Series: Jesus’s Preparation For Ministry (3:1-4:13)
John the Baptist was God’s chosen messenger to the Jews to prepare them for the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. God wanted His people prepared to meet their Savior. First, we’ll see…
THE TIMING OF THE PREPARATION
In John’s Day
Luke 3:1 Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judaea, and Herod being tetrarch [ruler] of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of Ituraea [which was north of Galilee] and of the region of Trachonitis [which was east of Galilee], and Lysanias the tetrarch of Abilene [which was north and west of Galilee],
Luke 3:2 Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests, the word of God came unto John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness.
Why is Luke so detailed in the description of when this happened? Because he was laying out the political situation. Notice who is in control of Israel and the surrounding lands—it’s the Roman Empire. God’s people don’t control their own land.
This is perhaps also reflected in the mention of the “high priests.” There was only supposed to be one high priest, but Luke lists two.
This is either because Annas (who was retired) still held a lot of power or because Annas had been removed by the Romans, but was still regarded by the Jews as the “real” high priest.
In either case, the high priesthood, along with many of the other priests was corrupt. Jesus would overturn the money-changers tables because they had turned the temple into a “den of thieves” (Matthew 21:13).
It was in this time of political turmoil and corruption that Christ came to His people. Christ didn’t come during the golden time of David and Solomon’s kingdom. He seems to have picked the time when people had lost hope and longed for deliverance.
So into this time of Roman domination, comes John the Baptist, “in the wilderness.” This detail is important because John the Baptist was the fulfillment of Isaiah 40:3, which Luke will quote in just a moment, but begins, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness…”
In Our Day
It’s interesting that Christ’s return will also be during a time of turmoil and corruption in the world. It will be during a time that the powers of darkness will have gripped most of the world.
Paul says, for instance,
3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; 4 And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. (2 Timothy 4:3–4)
The Bible paints a pretty dismal picture of the end times. We know that, but I think a lot of us secretly hope that Jesus holds off on His coming until we can see our kids grow up and have grandchildren.
We hope that a revival or a reform brings a safe, comfortable, country for us to live in for a few more years (and it’s possible that will happen).
But I wonder if we get so attached to this world, that we don’t want to be ready for Jesus’s coming. We don’t want to think about His return.
But when we look around and see things that upset us, our reaction (especially if there’s nothing we can do about it) should be to call out the some of the last words of the Bible, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20).
In other words, the dismal moral climate should cause us to desire to be prepared for the Lord’s coming. How do we get prepared? In John’s day, there was…
THE BAPTISM OF THE PREPARATION
In John’s Day
The task of John the Baptist was to prepare the way of the Lord Jesus. How did he do that? By calling people to repentance.
You see, the real problem wasn’t the Romans—although that’s what many Jews would have thought. The real problem was, and is today, sin.
So you will note that John doesn’t preach about the oppressive Roman Empire (and you will see that Jesus didn’t preach about the Roman Empire either). Instead…
Luke 3:3 And he came into all the country about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins;
The “baptism” that John performed was not a Christian baptism, which symbolizes the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ (Romans 6).
So where did John get the idea for his baptism? There’s some debate about that, but two of the ideas are:
1) There was a community of Jews called the Qumran community that dwelt in the desert near where John was baptizing. This community practiced a cleansing ritual. They taught that real, internal repentance must accompany the ritual.
2) When a Gentile wanted to become a Jew, he needed to do several things, like be circumcised and study the Law. But he also needed to have a ritual bath to wash away the sinfulness of being a Gentile.
One could suspect that, because baptism was something the Gentiles did when they wanted to become Jews, that for a natural Jew to be baptized to humble yourself to the level of a Gentile.
In any case, this “baptism” did not save people. It was symbolic, like the baptisms that Christians perform today. What did it symbolize?
“Repentance.” (μετανοίας, μετάνοια, NGSF, “originally referred to a change of mind, but by the time of the NT it had taken on a meaning in Jewish thought of a return to God” [LTW])
Repentance is turning from your sins and turning to God. It involves a change of mind and a change of your desires.
It is not the “baptism,” but the “repentance” which brings the “remission [forgiveness] of sins,” (ἄφεσιν, ἄφεσις, NASF, “the cancellation of a debt, charge, or penalty” (COED), “release, forgiveness. Indicates the state of having a particular obligation removed or ignored in a given relationship” [LTW]).
John’s call to repentance and promise of forgiveness looked forward to Jesus Christ. He was preparing the people for the coming of the Messiah.
Put it this way: those who had really repented would be those who welcomed Jesus when he came.
Perhaps one of those was Matthew, the tax collector. Perhaps he was among the tax collectors who, in verses 12-13, would ask John what they ought to do as evidence of their repentance.
And then, a few weeks or months later, when Jesus called to Matthew, his repentance proved itself by immediately leaving his tax booth and following Jesus (Matthew 9:9). Matthew was prepared to meet Jesus!
In Our Day
In the same way, our repentance will manifest itself as true or false when we meet Jesus. Is your heart prepared to meet Jesus?
Don’t think that because you speak the Christian lingo, come to church, and such that means that you are saved. Jesus said:
21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. (Matthew 7:21)
True repentance will result in doing the Father’s will. It will result in a heart that is prepared to meet Jesus.
An old song asked the question, “What would you do if Jesus came to your house?” Part of it goes like this:
And I wonder, if the Savior spent a day or two with you.
Would you go right on doing, the things you always do?
Would you go right on saying, the things you always say?
Would life for you continue, as it does from day to day? (http://www.letssingit.com/red-sovine-lyrics-if-jesus-came-to-your-house-qh9vb4g#ixzz4XjfOI6dz)
What is it that we need to repent of to be prepared for Christ’s coming? That’s a question that is easy to make excuses for not thinking about because the answers for us are hard to think about.
Whatever you think of the question, however, the fact remains: Jesus is coming again. The prophecy of His Second Coming is just as accurate as the prophecy of His first coming. Luke tells us, from Isaiah…
THE PROPHECY OF THE PREPARATION
In John’s Day
Luke 3:4 As 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.
Luke 3:5 Every 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;
In ancient days, when a great ruler came to a city, the people would go all out to fix potholes or even build new roads for the honored guest.
In a similar way, there are extensive preparations made when the President comes to visit. Highways and streets can be closed off. Bomb-sniffing dogs check out the route.
The Secret Service makes sure the President is never more than ten minutes from a trauma-care hospital and station an agent at each one.
If he is staying at a hotel, three floors are shut down to any other guests—the floor the President is on, and the floor above and below his floor.
Jesus did not need the roads repaired and mountains leveled and valleys filled for His coming. What then does this passage refer to? What is the “leveling” all about?
Since John was calling people to repentance, the “leveling” must have to do with people’s internal spiritual condition. Repentance is what levels the mountains and valleys or secures the hotel rooms for Jesus’s coming.
What did the people need to repent of? Luke gives us a hint in the next section: tax collectors should be fair and not gouge people. Soldiers should not abuse their power and so on.
But I wonder if the larger picture was that people needed to be prepared for what Messiah would come to do.
It seems that many were looking for a political messiah. Someone to rescue them from the evil Roman government that was clamping down on their rights and freedoms as Jews.
The Romans had done many things that the Jews felt would have offended God, like desecrating the temple. Obviously, God would want to get rid of those pesky Romans.
However, that’s not what Jesus came to do. He came to die for the sins of the world. That’s one thing that Luke will bring out again and again—Jesus came not to kill the Gentiles, but to save the Gentiles. Luke quotes Isaiah again—
Luke 3:6 And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.
Somehow the Jews got the idea that “all flesh” didn’t include anyone they didn’t like. If they had truly considered the prophecies surrounding Jesus’s coming, including this one in Isaiah, they would have seen what His mission was: to save their enemies instead of destroying them.
And, within 400 years, the Roman Empire declared itself to be a Christian nation. You can argue about the depth of that, but it’s clear that Christianity had an influence of the Romans!
In Our Day
Jesus is coming again. The Bible says that He is. But it’s been a long time. The period of preparation has gone on for two thousand years. We are told to watch and be ready, but our gazing at the skies soon gets boring or maybe even skeptical.
Why is He waiting so long?
Peter tells first, that there will be great skepticism about the Lord’s return:
3 Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, 4 And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation. (2 Peter 3:3–4)
8 But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9 The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:8–9)
Here we learn that God’s timetable is different from ours. He is much more patient about the return of Jesus. Why? Because He wants people to come to repentance.
Which means, of course, that we all have some responsibility to be John the Baptist’s, calling people to repent and receive forgiveness.
I am not saying a Christian shouldn’t be involved in reforming the culture or being in politics, but beware of losing sight of the real mission: to love and call people to repentance. Arguing politics with liberals might be fun, but it will hardly get them closer to Heaven.
Secondly, Peter tells us…
10 But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. (2 Peter 3:10)
Peter says that we should live in a constant state of preparedness, like on-duty emergency and law-enforcement personal. Those people are always dressed and ready for the squawk of the radio calling them to the scene of a disaster. We are to maintain a level of preparedness.
Peter describes the Christian who is prepared for the coming of Christ:
1) The prepared Christian has holy and godly behavior—
11 Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, (2 Peter 3:11)
2) The prepared Christian loves to think about the coming of the Lord—
12 Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat? (2 Peter 3:12)
3) The prepared Christian makes it through the difficulties of this life by relying on God’s promise of a new creation, a righteousness filled paradise—
13 Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness. (2 Peter 3:13)
4) The prepared Christian, as we’ve seen in John the Baptist, lives a life of repentance so that he has peace and is blameless—
14 Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless. (2 Peter 3:14)
Are you ready? Have you repented of your sin, and is Jesus making progress in remaking you in His image? I read some convicting questions from a book I’ve been reading devotionally—
If you’re an anxious or impatient person, is it clear to everybody around that you are overcoming that? Do you have the power to wait through Jesus’s delays?
If you’re an angry or unforgiving person, have you clearly begun to conquer anger? Are you learning to absorb the cost of forgiveness?
If you’re a fearful person, a self-hating person, or a self-aggrandizing person, is it very clear to the people who know you best that your character is undergoing radical regeneration?
Or are you just very busy with religious activities? (Timothy Keller, Jesus the King: Understanding the Life and Death of the Son of God [New York: Riverhead Books, 2013], 176)
Are you ready? If not, what heart preparations do you need to make?