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The Prophet Preparing the Way

The Gospel of Luke  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  38:14
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The Prophet Preparing the Way - Luke 3:1-20

INTRO: How many of us clean house before we have guests over? Now imagine the King is coming over!
John the Baptist’s role is to clean house! The people need to know how unprepared they are they are for the arrival of the Messiah, the Son of God.

John the Baptist’s Ministry (vv. 1-6)

Here’s the simple truth. We’re a little over 1,990 years separated from the timeframe in our text (a little less than 2 millennia), so we need to ask ourselves a couple of questions. What is John’s role in a sense that matters to the big picture in the Bible? (In other words, why does Luke include these details concerning John?) Secondly, with John being a bridge figure between the last of the OT prophets and the new covenant through Jesus, how do we apply to our lives what we learn from John?
Luke 3:1–6 ESV
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness. And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough places shall become level ways, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’ ”
- The historical setting for John’s ministry (1-2a)
… both political and religious
The ruler over the Roman Empire during this time was Tiberius Caesar, and Luke more specifically notes that John’s ministry began during the 15th year of his reign (sometime between the latter half of AD 28 or early part of AD 29).
[map] Pontius Pilate was Roman prefect over Judea from AD 26-36
Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great, was made tetrarch over Galilee and Perea, from his father’s death in 4BC to AD39.
His brother Philip ruled to the north-east of the sea of Galilee from 4 BC to AD 34.
Little is known of Lysanias, who ruled the region of Abilene (around Damascus and north to northwest of it).
v. 2

John’s ministry also began in the time of Annas and Caiaphas. Annas was the high priest from A.D. 6 to A.D. 15 but was deposed by the Roman authorities. Eventually his son-in-law, Caiaphas, was placed in the position (A.D. 18–36). The Jews continued to recognize Annas as the rightful high priest though Caiaphas functioned in that role

Luke: An Introduction and Commentary 2. The Ministry of John the Baptist (3:1–20)

It may be worth pointing out that when Jesus was arrested he was first brought to Annas (John 18:13).

- John breaks on the scene as a prophet sent from God (2b)
After some 460 years without a prophet of this caliber in Israel (since Malachi), “The word of God comes to John in the wilderness as his ministry renews God’s direct activity for people.” (Bock, 279)
The silence is broken: finally receiving a letter, a call, a text, etc.
John serves as a bridge figure, in the line of succession of the OT prophets, but also the last, and the one introducing the Kingdom of God breaking into the world through the God-Man Jesus Christ.
- John practices a unique baptism (3)
Similar to an OT practice concerning Gentile converts to Judaism, and not equivalent to NT baptism - “Non-Jews who wished to convert to Judaism were required to immerse themselves in water to remove their impurity as Gentiles; John requires this act of conversion even of Jews.” Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), Lk 3:3.
Illust: Trying to get clean from the dirtiest you’ve ever been... (skunk, other?)
John’s baptism of repentance for forgiveness pre-figures the complete forgiveness purchased by Christ (received through repentance and faith in Him)
After the resurrection, in Luke’s rendition of the Great Commission, Jesus said to them…
Luke 24:46–49 ESV
and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”
(Bock, 289) “John says that his baptism is nothing compared to the baptism that the Mightier One brings (3:16). So John’s baptism […] is a baptism of promise that looks to the greater baptism of the Spirit. It points forward to the cleansing that comes to those who respond to Messiah’s offer with faith.”
(see vv. 15&16 in ch. 3)
(Steve Cole) John’s baptism was a unique rite that pointed people ahead to the promised Messiah. It pictured God’s washing or purification from sins, but it was not complete apart from what Messiah would do in offering Himself as the Lamb of God, the perfect sin-bearer. That is why, when Paul later found some disciples of John in Ephesus, who did not know about Jesus Christ, when they believed he baptized them in the name of the Lord Jesus (Acts 19:1-6).
For those who have believed in Christ, baptism is a public confession that symbolizes what Jesus Christ has done spiritually for the one who has believed. He has washed us from all of our sins and He has identified us totally with His death, burial, and resurrection to new life.
- John fulfills a prophecy from Isaiah (4-6)
“John’s coming was anticipated in the Scriptures.” (Bock, 281) He is a voice speaking from God in order to prepare the way for the Lord.
Imagery (esp v.5): Preparing a road fit for a King

When a king traveled the desert, workmen preceded him to clear debris and smooth out the roads to make his trip easier. In Luke the leveling of the land was a figurative expression denoting that the way of the Messiah would be made smooth because through John a large number of people were ready to receive Jesus’ message

This is to say that the metaphor probably also carries for Luke the concept of removing obstacles in the hearts of those who listen—the need to repent of sin in preparation for receiving the coming Messiah.
Luke continues his quote of Isaiah further than the other gospel writers to catch the note of the universal scope of the salvation from God in Jesus Christ.
In essence, “John’s message prepares the people for the coming of salvation with a call to repent.” (Bock, 279)
(A Sample Of)…

John’s Preaching on Judgment & Repentance (vv. 7-14)

Luke 3:7–14 ESV
He said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.”
- John warns of judgment and calls for repentance (7-9)
John did not intend “vipers” as a compliment.

Vipers (e.g., the Nicander’s viper) were commonly believed to eat their way out of their mother’s womb; thus John’s calling the crowd “viper’s offspring” was even nastier than calling them “vipers.”

John tells them they must bear fruit that is worthy of their professed repentance. - Do you think that just this rite of baptism will save you? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance!
“Religious heritage and ancestry are irrelevant before God” compared to a right response. (Bock, 301) The true children of Abraham, those who know God, are not limited to a particular ethnicity (bc God can even raise up children for Abraham from these stones). - “God’s children are not born at physical birth, but are transformed from the heart.” (Bock, 301)
- John gives examples of the fruit of true repentance (10-14)
The people ask, what shall we do? Luke frequently has people asking this in connection with their need for salvation, and here they are asking how to escape impending judgment. How can they not be a tree thrown into the fire?
The Bible Knowledge Commentary 2. The Message of John (3:7–14)

John’s teaching was that one’s life proves whether or not he has truly repented

More specifically then in vv. 10-14, John shows that the fruit of appropriate repentance shows itself in how one treats others - In John’s terms for his hearers, “True repentance responds to God and treats fellow humans justly.” (Bock, 315)
John gives 3 examples…
Tunics were garments worn under the cloak (like an undershirt). - Having two was not a sign of opulence, by any stretch. So giving away one of two is indeed generous, knowing that only one is needed.
Tax collectors were despised not only because they were the pons of the Roman government, but also because they were notoriously dishonest for personal gain (collecting extra and keeping the profit - “although this practice was not legal, it was difficult to prevent” - Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), Lk 3:12–13..)
John didn’t tell soldiers to resign from their posts but to avoid the moral temptations that came along with their profession. (particularly noted here is the corruption associated with abusing their authority to extort money instead of being content with their wages)

John told the people to be (a) generous (3:11), (b) honest (v. 13), and (c) content (v. 14).

Conclusion & Application:

Keep in mind that…
John’s ministry is not in itself normative for today, since it was a precross ministry that could not address salvation in terms of resurrection realities or expectations. Nevertheless, the attitude demanded by John is illustrative of key concepts that Luke will develop, and thus his ministry foreshadows work that Jesus and his followers will do. (Bock, 301)
So John’s responsibility as the cleaner was to make ready a people prepared (Luke 1:17) for the salvation coming through the Messiah’s work.
“Part of that readiness [for salvation] means knowing one’s real spiritual status before God and having a sense of humility that drives one to seek God’s forgiveness.” (Bock, 296)
As Charles Spurgeon put it, “You will be as surely damned by your righteousness, if you trust in it, as you will by your unrighteousness” (Spurgeon’s Expository Encyclopedia [Baker], 14:305).
Another application from this text which John makes for his hearers and is the same for us, is...
The nearness of God’s coming wrath (for those who remain under the just condemnation for their sin) - Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees.
And that all falsehood will be found out - There’s no time to waste, and you can’t hide what you really are from God!
So… “With the opportunity of promise comes also the risk of judgment for rejecting the promise.” (Bock, 314) - “What shall we do?” occurs throughout Luke-Acts as a question about how to be saved. You too need to be asking, “What shall I do?”
So John does indeed preach to them “good news” (v. 19) of the one coming who is mightier, more worthy, and whose baptism is more powerful and effective. A baptism that occurs through faith in Christ and results in God bestowing the indwelling Holy Spirit (Acts 2).
Walking with God: A relationship with God must be on his terms, and following His ways is often expressed through genuine concern for others.
Matthew 25:31–40 ESV
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
When we are made new in Christ, we want to have the same heart for hurting people that our Father has. As we have been shown mercy, let us show mercy to others. - Listen to the conclusion of the parable of the Good Neighbor (Good Samaritan):
Luke 10:36–37 ESV
Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

John Points to Jesus (vv. 15-18)

The High Cost of John’s Faithfulness (vv. 19-20)

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