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Bible Commentaries

Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary
Luke 3

 

 

Verses 1-14

CRITICAL NOTES

Luk .—This may be regarded as the formal opening of St. Luke's history. Tiberius Cæsar.—Angus us died A.U.C. 767, and fifteen years added to this would make the time here noted, A.U.C. 782, when Jesus would be thirty-two years of age, having been born before the death of Herod the Great (A.U.C. 750). As this would be inconsistent with Luk 3:23, we must assume that Luke is reckoning from the time when Tiberius was associated with Augustus in the imperial dignity, i.e. in A.U.C. 765. This would make the date of Christ's baptism A.U.C. 780 or A.D. 26. Pontius Pilate.—Procurator of Judæa, under the Proconsul of Syria, from A.D. 26-36. Herod.—Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great and Malthace; he was full brother of Archelaus, and was tetrarch from B.C. 4 to A.D. 39. He had the title of "king" by courtesy (Mar 6:14, etc.). It was by him that John the Baptist was imprisoned and put to death. Tetrarch.—Means originally, the ruler of a fourth part of a country; afterwards used for any tributary prince. Philip.—Half-brother of Herod Antipas; son of Herod the Great and Cleopatra. Reigned from B.C. 4 to A.D. 32. The town of Cæsarea Philippi named after him. He was not the Philip spoken of in Mar 6:17, who was another son of Herod the Great (by Mariamne, daughter of Simon). This last-named Philip/was disinherited by his father, and lived in Rome as a private citizen. The districts named in this verse are those within which our Lord's ministry was confined.

Luk . Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests.—In theory there could be but one high priest. A better reading is followed by the R.V. "in the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas." Annas had been deprived of office by Valerius Gratus, Pilate's predecessor. He was probably regarded by the people as the legitimate high priest, while Joseph Caiaphas, his son-in-law, was accepted as high priest de facto. This would account for the singular expression here used. He had certainly great influence during the priesthood of Caiaphas (v. Joh 18:13; Joh 18:24). The word of God came.—The usual Old Testament formula for prophetic inspiration. The wilderness.—As indicated in Luk 3:3, the desert country about the mouth of the Jordan on the north of the Dead Sea.

Luk . Baptism of repentance, etc. "A baptism requiring and representing an inward, spiritual change; the pledge of remission of sins to those who were truly penitent" (Speaker's Commentary).

Luk .—The passage quoted from Isaiah is understood to refer primarily to the return of the Jews from captivity, and to have only a secondary fulfilment in the preaching of John. But the glowing words find their only adequate fulfilment in the mission of the Baptist.

Luk . Every valley, etc.—"The metaphor is derived from pioneers who go before the march of a king. The general meaning of the prophecy is that no obstacles, whether they arose from depression, or power, or pride, or cunning perversity, or menacing difficulties, should be able to resist the labours of the pioneers and heralds of the kingdom of God" (Farrar).

Luk . The multitude.—Rather, "the multitudes" (R.V.)—different classes of men from different quarters. O generation of vipers.—Rather, "ye offspring of vipers" (R.V.). These stern words are addressed specially to Pharisees and Sadducees (Mat 3:7). Our Lord Himself uses the same figure (Mat 23:33). Notice that the Baptist employs figures suggested by the desert—vipers, stones, barren trees.

Luk .—"The notion is that of a woodman touching a tree with the edge of his axe to measure his blow before he lifts his arm for the sweep which fells it" (Farrar).

Luk are peculiar to St. Luke.

Luk .—John says nothing of faith and love, but like Christ lays down self-denial as a first condition of admission into the kingdom of God (Mat 5:40-42). Meat.—I.e. food: the word now usually means "flesh"; but this use of the word is unknown in our A.V.

Luk . Publicans.—I.e. tax-gatherers; owing to the system of farming taxes which prevailed at this time, the office gave many facilities for dishonesty and extortion, and those who filled it were both despised and hated. A special stigma attached to them among the Jews as agents of a heathen and oppressive power. Master.—I.e. teacher.

Luk . Soldiers.—The Greek word used means literally, "soldiers on the march." Do violence to no man.—The word implies, "Do not extort money by threats of violence." Neither accuse any falsely.—I.e. "do not extort money by false accusation, or the threatening of it." Be content, etc.—Mutinies on account of pay were frequent.

MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Luk

A Call to Repentance.—St. Luke here makes a fresh beginning. What he has hitherto related has been of a more or less private character—incidents affecting the lives and thoughts of individuals and the narrow circles in which they moved. But now he has to tell of the revelation of God in Christ to mankind. He has shown us the source of the stream, and now he points out with special emphasis where it begins to gather strength and flow in a broader, deeper channel. First the forerunner of the Messiah, and then the Messiah Himself, come forth from the seclusion in which they had been buried, and the foundation of the kingdom of heaven is laid in the spiritual movement begun by the preaching of repentance and of baptism for the remission of sins. St. Luke marks the importance of the crisis by his mention of the date at which it occurred, and of the men who bore rule at the time in the world at large, in the land of God's chosen people, and in the Jewish Church. The great work intrusted to John the Baptist was to prepare the way for Christ, and this he did by summoning the nation to whom He was to be specially revealed to repentance, and by giving assurance that true repentance would be accepted of God. With regard to this call to repentance we notice—

I. That it comes from God.—In as literal a sense as in times of old prophets received messages from God to deliver in His name to men, did "the word of God come to John in the wilderness." Nor is this Divine interposition exceptional. In every case it is a Divine voice, speaking either through the written word, or through conscience, or through the workings of Providence, that summons the sinner to repentance. It is always God who takes the initiative. He reveals the law that has been transgressed and the penalties that wait upon transgression, awakens godly sorrow for sin, and gives strength to amend the life. He is not an austere man, reaping where He has not sown; but in summoning us to repentance He gives us strength to obey. He asks for nothing which He does not give.

II. It was addressed to all.—Israel is not treated as already in such relations with God as to render repentance unnecessary. The fact of descent from Abraham, on which many prided themselves, is spoken of as being of no value where a faith and a holiness like Abraham's are not found. Pharisees and Sadducees, rabbis and priests, publicans and soldiers and common people, both those who prided themselves upon their holiness and those who were almost in despair because of their sinfulness, were called to repentance. A purer and more spiritual form of righteousness than any had yet attained to must distinguish those who belong to the kingdom of heaven.

III. This repentance was to be manifested in confession of sins, in submission to the rite which symbolised spiritual cleansing, in amendment of life, and in faith in the Messiah who was shortly to be revealed.—Both sorrow for the past and a change of life in the future were required from those who received the rite of baptism; and it is to be specially noticed that while John the Baptist was able to arouse the consciences of men and excite the feeling of regret for evil done, he had no power to effect the change in conduct which he recommended to his hearers. In this way he turned the attention of the people to One mightier than himself, who would baptize with the Holy Ghost and with fire—who would impart the power needed for true and complete service of God. He fastened upon the characteristic sins of the various classes who came before him, and exhorted his hearers to break them off. The attempt to do so would awaken a sense of helplessness that would lead them to seek for a Divine Helper to aid them in overcoming evil.

IV. Refusal to obey the call to repentance would be followed by chastisement.—The wrath of God against evil-doers was imminent—already the fruitless tree was marked for destruction, and the axe was in the avenger's hand. But a short delay in the execution of the sentence had been granted, and by the immediate bringing forth of fruits meet for repentance the sentence itself might be averted. In no obscure terms does John announce that the exceptional position and privileges of the Jewish nation were in danger of being forfeited by disobedience, and that a spiritual seed might be raised up to Abraham among those who were not his by natural descent. This warning as to the taking away of blessings and mercies which have been abused and neglected is one we all need to lay to heart in the present day. The overthrow of Christianity in the countries where it was first established is a striking parallel to the rejection of the Jewish people.

SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Luk

Luk . Four Names.—Could any irony be keener or any sarcasm more withering than that which writes these four names—Pontius Pilate, Herod, Annas, and Caiaphas—on the frontispiece of the Gospel, and then adds—"While these were reigning and ruling, while these were offering bullocks and goats in propitiation, the word of God came," etc.—Vaughan.

Flies in amber.—What a contrast between the exalted rank and the notoriety of these princes and rulers and the obscurity of the men who were so soon to appear on the stage of the world and to inaugurate a movement destined to affect and change the whole of human society! Yet, if we except the name of the Roman emperor, we should probably never have heard of any of these personages but for their connection with the gospel history. In it their names are preserved like the flies and bits of straw sometimes seen in amber.

"The word of God came unto John."—This expression, which is constantly used of prophets, is never used of Christ. The reason is that the word of God came to them as something foreign to them and from without, whereas Christ was Himself the Word incarnate.

Luk . The Weakness of Mere Asceticism.—The wilderness in which John lived was not altogether a solitary place. There were many there living an ascetic life, protesting against the luxurious and vicious habits of the society from which they had separated themselves, and seeking to attain by holy meditation, by self-denial, and by prayer to a vision of God which the Temple worship could not give them. John the Baptist had much in common with these ascetics, so far as the outward conditions of his life were concerned. But great differences existed between him and them.

I. They had no mission to help and save the world.—They were bent upon the salvation of their own souls, and attempted no reformation of the evils of society. They feared to endanger their own purity by mixing with other men, and so the world at large was little the better for their self-denial and uprightness. John, on the contrary, came forth from the wilderness to do battle with the sins that were ruining men, and to announce the coming of a new era for Israel and for mankind.

II. The ascetics were hopeless of the salvation of those from whom they had separated themselves.—All that they thought possible was their own escape from degradation and ruin. But John did not despair even of those who were sunk in vice, and apparently indifferent to the claims of holiness. His words were full of hope. To all who would listen he spoke of repentance as possible—a fresh start might be made, new habits of righteousness might be cultivated, even by those who were in the lowest depth of degradation. The almighty power of God, which was able to give a heart of flesh in place of the stony heart of unbelief, was a fact on which he laid great stress in all his preaching.

III. John did not substitute one set of outward religious forms for another.—Ascetics think the only remedy for evils is in adopting a manner of life like that which they themselves follow. They attach great importance to matters of dress, and food, and outward observance. But John did not call upon his hearers to leave their homes and occupations for a life of contemplation and devotion in the wilderness, or to copy himself in outward habits. He sought to effect an inward, spiritual change in the hearts of men; and the outward acts to which he exhorted them were not of a formal or ritualistic kind, but such as indicated virtues of kindliness, generosity, compassion, and justice.

Luk . The Desert Preacher.—A great religious revival is stirring the heart of the nation, and summoning the people, high and low, from the remotest regions of Galilee into the wilderness of Judæa and to the banks of the Jordan. A baptism of repentance is being preached by a young prophet—suddenly, after four hundred years of Divine silence, manifested to Israel—avowedly in preparation for a higher revelation which is to have for its characteristic a baptism of the Holy Ghost and of fire. For the moment this mission of the Baptist has become the Divine dispensation for Israel.—Vaughan.

A Good Preacher.

I. His doctrine is good for us.

II. His rules of life are good for us.

III. His warnings are good for us.—Taylor.

The Characteristics of John's Preaching.—

1. It was stern, like that of Elijah; the wind, and earthquake, and fire that preceded the "still small voice."

2. It was absolutely dauntless.

3. It shows remarkable insight into human nature—into the needs and temptations of every class.

4. It was intensely practical.

5. It prophesies of the dawn of the kingdom of Christ.

(1) His first message was, "Repent";

(2) his second message was, "The kingdom of heaven is at hand";

(3) his final message was, "Behold the Lamb of God."

6. It does not claim the credentials of a single miracle.

7. It had only a partial and temporary popularity: he was like the lamp which burns but for a time, and for which there is no need when the sun rises.—Farrar.

"Baptism of repentance."—This baptism differed from the ceremonial washings prescribed in the Jewish law in that it had direct reference to the immediate coming of the Messiah, who would grant the remission of sins. Those who were baptized

(1) acknowledged their sorrow for past sins,

(2) promised to amend their lives in time to come, and

(3) declared their faith in the Christ, whose forerunner John was.

Luk . "The voice."—The prophecy draws attention to the work rather than to the worker: the message, and not the remarkable personality of John, is that on which stress is laid. It is a voice rather than a man. "Are we to content ourselves with a general application of the details of John's work as a pioneer, or is it allowable to see in the bringing low of mountains and hills the humiliation of Pharisaic pride, in the filling up of valleys the overcoming of Sadducean indifference, in making straight the crooked the correction of the guile and falsehood of others (say of the publicans), and in making smooth the rough ways a removal of the evil habits that are found even in the best of men? However it may be, the general intention of the quotation is to represent repentance as the one distinguishing feature of John's baptism" (Godet).

Luk . "All flesh."—In the preceding verse stress is laid upon the obstacles in the way of those who preach the gospel—the difficulties arising from human pride, indifference, unbelief, and evil passions; in this verse the universality of the salvation offered to mankind is plainly set forth.

Luk . The Preacher of Repentance and Righteousness.

I. His first sledge-hammer blow shatters one false trust—namely, that in external ceremonial as cleansing. What moved John's anger was the very fact that they had come to be "baptized," as if that was to do them any good, and was sufficient for escaping the coming wrath.

II. Another swing of his mace crushes another—namely, that in natural descent from the heir of promise. Messiah was to be their Messiah, the people thought. John tells them that God can admit "these stones"—the water-worn rocks littering the channel of the Jordan—to the privileges in which they trusted. Surely this points, however dimly, to the transference of the promises to the Gentiles.

III. The third turn in the hot stream of indignant rebuke goes deeper.—Still in opposition to his hearers' baseless confidences, he attacks their whole conception of the mission of the Messiah, and declares it to be an immediately impending work of judgment. The negative character of not bearing good fruit is fatal.—Maclaren.

The Baptist's Message.—When Messiah was near, John was appointed—

I. To give warning, and to tell them that the Saviour whom they had long looked for was at last nigh.

II. He had to tell them, further, that they were not ready for His coming. Their life, unreal and sinful, must be thoroughly reformed before they could meet the King with welcome. "Repent!" was the message of this stern prophet—a message to all—a message that urged a reform that went much deeper than the outside, and involved an entire revolution of the inner nature. But though he could indicate the disease, and make it felt—

III. He could not cure it.—He could not reach down to the inmost defilement and take it away. The water was a fit symbol of the cold, unsatisfying, intellectual character of his ministry, just as the fire with which Jesus Christ baptized was an emblem of the warming, searching character of His ministry.—Nicoll.

Luk . "Vipers."—I.e. both malicious and cunning. The comparison is justified

(1) by the corrupt condition of the nation, which showed itself in formalism, hypocrisy, and unbelief; and

(2) by the desire to receive the baptism of John as a precautionary measure against coming wrath, without conforming to the spiritual requirements which alone gave the rite its true value. This cunning was evidence that, though they were descended from Abraham, they were not animated by his faith and devotion. Cf. with this passage Joh , in which Jesus speaks of "their father the devil."

"Wrath to come."—The connection of John's ministry with the prophecy concerning Elias (Mal ; Mal 4:5) would naturally suggest to men's mind "the wrath to come" there also foretold. It was the general expectation of the Jews that troublous times would accompany the appearance of the Messiah. John is now speaking in the true character of a prophet, foretelling the wrath soon to be poured out on the Jewish nation. Mere fear of the wrath of God is not an adequate foundation for a religious life. It is negative in its character, and like all feelings it is liable to be transitory and to vary in degree from time to time. The true motive to a holy life is "love of the Father" (cf. 1Jn 2:15-17). The warnings in the word of God do appeal to a sense of fear, but they are rather calculated to deter the impenitent than to inspire the holy emotions which go to make up a religious life and character.

The Wrath to Come.—A good many people want to flee from the wrath, but are not willing to give up that which draws the wrath down upon them. There is often terror without penitence. If many were asked, "Who warned you to flee?" the answer could only be, "Fear—the terrors of death and eternity." John's question is therefore a very proper one. The only flight that saves from coming wrath is away from sin to Christ. No man is saved who carries his sins with him in his flight. The door of the refuge is wide enough to admit the penitent, but not wide enough to admit any cherished sin.—Miller.

Righteous Anger.—The severity of John's language may shock us, but we must keep in view

(1) that his was righteous anger against hypocrisy, such as prophets in all times and Jesus Himself manifested—that in it there were no personal feelings of irritation and malice; and

(2) that his rebukes were calculated to remove the evils that excited his anger. The judgments of which he spoke were not inevitable, but might be averted by repentance and sincere faith.

The Pertinacity of Hypocrites.—Those whose habits of uttering falsehoods to God, and of deceiving themselves, lead them to hold out hypocrisy and pretension, instead of the reality, ought to be urged, with greater sharpness than other men, to true repentance. There is an astonishing pertinacity in hypocrites; and until they have been flayed by violence, they obstinately keep their skin.—Calvin.

Who may rebuke with severity?—Severity in reproof of sin is only becoming in the mouths of those of inflexible integrity, and is detestable when shown by those who are in heart inclined to the very sins they condemn with their lips. Frequently those who are intemperate and unchaste are the severest critics of those who give way to these vices. Our objection to severity of rebuke and denunciatory language is, it is to be feared, in many cases the result of indifference to holiness and not of a charitable disposition.

Luk . "Bring forth fruits."—Insincerity is the great charge brought by John against his nation: neither multiplied professions of devotion nor submission to new religious rites could work a cure. The only adequate evidence of a radical change would be a change of life. The preaching of John illustrates the operation of the law upon the heart and conscience. He

(1) demands holiness of character and righteousness of life, but

(2) imparts no power by which this great change may be effected. And so the law

(1) awakens and stimulates the conscience, and

(2) by creating within us a sense of our helplessness creates a longing after that salvation which is the gift of God through Jesus Christ.

"Begin not."—The natural impulse of the unregenerate heart is to seek out excuses and subterfuges when the conscience is touched.

"Abraham to our father."—But descent from Abraham was not

(1) a mere privilege, securing for all who could claim it inalienable advantages; it was

(2) a relationship that imposed obligations: if it did not lead to a cultivation of Abraham's faith, it would only draw down a heavier condemnation. Cf. St. Paul's reasoning in Romans 4 that the privileges and blessings conferred upon Abraham belong to all who manifest his faith. See also Gal .

"God is able," etc.—He is not dependent upon us for the maintenance of His honour or for the existence of His Church in the world. If we are faithless, He will raise up those who will serve Him with sincerity (cf. Mal ). It is to be feared that many regard the Church as an institution which they keep up, and which would suffer perceptibly if they withdrew their support.

"Of these stones."—As He formed Adam of the dust of the earth.—Bengel.

"Of these stones."—And so God did. For, as Joshua, the type of Jesus, took up twelve stones from the bed of the same river Jordan (Jos ), and set them upon the western bank there for a memorial, so Jesus, the true Joshua, after His baptism in the same river, began to choose His twelve apostles from obscure and unlearned men, like rude and unhewn stones of the wilderness, and to make them to be the foundation-stones of His Church (Rev 21:14), which is the true family of Abraham, the Israel of God, the heavenly Jerusalem, the city that hath foundations, whose builder is God (Heb 11:10).—Wordsworth.

Fruits Worthy of Repentance.—There is only one way to prove that we have truly repented—not saying that we have, but showing the evidence in our lives. Repentance is worthless if it only produces a few tears, a spasm of regret, a little fright, and then a return to the old wicked ways. Leaving the sins we repent of, and walking in the clean new ways of holiness—these are "works worthy of repentance."—Miller.

Luk . "The axe is laid unto the root."—From a statement of what God might possibly do, i.e. raise up from among the Gentiles spiritual children of Abraham, John passes to a statement of what God will certainly do, i.e. execute judgment speedily upon the hypocritical and unbelieving. There is mercy mingled even with this Divine anger against sin:

(1) a warning is given beforehand by this prophet of what may be expected; and

(2) there is a delay in the execution of judgment. None, therefore, on whom the judgment comes can plead ignorance or not having had an opportunity of amendment. The figure of cutting down barren trees is connected with the phrase already used (Luk )—"fruits worthy of repentance": it is a figure frequently used in the New Testament.

The Divine Patience.—The picture is a very suggestive one. Judgment is impending. The tree may be cut down at any moment. The axe still lying unused shows patience in the husbandman: he is waiting to see if the fruitless tree will yet bear fruit. The meaning is very plain. God waits long for impenitent sinners to return to Him. He is slow to punish or to close the day of opportunity. He desires all to repent and be saved. Yet we must not trifle with the Divine patience and forbearance. Though not yet lifted to strike, the axe is lying close at hand, ready to be used. God has two axes:

1. One for pruning, removing fruitless branches from fruitful trees.

2. One which He uses only in judgment, cutting down fruitless trees. The whole of life is very critical. On any moment may hang the destinies of eternity.—Miller.

Luk . Our Every-day Life.—From John's several answers we see that religion is not something entirely apart from our every-day life. The inquirers were to begin at once to do their several every-day works religiously. Not to give up their callings, but to do their duty as good and true men in their callings, to carry the principles of true religion into all their actions—this was the Baptist's counsel. It is well for all of us to seize and apply the lesson. Religion is living out the principles of Christianity in one's ordinary weekday life.—Ibid.

The Rudiments of Morality.—The A B C of morality—justice, charity, abstinence from class vices—is all that John requires. These homely pieces of goodness would be the best "fruits" of repentance. Not to do what everybody in the same calling does, and I used to do, is a great proof of a changed man, though the thing itself may be very lowly virtue. We need the lesson quite as much as the multitudes, or the publicans and soldiers.—Maclaren.

Luk . "What shall we do then?"—Cf. Act 2:37, and notice the very different reply given by St. Peter. John the Baptist says nothing of faith: "the fruits" were acts of kindliness, equity, and humanity, as described in the following verses. These were preparatory to faith (cf. Act 10:35); they are the "honest and good heart" in which the seed of the word of Christ takes root and grows (chap. Luk 8:15). Three classes of inquirers are spoken of:

1. The multitudes (Luk );

2. Publicans (Luk );

3. Soldiers (Luk ). John does not summon them to give up their callings and adopt his mode of life, but to remain in their callings, and there to resist the special temptations that might beset them and to serve God with sincerity. It is interesting to notice the special acquaintance with human nature and with the peculiar circumstances of different modes of life which John displays. Though he had lived a recluse, he had not divested himself of interest in human society, and his knowledge of his own heart and of the word of God had taught him the weaknesses and temptations which beset human nature. It often happens that shrewder and truer judgments are formed by those who live apart from society and are accustomed to reading and meditation than by those who are absorbed in the business and active life of the world.

Luk . "Impart to him that hath none."—Cf. Jas 2:15; 1Jn 3:17. How quickly would the inequalities in society disappear if this spirit of kindliness and generosity were generally manifested! And yet there is nothing revolutionary in it: the rich and prosperous are told to impart to their less fortunate brethren; the poor are not told to demand a portion of their neighbours' property.

Luk . "Then came also publicans.—It is remarkable that John does not tell the publicans to abandon their profession, which was regarded by the stricter Jews as an unholy one. And in so far as he does not condemn their calling, he seems to pronounce the opinion afterwards expressed by Jesus that it was lawful to pay tribute to Cæsar (Luk 20:25).

Luk . "The soldiers likewise."—"He did not say, Cast away your arms, quit the camp; for he knew that soldiers are not homicides, but ministers of law—not avengers of personal injuries, but defenders of the public safety" (Wordsworth). "The desire of injury, the savageness of revenge, the lust of power, etc.—these are sins which are justly condemned in wars, which are, however, sometimes undertaken by good men for the sake of punishing the violence of others, either by command of God, or of some lawful human authority" (Augustine).


Verses 15-20

MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Luk

Acceptance and Rejection of the Divine Message.—The work of separating the wheat from the chaff and of bringing to light the hidden thoughts of men is done by every true messenger of God to men. Some receive the Divine word gladly, others harden their hearts against it. This twofold result was very marked in the case of John the Baptist.

I. The Divine message he brought awakened the attention of the nation and excited eager questionings and expectations.—The people as a whole accepted John as a prophet sent from God, received his rebukes of their sins without resentment, and believed on his testimony that great events were near at hand. Some thought that he must himself be the Christ; nor was their idea altogether ill-founded, for in the person of John, Christ was indeed standing and knocking at the door of their hearts. But John with the humility which is characteristic of true greatness shrank from accepting the honour paid him, and directed the thoughts of the people again to One mightier than himself. He spoke of the greater power, and majesty, and authority with which the Anointed of God would be clothed, and to his previous warnings and threatenings added words that were good tidings of salvation. And in this subordination of the Baptist to the Saviour we have an illustration of the fact, which we ever need to keep in mind, that mere repentance is not enough—that it is but a state of preparation for that holy life which springs from faith in Christ and communion with Christ.

II. The call to repentance and amendment of life was in some instances rejected, and John, like so many other of the prophets, had to endure persecution on account of the faithfulness with which he discharged his duty.—The ruling classes of the nation were disposed to deny his Divine mission, and were only kept from openly opposing him by the strong feeling in his favour on the part of the nation at large. The deepest disgrace, however, attaches to Herod for the part he played in laying violent hands upon the Baptist. Ecclesiastical authorities might be divided upon the question whether John was a prophet sent from God or not; but there could be no doubt that the conduct of Herod which drew upon him the Baptist's rebuke and exhortation, was without excuse. Both his own conscience and the plain teaching of the law of Moses, which he professed to reverence, must have convinced the Jewish prince that John's words of blame were amply deserved. In other parts of his conduct Herod seems to have been disposed to obey the admonitions of the Baptist; but this sin he would not renounce. A solemn warning for all of us lies in this fact. The sin we will not give up must lead us into utter antagonism to God; and no amendment we may effect in other departments of our conduct will atone for the evil that we retain. The thought, too, is suggested by the case before us that rejection of revelation is, in some instances at any rate, due to corruption of heart; and those who are under the impression that the barriers in their way are intellectual difficulties would do well to consider whether the real explanation is not to be found in a depraved nature and a perverse will. The "evil heart of unbelief" may not in all cases be the cause why revelation is rejected; but few who are acquainted with the word of God and with the facts of human nature can doubt that in most cases it is.

SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Luk

Luk . John as a Herald.

I. His clear conception of his own limits.

II. The bowing down of the strong, stern spirit before the Coming One.

III. The profound insight into Christ's work.—Maclaren.

Preacher and Witness.

I. A great preacher.

II. A plain teacher.

III. A faithful witness to Christ.—Taylor.

Luk . "Whether he were the Christ."—The people had not as yet so carnal a notion of the Messiah, for there was nothing of outward splendour about John; nevertheless they entertained these thoughts about him.—Bengel.

Luk . The Spirit's Fire.—The two mean but one, the fire being the emblem of the Spirit. Selected to express the work of the Spirit of God—

I. By reason of its leaping, triumphant, and transforming energy.—This fire of God, if it falls on you, will burn up all your coldness, and will make you glow with enthusiasm:

(1) working your intellectual convictions in fire, not in frost;

(2) making your creed a living power in your lives;

(3) kindling you into a flame of earnest consecration in life-work. Christians are to be set on fire of God. We have more than enough of cold icebergs. The metaphor of fire also suggests—

II. Purifying.—"The spirit of burning" will burn the filth cut of us. Foul clay must be thrust into the fire to have its blackness burned out of it. This too is the way in which a soul is cleansed. No washing will ever clear sin. Get the love of God into your hearts, and the fire of the Divine Spirit into your spirits to melt you down, as it were, and then the scum and the dross will come to the top, and you can skim them off.—Maclaren.

"One mightier."

I. Mightier than John, because "mighty to save."

II. Mightier than John, who could impart no spiritual gift. Jesus has sent "the Comforter."

III. Mightier than John, who could only warn of judgment. "Thou shalt come to be our Judge."—Taylor.

"Fire."

I. The Holy Spirit is fire.

II. Christ plunges us into this Divine fire.

III. That fiery baptism quickens and cleanses.—Maclaren.

Wherein consists the Superiority of Jesus?—

1. John calls men to repentance, Jesus remits sin.

2. John proclaims the kingdom of heaven, Jesus bestows it.

3. John baptizes with water, Jesus with the Spirit and with fire.

"Not worthy to unloose."—"It was the token of a slave's having become his master's property, to loose his shoe, to tie the same, or to carry the necessary articles for him to the bath" (Lightfoot). The varying forms of expression used in the Gospels all illustrate this relationship between master and slave. It is to be noted that this language would indicate utter abjectness and servility of mind if Jesus had been a mere man, however exalted in character and office; it can only be explained and justified by the fact that He was God incarnate. And it gives us a vivid idea of the beauty of John's character to see that at the height of his popularity he thus effaces himself in favour of One who would only by the eye of faith be recognised to be more than a lowly Galilæan peasant.

Baptism with Water, with Fire, and with the Spirit.—Baptism with water had in view the forgiveness of sins, and baptism with the Spirit meant the renewal and sanctification of the nature: the one was negative, and the other positive. And it was baptism with the Spirit that gave efficacy to the material rite. Observe that in the original there is no preposition before "water," and that there is one before "Spirit"; the reason is that "water" is merely a means employed, and "the Spirit" more than that. Baptism of a threefold character:

(1) with water;

(2) with the Holy Spirit; and

(3) with fire. "In the triple element of baptism there is contained or indicated a progressive gradation of the spiritual development of life, and of the element through which it occurs. Whilst the lowest degree, i.e. the baptism with water, refers to the external purification of sins and repentance, the baptism of the Spirit, on the contrary, refers to the internal purification by faith (the Holy Spirit being considered as the regenerating principle, Joh sqq.; Act 1:5), and, finally, the baptism of fire expresses the transformation, or sanctification, of the new-born higher life in its peculiar nature" (Olshausen).

"With fire."—No reference is made in the use of this phrase to "fire" as an emblem of Divine wrath against the impenitent, as in the following verse. The very idea of punishment is utterly incongruous with the rite of baptism, which has man's salvation always in view. It rather describes a holy influence that

(1) searches the nature,

(2) consumes the dross in it,

(3) refines the good elements of character, and

(4) elevates and ennobles the whole being. To purify, illumine, transform, inflame with holy fervour and zeal, and carry upwards, as Elijah was carried up to heaven in a chariot of fire. A prophecy specially fulfilled at Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended in tongues of fire (Act ).

Luk . "Whose fan is in His hand."—The royal majesty of Christ is indicated in the use of the word "His"—"His hand," "His floor," and "His garner." Observe it is not said "His chaff"; the wheat represents those who are His, the chaff those who reject Him, and are therefore themselves rejected, and are not counted by Him as His own. In the figure of the axe reference was made solely to the fate of the impenitent: this describes the distinction being made between the sincere and the hypocritical—between those who become holy and those who remain in their sins. His work of judgment is going forward every day; but the full accomplishment of it will not be seen till the last day. The same figure is used in Amo 9:9; Jer 15:7; chap. Luk 22:31.

"Wheat."—But how is Christ said to separate the chaff from the wheat, when He can find nothing in men but mere chaff? The answer is easy. The elect, who by their nature are only chaff, become wheat by the grace of God.—Calvin.

"Chaff."—Empty, light, worthless persons, who have nothing of religion but the mere profession, who are devoid of all solidity of principle and character (cf. Psa ).

"Fire unquenchable."—There seems at first sight to be a contradiction between "burning up" and "fire unquenchable." But the paradox is explained by the spiritual facts of the case:

(1) there is an utter destruction of all that constitutes true life and happiness; but

(2) the persons themselves are not destroyed—in that dread state they are ever conscious of an unending doom. Such seem to be the two ideas suggested by the use of the phrases "burn up" and "unquenchable." That "fire" here is not the material element, but a Divine anger of which the material fire is an emblem, is quite evident. If we are to interpret "fire" as literal flame, what can we make of "fan," "threshing-floor," "wheat," and "chaff"? "Let us lay aside the speculations by which foolish men weary themselves to no purpose, and satisfy ourselves with believing that these forms of speech denote, in a manner suited to our feeble capacity, a dreadful torment, which no man can now comprehend and no language can express" (Calvin).

Luk . John's Later Ministry.—Why does Luke anticipate the order of events to introduce the notice of John's imprisonment at this point? Probably to mark more distinctly the introductory character of his ministry. Luke will finish up his summary of John, and, as it were, get him out of the way before he brings John's Lord on the scene. This Gospel has no account of John's martyrdom. The morning star fades before sunrise. The notice of his imprisonment—

I. Completes Luke's outline of his character and work.

II. Shows John as a fearless rebuker of highly placed vice.—How he got access to "kings' houses" we do not know. Whether he rebuked Herod publicly or privately we are not informed. He had only reproof for the royal profligate.

III. Shows that the climax of a bad man's guilt is his persecution of those who would win him to goodness.—The martyr's imprisonment seals the king's condemnation, showing his conviction that the preacher spoke the truth, and was only to be silenced by force.—Maclaren.

Luk . "Preached good tidings" (R.V.).—Preached, lit. "proclaimed good tidings." There is something pathetic in the contrast between the good tidings which he made known to others and the tragic fate which came upon himself. From a comparison of Joh 2:13 with Luk 3:24, it appears that John was not cast into prison until after the first Passover attended by Christ after His baptism. It would seem as if St. Luke were anxious to exhibit the history of John at one view, and to connect his bold preaching with the imprisonment in which it issued. And probably this is not without its teaching. By coupling the remote cause with its ultimate consequence—the course pursued with the results it eventually led to (dropping every intermediate fact and all irrelevant circumstances)—the inspired writers forcibly remind us how He must regard our lives, and actions, and characters who seeth as well as "declareth the end from the beginning."

Luk . "Herod … reproved by him."—Note that John the Baptist reproved Herod himself. He did neither

(1) inflame the minds of the people against their ruler by describing and denouncing the immoral character of the life he was living, nor

(2) as Christian prelates have been known to do, condone the wickedness of the king and live on good terms with his mistress. He was different from many of the "court preachers" known to history. Neither the vicious private life of the sovereign nor the evils of his public administration of affairs escaped rebuke. Cf. the relations between Elijah and Ahab, Nathan and David.

Luk . "Added yet this above all."—The worst of all the evil things that Herod did was to murder the Baptist. Other sins might plead some palliation because of strong evil passions urging Herod on; but this was evidence of hatred of God and of holiness. For it is to be distinctly noted that he regarded John as a messenger and minister of God at the very time that he imprisoned him and at the later time when he beheaded him. As a Jew, Herod could not plead ignorance of God's nature and claims, and of the inviolable majesty which clothed those whom He inspired and sent to speak to men in His name. Very seldom do the sacred historians manifest any expression of personal feeling excited by the events they record; but here in the phrase "added yet this above all" the indignation of the writer is but slightly veiled. The words are equivalent to the Hebrew expression "filling up the measure of iniquity."

Luk . Fidelity to duty.—There are three periods in the life of John the Baptist. The first of these, of which we know little, lasted for thirty years, the greater part of which he spent in the desert in preparation for his life-work; the second is that of the few months of his public ministry; and the third, perhaps a still shorter period, which he spent as a prisoner in the castle of Machærus. In these different circumstances his character was subjected to severe tests. The task laid upon him of rebuking the sins of every class of the nation required rare steadfastness of soul, and fidelity to the God whose messenger he was. But his success as a prophet had its perils also. It remained to be seen whether he would come safely through them. The movement he inaugurated spread far and wide over the land, until it reached and affected even the sceptical and voluptuous Herod, who summoned him to his palace and seemed disposed to accept his teaching. Worldly wisdom might have counselled John to exercise caution in alluding to the flagrant sin in which Herod lived, or, disguising itself under the pretence of charity, might have found many excuses for it in the evil influences that had surrounded him from his earliest life, in the bad example of his father, and in the licence which is so often allowed to men in his position. John, however, spoke out against the sin of the king in as plain terms as ever he had used in rebuking the sins of Pharisees, and publicans, and soldiers. He addressed himself to the offender, and did not, as already remarked, court the popularity which a demagogue sometimes wins by inflaming the minds of the people with denunciations of the crimes of their rulers. Two things are noticeable in John's rebuke of Herod:—

I. It was unhesitating and direct.—"It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother's wife." It was the sinfulness of the king's conduct, and not its imprudence, or the scandal it caused, or the risks it provoked, that he laid stress upon. He spoke as one who did not dare to be silent, and not as one who was conscious of the heroism of his conduct.

II. It was unselfish.—John's was not one of those hard, pitiless natures that feel no compunction in administering blame. In spite of the austerity of his life, his soul was of the most exquisite sensibility. No one can read the touching words he spoke when his disciples left him to attach themselves to Jesus without perceiving this. "He that hath the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom's voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled: He must increase, but I must decrease." The firmness in rebuking sin shown by this man of such profound humility and fine sensitiveness of feeling is all the more wonderful. It must have cost him keen pain to inflict pain, and to speak words of rebuke which he could scarcely fail to know would be fruitless, except in provoking against himself a profound and unsleeping hatred.

The third period of John's life, when he lay in the dungeon of the palace, and heard rumours of the wonderful works of Christ, who, however, showed no signs of attempting his release—when he had leisure to think of the apparent defeat of his mission and of the overthrow of the hopes and anticipations he had once cherished—was also one when his faith was subjected to new and severe tests. Nor need we wonder if in the hour of darkness he was afflicted by doubt as to the Divine mission of Him whom he had pointed out as the Messiah and the Lamb of God. His doubts, nevertheless, were not those of a poor and weak religious character. They were misgivings caused by separation from Christ, and they were solved by an appeal to Christ.


Verses 21-38

CRITICAL NOTES

Luk .—This verse seems to imply that the baptism of Jesus was in a measure private—that He was the last to receive the rite on the particular day when He came to John. The reason why He submitted to the rite is given by Himself in Mat 3:15, viz. that He judged it fitting for Him to conform to all the requirements of the law of Moses. Praying.—This circumstance is mentioned by St. Luke only. It is an illustration of the necessity of prayer to make any external rites effectual.

Luk . In a bodily shape.—Added by St. Luke. The dove was from early times a symbol of the Holy Spirit. "The Talmudic comment on Gen 1:2 is that the ‘the Spirit of God moved on the face of the waters like a dove.' We are probably to understand a dovelike, hovering, lambent flame descending on the head of Jesus; and this may account for the unanimous early legend that a fire or light was kindled in the Jordan" (Farrar). A voice.—This voice out of heaven was heard also on the Mount of Transfiguration (Luk 9:35), and shortly before the Passion (Joh 12:28-30). This appearance of the Holy Spirit, and voice of the Father, seen and heard on the occasion of the baptism of Jesus, distinctly imply the doctrine of the Trinity of the Godhead.

Luk .—The phraseology of the beginning of this verse is very rugged; and commentators have been much perplexed by it. The R.V. is, "And Jesus Himself, when He began to teach, was about thirty years of age." The substitution of the words in italics—"to teach"—seems somewhat arbitrary. The evident intention of the Evangelist is to give the age of Jesus at His baptism. Perhaps the simplest and most natural rendering of the passage would be, "And Jesus was beginning to be [a man] of about thirty years of age"—i.e. had nearly completed his thirtieth year.

Luk .—The genealogy of Jesus. For a full discussion of the many interesting and complicated questions connected with the genealogies given in the first and third Gospels, we must refer the reader to works specially dealing with that subject. Lord A. C. Hervey, Bishop of Bath and Wells, has written a very able monograph entitled The Genealogies of our Lord Jesus Christ, and is also the author of the article on the subject in Smith's Dictionary of the Bible. From the latter we make the following extracts:

1. They are both the genealogies of Joseph—i.e. of Jesus Christ, as the reputed and legal son of Joseph and Mary.

2. The genealogy of St. Matthew is Joseph's genealogy as legal successor to the throne of David—i.e. it exhibits the successive heirs of the kingdom, ending with Christ, as Joseph's reputed son. St. Luke's is Joseph's private genealogy, exhibiting his real birth, as David's son, and thus showing why he was heir to Solomon's crown.

3. There can be no doubt that Mary also was of David's descent (Luk ; Act 2:30; Act 13:23; Rom 1:3, etc.). It is probable that she was the daughter of Jacob, and first cousin to Joseph, her husband; so that in point of fact, though not of form, both the genealogies are as much hers as her husband's. In St. Matthew's Gospel Joseph is said to have been the son of Jacob, the son of Matthan; in St. Luke's, the son of Heli, the son of Matthat. There seems to be no reason to doubt that Matthan and Matthat are one and the same person. The state of matters then would be that Matthan had two sons, Jacob and Heli; that Jacob had no son (but according to the above conjecture, a daughter Mary), and that consequently Joseph, the son of the younger brother Heli, became heir to his uncle and to the throne of David. It is quite evident that, in spite of all difficulties which may now be connected with these genealogies, they are trustworthy; not a doubt was thrown out by the bitterest of the early enemies of Christianity as to our Lord's real descent from David.

Luk .—Probably the original text had "the son of the Rhesa Zerubbabel." Rhesa is not a proper name, but a Chaldæan word signifying "prince."

Luk .—The Cainan mentioned in this verse is perhaps introduced by mistake. The name is to be found in the LXX. Version of Gen 11:12, but not in any Hebrew MS. of the Old Testament.

Luk . Adam, which was the Son of God.—"The Evangelist here asserts at once the community of nature which subsists between all mankind (cf. Act 17:26-28), and the filial relation in which all men stand to God, not merely as being the creatures of His hand, but also as being made in His image" (Speaker's Commentary).

MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Luk

The Divine Sonship of Christ and of Man.—Nowhere else in the Gospels is the fact that Jesus Christ was in a unique sense the Son of God more plainly stated than here. And yet His true humanity is no less emphatically asserted in the genealogical table which traces His descent from the founder of our race. Nor does it seem to the author of the Gospel that there is any insuperable difficulty in believing that the Son of God became Son of man—as though the Divine and the human natures were alien to each other; on the contrary, he speaks of man as being in a sense the son of God (Luk ).

I. The Divine Sonship of Christ.—To all outward seeming Jesus was simply a young man, now about the age of thirty, who had come like others to receive baptism from John. But by supernatural signs—the opened heaven, the descent of the Spirit, and the voice of God—His unique relationship with God is declared. His absolute sinlessness is asserted in the words, "In Thee I am well pleased"; and consequently there is a difference between Him and every other member of the race with which He is now connected. He is born of woman, but not of human parentage (Luk ); and though akin through His mother with every member of the human race—for all are descended from a common ancestor—He has not inherited a depraved nature. No sins of His own are therefore to be thought of as having been washed away by the water of baptism. Yet by His identification of Himself with His brethren He took upon Himself their shame and guilt.

II. The Divine sonship of man.—The great distinction between man and the other creatures is that he was made in the image of God. And therefore there is a kinship between him and his Creator which the Evangelist expresses in the words, "Adam, which was the son of God." Because of this relationship it is possible for man to know God, and love Him, and serve Him, and have communion with Him, as none of the other creatures can do. In consequence of it, also, it was possible for Christ to assume our nature and be "found in fashion as a man," without any confusion of natures in His person. Those who were sons of God, however, differed in one marked respect from Him who was the Son of God: they had lost many of the privileges of sonship because of disobedience, while the communion of Christ with God was perfect and unbroken. And the one great purpose of the Saviour's life was to restore fellowship between heaven and earth, between the Father and His human children. To Christ the heaven was opened that He might lead us into it, the Holy Spirit descended upon Him to pass from Him to us, and with us in Christ the Father is well pleased.

SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Luk

Luk . "When all the people were baptized."—The peculiar phrase "when all the people were baptized" may imply that the baptism of Jesus was towards the close of John's ministry; it may, however, be St. Luke's method of explaining the reason why Jesus submitted to baptism. "All the people," the nation, by accepting John's baptism, were turning to God, and Jesus did not hold aloof from the movement. By His incarnation He had become a member of our race, by His circumcision He had become a Jew, and He fulfilled the obligations which rested upon Him of obedience to the Divine commandments. If we understand why He received the rite of circumcision, we shall understand why He received that of baptism, for the same general ideas underlie both rites. So far from separating Himself from others, as One who was of a different nature from ours, and free from the necessity of seeking forgiveness, He identified Himself with mankind so as to bear the burden of condemnation and be subject even unto death. His own explanation (Mat 3:15), "Thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness," plainly declares that He submitted to every commandment that is laid by God upon man. Hence St. Luke speaks of His baptism as a matter of course, since Israel as a nation was accepting John's ministry. It is probable that this was the only occasion when John and Jesus mot together, although their careers were so closely connected and intervolved.

1. The birth of John preceded and heralded that of Jesus.

2. In his ministry also John acted as the forerunner of Jesus.

3. In his death by violence he offered a presage of the death of Jesus by cruel hands two or three years later.

A Private Celebration.—The narrative of St. Luke seems to imply that the baptism of Jesus was not at a time when there were others receiving the rite. John was evidently either alone or there were but few spectators. The mere fact of Jesus standing and praying after His baptism would lead us to infer that it was a private rather than a public celebration of the rite. Though He received baptism, He was separate from sinners; though He afterwards received burial, He was laid in a tomb "wherein was never yet man laid."

Jesus baptized.—Jesus would identify Himself with His people in their most humbling experiences. So He went down into the water (not, indeed, to be cleansed by it; rather, as an old writer says, to cleanse it), and the Divine voice declared, "This is My beloved Son!" He descended into the water, just as He submitted in His early years to the Jewish law. His being baptized was part of His unutterable humiliation. Jesus pledged Himself to the fulfilment of all righteousness on behalf of the race whom He had come to save.—Nicoll.

Weighty Reasons for His receiving This Rite.—There must have been weighty reasons for this water ceremony, so solemnly observed, or He never could have found place for it among His crowded days of teaching, healing, and comforting His countrymen. Though able to set all symbols and all forms aside if He chose, He went down into the water, at the beginning of His life's work, in order, we are told, to "fulfil all righteousness." He "came by water," and takes peculiar pains in His teaching that every Christian life must begin in the same way. "Born of water." "Baptize them." Why is this? Because one great part of our Saviour's work is to purify men's lives.—Huntington.

Fellowship with our Weakness and Sinfulness.—In the baptism Christ took upon Him the fellowship of man's weakness and sinfulness; and because His brethren needed cleansing and its symbol, He, the Sinless, took part of the same.—Maclaren.

Luk . The first recorded Prayer of Christ and its Answer.—It was when He was praying that the Spirit was sent down upon Him, and in all probability it was this which at the moment He was praying for. He was in immediate need of the Holy Spirit to equip Him for His great task. The human nature of Jesus was dependent from first to last on the Holy Ghost, being thereby made a fit organ for the Divine; and it was in the strength of this that all His work was done. If in any measure our life is to be an imitation of His—if we are to help in carrying on His work in the world, or in filling up what is lacking in His sufferings—we must be dependent on the same influence. How are we to get it? He has told us Himself. By prayer. "Your heavenly Father shall give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him." Power, like character, comes from the fountain of prayer.—Stalker.

Christ's Prayerfulness.—In one sense Christ's prayers formed the truest proof of His manhood. His practice of prayer and His exhortations to it are chiefly recorded in the Gospel of Luke, which is pre-eminently a gospel of the Son of man. He prayed after His baptism.—Nicoll.

Prayer at the Baptism and at the Transfiguration.—In conformity with Luke's psychological purpose as an evangelist, the effect of prayer upon two of the sublimest external phenomena in the Saviour's life is mentioned by him. Prayer on His part is the psychological antecedent of the scene at the Baptism (and of the glory at the Transfiguration). To St. Luke alone we owe both notices. "While He was yet praying, the heaven was opened." There was not a magic cleaving of the heavens, a sudden and theatrical radiance steeping face, and form, and vesture. There was a human factor, a suitable antecedent, in the perfect Man. The inward glory grew outward, coalesced with the opening sky, and melted into the light of heaven. Among human faces few, indeed, look like the face of an angel, or are touched with heavenly radiance. The only true light on any face is sure to be a light of prayer.—Alexander.

The Significance of that Prayer.—Who would not penetrate, if he were permitted, into the mystery of that prayer—that prayer between the thirty years' seclusion and the three years' publicity—between the calm, peaceful home of the past, and the troubled, storm-stossed no-home of the future? It was the calling in of strength for the dread ordeal of the Temptation. It was the "putting on of the whole armour of God" for that great "withstanding in the evil day." The prayer had its answer on the instant. To it the heaven was opened, the Holy Ghost descended in visible form—visible to two persons, the baptizer and the Baptized; and a Voice was heard, audible to two persons—appointed sign to the one, comforting solace to the Other: "Thou art My beloved Son; in Thee I am well pleased." That prolonged and protracted prayer has its lesson for us. Much of the blessing of sermon, sacrament, and service is lost by the want of the after-prayer of which Christ's is the example. Too soon does the world come back upon us after the holiest communion, after the most inspiring converse with the Invisible. "Jesus also being baptized and still praying, praying still, still praying on, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Ghost descended."—Vaughan.

The Burden of the Prayer and the Answer of the Prayer.—The Gospel of the Son of man specially notes Christ's prayers as the tokens of His true manhood. The signs following were—

I. The answer, and may help us to understand—

II. The burden of the prayer. The connection between the petition and the opened heavens may bring us the sweet confidence that for us, too, unworthy as we are, the same blessed gift and voice will fall on our hearts and ears if we, in His name, pray as He did.—Maclaren.

Our Lord's first recorded Prayer.—We are first introduced to our Lord in prayer by Luke, who relates how He came to John to be baptized. The narrative, though it does not say so in so many words, plainly implies that as soon as the Lord had come up out of the water, He set Himself to beseech His Father's blessing on the act. The answer, more, doubtless, for our sakes than His own, was forthwith visibly and audibly given by the Holy Ghost descending upon Him, and a Voice declaring, "This is My beloved Son!"—Markby.

Various Occasions on which Jesus Prayed.—St. Luke on eight other occasions calls attention to the prayers of Jesus—after severe labours (Luk ); before the choosing of the apostles (Luk 6:12); before Peter's great confession (Luk 9:18); at His transfiguration (Luk 9:28-29); for Peter (Luk 22:32); in Gethsemane (Luk 22:41); for His murderers (Luk 23:34); and at the moment of death (Luk 23:46).—Farrar.

The Threefold Sign.

I. The opened heavens.—Opened not only for the descending Dove, but for the ascending aspiration and gaze, symbolising the access thither which that Son had who "is in heaven" even while He has come forth from heaven and remains on earth. United to Him by faith, we too may walk beneath an ever-open heaven, and look up through the lower blue to the very throne, His home and ours.

II. The descending Dove.—This symbol recalls the brooding Spirit hovering over chaos, and symbolises the gentle Spirit of God dwelling in Him who was "meek and lowly of heart." The whole fulness of that Spirit falls and abides on Him. It dwelt in Him that He might impart it to us, and the Dove of God might rest in our hearts.

III. The solemn Voice.—Thus was brought to Jesus Himself, in His manhood, the assurance of His Sonship, of the perfect love and satisfaction of the Father in Him. It was meant for Him, but not for Him alone. If we accept its witness, we too become sons; and if we find God in Him, we shall find Him well pleased even with us, and be "accepted in the Beloved."—Maclaren.

Consecration to Office of Redeemer.—Three outward signs were given of the consecration of Jesus to the office of Redeemer of the world.

1. The heavens were opened—henceforth He has perfect knowledge of God's plan in the work of salvation—the treasures of Divine wisdom are open to Him.

2. The descent of the Spirit, the source of life, endowing Him with all needed gifts and powers; given in fulness to Him and abiding permanently upon Him.

3. The voice from heaven giving Him in clearest form assurance of His Divine Sonship, and of the love of the Father to Him, of which He was to make His brethren partakers. The first two evangelists tell us that this series of Divine manifestations was seen by Jesus; John the Baptist tells us that he also saw it (Joh ). As there were more than one witness it could not have been a mere figment of the imagination, and therefore St. Luke relates it as a plain objective fact. "The heaven was opened," etc.

The Triune Nature of the Godhead.—Jesus prays to God, the Spirit descends upon Him, and the voice of the Father is heard. The triune nature of the Godhead is thus declared. "When the Son is baptized, the Father testifies that He is present; present also is the Holy Spirit; never can the Trinity be broken up (a se separari)" (Augustine). By Christ's appointment the doctrine of the Trinity which was first distinctly unfolded at His baptism is set forth in the formula to be used on occasions when believers are baptized (Mat ).

"Heaven was opened."—Heaven, which was closed by the first Adam, is opened again over the second.

"Like a dove."—On account of the mildness of Christ (cf. Isa ), by which He kindly and gently called and every day invites sinners to the hope of salvation, the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in the appearance of a dove. And in this symbol has been held out to us an eminent token of the sweetest consolation, that we may not fear to approach to Christ, who meets us, not in the formidable power of the Spirit, but clothed with gentle and lovely grace.—Calvin.

The Significance of the Symbol.—The dove is used in other parts of Scripture as a symbol of

(1) purity (Son );

(2) harmlessness (Mat );

(3) modesty and gentleness (Son ); and

(4) of beauty (Psa ). And in the history of the Deluge it is the dove with the olive leaf that tells that the peace is restored between heaven and earth (Gen 8:11).

The Holy Dove.—The living symbol identified with this Pentecost which inaugurated Christ's official life was seen by Jesus and John, possibly also by a number of those of the spiritually fit who were present in the crowd. This Prophet and Deliverer who had come down from heaven could not be left to His own reviving recollections of the life passed in His Father's bosom, nor to the unconscious momentum of pre-existent experiences which might come to put a high stamp on His moods and habits of thought and act. The God-man could not meet the duties and ordeals of His incarnate life in the strength of that majestic retrospect only. The dovelike form signifying an inward visitation from the presence of the Father, implied peace, tenderness, fidelity, holy and gentle fellowship. The messenger did not need to come to this obedient and undefiled Son as scorching fire, although it became fire when He in due time ministered the Spirit to sinful men. The Spirit came to bring new anointings, and discernments, and prerogatives to the humanity of Jesus Christ, to be a vehicle of fresh visions, fresh powers, fresh aptitudes, fresh vocations, which mighty things were by-and-by to pass from Christ to His disciples.—Selby.

The Harbinger of Peace and of the Spring.—There is rich suggestion in the form in which the Spirit descended. A great many tender thoughts cluster around the dove. The dove was the offering of the very poor. The appearance of the dove was a harbinger of spring. Remembered in connection with the Deluge, it was regarded as an emblem of peace, and a symbol of gentleness and harmlessness. All these associations made the dove a most fitting emblematic form for the Holy Ghost to assume when descending upon Jesus. Jesus came to be a peace-bringer for all, even the poorest. He came like the spring, to bring life to a dead world. He is like the dove in gentleness and harmlessness.—Miller.

"Thou art My beloved Son."—From the time of His baptism dates the unique consciousness which Jesus had of God as His Father; it is the rising of that glorious sun which from that moment illumined His life, and which since the Day of Pentecost has risen upon humanity.—Godet.

Sonship implies Messiahship.—In the fact of His Divine Sonship was involved His Messiahship; the consciousness of His official rank was preceded by that of His special relationship with God.

The Voice from Heaven.—When He heard this Voice, "This is My beloved Son," those thoughts and impressions which had probably long been stirring in the human consciousness of Christ were shaped into definite conviction and assurance, and He recognised the Divine nature in mysterious union with the Manhood which was to be made perfect through His sufferings. Long before this He must have learned the mysterious circumstances which attended His nativity. Now he apprehended their significance, and very naturally in the amazement, if we may not say the agitation, which was consequent on this discovery, He went under the leading of the Spirit into the wilderness.—Drew.

"My beloved Son."—To Jesus it was the seal of Divine authentication. It was the fatherly recognition. It was the first break in the silence and loneliness of thirty years. It was, so to speak, a breath from home. If the occasion was marked by the first audible Divine intervention, it must have been one which called for it. It was a second birth to a new life; in the language of the Church of old, "His second nativity." It was the meeting-point of the private and public life Divine.—Vallings.

Luk . "About thirty years of age."—The period of life when physical and mental powers have attained their highest point of development; the age when the Levites entered upon office (Num 4:3; Num 4:23).

Luk . The Difference Between the Two Genealogies.—While St. Matthew, in the genealogy he gives, descends from Abraham to Jesus, St. Luke ascends from Jesus to God. "St. Luke's purpose is to show that Jesus is the promised Seed of the woman (Gen 3:15; Gal 4:4), that He is that second Adam—the Father of the new race of regenerate humanity—in whom all nations of the earth are blessed" (Wordsworth).

The Hopes connected with the House of David.—The possibility of constructing such a table, comprising a period of thousands of years, in an uninterrupted line from father to son, of a family that dwelt for a long time in the utmost retirement, would be inexplicable, had not the members of this line possessed a thread by which they could extricate themselves from the many families into which every tribe and branch was again subdivided, and thus hold fast and know the member that was destined to continue the lineage. This thread was the hope that Messiah would be born of the race of Abraham and David. The ardent desire to behold Him and be partakers of His mercy and glory suffered not the attention to be exhausted through a period embracing thousands of years. Thus the member destined to continue the lineage, whenever doubtful, became easily distinguishable, awakening the hope of a final fulfilment, and keeping it alive until it was consummated.—Olshausen.

Luk . "Adam, the son of God."—"The last word of the pedigree is connected with its starting-point. Unless the image of God had been stamped on man, the Incarnation would have been impossible. God could not have said to a man, ‘Thou art My beloved Son,' if humanity had not issued from Him" (Godet). "All things are of God through Christ; and all things are brought back through Christ to God" (Bengel).

The Divine Root of the Human Pedigree.—There is no bolder word in Scripture, none that strikes us with a deeper surprise and awe than this—"Adam, who was the son of God." Some may wonder why such a long and "barren list of names" is given here; but in reality the pedigree is of immense value. It connects the second Adam with the first Adam, and places a son of God at either end of the list of names; it makes us out to be the children of God both by nature and by grace. There is a Divine element in our nature as well as a human element, a capacity for life and holiness as well as a liability to sin and death. This is the secret of that double or divided nature of which we are conscious. It is this which explains how it comes to pass that even in the worst of men we find something good, and something bad even in the best. That which is good in us we derive from God, that which is evil from all our earthly parents. It is because every man is a child of God, because the Divine name stands at the top of the human pedigree, that even the worst of men feels a Divine constraint laid upon him at times, yields to a Divine impulse, and so does that which is just, pure, lovely, and kind. It is because even the best of men is but a man at the best, and forgets that he is a son of God, and refuses to yield to the Divine influence, that he falls into sins, which, as he himself is the first to confess, render him guilty before God, and even move him to account himself the chief of sinners. If we keep the fact in mind that Christ is the eternal Word, by whom all things were created and made, and by whom, therefore, Adam or man was created and made, the teaching of the New Testament as to the salvation of the race is made much clearer. Because we all spring from Christ, whatever He has done or does as surely affects us as what Adam was and did affects our nature and position. The second Adam, He was nevertheless before the first Adam, and called Him into being. Hence He could die for all. Hence He lives for all, and we all live in and by Him. Hence if by the offence of one death came on all, much more did life come to all by the obedience of One. Our text makes it clear that we have not to persuade God to enter into a fatherly relation to us and to love as. He is our Father. The change to be wrought is a change in ourselves. We need to realise and believe the fact that we are children of God, and to be true to the responsibilities it brings with it.—Cox.

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Luke 3:4". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/phc/luke-3.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, November 17th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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