Luke 3:1-22: A Voice in the Wilderness
“Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was Tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip was tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene, in the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John, the son of Zacharias in the wilderness. He came into all the district 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:
‘THE VOICE OF ONE CRYING IN THE WILDERNESS,
‘MAKE READY THE WAY OF THE LORD,
MAKE HIS PATHS STRAIGHT.
‘EVERY RAVINE WILL BE FILLED,
AND EVERY MOUNTAIN AND HILL WILL BE BROUGHT LOW;
THE CROOKED WILL BECOME STRAIGHT,
AND THE ROUGH ROADS SMOOTH;
AND ALL FLESH WILL SEE THE SALVATION OF GOD.’”
He therefore began saying to the multitudes who were going out to be baptized by him, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee the wrath to come? Therefore bring forth fruits in keeping with repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I say to you that God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Also, the axe is already laid at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.’
“And the multitudes were questioning him, saying, ‘Then what shall we do?’ And he would answer and say to them, ‘Let the man who has two tunics share with him who has none; and let him who has food do likewise.’ And some tax gatherers also came to be baptized and they said to him, ‘Teacher, what shall we do?’ And he said to them, ‘Collect no more than what you have been ordered to.’ And some soldiers were questioning him saying, ‘And what about us, what shall we do?’ And he said to them, ‘Do not take money from anyone by force, or accuse anyone falsely, and be content with your wages.’
“Now while the people were in a state of expectation and all were wondering in their hearts about John, as to whether he might be the Christ, John answered and said to them all, ‘As for me, I baptize you with water, but One is coming who is mightier than I, and I am not fit to untie the thing of His sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. And His winnowing fork is in His hand to thoroughly clear His threshing floor and to gather the wheat into His barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.’
“With many other exhortations he preached the gospel to the people. But when Herod the tetrarch was reproved by him on account of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and on account of all the wicked things that he had done, he added this also to them all, that he locked John in prison.
“Now it came about when all the people were baptized, that Jesus was baptized, and while He was praying, heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in bodily form like a dove, and a voice came out of heaven, ‘You are My beloved Son, in You I am well pleased'” (Luke 3:1-22, NASB).
Skeptics and unbelievers tend to say to anyone who will listen that the Scriptures are a collection of myths and legends that are not based in historical fact and are as real as the tales of the ancient gods and goddesses of places like Greece, Rome, Egypt, or Babylon that are part of a literary tradition that is, at the most, interesting, but not anything on which to base one’s life and path.
This is just plain lazy thinking and the attempt on their part to avoid the possibility that what we as followers of Jesus Christ hold as true and sacred just might be accurate after all, especially those verses that speak of accountability for one’s life and words before a holy God:
- Matthew 12:36
- Luke 12:20, 48; 19:15
- Romans 14:12
- 1 Peter 4:4-5
In reading the events of Luke 3, we are introduced to authentic, genuine, and historically verified individuals whose lives, achievements, and records have been written down in ancient texts and uncovered by the work of archaeologists. Each person’s existence has been accepted as a provable fact.
What Luke has done is to show Theophilus and future readers of this Gospel that the events and achievements of the Lord Jesus Christ are not the product of vivid imaginations or the legends of a particular nationality, but real events as proven by the writing of the other Gospels, resources outside Scripture, archaeology, as well as eyewitness testimony of what the Lord Jesus said and did:
- 1 Corinthians 15:1-8
- 2 Peter 1:16-21; 3:15
- Acts 4:20; 5:32; 9:1-6; 26:22
- Psalm 66:16
- Isaiah 63:7
- 2 Timothy 1:8
The centerpiece of this chapter is not Caesar and his contemporaries, but of the preacher from the deserts of Judea, John the Baptist, who is the LORD’S vessel of service to prepare the nation for the arrival of the promised Messiah and the Redeemer of Israel as well as the mighty Judge who would render the final harvest of the redeemed and the reprobate of history.
Objective history records the existence of prominent individuals and summarizes their achievements, but in looking at the Scriptures, we examine the message proclaimed by these figures of history that God has used to present His message of repentance and redemption that humanity needs to hear, like it or not, and the consequences of either responding to or rejecting His message from His chosen spokesmen.
Up to that time, God had chosen not to speak, either audibly or through any prophet or leader for over four hundred years. The Law and the Prophets that made up what is known as the Old Testament gave the exact words, decrees, comforts, and confrontations that Israel needed to exist as a nation and be the representative people to show the world around them that there was but one God, the Creator and Sustainer, and no one else is or was His equal.
The devout remnant of Israel who read and studied the Scriptures were anxious to see when the promises of God’s Deliverer would come to pass, while many were indifferent or had given up and turned to other areas of interest and concern. They tended to ignore the reading of God’s Word or went through the motions of religious worship without a true sense of commitment or respect towards God and His direction. Many of the priests and officials of the temple had gone from devout and obedient towards God’s laws to empty, rote motions that meant nothing. The true meaning of a heart directed towards the LORD had become lost in religious tradition and ritual. It was at this low point in Israel’s history that the Sovereign LORD put His plans into action.
John the Baptist is now ready to come to the nation’s attention. Matthew’s Gospel describes him as having “a garment of camel’s hair, and a leather belt about his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey” (Matthew 3:4). He and his ministry are presented and described in:
- Isaiah 40:3
- Malachi 4:5
- Matthew 3:1, 4, 7,13, 15; 4:12; 11:2, 7, 11, 14; 14:2, 3, 4, 10; 16:14; 17:13; 21:32
- Mark 1:2, 5, 7; 6:14, 20, 29; 8:28; 9:11
- Luke 1:13, 57, 60, 76, 80; 3:2; 7:20, 24-27, 28: 9:7, 19; 16:16; 20:6
- John 1:6, 15, 19-23, 29; 3:26; 5:33, 35; 10:41
- Acts 13:24; 19:4
John was a man of self-denial (Matthew 3:4),
courage (Matthew 3:7; 14:4),
obedient to the LORD (Matthew 3:13),
a powerful preacher (Mark 1:5),
a man of humility (Mark 1:7; John 1:19-23),
a man dedicated to holiness before God (Mark 6:20),
a burning zeal for God (John 3:35),
and a man honored by the Lord Jesus Christ (Matthew 11:11; Luke 7:24-27).
His message to the people in terms of preparing them for the coming of the Christ was for them to repent of their sins and renew their love for God.
Repentance is not just the act of turning away from one’s sins, but also that of making one’s life accessible to God and surrendering your self-centered ambitions. It allows God to cleanse the sinner and make him into a new person before God. The Scriptures are clear in that all people need to repent now (2 Corinthians 6:2), because no one has any guarantee of tomorrow (James 4:14). John also preached a message of restitution, that is, one who is ready to give to others (v.11) and is demonstrated by the practice of honesty in all things. It is being content with what one has without complaining of what one does not possess. This is a sign of thankfulness.
The issue of being content with what one has needs to be revived and preached by pastors and taught as a principle of godly living in Bible study classes in these times where it seems that a lot of what passes for proclamation of the Word centers on making oneself “prosperous,” and that “poverty” is some kind of horrid sin that is not part of being a child of God. This is a favorite ploy of some unscrupulous televangelists, used as a scheme to make one believe that by sending them “gifts” or “seeds” of money, the individual will receive abundant blessings from God in return. All this has done is to make the televangelist wealthy and has robbed the desperate or equally greedy person, planting seeds of bitterness and unbelief within their lives.
We need to remember that nobody takes anything of this world with them when they die, and there are no trailers behind funeral processions.
John’s preaching also dealt with revival, which starts with an inquiry about the things of God, and prepares the person to reap the rewards of a renewed spirit and see this renewal spread throughout the land, and bring all people to the throne of God for salvation and a return to holiness. True revival begins with the moral change within someone, made possible by a move of God in the person’s life. That renewed individual turns away from his old life and leaves it to die, while embracing the new life under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
In the history of America, for example, preachers such as Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) and George Whitefield (1715-1770) delivered hard-hitting gospel messages from both the pulpit and open field, urging all people to repent and give their lives to Christ. This was known as the “Great Awakening” of the 18th century, with entire towns coming to salvation and renewal of spirit.
The preaching of John Wesley in England (1703-1790) brought about revival in the land and prevented the nation from going the way of the bloody and atheistic French Revolution that toppled the monarchy and brought in a reign of terror and bloodshed for many years. It was Wesley’s methods of preaching and training of other ministers that brought about what is now the Methodist church, which needs revival itself today.
Repentance and revival mean exposing and naming sin for what it is, and not trying to excuse or justify it when it happens in someone’s life. It can also mean being willing to suffer for the sake of truth.
There are numerous graves around the world filled with the bodies of Christians across the centuries who lived, preached, taught, and defended the faith at the cost of their lives. In over two thousand years, the world, the flesh, and the devil have tried to silence and destroy the message of Jesus Christ to no effect. It is He who will bring all things under His feet and make a new heaven and earth free from the curse of sin and destruction, and will make all things new. This is His promise and was affirmed by His death, resurrection, and ascension.
When John baptizes the Lord Jesus, the entirety of the Triune God is presented with the voice of the Father, the obedience of the Son, and the presence of the Holy Spirit (3:21-22). This is one of the major doctrines of the faith and is also affirmed in passages such as:
- Matthew 28:19
- John 14:26; 15:26
- 2 Corinthians 2:12
- 2 Timothy 4:13
The last section of Chapter 3 presents Jesus’ royal lineage through the bloodline of Mary, who, like Joseph, is of the house of David through his son Nathan. Heli is the father of Mary, and Joseph is his son-in-law. While Matthew’s family history of the Lord Jesus begins with the call of Abraham, Luke traces the lineage all the way back to the origin of man, with the creation of Adam by God Himself. If one does the research, they will find that the family lines coincide with the claim that the Lord Jesus truly is the rightful King of His people and will fulfill that task at the end of days when He comes back to rule and reign for all time.
In the next chapter, He will deal with the enemy of God and shows what to say to the devil when he tries to take the believer down.