from city and village, there poured a mighty throng, all hastening to the desert-sanctuary of John. Again the long-silent Spirit of God was speaking; the chain of prophecy, which seemed to have ended with Malachi, had again been formed. They gather trembling and awe-struck around that strange, uncouth-looking saint; he bids them submit to his baptism; they do so; and sanctimonious religionist and haughty soldier and corrupt publican demand, "What shall we do?" It was a great religious revival, raising the question, "Can this be the dawn of Messiah's day? Is this indeed the Messiah promised to our fathers?"
II. Regard THE PREACHER AND HIS MESSAGE. What is the force of the man? What is the relation of his word to Christ?
1. The preacher.
(1) There is the force of earnestness. He has looked through all the appearances and shams of his age, and has seen how hollow they are. He has been communing with the unseen realities; and to him heaven and hell are no distant futures, but are states actually encompassing men. He is possessed by the word which has come to him, and therefore he is beyond the region of fear. What are either smiles or frowns to him? Therefore, too, his is the eloquence of action. A man in earnest will not trifle among the flowers of rhetoric; he has no time to hunt for metaphors and tropes. Is not life very short? He must get by the most direct road possible to the human conscience. Ah! that is the power of the God-sent preacher. When men feel that there is no second-hand repeating, that there is no mere playing at dialectics, that there is no part-acting, that the utterance proceeds from conviction, that it is the expression of truth which is swaying the soul, they cannot but listen; so far they will yield. Earnestness is not noisy rant; but, calm and quiet as it is, like the kingdom of heaven, it breaks in with violence. It must work, fight, win.
(2) There is the force, too, of plain, downright, practical teaching. To the anxious inquirers he returns answers which prove his tact in dealing with human nature. See how he hits each class at the point of its special temptation and besetting sin, and how at once he insists on the application of Isaiah's rule (Isaiah 1:16): "Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; learn to do well." It was a solemn peremptory summons to yield to the Eternal Righteousness. There were no honeyed phrases. The preacher laid the axe at the root of the tree; for it was no time for clippings and loppings here and there. No mercy was shown for the piety of outside appearances. Privilege! what mattered that if it was only a bed on which to sleep? He who conferred the privilege can take it away; nay, he is able of these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Was it wonderful that the crowd listened with bated breath; that souls cowered beneath the eagle eye and the searching incisive teaching of the mighty prophet of the wilderness?
(3) Add to this the thorough honesty and humility of the teacher. Every person knows that the ordinary ambitions of men have no charm for him; even the extraordinary ambitions—to be a leader of thought, to guide and direct spiritual movement, to stamp the impression of his own mind on others—have no power over him. He claims to be only the voice. "Art thou the Christ?" so deputations of the Pharisees ask; to this effect the people muse. "No" is the answer; "there is One behind me. I am only the witness, only the herald. Mine is only the poor baptism with water. His is the baptism with the Holy Ghost and with fire." Thoroughly honest, unselfish, noble, is this prophet of the desert.
2. Now consider his message as that is stated by St. Luke.
(1) Its great word, "Repent!"—the word which in every time, and never more than in this nineteenth century, is apt to be softened. People applaud discourses about faith and love, and the search for truth, and so forth; but proclaim the need of repentance, bring persons individually face to face with that need, and one of two things follow—either the resistance of the heart to condemnation, or the conviction of the soul to salvation. Have we not far too little of the preaching of "repentance for the remission of sins"? Mark this: There can be no real sending away of sin from between the soul and God without a change of mind, caused by the sight of sin as sin, as darkness, as death. God will never bless a man in his sins. "Repent" is the burden of all preaching on which the Holy Spirit sets his seal.
(2) The sacrament which accompanies the word. There is the baptism of repentance. Sinners must take their stand with God as to their sins, joining him in his condemnation. They must confess their sins. They are commanded to do this in expressive act—to go down, soiled with dust and weary with their journey, into the river; standing there, with eye uplifted to heaven, to say, "I acknowledge my transgressions; against thee, thee only, have I sinned. God be merciful to me a sinner!" And then, as they sink beneath the water, they seem to have sunk in it their old sinful life; they arise, white and clean, pledged to walk henceforth in newness of life. A type yet to be fulfilled! John distinctly protested, "This baptism is only an installment; the laver of regeneration is not with me." But it was a symbol rich with meaning; it was the act which expressed the word that rang through the wilderness, "Repent!"
(3) The hand which pointed forward. This man, with the true second sight, sees the measure of iniquity all but filled up. He sees the tokens of rapidly hastening judgment. The nation is only the carcase of a nation, and the eagles are swooping down on it. "Flee, flee from the wrath to come." How? "Repent!" Whither? "The kingdom of heaven is at hand." He is there to prepare them for it, to lead them to it. Note: The preacher knows that a new order, that of the Coming One, is close on them· But he knows no more. "While he is preaching, that new order is moving towards him in the person of the Cousin on whom his eyes, for long years, had never rested—perhaps, indeed, he had never even seen him. "I knew him not," he could afterwards say. All that he then knew, he knew through an inner teaching which was no lie, "One mightier than I cometh, and with him cometh the kingdom of heaven."
Luke 3:21, Luke 3:22
The baptism of Jesus, and the descent of the Holy Ghost.
The narrative of the meeting between Jesus and John is given at greater length, and with more completeness of detail, by St. Matthew (see homiletics on Matthew 3:13-17). But the account of St. Luke suggests some points of interest.
I. THE IDENTIFICATION OF JESUS WITH THE PEOPLE. "When all the people were baptized, Jesus also having been baptized." In this, as in other things, "he is made like to his brethren." But, specially observe, he is still, and he is as yet only, "under the Law." His righteousness has been hitherto that indicated in the book of the Law. He has submitted to every requirement. He has completely done whatsoever was commanded. Sharing this position in common with all the people, he offered himself for the baptism unto repentance and the hope of the kingdom. This baptism was the fitting conclusion of a perfect legal righteousness. The man needs to be washed. The Law cannot make the conscience perfect. That which signified the inadequacy of the Law, Jesus of Nazareth must appropriate. A righteousness which is in and of the flesh cannot be the ground of acceptance with God. Jesus condemned sin in the flesh when, with the forerunner, he went down into the water of baptism.
II. THE PRAYER WHICH SOLEMNIZED THE BAPTISM. St. Luke alone makes mention of this prayer. With all the people, Jesus was baptized; but who of the people were with him in this—"baptized and praying"? To him there is no confession of personal transgression; he is yielding himself to his Father in perfectly loving resignation. The baptism was an act of communion. "I come to do thy will." "Here am I; send me." Not without purpose, surely, is notice taken of the prayer. Connect it with what follows—in praying, the heavens were opened. Behold the law of spiritual blessing "Ask, and ye shall receive"! Behold that which makes all ordinances effectual, without which they are forms, not means of grace! Behold the evidence of the power of prayer! God is ready still to open his heaven to the obedient, desiring heart. "We enter heaven by prayer."
III. THE DESCENT IN A BODILY SHAPE LIKE A DOVE. The evangelist inserts "the bodily form" to signify that it was not a mere imagination, but a real descent assuming this shape. What of the descent of the Holy Ghost? Observe it
(1) as between Christ himself and the opened heavens, and
(2) as a token of the grace and truth which have come by Christ.
1. What we have before us is not a coming of the Spirit for personal holiness, for in this sense the Holy Spirit had been with Christ during the preceding thirty years. It is the coming of the Holy Spirit into a new form of administration. The new thing is what St. John expresses. "The Spirit abode upon him." He dwelt henceforth in the Man Christ Jesus, not as a mere limitless abundance, but as an undivided abundance. All offices, gifts, graces, were realized in the Lord himself. He was Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Pastor, and Teacher; he was all in all. The fountain was sealed in his own Person; after the Ascension the seal was broken, and the power in the glorified humanity was divided. Some he gave as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, some as pastors and teachers. But that which is signified by the investiture of Jesus coming out of Jordan is that in him, consecrated the Messiah, is the fullness of grace and blessing; that his exclusively is the baptism with the Holy Ghost. "The same is he that baptizeth with the Holy Ghost."
2. And see the token of this administration. "Like a dove"—recalling the mission of the dove which Noah put forth from the ark, and which returned to him with the olive leaf in its mouth. "Like a dove"—suggesting love tender and brooding, noiseless and winning, the Spirit descends. Is not this the characteristic token of the new covenant? (See Keble's thirty-third hymn.) It is the dove-like Spirit that dwells in Jesus. There is a fire that goes before him. When he began the public ministry, he took a passage full of gracious words, yet one which concludes with the proclamation of a day of vengeance of our God. There are "woes" in Jesus' discourses very scathing and stern. There is "the wrath of the Lamb." But the characteristic action of Christ is that of the Dove. The Dove is visible even in his Divinity, even in the lambent tongues, the lightning flashes, the arrows of conviction. He is waiting to be gracious. O sinner, yield thyself to him. For thee are prepared dove-like blessings, influences
"To nurse the soul to heavenly love,
The struggling spark of good within
Just smothered in the strife of sin
To quicken to a timely glow,
The pure flame spreading high and low."
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
Luke 3:1, Luke 3:2
Roman worldliness and Hebrew devotedness.
We have these historical personages brought into view in order to fix the year when John began his ministry. At the time when they lived they would have scorned the idea that their names were only to be valuable in proportion as they shed light on the life and the work of this rugged Jewish saint. But so it is. We only care to know about these Romans because their figures cross the stage of sacred history, and because they came into temporary relationship with John and with John's great Master. Their names, however, being brought into conjunction with his, let us notice the contrast which they present to us.
I. THEY WERE UNLIKE AS THEY COULD BE TO ONE ANOTHER IN THE CIRCUMSTANCES AND SURROUNDINGS OF THEIR LIFE. These Roman worldlings dwelt in palaces, lived in luxury, surrounded themselves with everything that could minister to comfort and enjoyment; they were gorgeously apparelled, and lived delicately in their kingly courts (Luke 7:25). John was a man who despised delicacies, and deliberately chose that which was coarse in garment, unpalatable in food, rude in dwelling. His life was positively devoid of that which was refreshing, comforting, delightful, so far as the outward and the visible were concerned.
II. THEY WERE DIAMETRICALLY OPPOSED IN CHARACTER. If we except Philip, who left a reputation for justice and moderation, and Lysanias, of whom nothing or little is known, we may say of the others that they were men whose character was not only reprehensible, but even hideous. Of Tiberius Caesar we read that, after he came to the throne, he entirely disappointed the promise of his earlier years, and that he "wallowed in the very kennel of the low and debasing." Of Pilate we know from the evangelists' story that he was a man, not indeed without some sense of justice and pity, not incapable of being moved at the sight of sublime patience and innocence, but yet sceptical, superstitious, entirely wanting in political principle, ready to sacrifice righteousness to save his own position. Of Herod Antipas we know from Scripture that he was cunning, licentious, superstitious. But of John, the Hebrew prophet, we know that he was utterly fearless and disregardful of his own interests when duty called him to speak freely (verse 19); that he was a faithful preacher of Divine truth (verses 7-14); that he was perfectly loyal to that One who was so much greater than himself (verse 16); that he was capable of a most noble magnanimity (John 3:29). He was a godly, upright, heroic soul.
III. THEY HAVE LEFT VERY DIFFERENT MEMORIES BEHIND THEM. Of one of these Romans (Tiberius) we read that he "deserved the scorn and abhorrence of mankind." Perhaps this language, only a very little weakened, might be used of two others of them. But concerning John, after our Lord's own eulogium (Luke 7:25), we feel that we can be in little danger of thinking of him too highly and of honoring him too much.
IV. THEY RESEMBLED ONE ANOTHER ONLY IN THAT THEY BOTH RAN GREAT RISKS OF EARTHLY ILL. Devotedness in the person of John exposed itself to severe penalties, to the condemnation of man, to imprisonment and death. But worldliness in the person of these Roman dignitaries ran great risks also; it had to encounter human fickleness and human wrath. Tiberius is believed to have become insane. Pilate committed suicide. Herod died in exile. Worldly policy may succeed for a time, may stand in high places, may drink of very sweet cups, but it runs great risks, and very often it has to endure great calamities. Alas for it, that, when these come, it is wholly destitute of the more precious consolations!
V. AT DEATH THEY CONFRONTED A VERY DIFFERENT FUTURE. Well might the least guilty of them shrink from that judgment-seat at which all men must stand! how must the worst of them be covered with shame in that awful Presence! and how serious must be the penalty that will be attached to such flagitious abuse of position and opportunity! On the other hand, how high is the power, how bright and broad the sphere, how blessed the hope, into which the faithful forerunner has entered! He has "passed into that country where it matters little whether a man has been clothed in finest linen or in coarsest camel's hair, that still country where the struggle—storm of life is over, and such as John find their rest at last in the home of God, which is reserved for the true and brave."—C.
John before Jesus; repentance before salvation.
We may view this subject—
I. HISTORICALLY. Jesus, as his name indicated, came to be a Savior; but he came to bring a very different salvation from that which was expected of him. His contemporaries were not aware that they themselves were in any need of salvation. They supposed it was their political condition which needed to undergo a change. They were full of a fatal self-sufficiency so far as their own character was concerned; they esteemed themselves the prime favorites of Heaven, and thought that, when the great Deliverer appeared, it would be entirely on their behalf, in order that they might be restored to their rightful place and assume the government they believed themselves so worthy to conduct. If they were to receive, with any cordiality of welcome, a Savior who came to save them, to deliver them from guilt, it was necessary that a voice should be heard speaking in plainest tones breaking through the hard crust of complacency and delusion, working conviction of guilt within the soul; it behoved that he should come "preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins." Thus did John "prepare the way" for Jesus—the apostle of repentance for the Savior of mankind.
II. EXPERIMENTALLY. That which was the historical order is also the order in our heart's experience. We repent of sin before we know the Savior so as to possess his full salvation. It is indeed true that the Words of Jesus Christ, the view of his holy life, the consideration of his dying love—that this is a power working, and working mightily, for repentance on the soul; yet must there be repentance, as an existing condition of mind, for a true and full appreciation of the great service Jesus Christ offers to render to us. We cannot rejoice in him as in our Divine Savior, redeeming us from the penalty and the curse of sin, until we have known and felt our own unworthiness and wrong-doing.
1. This is the scriptural doctrine. Our Lord, before he left his apostles, instructed them to preach "repentance and remission of sins in his:Name among all nations" (Luke 24:47). Peter said, "Repent … for the remission of sins" (Acts 2:38). Paul testified to Jews and Greeks "repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 20:21). John wrote, as he doubtless preached," If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves … if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteoushess" (1 John 1:8, 1 John 1:9).
2. This is the obvious spiritual order. For how can we make our appeal to Christ, how can we put our trust in him as in our Divine Redeemer and the Propitiation for our sins, until we have recognized in ourselves the sinners that we are? For this there is necessary;
(1) The idea of sin—in many hearts, in many places, found to be wholly wanting, and having to be planted there.
(2) The sense of sin—absent from a great many more; absent, it may be, because it is forgotten that our guiltiness before God is not only nor chiefly found in doing what he has forbidden, but in withholding what he has desired and required of us, in the non-payment of the "ten thousand talents" of reverence and gratitude and service we owe him.
(3) Shame for sin, and a strong and deep desire to be cleansed from its evil stain. This true penitence brings us in eagerness and hope to the feet and to the cross of the Divine Savior.—C.
The ministry of fear.
We read that "Noah, moved with fear," built the ark which, in saving him and his family, saved the human race. Fear, dread of impending danger, has its place in the heart of man, and its work in the service of mankind. God made his appeal to it when he dealt with Israel; there was much of it in the Law. It was not absent from the ministry of Jesus Christ; it was he who spoke to men of the "millstone about the neck," of the undying worm, of the doom less tolerable than that of Tyre and Sidon. John's teaching seems to have been composed very largely of this element; he spoke freely of the "wrath to come." We are bound to consider—
I. THE FUTURE WHICH WE HAVE TO FEAR. We are not to imagine that because those terrible pictures of physical suffering which arose from mistaking the meaning of our Lord's figurative words have long ceased to haunt the minds of men, there is therefore nothing to apprehend in the future. That would be a reaction from one extreme to another. If we take the authority of Scripture as decisive, it is certain that the impenitent have everything to fear. They have to face:
1. Judgment and, with judgment, condemnation. "We must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ." "Every one shall give account of himself to God." What reason here for keen apprehension on the part of the impenitent sensualist, oppressor, defrauder, scorner!
2. The penalty which is due to guilt. This may be heavier or lighter, according as the light in which a man lived was clearer or less clear; but when we think how sin is branded and smitten now, what shame and suffering follow in its train in this world of probation, how seriously Divine wrath visits iniquity even in the day of grace, we may well shrink, with a fear that is not craven but simply wise, from enduring the penalty of unforgiven sin in the world of retribution (see Romans 2:5-9). It is not the brave, but the blind and the infatuated, who are indifferent to "the wrath to' come."
II. OUR COMMON INTEREST IN THIS SOLEMN THEME. "Who hath warned you," said John, addressing himself (as we learn from Matthew) more particularly to the Pharisees and Sadducces, "to flee from the wrath to come? How comes it that you, who are so perfectly satisfied with yourselves and charge yourselves with no defects, are concerned about judgment? And how is it that you Sadducees, who profess not to believe in any future at all, are trembling in view of another world?" Why did the rigid formalist and the sceptic come to listen so attentively to his doctrine of repentance? The truth was and is that the supposed sufficiency of Pharisaical proprieties, and the barrier of sceptical denials, break down in the hour when the faithful and fearless prophet speaks, when the stern but friendly truth of God finds its way to the human conscience. Our carefully constructed defenses may last for days, or even years, but they will not last for ever; the hour comes whoa some strong reality sweeps them away. There is not one of us, into how many different classes or denominations we may be divided, who does not need to inquire earnestly of God's spokesman what is the way of escape from the penalty of sin. And we know what is—
III. THE SURE WAY OF ESCAPE. It is that of penitence, on which John so strongly insisted; and of faith in that "Lamb of God" whom he pointed out as "taking away the sins of the world."—C.
The futile in religion, etc.
In these verses we have brought into view four aspects of religious truth.
I. THE FUTILE. The Pharisee, if he were charged with any evil course, consoled himself with the thought that he was a "son of Abraham;" to his mind it was everything with God that he was lineally descended from the father of the faithful, and had been admitted by the rite of circumcision into the "commonwealth of Israel." John, anticipating the doctrine of Jesus Christ, demolishes this delusion. That, he tells his audience on the banks of Jordan, is a matter of very small account with Heaven; that is not the criterion of character; that is not the passport to the kingdom of God. Let no man think to build on that poor foundation. Not genealogical connection with the best of men (see John 1:13), not admission by outward rite into any visible community, decides our state before God. If we appear before him, and have no better plea than this to offer, we must prepare for his dismissal. All that is fleshly, all that is circumstantial, all that is outward and unspiritual, falls short of the Divine requirement. It does not bring us into the kingdom of heaven.
II. THE DIFFICULT. "God is able of these stones," etc. Nothing could be easier than for Almighty power to raise up children unto Abraham—to bring into existence more children of privilege. He had bet to "speak, and it would be done; to command, and it would come forth." But it was quite another thing to win the disobedient and the disloyal to filial love and holy service, to bring the hard of heart and the proud of spirit to penitence and confession of sin, to conduct the feet that had long been walking in paths of selfishness and guilt into the ways of wisdom and of worth. This is a work in the accomplishment of which even the Divine Spirit employs many means and expends great resources and exercises long patience. He teaches, he invites, he pleads, he warns, he chastens, he waits. And on this great, this most difficult work, this spiritual victory, on which the eternal Father spends so much of the Divine, we surely may be well content to put forth all our human, strength.
III. THE SEVERE. "Now also the axe is laid unto the root … is hewn down, and cast into the fire." John intimates that a new dispensation is arriving, and with its coming there will come also a more severe sentence against disobedience and unfruitfulness. The shining of the fuller light will necessarily throw far deeper shadows. They who will not learn of the great Teacher will fall under great condemnation. The useless trees in the garden of the Lord will now not only be disbranched, they will be cut down. It is a very solemn thing to live in the full daylight of revealed religion. With every added ray of privilege and opportunity comes increase of sacred responsibility and exposure to the Divine severity.
IV. THE PRACTICAL. (Verses 10-14.) Real repentance will show itself in right behavior, and every man, according to his vocation, will take his rightful part. The man of means will be pitiful and generous; the man in office will be just and upright; the soldier will be civil; the servant will be faithful and be satisfied with the receipt of what is due to him; the master and the mistress will be fair in their expectation of service; the father will be considerate of his children's weakness; the children will be regardful of their parents' will. And while the right thing will be done, it will be done reverently and religiously, not only as unto man, but as "unto Christ the Lord."—C.
The wisdom of a true estimate.
Those who are far up the social. heights are usually under a strong temptation to climb to the very summit. We do not know how strong the temptation may have been to John to assume or to attempt the part of the Messiah. Popularity is very exciting and ensnaring; it leads men to prefer claims and to adopt measures which, on lower ground and in calmer mood, they would not have entertained for a moment. But John's mind never lost its balance in the tumult of great professional success. Unlike most men, he seems to have stood prosperity better than adversity (see Matthew 11:2, Matthew 11:3). He does not appear to have wavered for a moment in his fidelity to the Lord whose way he came to prepare; he always retained a true estimate of himself, his work, and his Master. In this respect he was as wise as he was true, and we cannot do better than emulate his wisdom.
I. A TRUE ESTIMATE OF OURSELVES. John knew that in personal worth and dignity he was not for a moment to be compared with Jesus. That great Prophet whom he was preceding was "One mightier than himself," One for whom he was not worthy to discharge the meanest office which the slave renders his master. In cherishing this thought he was both fight and wise. There is the truest wisdom in humility. To mistake ourselves, to think ourselves greater or worthier than we are, is to do ourselves the greatest injury and wrong.
1. It is to offend God and to draw down some sign of his serious displeasure (James 4:6).
2. It is to incur the disapproval and hostility of our fellow-men; for there is nothing that our neighbors more thoroughly dislike our part than an exaggerated notion of our own importance.
3. It is in itself an evil and perilous condition, in which we are open to the worst attacks of our spiritual enemies. On the other hand, humility is acceptable to God, approved of man, and safe.
II. A TRUE ESTIMATE OF OUR POSITION and of the work we have to do in the world. John clearly recognized, and very distinctly declared, that his mission in the world was one altogether and immeasurably inferior to that of Christ; to those who would not have been surprised to learn that he claimed to be the Messiah he made it known that he was doing that which was slight and small in comparison with the work of Christ. It is indeed a good and a wise thing for us to aspire to do all that God gives us the capacity and the opportunity to do. But let us take great care that we do not, from pride or vain-glory, go beyond that boundary-line. If we do we shall make a serious and possibly even a calamitous mistake. Many that have done excellent service and have had great joy in the doing it when they have worked within the range of their powers, have done grievous mischief and have suffered sad trouble when they have attempted that which was beyond them. Nothing but injury to others, damage to the cause of God, and sorrow for ourselves can arise from an over-estimate of the position we are able to fill.
III. A TRUE ESTIMATE OF OUR LORD. That Mighty One who was coming should do the very greatest things. He would:
1. Act with direct Divine energy upon the souls of men—"baptize with the Holy Ghost."
2. Utter truth which should have great testing and cleansing power; his fan would "throughly purge his floor" homily on Luke 2:34).
3. Make a final distinction between the true and the false: "He will gather the wheat into his garner," etc. No man who cares for his own spiritual and eternal interests can afford to disregard the words or the work of this great Prophet that was to come, that has come, that "is now exalted a Prince and Savior," giving redemption and eternal life to all who seek his grace and live in his service.—C.
Luke 3:21, Luke 3:22
God's good pleasure in us.
There are some preliminary lessons we do well to learn before we approach the main one; e.g.:
1. That piety will sometimes prompt us to do that which we are under no constraint to do. Jesus was not under any obligation to be baptized with the baptism of repentance. Moreover, he could not be said to be enrolling himself as a disciple of John. But he felt that "it became him" to do what he did (Matthew 3:15); probably his abstention would have been far more likely to be misunderstood than his compliance: hence his action. If we are earnestly desirous of doing everything we can in the cause of truth and righteousness, we shall not stop at the line of positive commandment or of necessity; we shall consider what it becomes us to do and how we shall best serve the purposes of God's love.
2. That God will not fail to manifest himself to us in the hour of need. Again and again he appeared in strengthening grace unto his Son; on this occasion, when "the heaven was opened," etc.; and when "his soul was troubled" (John 10:28); and in the garden (Luke 12:43). So did he appear to Paul in the time of his necessity (Acts 18:9; Acts 23:11; 2 Timothy 4:17). So will he appear in all-sustaining power unto us in the crises of our life.
3. That in proportion to our true devoutness of spirit may we look for the manifestations of God's kindness. "Jesus … praying, the heaven was opened." The main lesson is that those who are God's true children may be assured of his good pleasure in them.
I. GOD'S GOOD PLEASURE IS HIS SON JESUS CHRIST. "Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased." The sentiment of Divine complacency and gladness in Jesus Christ probably had regard to:
1. Our Lord's past earthly life, to the innocency of his childhood, to the integrity of all his life at home, to the preparation he had been making in solitary study and devotion for his life-work.
2. To his then spiritual condition, especially to his attitude toward his Divine Father, his submission to his holy will, his readiness to undertake whatever that holy will should appoint him, and, therefore:
3. To his sacred and sublime purpose, his intention to enter on that great work which should issue in the redemption of mankind. It must have been no slight access of holy strength to the Savior to be so strikingly assured of his Father's love and good pleasure as he entered on that most arduous and lofty enterprise.
II. GOD'S GOOD PLEASURE IN US. We cannot hope to have for ourselves the measure of Divine complacency which was possible in the Person of our Lord. Yet in our measure may we hope to have and to enjoy the good pleasure of our heavenly Father. For us there may be:
1. Full forgiveness of the faulty past. Grieved with all that is guilty, and resting on the abounding mercy of God in Jesus Christ, we are freely and frankly forgiven; so truly and thoroughly forgiven that our past transgressions and shortcomings are buried from the sight of the Supreme; they do not come between our souls and his favor; they are to him as if they were not; they do not make us less dear to his parental heart.
2. Positive Divine delight in our filial loyalty and love. As God, searching our hearts with pure and benign regard, sees in us a true filial spirit, a spirit of grateful love and of cheerful submission and of glad consecration to himself, he is glad in us with a Divine, parental joy.
3. Divine satisfaction with our purpose for the future—our intention to dedicate our life to the service of God and to spend our powers in the service of our kind.—C.
HOMILIES BY R.M. EDGAR
The ministry of the Baptist.
We left Jesus, when last we studied Luke's narrative, in Nazareth, subject to his parents and realizing a gracious development in subjection. We have now to pass over about eighteen years, of which we know only that during them he had become a carpenter, that we may contemplate the preparatory movement under John the Baptist. In these verses we find Luke entering upon the description with the hand of a true artist. He summarizes for us a whole life in fewer verses a great deal than it had years. And yet they are so deftly written that, had John Baptist no other memorial, they would secure for him undying fame. Let us take the facts as they are put before us by Luke, noting such lessons as they are well fitted to suggest. And—
I. THE BAPTIST APPEARED WHEN DECAY HAD SET IN BOTH IN CHURCH AND STATE. (Verses 1, 2.) The Jewish kingdom, which had a unity until the death of Herod the Great, has now been parcelled into tetrarchies, each governor reigning by grace of the Roman emperor. The scepter is assuredly departing from Judah. The ancient glory of the Israelitish monarchy only makes the present decline the more impressive. The kingdom needs resuscitation or to be supplanted by a better kingdom. A national leader was never more needful than now. The fullness of time has surely come. Again, decay has seized upon the Jewish Church. The singular number used here (ἀρχιερέως) while two names are associated with the high priesthood, shows to what a condition the affairs of the Church had come. Annas is not allowed his lifetime of the office, according to the Law of Moses, but Caiaphas, his son-in-law happily, has been appointed by the civil power in his room. Reformation is, therefore, sadly needed; the hour has struck, and happily the man is here.
II. THE BAPTIST CAME AS THE PIONEER OF THE LORD. (Verses 3-6.) Luke here borrows imagery from the prophecy of Isaiah (Isaiah 40:3-5), and a careful study of the passage endorses the application of it to the preparatory work in view of the advent of Messiah. John, like a pioneer, is to make a smooth path for the Prince of Peace; but the valleys to be raised, the mountains to be laid low, the crooked to be made straight, and the rough ways to be made smooth, are not outward and physical obstacles. It is not by force they are to be overcome, but by a voice, by a cry. They represent consequently the characters of men. The valleys represent the depressed and despairing; the mountains, the exalted and proud; the crooked, the tortuous in sin; the rough ways, the rugged and uncouth in nature. All these classes, through John's preaching, are to be prepared for a sight of God's salvation in the Person of Messiah. How, then, did John try to prepare his generation for Jesus? By "preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins." Now, this new rite introduced by John (cf. Godet, in loc.) was a tremendous indictment, so to speak, against human nature. It was as much as to say to every man, "You need to be washed, entirely washed; you are so defiled, you are sinners against God to such a degree that you must be not only washed and purified, but also pardoned, before you can take your places in the kingdom of Messiah." It was the proclamation to all his contemporaries that the one reformation needed in order to better times was self-reformation—reformation beginning at home in one's own bosom by the grace of God, as the most important preliminary to the reformation of the world. Repentance has been well defined as a taking of God's side against ourselves; £ and this was the spirit of John's reformation. It was a call to arms, but to arms against self, not against one's neighbors. And it is here that every true reformer must begin. We must reform ourselves first by the grace of God, or we shall be quite unequal to any large reformation in the world.
III. THE BAPTIST'S PREACHING WAS EXCEEDINGLY PLAIN AND PRACTICAL. (Verses 7-9.) Luke here gives a resume of John's discourses. They were not certainly very conciliatory. They did not mince matters. The vast multitude which came to hear him was, he knew, largely of the Pharisaic class. They were proud to be children of Abraham according to the flesh. They fancied this was sufficient to secure their acceptance with God. But in spite of their good pedigree they were venomous at heart, would sting a neighbor like a viper, and do the most unbrotherly things. Hence, as a faithful messenger from God, John tells his hearers what they are—but "a generation of vipers." He asks them further who has warned them to flee from "the wrath to come," that is, the judgments of Messiah? He exhorts them in such circumstances to put away their fancied merit as children of Abraham, and to bring forth fruits worthy of repentance, for in case they did not do so, they would be cut down and cast into the fire. The "fruits" demanded were not, of course, graces of the Spirit, which they could not of themselves produce; but acts of reparation, of justice, and such like, which were fitted to show the better view they were taking of their previous life, and the amends it demanded at their hands. If sorrow for sin is genuine with us, it will work a reformation immediately in our conduct; we shall not do the old hard-hearted things we once were guilty of. Now, John, in thus dealing with the question of human nature and its depravity, is an example to all our reformers. It is here that reformation is required, £ and the philosophy that fails here has no pretensions to the leadership of the world. No wonder, therefore, that "pessimism "hangs like a nightmare on the boasted philosophy of the time, and men by philosophy alone cannot get rid of it. £
IV. THE PRACTICAL ADVICE GIVEN TO DIFFERENT CLASSES BY JOHN. (Verses 10-14.) The real success of preaching is proved by inquirers. When people begin to ask what they must do, the message has begun to tell. Now, different classes became inquirers. They were from the lower ranks of the people. The Pharisees largely declined baptism, as Luke 7:30 shows. And:
1. The common people asked John's advice as to what they should do. He tells them to be brotherly instead of grasping. He preached "fraternity." He that had a second coat, or some meat to spare, would do well to impart to a needy brother. Cooperation in the battle of life is our first duty.
2. The taxgatherers ask what they should do. John tells them to avoid their easily besetting sin of extortion. In fact, here, as always, the gospel begins by antagonizing man's selfish impulses.
3. The soldiers also ask his advice. These are believed to have been soldiers on the march to a war in Arabia Petraea on behalf of Herod Antipas, and to have been caught at the fords of the Jordan by the wave of religious excitement which was surging there. The brave Baptist advises them to avoid
(2) perjury, and
(3) grumbling about better wages.
He thus sets each class to fight against its easily besetting sins.
V. THE BAPTIST'S MISSION WAS BUT A PROMISE OF A BETTER BAPTISM, (Verses 15-18.) When John's preaching had proved so successful, the people began to wonder if he were not Messiah himself; and then it was that he declined leadership and spoke of a greater Leader and a far more important baptism. So great was his successor to be, that John was not worthy to unloose his shoe-latchet; and he was to have the grand prerogative of baptizing the people with the Holy Ghost and with fire, or, as it perhaps had better be, "in the Holy Ghost and fire (ἐν πνεύματι ἁγίῳ καὶ πυρί)." The Spirit is an Agent, not a means, as water is; and his agency has all the purifying and sublimating effect of fire, rendering those on whom he descends pure and ardent in the service of the Lord. This baptism of the Spirit is what characterizes the dispensation of Messiah. £ But Messiah will exercise authority and execute judgment, as well as baptize with fire. He will separate by his doctrine, which is his fan, the wheat from the chaff; and those who demonstrate their worthlessness by rejecting the gospel, will be consigned by him to fire unquenchable. If we will not accept of fire as purification, we shall receive it in another form as fire of judgment (cf. Godet, in loc.). Hence the solemn alternative which Jesus sets before us in his gospel.
VI. THE REWARD THE WORLD GIVES ITS SPIRITUAL HEROES. (Verses 19, 20.) It has been supposed that John accepted a crafty invitation from Herod Antipas to come to his court. The last act in the tragedy of his life is when he appears before us as a courageous "court-preacher." £ Here the Baptist would not take things easily, as courtiers do, but denounced the infamy of the monarch. His reward is a dungeon. The finale is his murder. So has the world rewarded its spiritual heroes. It has nothing better for the noblest than a castle-dungeon and a headsman's sword. This shadow is inserted in Luke's history by anticipation. But there is artistic power in so inserting it. It completes the picture of a great ministry. The forerunner of Messiah has not a much better fate than Messiah himself. The age of heroes is beginning in the person of John, the heroes who had heart to die for truth. Their blood is truth's most precious seed, and the gospel which can command "the noble army of martyrs" is destined to endure! £—R.M.E.
The baptism and genealogy of Jesus.
From the general features of the remarkable ministry of the Baptist, summed up as it is for us in the preceding verses, we now pass to the most notable instance of baptism performed by him. This was the baptism of Jesus. We are expressly told that it was when the movement under John had become national, when all the people (ἅπαντα τὸν λαόν) had submitted to the rite, with, of course, the Pharisaic exceptions already noticed (Luke 7:30), that Jesus appeared at the Jordan to claim the rite too. We learn also from Matthew that John at first objected, feeling an incongruity in the case. Had he been allowed, he would have changed places with Jesus, and been the baptized rather than the baptizer. But Jesus never descended to the administration of water-baptism; he always maintained his high prerogative as the Baptizer of men with the Holy Ghost and fire. Hence, while he insisted on receiving water-baptism, he left it to others to administer it (cf. John 4:2). Let us, then, proceed to the following inquiries:—
I. WHAT WERE CHRIST'S REASONS FOR SUBMITTING TO THIS BAPTISM UNTO REPENTANCE? We must reject at once the insinuation of Strauss and others, that it implied some sense of sin. Jesus never was conscious of sin, as his whole life and his express testimony show (cf. John 8:46; see also Ullman's 'Sinlessness of Jesus,' passim). Why, then, should he come under even the suspicion through a baptism unto repentance? The national character of the movement will help to explain our Lord's act. The multitudes who submitted to baptism did so in hope of a place in Messiah's kingdom. But as a "kingdom of God" the impenitent and unpardoned could have no place in it. A way must be found for the pardon and purification and penitence of sinners. Christ's identification of himself, therefore, in baptism with the expectant people was his surrender of himself so far as needful for the accomplishment of this great work. £ It was not only a response to the Father's call to enter upon his peculiar Messianic work, as Weiss in his 'Leben Jesu' has very properly suggested, but also a deliberate assumption of the responsibilities of sinners. Hence it has been supposed that, as the ordinary candidates for baptism confessed their personal sins (Matthew 3:6), so Jesus most probably confessed the sins of the nation and people who were looking hopefully for his advent. This dedication, moreover, implied self-sacrifice in due season. The Messiah hereby became voluntarily "the Lamb of God" to take away the sins of the world, and John seems to have realized this himself (John 1:29). It was consequently the most sublime dedication which history records. It was not a mere entrance of the "valley of death," like a soldier in a battle-charge, with a few moments' agony and then all is over; but it was a dedication of himself, three years and more before he suffered, to a policy which could end only in his crucifixion.
II. IN WHAT WAY DID THE FATHER RESPOND TO THIS SUBLIME DEDICATION OF THE SUN? We are told that Jesus was "praying" during the administration of the rite. As Arndt observes, "Instead of John urging Jesus to bring forth fruits meet for repentance, as he had done with others, it is here simply said by Luke, 'And Jesus prayed.' "He prayed with uplifted eye, and for those gifts and graces which his great work needed. His prayer was for his rights in the emergency of his sacrificial life. We seek grace from God as a matter of free favor, and for the Savior's sake. He sought grace and gift as a matter of simple justice, seeing he was undertaking to perform the Father's good pleasure in the salvation of sinners. And now we have to notice how the Father responded to his appeal.
1. The Father granted him the gift of the opened heaven. When it is said "the heaven was opened," we are not to understand by it merely that a rent took place among the clouds to allow the Divine Dove to come fluttering down, but rather that the right of Jesus to access to the heavenly light and secrets is recognized. As Godet puts it, it was the guarantee of a perfect revelation of the Father's will in this great work of saving men. Any clouds which sin may have interposed between man and God were in Christ's case cleared away; and, as a sinless Representative, he is enabled in unclouded light to realize his duty in the matter of man's redemption. It was a splendid assurance that Jesus, at all events, would not want light in the midst of duty. And if we follow the Lord fully, we too shall have such opening of the heavens, and such revelation of duty, as will enable us to see the proper path, and to tread it for the benefit of mankind.
2. The Father granted him the Holy Spirit in the organic form of a descending dove. This symbol is only used in Genesis 1:2, where the Spirit is represented as "brooding dove-like o'er the vast abyss," to use the Miltonic paraphrase; and here in connection with Christ's baptism. The soul of Christ, upon which the Holy Spirit on this second occasion descended, was the scene of a mightier work than the chaotic abyss at first. The new creation is greater than the old; and the sinless material upon which the Divine Dove had to brood guaranteed a more magnificent result than the sensible world affords. The "super- natural evolution" hereby secured has been mightier and more magnificent than the evolution in nature. £ Now, regarding the significance of the symbol, we are taught that
(1) the Holy Spirit came down in his entirety upon Jesus. Other men receive the Spirit in measure, and hence as oil, as fire, as water, as wind,—these minor symbols sufficing to represent our tiny inspirations; but Jesus receives the Spirit as a dove, an organic whole—the Spirit without measure (John 3:34). We are also taught
(2) that the dove-like graces were imparted in all fullness to Jesus. "As the dove is the symbol of innocence, of purity, of noble simplicity, of gentleness and meekness, of inoffensiveness and humility, so Jesus stood there in possession of the Holy Ghost, as the complete embodiment of all these perfections." £ And it is out of his fullness we must all receive, and grace for grace. His is the perfect inspiration, ours is the mediated inspiration, so far as we can receive the Spirit. Let us look prayerfully for the descent of the Dove, and he will come to abide even with us! But yet again
(3) the Father granted to Jesus the assurance of Sonship. From the account in Matthew we should suppose the words were spoken to John; from this in Luke we should infer that they were spoken only and directly to Jesus. Both hearers were doubtless regarded in the paternal communication. Now, when we consider all that Jesus had undertaken in accepting baptism, he surely had a right to this assurance, that as a Son he was well-pleasing in all his consecrated life to the Father. It was upon this he fell back in the lonely crisis of his history (John 16:32). It was the only consolation left to him. And a similar assurance may be looked for by us if we are trying to follow in the footsteps of our Lord. It will in our case be a matter of free grace, and not of strict right; but it will in consequence be all the more precious. Most likely we shall have lonely hours when we shall be deserted by supposed friends, and be put upon our mettle as to our faith in the ever-present Father; but at such times the assurance that our conduct has been pleasing in some measure to the Father, and that he sympathizes with us in our work, will be the greatest earthly consolation. If, in studying to show ourselves approved unto God, we are denied every other approval, we can feel the Divine to be all-sufficient!
III. WHAT ARE WE TO LEARN FROM THE INTERPOSED GENEALOGY? Jesus had just been assured of his Sonship, according to St. Luke's history, and now the evangelist interposes between the baptism and the temptation the genealogy of his human nature, carrying it upwards, step by step, to God. The course taken is the reverse of Matthew's. Writing for Jews, Matthew simply starts with Abraham and descends to Joseph, the reputed father of Christ, and so fulfils all Jewish demands. But Luke, writing for a wider Greek-speaking audience, begins with Jesus, the all-important Person, passes to Heli, Mary's father, and then upwards, step by step, past Abraham to Adam, and from Adam to God. Is it not to make out, in the first place, a wider relation for Jesus than Jewish prejudice would afford; to show, in fact, that he is related by blood to the whole human family, and contemplates in the broadest spirit its salvation? In the second place, does the genealogy not clearly imply a direct relation between human nature and God? Man was made at first in the Divine image. This fact affords the basis and the key to the Incarnation. The Divine can unite with the human, since the human was originally the image of the Divine. This relation to God, this spark of Divinity within human nature, constitutes even still man's chief glory. "According to the gospel of the Spirit, Adam is the son of God; according to the gospel of the senses, man is the son of an atom.… If the former prove to be the true descent of man, then we are capable of religion, and we live in some personal relationship to a Being higher than ourselves, from whom we came." £ We accept, with Luke, as truth the Divine "descent of man," whatever analogies may be made out between man and the beasts. It is surely evidence of our degradation that this Divine descent should be called in question, and its demonstrations disregarded. In the third place, we have to notice that some of Christ's ancestors were not very creditable—the "bar sinister" enters once or twice, as in the case of Thamar and of Rahab; yet this only shows that he owed nothing to his pedigree, but was willing to be related to all kinds of people that he might become their Savior. £ Let us, then, rejoice in the relation thus established between the eternal Son of God and the human race; and may that Divine image, implanted in the race at first, have its glorious renewal in our individual experience!—R.M.E.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Luke 3". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent