Through the Bible in One Year

Day 77

Luke 3:1-22

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene— during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet:

“A voice of one calling in the wilderness,

‘Prepare the way for the Lord,

make straight paths for him.

Every valley shall be filled in,

every mountain and hill made low.

The crooked roads shall become straight,

the rough ways smooth.

And all people will see God’s salvation.’”

John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”

“What should we do then?” the crowd asked.

John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”

Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”

“Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them.

Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”

He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely —be content with your pay.”

The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” And with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them.

But when John rebuked Herod the tetrarch because of his marriage to Herodias, his brother’s wife, and all the other evil things he had done, Herod added this to them all: He locked John up in prison.

When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

Luke like historians of this era dated events by giving the year of the current ruler’s reign.  Tiberius was the ruler of the entire Roman world, and the others listed in today’s passage were subordinate to him in their various territories.  After the death of Herod the Great (4 BC)—the king of Judah who sought to kill Jesus—his sons (Archelaus, Herod Antipas and Herod Philip), along with Lysanias, were given oversight over the four portions of his divided kingdom, which is where the term “tetrarchs” derives because they were each given control over a fourth of Herod’s (the Great) kingdom.

Now that we know the historical background for today’s passage we can move on to the meat of today’s passage.  And in today’s passage we see that John is preaching a message of a repentance, which means to turn away from one’s old way of living and start living in a new and completely different way.  John here in today’s passage was addressing the hypocritical religious and social leaders in the crowd when he called them a “brood of vipers.”  John here was challenging people to prove their devotion to God through practical acts of kindness, consideration and self-sacrifice, which are motivated by a change of attitude.  These good works could and will not save people, but they were a response to God’s salvation and evidence that they were truly following God.

After preaching this message of repentance the people began to think that John might be the Messiah, but John quickly dispels them of these idea by telling them two things that the coming Messiah will do that John is not able to do.  He tells them that the coming Messiah will “baptize you with the Holy Spirit” and that “he will burn up the chaff.”

In verse 16 John gave this answer to those who thought he was the coming Messiah: “I baptize you with water.  But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.  He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”  Christ’s baptizing his followers with or in the Holy Spirit would be a new sign by which to identify God’s people.  And there are three things we should understand about this new baptism that John is talking about.

  1. This new baptism was promised through prophecy when the prophet Joel wrote these words, “And afterward I will pour out my Spirit on all people.  Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions” (Joel 2:28) and it was reaffirmed by Jesus himself after his resurrection.  And this prediction began to be fulfilled on the day of Pentecost.
  2. Christ’s ministry of baptizing, which means immersing, cleansing and empowering, his followers in the Holy Spirit is continuing ministry throughout this present age.  This is made clear by the the Greek text of John 1:33 (“he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit”) because this phrase uses the present participle (“ho baptizon”), meaning “he who will continue to baptize.”  This means that the references in Luke and John are not only to the first outpouring of the Holy Spirit during Pentecost, but also to the important ongoing role of Jesus as the Baptizer in the Holy Spirit.  What we must remember is this, “The promise if for you and your children and for all who are far off” (Acts 2:39).
  3. The purpose of this baptism is to provide great spiritual power, inspiration and enthusiasm to live for Christ and spread his message.

And finally in verse 17 John also responded in this way to those who though he was the coming Messiah: “His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chef with unquenchable fire.”  Those of us who turn from sin and receive Christ and his Word will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.  But those who persist in going their own way and holding on to their sins will be punished with “unquenchable fire.”  Jesus would later say, “I have come to bring fire on the earth” (Luke 12:49).  That fire will either purify those who submit to God or destroy those who reject God.  Ultimately we must remember that one of Holy Spirit’s works is to purify lives spiritually.

Tomorrow’s Bible Readings:

Numbers 28:16-29:40, Luke 3:23-38, Psalm 62:1-12 and Proverbs 11:18-19

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