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Bible Commentaries

Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the New Testament

Luke 3

Verse 1

The two foregoing chapters give us an account of the birth of our Saviour Christ, and of John the Baptist. The evangelist now leaving the history of our blessed Saviour for eighteen years, namely till he was thirty years old, (the Holy Ghost having thought fit to conceal that part of our Saviour's private life from our knowledge,) he begins this chapter with a relation of the Baptist's ministry, acquainting us with the time when, and the place where, and the doctrine which, the Baptist taught.

Observe 1. The time described when St. John began his public ministry, namely, when Tiberius was emperor, and Annas and Caiaphas high priests.

Observe 2. In the fifteenth year of Tiberius, when the Jews were entirely under the power of the Romans, who set four governors over them, called Tetrarchs, so named from their ruling over a fourth part of the kingdom.

From hence the Jews might have observed, had not prejudice blinded their eyes, that the sceptre being thus departed from Judah, according to Jacob's prophecy, Genesis 49:10 Shiloh, or the Messiah was now come.

Again, the time when St. John began his ministry was when Annas and Caiaphas were high priests. Under the law there were three sorts of ministers that attended the service of the temple, namely, priests, Levites, and Nethinims; over these the high priest was chief, who by God's command was to be the first-born of Aaron's family.

But how came two high priests here, seeing God never appointed but one at a time?

In answer to this, say some, the power and covetousness of the Romans put in high priests at pleasure to officiate for gain.

Say others, the high priest was allowed his assistant or deputy who in case of his pollution and sickness, did officiate in his place.

But that which we may profitably observe from hence, is this, the exactness and faithfulness of this historian, St. Luke, in relating the circumstances of our Saviour's nativity, and the Baptist's ministry. That the truth might evidently appear, he is exact in recording the time.

Verse 3

Observe here, 1. The place where the Baptist exercised his ministry; in the wilderness of Judea, where were some cities and villages, though thinly inhabited.

Note here, the great humility of the Baptisit in preaching in an obscure place, and to a small handful of people. Jerusalem, some might think, was a fitter place, for so celebrated a preacher; but God had called him to preach in the wilderness, and there he opens his commission.

Learn, that the most eminent of God's ministers must be content to execute their office, and exercise their ministry, where God calls them, be the place never so mean and obscure, and the people never so rude and barbarous. In the place where God by his providence fixes us, we must abide, till he that called us thither, removes us thence.

And this was the Baptist's case here. He leaves the wilderness at God's command, and comes to more inhabited places: He came into the country about Jordan, preaching. It is not only lawful, but a necessary duty, for the ministers of God to remove from one place and people to another, provided their call be clear, their way plain, the good of souls their motive, and the glory of God their end.

Observe, 2. The doctrine which the Baptist preached: namely, the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins: that is, the doctrine of baptism, which sealeth remission of sins to the party baptized.

Learn hence, that the preaching of the doctrine of repentance is the indispensable duty of every gospel minister. John the Baptist preached it, our Saviour preached it, his apostles preached it: They went out every where preaching that men should repent.

Till we are in a state of sinless perfection, the doctrine of repentance must be preached unto us, and practiced by us.

Observe, 3. The motive and inducement which prompted the Baptist to this duty; which was, to fulfil the prophecies that went before of him: As it is written in the book of the prophecies, the voice of one crying in the wilderness, prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight: every valley shall be filled.

Where note, 1. The title given to John the Baptist: a Voice, a crying voice. This implies both his vehemency and earnestness, and also his freedom and boldness, in delivering his message: when a minister's own heart is warmly affected with what he preaches, he may hope to affect the hearts of others.

Note, 2. The sum and substance of what he cried: Prepare ye the way of the Lord, that is, make yourselves ready to receive the Messiah, to embrace and entertain his doctrine. As loyal subjects, when their prince is coming near their city, remove everything out of the way that may hinder his progress; all annoyances and all impediments; in like manner the preparatory work of the gospel upon the hearts of sinners, lies in pulling down mountains, and filling up vallies; that is, in humbling the proud hearts of sinners, puffed up, as the Pharisees were, with a conceit of their own righteousness, who would be their own saviours, and not beholden to Christ, and to his free grace for salvation.

Learn hence, 1. That man's heart is naturally very unfit to receive and entertain the Lord Jesus Christ, and his holy doctrine; we have naturally no fitness, no inclination, nor disposition, to believe in him, or submit unto him.

2. That if ever we design to entertain Christ in our hearts, we must first prepare and make ready our hearts for the receiving and embracing of him. For though the preparation of the heart be from the Lord, yet he requires the exercise of our faculties, and the use of our endeavours; he prepares our hearts, by enabling us to prepare our own hearts, by getting a sight of the evil of sin, and a sense of our misery without Christ; and hungering desire after him, and a lively faith in him.

God does not work upon man, as masons work upon a stone; what he doth in us and for us, he doth it by us; he works by setting us to work; therefore says the holy Baptist, prepare ye the way of the Lord. The act of endeavour is ours, the aid and assistance is God's.

Observe lastly, the encouragement which the Baptist gives to persons to prepare the way of the Lord: For, says he, all flesh shall see the salvation of God; that is, now is the time that all persons, Jews and Gentiles, may see the Author of salvation, whom God has promised to the world; and may by faith be made partakers of that salvation which the Messiah shall purchase for them, and in his gospel tender to them. The great end of Christ's coming into the world, was to purchase salvation for all flesh willing to be saved by him.

Verse 7

Matthew 3:7-Ruth : says, that the Baptist spake these words to the Pharisees and Sadducees, whom he gives, first, a quick and cutting compellation, O generation of vipers: then a sharp and severe reprehension, Who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? And, last of all, a seasonable exhortation, Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance.

As if he had said, "O ye Pharisees, and worst of men, I perceive by your coming hither, somebody has alarmed you with the notice of that dreadful vengeance that is coming upon this generation; to prevent which you pretend repentance of your sins: but let me see by your actions that you are not only demure, but sincere penitents; let me see the fruits of your repentence in the daily course of your conversation."

Learn here, 1. That the condition of proud Pharisees, pretending and false-hearted hypocrites, though very dangerous, yet is not hopeless and desperate; and their salvation, though the worst of men, must not be despaired of. St. John reproves them for their sins, but yet encourages their repentance.

2. That sincere repentance is not a barren thing, but does constantly bring forth fruits answerable to its nature: as faith without works, so repentance without fruits, is dead also. The genuine fruits of repentance are humility of heart and holiness of life.

Observe, lastly, the cautionary direction which he gives to these hypocrites not to rest in their external privileges: Think not to say within yourselves, we have Abraham to our father; glory not in this, that you are the only visible church that God has upon earth, for God can, out of the obdurate Gentile world, raise up a people to himself, take them into covenant with himself, and cast you out.

Learn hence, 1. That men are exceeding apt to boast of and glory in their external privileges, and to place religion most in those things wherein God places it least. How did the Jews glory in their fleshly descent from Abraham, as if God was tied to Abraham's line, and could have no people if he had not them for his people?

2. That it is a vain thing to expect exemption from the judgments of God, because of outward privileges enjoyed by us. If we be not born again of the Spirit, it will avail us nothing to be born of Abraham's flesh: if Abraham's faith be not found in our hearts, it will be of no advantage to us that Abraham's blood is running in our veins: Think not to say, we have Abraham to our father.

Verse 9

St. John having preached the doctrine of repentance in the foregoing verses, he backs it with a powerful argument in this verse, drawn from the certainty and severity of that judgment which should come upon them, if they continued their sins: Now is the axe laid to the root of the tree.

Learn, 1. That it is not unsuitable for gospel preachers to press repentance and holiness of life upon their hearers, from arguments of terror. John does it here, and Christ elsewhere.

2. That those whose hearts are not pierced with the sword of God's word, shall certainly be cut down and destroyed by the axe of his judgments.

Observe farther, that forasmuch as the sin here specified is a sin of omission, every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit, as well as that which bringeth forth evil fruit, is hewn down, and cast into the fire. We learn that sins of omission are certainly damning as well as sins of commission. The neglects of duty are as dangerous and damnable as the acts of sin. Such trees as stand in God's orchard, the church, and bring forth no good fruit, are marked out as fuel for the devil's fire.

Verse 10

The Baptist having pressed his hearers to bring forth fruits meet for repentance, here they enquire of him what fruits they should bring forth? He tells first the fruits of charity and mercy: He that hath two coats, let him give to him that hath none. This is not to be understood strictly, as if the command required us to give the clothes off our back to every one that wanted them. But it directs those that have the things of this life in abundance, to distribute and communicate to those that are in want.

Learn hence, that an extensive liberality, and a diffusive charity in distributing such things as we can well spare towards the relief of others' necessities, is an excellent fruit of repentance, and a good proof and evidence of the truth and sincerity of it. Let him that hath two coats impart to him that hath none.

Note, that the Baptist here doth not make it unlawful for a man to have two coats, but means only, that he that has one coat which his brother wants, and he at present doth not, should rather give it him, than suffer him to be in want of it.

Teaching us, that it is not lawful to abound in those things which our brother wants, when we have sufficient both to relieve his and our necessities.

Verse 12

The publicans were persons employed by the Romans to gather the tax of tribute among the Jews, who were now tributaries to the Romans, and paid them a public revenue. These publicans were great oppressors, exacting more than was the emperor's due. Therefore we find the publicans and sinners so often joined together in the gospel. These men enquiring what fruits of repentance they should bring forth, St. John directs them to acts of justice: Exact not.

Where note, 1. That acts of justice and righteousness, as well as of charity and mercy, are real fruits of sincere repentance.

Observe, 2. John doth not condemn the office, but cautions the officer. If magistrates may impose taxes, they may doubtless appoint officers to collect those taxes. Christian charity then must always teach us to distinguish betwixt the calling and the crime. We must not censure any office, either in church or state, for the sake of their mal-administration who are employed in that office.

Verse 14

Observe here, what a general resort there was of all sorts of persons to John's ministry; Pharisees, Sadducees, publicans, soldiers; these last here enquire of him what they should do to gain acceptance with God? He answers, Do no violence, defraud no man of his own by false accusation, but be content with the allowance assigned you for your maintenance.

Where it is, 1. Strongly supposed that soldiers are insolent oppressors, making no conscience or injustice, false accusation, and violent oppression.

Yet, 2. The office and employment of a soldier is not condemned, but regulated; he does not bid them cast away their arms, abandon war, appear no more as military men in the field; but manage their employment inoffensively.

Whence we learn, that in some cases, and under some circumstances, for Christians to make war is both lawful and necessary. To make a war lawful, there is required a lawful authority, a righteous cause, an honourable aim and intention, and a just and righteous manner of prosecution, without vanity and ostentation, without cruelty and oppression. Courage and compassion on the one hand, and cowardice and cruelty on the other hand, do frequently accompany one another.

Verse 15

Observe here, 1. How the extraordinariness of John the Baptist's person, the earnestness of his preaching, the acceptableness of his doctrine, and the exemplariness of his conversation, drew all persons to an admiration of him; insomuch that they began to think within themselves, whether here were not the Messiah himself. He plainly tells them he was not, but only his servant, his harbinger and forerunner.

Observe 2. The high opinion which John had of Christ, He is mightier than I; that is, a person of greater authority, dignity, and excellency, than myself.

From whence may be gathered, that though Christ was man, he was more than man, even very God, equal with the Father: for John himself was the greatest of them that were born of women. Matthew 11:11 Yet, says John, Christ is mightier than I. How so? In regard of the dignity of his person, being both God and man? He that cometh after me is mightier than I.

Observe, 3. The humble and low estimation that the holy Baptist had of himself: His shoe-latchet I am not worthy to unloose: a proverbial speech, implying that he was unworthy to do the lowest offices, and meanest services for Christ.

Lord, how well does humility of mind, an humble apprehension, and a low opinion of themselves, become the messengers and ministers of Christ! John was a man of eminent abilities, yet of exemplary humility; he thought himself unworthy to unloose Christ's shoe.

Observe, 4. John does not only declare the dignity of Christ's person, but the excellency of his office; He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire. As if he had said, "I only wash the body with water, but Christ cleanses the soul by the operation of his Holy Spirit, which is as fire in the effects of it, purifying the hearts of his people from sin, and consuming their lusts and corruptions; yet at the same time having fiery indignation, and flaming judgments, to destroy and burn up impenitent sinners like dry stubble."

Observable it is in scripture, that Christ is represented by one and the same metaphor of fire, in a way of comfort to his children, and in a way of terror to his enemies; he is fire unto both. He sits in the hearts of his people as a refiner's fire; he is amongst his enemies as a consuming fire: a fire for his church to take comfort in, a fire for his enemies to perish by.

Observe, lastly, how the holy Baptist compares our Saviour to an husbandman, and the Jewish church to a barn floor; the office of an husbandman is to thresh, fan, and winnow, his corn, separating it from the chaff, preserving the one, and consuming the other.

Observe, 1. That the church is Christ's floor.

2. That this floor Christ will purge, and that thoroughly.

3. That the word of Christ is the fan in his hand, by and with which he will thoroughly purge his floor.

The church is compared to a floor, upon the account of that mixture which is in the church. In a floor there is straw as well as grain, chaff as well as corn, tares as well as wheat, cockle and darnel as well as good seed. Thus in the church there has been, there is, and ever will be, a mixture of good and bad, saints and sinners, hypocrites and sincere Christians: but this floor Christ will purge; purge it, but not break it up; purge out its corruptions, but not destroy its essence and existence: and the fan in Christ's hand, with which he will purge his floor, is his holy word, accompanied with the wing of discipline. The fan detects and discovers the chaff, and the wing dissipates and scatters it; and by the help of both the floor is purged: His fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge.

Verse 18

Observe here, 1. In John the Baptist the character of a zealous and faithful minister of the gospel: he is one that deals plainly, and durst tell the greatest persons of their faults. Herod, though a king, is reproved by him for his adultery and incest. The crown and sceptre of Herod could not daunt the faithful messenger of God. There ought to meet in the ministers of Christ both courage, and impartiality; courage in fearing no faces, and impartiality in sparing no sins.

Observe, 2. Who it was that imprisoned and beheaded the holy Baptist: Herod a king. How sad is it when kings, who should be nursing-fathers to the church, do prove the bloody butchers of the prophets of God. Many of the severest persecutions which the ministers of God have fallen under, have been occasioned by their telling great men of their crimes. Men in power are impatient of reproof, and imagine that their authority gives them a license to transgress.

Observe, 3. The heinous aggravations of this sin in Herod: He added this to all his other sins, that he shut up John in prison. This evidenced him incorrigible and irreclaimable. John had preached before Herod, and Herod had heard John with some delight; but he had a darling lust, which occasioned his destruction.

Learn hence, that hypocrites may hear the word with some pleasure, and do many things with some delight, but they have always some beloved lust that must be spared; they will neither part with it, nor bear reproof for it. Herod sticks not to cut off that head, whose tongue was so bold as to reprove him for his lusts.

Verse 21

Observe, 1. The great condescension of Christ in seeking and submitting to the baptism of John. Christ, though John's Lord and Master, yet yields to be baptized of his servant and messenger.

Observe, 2. The reasons why Christ would be baptized.

1. That by this rite he might enter himself into the society of Christians, as he had before by circumcision entered into the society of the Jews.

2. That he might by his own baptism sanctify the ordinance of baptism unto us.

3. That thereby he might fulfil the righteousness of the ceremonial law, which required the washing of the priests in water, before they entered upon their office, as appears, Exodus 29:4

Observe, 3. How the duty of prayer accompanieth the ordinance of baptism: Jesus being baptized, and praying. Teaching us by his example to sanctify every ordinance and every action, with prayer.

Christ, when he was baptized, he prayed. When he was tempted, he prayed. When he brake bread, he prayed. When he wrought miracles, he prayed. In his agony in the garden, he prayed. When he suffered on the cross, he prayed.

What was the subject-matter of our Lord's prayer at this time is not expressed; but by what followed, namely, the heavens opening and the Holy Ghost descending, it is probably conjectured, that he prayed for some testimony to be given from heaven concerning himself, for it immediately follows.

Verse 22

Observe here, the solemn investing of Christ into his office, as Mediator, is attended with a threefold miracle; namely, the opening of the heavens, the descending of the Holy Ghost, and God the Father's voice concerning the son.

The heavens were opened; to show, that heaven, which was closed and shut against us for our sins, is now opened to us, by Christ's undertaking for us.

Next, The Holy Ghost descends like a dove upon our Saviour. Here we have a proof and evidence of the blessed Trinity; the Father speaks from heaven, the Son comes out of the water, and the Holy Ghost descends after the manner of a dove, hovering and overshadowing him. But why did the Holy Ghost now descend upon Christ?

First, for the designation of his person, to show that he was the person set apart for the work and office of a mediator.

Secondly, for the unction and sanctification of his person for the performance of that office. Now was he anointed to be the king, priest, and prophet of his church.

Lastly, we have here the voice of God the Father, pronouncing.

1. The nearness of Christ's relation: This is my Son.

2. The endearedness of his person: This is my beloved Son.

3. The fruit and benefit of this near relation unto us: In thee I am well pleased.

Learn hence, 1. That there is no possibility for any person to please God out of Christ; neither our persons nor our performances can find acceptance with God, but only in and through him, and for his sake.

2. That the Lord Jesus Christ is the ground and cause of all that love and good will which God the Father showeth to the sons of men.

In Christ, God is well pleased with us as a reconciled Father; out of him a consuming fire; Thou art my beloved Son, in thee I am well pleased.

Verse 23

At thirty years of age, the priests under the law entered upon their public office; accordingly Christ stays the full time prescribed by the law, before he undertakes his public ministry, and he gives the reason for it. That he might fulfil all righteousness. Matthew 3:15 That is, the righteousness of the ceremonial law, which required persons to be of that age, before they entered upon that office; and also enjoined them to be baptized or washed in water, when they undertook their office. See Exodus 29:4

Learn hence, that whatever the law required in order to perfect righteousness, that Christ fulfilled in most absolute perfection, both in his own person, and also in the name of all believers.

Observe farther, the title given to Joseph here: he is called the supposed father of Christ. Joseph was not his natural father, though so supposed by the Jews; but he was his legal father, being married to the Virgin when our Saviour was born; and he was his nursing father, that took care of him, and provided for him, though Christ sometimes showed both his parents, that, if he pleased, he could live without any dependence upon their care. See Luke 2:49

Verse 24

We find the genealogy of our blessed Saviour recorded by two evangelists, St. Matthew and St. Luke. His pedigree is set forth by St. Matthew from his father Joseph, by St. Luke from his mother Mary; the design of both is to prove him lineally descended from Abraham and David, and consequently the true and promised Messiah.

St. Matthew, intending his history primarily for the Jews, proves him to be the son of Abraham and David, for their comfort. St. Luke, designing the information and comfort of the Gentiles, derives our Lord's pedigree from Adam, the common parent of mankind; to assure the Gentiles of their possibility of an interest in Christ, they being the sons of Adam. Neither of these evangelists are strict and accurate in enumerating every individual person; which should teach us not to be over-curious in scanning the parts of this genealogy, much less captiously to object against it, because of some seeming contradictions to it; for if the evangelists were not nice and critical in composing this genealogy, why should we be so in examining of it? Let us rather attend to the design of the Holy Ghost in writing of it, which was twofold.

1. For the honour of our Saviour as man, showing who were his noble and royal progenitors according to the flesh.

2. For the confirmation of our faith, touching the reality of our Saviour's incarnation. The scripture making mention of all his progenitors from the first man Adam, to his reputed father Joseph, we cannot reasonably doubt either of the truth of his human nature, or of the certainty of his being the promised Messiah.

Hence we may learn that the wisdom of God has taken all necessary care, and used all needful means, for satisfying the minds of all unprejudiced persons, touching the reality of Christ's human nature, and the certainty of his being the promised Messiah; for both these ends is our Saviour's genealogy, descent, and pedigree, recorded in holy scripture.

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Bibliographical Information
Burkitt, William. "Commentary on Luke 3". Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/wbc/luke-3.html. 1700-1703.