The Gospel of Luke - Part 10: John the Baptizer

(These notes are based on lesson notes prepared by Rob Mahon for Connection Class Leaders at Hoffmantown church.)

Review:

Last week we finished Luke Chapter 2 with a review of how we as Christians should emulate Jesus, even as a twelve year old boy. From the time when he stayed back in the Temple after his folks and the group from Nazareth headed home after the Passover, we saw that he was an aggressive learner, that he listened, that he asked questions, that he had clear priorities in his life, that he was willing to submit and that he continued to grow and mature.

Think what your life would be like, what your relationship with Jesus would be, if you just followed His model.

This morning we get into Luke 3 where Luke opens the chapter with the story of John the Baptist. Of course, Luke did not put a chapter break here. This was all one long book. Over the years, editors added verse numbering and chapter breaks to make it easier to read and study. They commonly added chapter breaks when the topic changed, as it did here.

John the Apostle introduced us to John the Baptist with these words:

There came a man sent from God, whose name was John. --John 1:6
This morning, if I use the name John, without saying that it is some other John, I am talking about John the Baptist.

John's ministry was one of preparation - preparing people, helping them get ready to meet Jesus, to believe in Him, to receive His message. This is a terrific chapter. We can put ourselves in the place of John's audience and ask how ready, how prepared we are to follow Jesus today. We can put ourselves in the place of John and ask,  "How willing are we, how involved are we, in helping others be ready to receive Jesus?".

There is a great deal of information about John the Baptist in the Scriptures - much more than you may realize. I have prepared a handout today that includes an article on John the Baptist from The Holman Bible Dictionary and also three pages of Scripture references to John.  I think that if you will take it home and read through the handout and the verses, you will be amazed at how much we know about him.

John was a wonderful and a strange man. He was a relative of Jesus, about six months older. Remember that when John’s mother, Elizabeth, was six months pregnant, Mary, the mother of Jesus, when to see her. That was just after Mary had been informed that she was pregnant with Jesus.

There hadn’t been a prophet in Israel for 400 years. John lived out in the desert. He wore rough clothes made from camel hair. He ate locusts and wild honey.

He was sort of an “in your face prophet.” John might not like the characterization but I think of him as being like a street corner preacher in New York City with sandal feet, long hair, big beard and shouting to everybody who walks by.

Yet the people loved him! They came by the thousands to hear him speak. They took in every word. God spoke to their hearts. They were deeply convinced of their sins and passionately repented. John was wild and wonderful, godly and charismatic and effective.

Gordon MacDonald used this analogy to help us understand John the Baptist and his ministry:

I am not wholly comfortable admitting this in many places, but since I trust you so completely, I will publicly confess that in my earlier days I was an unabashed fan of “The Lone Ranger”. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, at 7:30, I tuned in my radio to ABC and listened to the exploits of the Lone Ranger. For, "Nowhere in those sterling pages of yesteryear can one find a greater champion of justice."  That's the way the program used to start. "We turn again to those thrilling days when out of the past came the thundering hoof beats of the great horse Silver, for the Lone Ranger rides again."

The one confounding thing, however, about every episode of "The Lone Ranger" was that at the conclusion, 27 minutes and 30 seconds into the episode, somebody would always ask the question: "Who was that man?" Somebody else would say, "Why, didn't you know? He's the Lone Ranger!" That's the way it would always end.

Now as a young person, it perplexed me that here was someone whose life had been saved, whose money had been restored, whose ranch had been protected — their whole lives had hung in the balance — and yet all the way to the end they didn't have the slightest idea who that man was.

It occurs to me that an awful lot of people in the world at the time of Jesus (and even today) were very anxious to benefit from what Messiah might do, but were not sure if they knew who he was or how to spot him should he make his appearance. The job of John the Baptizer was to come out of the wilderness and talk to people and to prepare them, so that when The Messiah made his appearance, they would not only know who he was but be prepared to respond to what he said and called them to do. To see Jesus, to know Jesus, to obey Jesus, demands preparation. You cannot see him if you are not prepared. And the work of John the Baptist in his generation was the work of preparation, opening the hearts of those who would listen, so when the Lamb of God appeared, they would know who he was and how to respond appropriately.

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. And 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.’ ” --Luke 3:1-6
The quote from the Old Testament here is from Isaiah 40:3-5

Remember that Luke is a physician and is a detail freak. Notice how specifically he dates the event.

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. --Luke 3:1-2

In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah; and he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. --Luke 1:5

Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. --Luke 2:1-2
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar...

The 15th year of Tiberius Caesar would be 29 A.D. Consider, too, that he dates this event in terms of events that Gentiles would understand, and adds events more oriented to a Jewish audience.

Here are the historical facts provided by Luke in verses.1-3:

Tiberius Caesar - 15th year of his reign
Herod - is tetrarch of Galilee

This is not Herod the Great, the ruler at the time of the birth of Jesus. This Herod is one of his three sons who ruled parts of the kingdom of Herod the Great.

Philip - Herod's brother, is tetrarch of Ituraea and Trachonitis
Lysanias - is tetrarch of Abilene (not Texas!)
Annas - high priest from 6-15 A.D.; deposed by Roman authorities
Caiaphas - Annas' son-in-law, high priest from 18-36 A.D.

The lessons for us are clear (referring to Luke 3:1-2): God knows what is going on in history and he intervenes. He sent his Son at just the right time. He took everyone and everything into consideration. God did not leave his world unattended or forgotten.

It’s the same today. God knows what is happening and who are the leaders from Washington to Moscow and from Jakarta to Baghdad. The God of the Bible is the God of history.

The time when most people are spiritually receptive and responsive is the time of problems and pain. Ask almost any group of Christians when they came to faith in Jesus Christ and when they were closest to God and growing spiritually and nearly 100% will tell you about a very dark chapter in their lives. It is most often during sickness, broken relationships, financial problems or other difficulties that we are ready and receptive for Jesus to come and make a difference in our lives. God knows everything that is going on. God chooses the right time to accomplish his plans -- in the world and in our lives.

So what do we learn about John in these verses?

Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar ... the word of God came to John, the son of Zacharias, in the wilderness. --Luke 3:1
There are two Greek words which are translated “word” in the New Testament. The one used most of the time is λογος [logos], which is used of Jesus in John 1.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. --John 1:1
Some other places it is used:
The sower sows the word... --Mark 4:14

So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine..." --John 8:31

Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls. --James 1:21
Λογος - [Logos] is used more broadly. It can mean the Gospel; it can also refer to all of God's revelation to people. “Logos” is a word of deep theological significance, especially when referring to Jesus. “Logos” is also sometimes used of human conversation and translated speech, answer, message, etc.

The second Greek word, ρημα [rhema], is the one used here in Luke 2:2. This word focuses attention on a specific word or utterance. “Rhema” is used of individual Scripture which the Spirit brings to our attention”. So when “rhema” is found in the New Testament, it generally refers to God specifically speaking to, directing an individual. For example, a particular passage may seem to apply to a particular situation you're in - giving guidance and direction. Some examples of the use of ρημα “rhema”:

And Mary said, “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your rhema - word.” And the angel departed from her. --Luke 1:38

And they remembered His rhema - words... --Luke 24:8

But what does it say? “The rhema - word - is near you, in your mouth and in your heart —-- that is, the rhema - word - of faith which we are preaching. --Romans 10:8
Ρημα [Rhema] expresses a wonderful truth - that God will speak through His Word to us personally, showing us how it applies to our lives. This should be a strong motivation for Quiet Time - giving God daily the opportunity to speak to us through His Word.
...the word of God came to John ... in the wilderness. --Luke 3:2
In an earlier lesson when we were studying the birth of John, we learned:
And the child continued to grow and to become strong in spirit, and he lived in the deserts until the day of his public appearance to Israel. --Luke 1:80
John remained in the desert until time for his public ministry to begin. What did he do in the desert? Who was he with? ... or was he alone? We aren't told. We can be sure that this was a time of preparation for John, a time to deepen his relationship with God and work on his character.

Think about how this applies to us. Are you giving God the opportunity to speak to you personally (Rhema) the way He did with John the Baptist? God wants to speak to us personally through His Word. Why not make a commitment to have a daily Quiet Time? You will be surprised what He says to you.

And he came into all the district around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. --Luke 3:3
Luke introduces John’s ministry with a concise sentence. This does not mean that baptism brings forgiveness of sins. In point of fact, John’s baptism followed each person’s repentance and was a sign of it. John called his people to repent (away from their sins), and the subsequent acceptance of his baptism was an indication that they had done so.

Even the Jewish historian Josephus understood this, as he wrote about John:

He was a good man and had exhorted the Jews to lead righteous lives, to practice justice towards their fellows and piety towards God, and so doing to join in baptism. In his [John’s] view this was a necessary preliminary if baptism was to be acceptable to God. They must not employ it to gain pardon for whatever sins they committed, but as a consecration of the body...
How John was used by God:
And 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.’ ” --Luke 3:3-6
His job was to prepare the way for the Lord ... to make ready the way of the Lord…

John's ministry was one of preparation for Jesus' public ministry. How did he prepare people for Jesus? The answer is in verse 3, by “preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” People need to recognize their sinfulness and repent.

The Greek word for “repent” is μετανεω [metanoeo] meaning literally, “to change your mind”. That's a good picture of repentance. Repentance is when I change my mind about my behavior - I agree with God about my sin, I'm grieved by and desire to change the way I live to be in obedience to Him. A great picture of repentance is found in Psalm 51, where David prays for forgiveness after his sin of adultery with Bathsheba. Luke records many times when Jesus also spoke of repentance:

Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles had been performed in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. --Luke 10:13

I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. ... In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents. --Luke 15:7,10

...and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. --Luke 24:7
What's an area of your life where you need a “change of mind”? Maybe it's the TV shows and movies you watch; maybe it's how you spend your money; maybe it's how you use your time. Remember, a key to having our hearts prepared for God is repenting of sin in our lives.

John the Baptist is the fulfillment of the Isaiah's prophecy:

...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.’ ” --Luke 3:4-6

Matthew 3 and Mark 1 also quote this passage as being fulfilled through John's ministry.

Preparing for a Royal Entry:

Verses 4 thru 6 Provide imagery to illustrate preparing the way:

No amount of preparation is too much when we speak of the coming of the King of kings and Lord of lords.

All mankind will see God's salvation:

Though Matthew and Mark quote Isaiah 40:3-4, only Luke adds Isa. 40:5(which is this brief verse 6). One thing Luke learned in his travels with Paul is that God has a world vision. Notice how this theme is mentioned throughout the Gospel of Luke. The God's desire is that “all mankind” hear the Gospel and be saved:

This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus. --1 Timothy 2:3-5

The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. --2 Peter 3:9
How's your heart for the lost? Do you have a burden for those around you without Christ? Remember John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, He gave His only Son...”.
Remember, that what's important to you will be shown in your time, your money, your praying.

Next week we will pick up with verse 7 of Chapter 3 of Luke where John starts to proclaim the message.

Reread Luke 3 to prepare.