The Book of Luke, John the Baptist, Part I Ė Lesson 23
In the first chapter Luke has given us his reason and purpose in writing this book.
He has given us a glimpse of the scene in which Zacharias was visited by Gabriel and told that he would be the father of John the Baptist, the forerunner or announcer of the Christ.
We have witnessed Gabrielís next visit as he announced to Mary that she had been chosen to be the vessel by which the Messiah would come.
Luke has told us of her visit and her encouragement of Elisabeth, Johnís mother, and Elisabethís recognition of Mary as the mother of the coming Messiah.
We have traveled with Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem and have been at the manger where Jesus lay and where Joseph and Mary received the shepherds who had been given the good news of Christís birth.
We have been at the temple for the Messiahís presentation and have heard the words of Simeon and Anna as they announced that the Messiah was in his holy temple.
We have also seen the young 12 year old Jesus in his fatherís house fulfilling his responsibility to be about his fatherís business.
So in these two chapters Luke has provided us a wonderful background of preparation for us to enter into chapter three where we find John and Jesus grown into manhood and at the beginning of the fulfillment of their purposes that the angel announced almost 30 years prior.
Let us read the first 20 verses of chapter three.
Luke 3:1-20, Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judaea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of Ituraea and of the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias the tetrarch of Abilene, 2Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests, the word of God came unto John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness. 3And he came into all the country about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins; 4As it is written in the book of the words of Esaias the prophet, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. 5Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth; 6And all flesh shall see the salvation of God. 7Then said he to the multitude that came forth to be baptized of him, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance, and begin not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, That God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. 9And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: every tree therefore which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. 10And the people asked him, saying, What shall we do then? 11He answereth and saith unto them, He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do likewise. 12Then came also publicans to be baptized, and said unto him, Master, what shall we do? 13And he said unto them, Exact no more than that which is appointed you. 14And the soldiers likewise demanded of him, saying, And what shall we do? And he said unto them, Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages. 15And as the people were in expectation, and all men mused in their hearts of John, whether he were the Christ, or not; 16John answered, saying unto them all, I indeed baptize you with water; but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire: 17Whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor, and will gather the wheat into his garner; but the chaff he will burn with fire unquenchable. 18And many other things in his exhortation preached he unto the people. 19But Herod the tetrarch, being reproved by him for Herodias his brother Philipís wife, and for all the evils which Herod had done, 20Added yet this above all, that he shut up John in prison.
You will notice at the beginning of this chapter and elsewhere in the book, that Luke is good about providing an historical context to the events that take place in the lives of John the Baptist and the Lord Jesus Christ.
We are told when these events took place, by Luke carefully detailing who was in power in Israel at the time when the word of God came unto John in the wilderness.
Remember that we were told in Luke 1:80 that John was in the desert places till the day of his showing unto Israel.
John, purposefully, had been isolated from any power structure in Israel and had many years of preparation for his debut to Israel, so to speak.
John, by being separated from the power structure of Israel, was being prepared by God for this very time when a certain confluence of events were to come together.
For he was not to embrace the power structure and be a part of it but he was to be a caller to repentance to prepare the way of the Lord.
It is almost as if Luke is giving us a cast of characters in a play when he tells us that the time of Johnís call came when:
1) Tiberius Caesar was in the fifteeth year of his reign
2) Pontius Pilate was governor of Judaea
3) Herod was tetrarch of Galilee
4) Philip was tetrarch of Ituraea and of the region of Trachonitis
5) Lysanias was the tetrarch of Abilene
6) Annas and Caiaphas were the high priests
The word ďTetrachĒ is composed of tetra and arch. Tetra means four.
An arch is a structure over an opening and therefore arch means over.
So a tetrarch is a person over one of four areas.
Herod Antipus (son of Herod the Great) was over one area, Galilee, Philip (also a son of Herod the Great)was tetrarch over two areas, Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was over the fourth area, to the north, Abilene.
Luke says that there were two high priests, Annas and Caiaphas but Caiaphas was the official high priest and Annas had formerly been the high priest however in actuality Annas excercised much power and though not both officially high priests, both were high priests in power.
So Luke provides an interesting contrast between the man John who was separated from the power structure and those who were in power.
Those who were in power had their day but Johnís day continues to this day as the good news of Christ is preached.
Most live their lives sacrificing the permanent on the altar of the immediate and as did these whom Luke mentions but John was engaged in the permanent as he answered the call of God.
His message to Prepare ye the way of the Lord is still valid, for the Lord is coming.
Based upon the historical references given by Luke, John the Baptist answered the call of God and began to preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins between the years of 26 and 28 AD.
It is interesting to note that John is called John the Baptist but it might be better to think of him as John the Baptizer so we do not think of him with a church denomination in mind.
John was not a Baptist as we think of a Baptist today.
John was a baptizer.
John baptized after repentance took place.
7Then said he to the multitude that came forth to be baptized of him, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance,
The baptism of John was a symbol of the making ready for the coming of the Lord as the making straight a highway for the coming of the king.
John the Baptist was an Old Testament prophet in the fullest extent.
As the Lord Jesus said in:
Luke 7:26, For I say unto you, Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist:
I believe for anyone to think of himself as a Baptist in the line of John is to think outside of scriptural truth.
John was an Old Testament prophet.
John was a prophet whose ministry was rooted in the Old Testament.
In the first place, the appearance and ministry of John was prophesied in the Old Testament and therefore John was not part of the church:
Isaiah wrote of John in Isaiah 40:3-5, The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 4Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: 5And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.
The language of this passage provides an image of what took place when a king came to visit.
The inhabitants of the area were called out to clear the roads of rocks and to fill up the hollows.
A royal courier would go ahead and issue the call, the king is coming.
The king would have no roads with holes or rocks to impede his way.
So in the same sense the Messiah sent his announcer, John, before him to prepare the way for him.
There would be nothing in the way to hinder the kingís coming.
The imagery presented by this passage means to straighten up for the king is coming.
In the vertical plain the high places are to be made low.
Everything is to be on the level and in the horizontal plain the crooked places are to be made straight.
Donít you suppose the high refers to the proud, and the low refers to the humble.
To prepare for the kingdom of God, the proud must and will be put down, while the humble will be elevated.
Ezekiel captured this same thought in 17:24, And all the trees of the field shall know that I the LORD have brought down the high tree, have exalted the low tree, have dried up the green tree, and have made the dry tree to flourish: I the LORD have spoken and have done it.
Maryís words, spoken in praise to God for being honored to be the mother of the Messiah, reveal this same theme:
Luke 1:51-52, He hath showed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. 52He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree. (the humble)
Also see how the words of James convey this same message to the church:
We also await the coming of the Lord and are to be ready.
James 1:9-11, Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted: 10But the rich, in that he is made low: because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away. 11For the sun is no sooner risen with a burning heat, but it withereth the grass, and the flower thereof falleth, and the grace of the fashion of it perisheth: so also shall the rich man fade away in his ways.
James brings down the lofty and elevates the humble, and he authenticates his words by a reference to the withering grass, a reference to Isaiah chapter 40.
These verses immediately follow the message of John to prepare the way of the Lord.
Isaiah 40:6-8, The voice said, Cry. And he said, What shall I cry? All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field: 7The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the LORD bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass.
Every time I read this passage I think of the third verse of the Welsh hymn Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise, by Walter Chalmers Smith, that reads:
To all, life Thou givest,
to both great and small;
8The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever.