Welcome to Day 3 of 24 Days with Jesus! We are reading a chapter a Day from Luke. 24 Chapters in 24 days, today is Chapter 3. You are joining many others who are reading along. It’s a great Journey. Today we see John the Baptist preaching convicting messages, Jesus getting baptized, John getting himself in trouble and the importance of Jesus ancestry.
Included below is commentary, additional thoughts and explanation. Each colored verse 3:1 can be clicked on to allow you to see that verse. Life Application notes can be found for each section.
Lastly, please feel free to join the discussion and add your own comments and personal insights at the bottom of each day’s post. It would be great to hear from you. Also please let me know if you have any questions. I am praying for you!
John the Baptist Prepares the Way for Jesus / 3:1-18
When John began preaching in the wilderness, a group of eager listeners gathered around him. The Israelites considered John to be a great prophet. God had not sent a prophet to Israel for around four hundred years, so people noticed John.
3:1 Once again Luke gave his Roman audience a historical context for his narrative (as in 2:1-2). Tiberius, the Roman emperor, ruled from a.d. 14–37. Pilate was the Roman governor responsible for the province of Judea from a.d. 26–36. Originally, Archelaus, son of Herod the Great, had been assigned this portion to rule after his father died, but he ruled so poorly that his subjects petitioned for him to be removed. The Romans installed a governor in a.d. 6 and eventually Pilate held this post. Herod Antipas, ruler over Galilee, and his brother (actually half-brother) Philip, were sons of the cruel Herod the Great. Herod Antipas was in power from 4 b.c. to a.d. 39. Philip ruled over the regions of Iturea and Traconitis from 4 b.c. to a.d. 33 or 34. Lysanias, ruler over Abilene is otherwise unknown. The region of Abilene was north of the other regions mentioned. Herod Antipas, Philip, Pilate, and Lysanias apparently had equal powers in governing their separate territories. All were subject to Rome and responsible for keeping peace in their respective lands.
3:2 Under Jewish law there was to be only one high priest. He was to be appointed from Aaron’s line, and he would hold his position for life. Apparently the Roman authorities had deposed the Jewish-appointed Annas (who ruled from a.d. 6–15). Five of Annas’s sons became high priest; Caiaphas was his son-in-law, who held the high priesthood from a.d. 18–36. Caiaphas, therefore, actually held the office, but Annas retained his title (see Acts 4:6) and probably much of the power and influence it carried.
It was during this time that a message from God came to John. There had not been a prophet in Israel for more than four hundred years. It was widely believed that when the Messiah would come, prophecy would reappear (Joel 2:28-29; Malachi 3:1; 4:5). With the arrival of John, prophecy returned to Israel, and this was a sign to the people. God gave John his message, and from that point, John brought that message to the people. The narrative here picks up from 1:80. John lived in the wilderness until he began his preaching.
- LIFE APPLICATION – MEASURE OF GREATNESS
- Powerful religious and political leaders like Pilate, Annas, and Caiaphas ruled in Palestine, but they were upstaged by a desert prophet from rural Judea. God chose to speak through the loner, John the Baptist, who has gone down in history as greater than any of the rulers of his day. How often people judge others by the superficial standards of power, wealth, and beauty, and miss the truly great people through whom God works! Greatness is measured not by what a person has but by his or her faith in God. Like John, give yourself entirely to God, so that his power can work through you.
3:3 News that a prophet had burst onto the scene excited the people. John went from place to place on both sides of the Jordan River, taking the message that God had given him (3:2). That message was that people should be baptized to show that they had turned from their sins and turned to God to be forgiven. “Baptism,” “turning from sin,” and “forgiveness” go hand in hand. John used an act to symbolize the cleansing from sin that occurs when one confesses and is forgiven: “baptism.”
His baptism was new in that he was asking the Jews themselves to be baptized as a sign of repentance. They considered themselves “clean” as descendants of Abraham; only “unclean” Gentiles needed baptism. But John explained that sin makes everyone “unclean,” and they all needed cleansing and forgiveness. For baptism, John needed water, so he remained in the region around the Jordan River.
- LIFE APPLICATION – TURN AROUND!
- Every now and then in a football or basketball game, some poor player gets totally turned around and begins running toward the wrong goal. When that happens, his coaches and teammates don’t stand by passively and politely suggest that he rethink his plan. They scream and yell in the most impassioned tones and terms for him to stop and turn around—NOW!
John the Baptist’s message was very similar: you are heading the wrong way, and if you don’t do a “180,” you will meet with disaster. There was very little concern for subtlety or social protocol in John’s preaching. He let people know in no uncertain terms that if they continued on their present course, no matter how well or how skillfully they proceeded, they were on a collision course with judgment. John called for true repentance—nothing less than a complete change of mind, heart, and behavior, the kind of radical change that only God can enable. Have you experienced this kind of change in your life? Do you need to repent of anything—actions, thoughts, attitudes, omissions—now?
3:4 In John’s day, before a king took a trip, messengers would tell those he was planning to visit to prepare the roads for him. Similarly John told his listeners to make their lives ready so the Lord could come to them.
The prophet Isaiah also called his people to repentance. The second half of the book of Isaiah focuses on the promise of salvation—the coming of the Messiah and the arrival of a man who would announce this coming (Isaiah 40:3). John the Baptist was, in fact, that voice shouting in the wilderness. John was merely God’s “voice” for the important message that God was sending to his people (3:2). What was that message? “Prepare a pathway of the Lord’s coming!” Part of “preparing the pathway” is to make a straight road for him. John’s audience, the people in Israel who came to see this prophet in the wilderness, were faced with a life-changing message. If they would prepare themselves—clear away the spiritual debris and straighten any “crooked” moral paths—the way would be ready for their King and Messiah to come.
3:5-6 While both Matthew and Mark quoted from Isaiah 40:3, Luke also quoted the two following verses, Isaiah 40:4-5. As the “pathway” is being prepared (3:4), seemingly impossible tasks must be done—such as valleys filled in and mountains leveled, curves straightened and rough places smoothed. The images of these words reflect a powerful construction force grinding up everything in its path. God’s highway will roll over every obstacle of unbelief or idolatry. As people prepare for the King, they will “straighten out” their lives through repentance from sin. The important words quoted from Isaiah, then all people will see the salvation sent from God, showed Luke’s non-Jewish audience that salvation was for all people, not just the Jews (see also Isaiah 52:10). John the Baptist called all humankind to prepare to meet Jesus.
- LIFE APPLICATION – FEAR OR FAITH?
- What motivates your faith—fear of the future, or a desire to be a better person in a better world? Some people wanted to be baptized by John so they could escape eternal punishment, but they didn’t turn to God for salvation. John had harsh words for such people. He knew that God values reformation above ritual. Is your faith motivated by a desire for a new, changed life, or is it only like a vaccination or insurance policy against possible disaster?
3:7 John was the first prophet Israel had heard in over four hundred years. When news spread that a prophet was preaching in the wilderness, crowds came out to hear him, and apparently many also believed his message and came for baptism. This sample of his preaching sounds harsh; Matthew tells us that John spoke these words specifically to “Pharisees and Sadducees,” distinguished men who had come to John not to be baptized but simply to find out what was going on (Matthew 3:7). John called them a brood of snakes (Jesus also used this term, see Matthew 12:34; 23:33), conveying how dangerous and cunning these religious leaders were and suggesting that they were Satan’s offspring (see Genesis 3; John 8:44). John asked them, “Who warned you to flee God’s coming judgment?” The Jews, and especially their self-righteous religious leaders, applied God’s judgment to the Gentiles; John warned that judgment was coming on them. John’s astonishing frankness made him popular with the people but unpopular with the religious establishment.
3:8 Confession of sins and a changed life are inseparable. Faith without deeds is dead (James 2:14-26). Those who believe must also truly turn from sin, proving by the way they live that they have really turned from their sin and turned to God.
The Jews thought that as descendants of Abraham, they were guaranteed God’s blessings and that the promise given to the patriarchs was guaranteed to all their descendants, no matter how they acted. John explained, however, that relying on Abraham as their ancestor would not qualify them for God’s Kingdom. John probably pointed at stones nearby and said, “God can change these stones here into children of Abraham.” John may have used a play on the Aramaic words for “stone” and “children” in making his point that God can make a nation for himself from whomever he chooses.
- LIFE APPLICATION – NO HAND-ME-DOWNS
- Many of John’s hearers were shocked when he said that being Abraham’s descendants was not enough for God. The religious leaders relied more on their family lines than on their faith or their standing with God. For them, religion was inherited. But a personal relationship with God is not handed down from parents to children. Everyone has to commit to it on his or her own. Don’t rely on someone else’s faith for your salvation. If you profess to having a life renewed and changed by Jesus, then make sure your actions truly show it.
3:9 God’s message hasn’t changed since the Old Testament—people will be judged for their unproductive lives. Just as a fruit tree is expected to bear fruit, God’s people should produce a crop of good deeds (3:8). John said that people who claim to believe God but don’t live for God are like unproductive trees that will be cut down. The ax of God’s judgment is poised and ready to do its work, cutting down those trees that do not bear good fruit (see Psalm 74:5-6; Jeremiah 46:22). Not only will the trees be chopped down, but they will be thrown into the fire, signifying complete destruction.
- LIFE APPLICATION-IN NAME ONLY
- We know people by their fruits, their lives. God has no use for people who call themselves Christians but do nothing about it. Like many in John’s day who were God’s people in name only, people are of no value if they are Christians in name only. If others can’t see someone’s faith in the way that person treats them, he or she may not be God’s person at all. So how are believers to bear good fruit? God calls them to be “active” in their obedience. To be productive for God means obeying his teachings, resisting temptation, actively serving others, and sharing the faith.
3:10-11 John’s preaching elicited responses from the crowd. Many asked, “What should we do?” in order to “produce good fruit” (3:8; see also Galatians 5:22-23). John responded that they could readily show compassion, such as sharing food and clothing with people in need. The word for coats is actually “tunic,” referring to a short garment worn for extra warmth under the longer robe. The person with two tunics ought to share; the same with extra food, so that no one is hungry. A person showed his repentance by being generous with the necessities of life
3:12-13 Tax collectors were notorious for their dishonesty. Romans gathered funds for their government by farming out the collection privilege. Tax collectors earned their own living by adding a sizable sum—whatever they could get away with—to the total and keeping this money for themselves. Obviously the Jews hated fellow Jews who were tax collectors. Yet, said John, God would accept even these men; God desires to pour out mercy on those who confess, and then to give strength to live changed lives. So when these men came to be baptized, they too asked what they should do to act on their repentance. John told them to collect no more taxes than was required by the government, to stop enriching themselves at the expense of their countrymen. John did not ask them to quit their jobs, only to do them honestly. Both Matthew and Zacchaeus were tax collectors (5:27-28; 19:2).
- LIFE APPLICATION – WHAT SHOULD WE DO?
- John’s message demanded at least three specific responses:
- Share what you have with those who need it.
- Whatever your job is, do it well and with fairness.
- Be content with what you are earning.
John had no time to give comforting messages to those who lived careless or selfish lives—he was calling the people to right living. What changes can you make in sharing what you have, doing your work honestly and well, and being content?
3:14 John’s powerful message even reached soldiers. Luke does not specify, but most scholars agree that these were not Roman soldiers, but Jewish soldiers who served to help keep the peace. Like the tax collectors, they stood in a separate and privileged position over the common people, capable of using their power for good or for taking advantage of people. So when the soldiers asked what they should do, John told them to quit some of their activities—such as extorting money from people and accusing people of things they didn’t do. As with the tax collectors, they were told to control their greed by being content with their pay.
- LIFE APPLICATION –TALK IS CHEAP
- Have you ever heard someone describe another person’s religious commitment by saying, “Well, she talks a good game”? Obviously, there is a difference in talking about faith and actually living it. When some soldiers—gruff, hardened, experienced military men—came to John and asked what they needed to do to get their lives right with God, he didn’t tell them to start singing in the choir or giving their testimonies. He told them to change the way they lived. John promoted an aggressive, outgoing, action-oriented way of life, not a “shelter-in-the-time-of-storm” mentality. True repentance does not consist of changing the vocabulary as much as changing the lifestyle. Talk is cheap. True repentance is costly. What has yours cost you lately?
3:15 John was obviously a great prophet, and people were sure that the eagerly awaited age of the Messiah had arrived. Some, in fact, were eager to know whether John might be the Messiah. John spoke like the prophets of old, saying that the people must turn from their sin to avoid punishment and turn to God to experience his mercy and approval.
3:16 John’s baptism with water symbolized the washing away of sins. His baptism coordinated with his message of repentance and reformation. Baptism was an “outward” sign of commitment. To be effective, it had to be accompanied by an “inward” change of attitude leading to a changed life. John’s baptism did not give salvation; it prepared a person to welcome the coming Messiah and receive his message and his baptism. Although John was the first genuine prophet in four hundred years, Jesus the Messiah would be infinitely greater than he. So much so that John would not even be worthy to be his slave.
The coming of the Spirit had been prophesied as part of the Messiah’s arrival. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire revealed the identity of the promised Messiah (see Isaiah 44:3; Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:26-27; Joel 2:28-29). The Old Testament promised a time when God would demonstrate his purifying power among people (Isaiah 32:15; Ezekiel 39:29). The prophets also looked forward to a purifying fire (Isaiah 4:4; Malachi 3:2). This looked ahead to Pentecost (Acts 2). The baptism with fire also symbolizes the work of the Holy Spirit in bringing God’s judgment on those who refuse to repent. The experience would not necessarily be like that recorded in Acts 2, but the outcome would be the same. This baptism would purify and refine each believer. When Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit, the entire person would be refined by the Spirit’s fire.
- LIFE APPLICATION –FIRED UP!
- In describing the baptism that Jesus brings, John links the ministry of the Holy Spirit with fire. Fire can give light, warm us, and cook our food. Fire can also purify. The Holy Spirit, like fire, purifies believers in a number of ways. He shines light on their hearts and in their minds, disclosing areas that need to be confessed, repented, and brought under the lordship of Christ. He uses the heat of conviction from God’s Word to prompt them to deal with their sins. He illuminates the path before believers, guiding them into all truth. Like a laser in the hands of a skillful surgeon, the Holy Spirit helps bring healing and wholeness to the believer. Have you taken time lately to let him examine you and do any necessary treatment?
3:17-18 Threshing was the process of separating the grains of wheat from the useless outer shell called chaff. This was normally done in a large area called a threshing floor, often on a hill, where the wind could blow away the lighter chaff when the farmer tossed the beaten wheat into the air. A winnowing fork is a pitchfork used to toss wheat in the air in order to separate wheat from chaff. The grain is the part of the plant that is useful; chaff is the worthless outer shell. Chaff is burned because it is useless; grain, however, is gathered.
“Winnowing” is often used in the Bible to picture God’s judgment. Jesus used the same analogy in a parable (Matthew 13:24-30). John spoke of repentance, but he also spoke of judgment upon those who refused to repent. Those who refuse to live for God are chaff, the useless outer husk of the grain. By contrast, those who repent and reform their lives are like grain. Those who refuse to be used by God will be discarded because they have no value in furthering God’s work. Those who repent and believe, however, hold great value in God’s eyes because they are beginning a new life of productive service for him.
The warnings coupled with John’s announcement of the Good News made John’s message all that much more riveting.
Herod Puts John in Prison / 3:19-20
John’s courageous ministry in the wilderness led to his imprisonment and eventually his execution.
3:19-20 While John proclaimed the Good News and warnings of judgment, he also apparently had a no-nonsense attitude toward the morality of the day. He publicly criticized Herod Antipas, ruler of Galilee (see 3:2), because he had married Herodias, his brother’s wife. Besides being his brother’s wife, Herodias was also Herod’s own niece. So Herod was committing both adultery and incest. John publicly protested these sins, as well as many other wrongs Herod had done, and so he greatly angered both Herod and Herodias. Herod put John in prison, presumably to silence him. The Herods were renowned for their cruelty and evil (Herod the Great had ordered the murder of the babies in Bethlehem, Matthew 2:16). Putting John in prison was simply adding this sin to his many others. The imprisonment of John the Baptist was only one evil act in a family filled with incest, deceit, and murder. (The full story is told in Matthew 14:1-12.)
The Baptism of Jesus / 3:21-22
Luke emphasized Jesus’ human nature. This baptism recorded here was the first public declaration of Jesus’ ministry. Instead of going to Jerusalem and identifying with the established religious leaders, Jesus went to a river and identified himself with those who were repenting of sin.
3:21-22 The words in 3:20, recording that Herod put John in prison, explained what would happen later in John’s ministry as a result of his willingness to denounce sin where he saw it. In these verses, he was still out in the wilderness, preaching and baptizing (3:16). One day, when many people were being baptized, Jesus came for baptism too.
If John’s baptism was for repentance from sin, why was Jesus baptized? Jesus didn’t need to admit sin—he was sinless (John 8:46; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 4:15; 1 John 3:5). Although Jesus didn’t need forgiveness, he was baptized for the following reasons: (1) to confess sin on behalf of the nation, as Isaiah, Ezra, and Nehemiah had done (see Isaiah 6:5; Ezra 9:2; Nehemiah 1:6; 9:1ff.); (2) to fulfill all righteousness (Matthew 3:15) in order to accomplish God’s mission and advance God’s work in the world; (3) to inaugurate his public ministry to bring the message of salvation to all people; (4) to show support for John’s ministry; (5) to identify with the penitent people of God, thus with humanness and sin; (6) to give an example to follow.
Jesus, the perfect human being, didn’t need baptism for sin, but he accepted baptism in obedient service to the Father. God showed his approval, for as he was praying, the heavens opened. Then, the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus in the form of a dove. This emphasized the way the Holy Spirit related to Jesus. The descending Spirit portrayed a gentle, peaceful, but active presence coming to anoint Jesus. It was not that Jesus needed to be filled with the Spirit (as if there were any lack in him) because he had the Holy Spirit (1:35) since his conception. Rather, this was Jesus’ royal anointing (see Isaiah 11:2; 42:1).
The Spirit descended and a voice from heaven proclaimed the Father’s approval of Jesus as his divine Son: “You are my beloved Son, and I am fully pleased with you.” The words spoken by the voice from heaven echo two Old Testament passages. First, Psalm 2:7, a messianic psalm that describes the coronation of Christ, the eternal King. The rule of Christ described in the psalm will begin after his crucifixion and resurrection and will be fulfilled when he comes to set up his Kingdom on earth. Second, Isaiah 42:1-17 describes the Servant-Messiah who would suffer and die as he served God and fulfilled his mission of atoning for sin on behalf of humanity. Thus, in the two phrases spoken, the voice from the throne of heaven described both Jesus’ status as the Servant who would suffer and die for all people, and as the King who would reign forever.
Jesus did not become the Son or the Messiah at this baptism. Jesus already had his divinity from eternity past. The opened heavens, the dove, and the voice revealed to John the Baptist (and to readers of this story) that Jesus was God’s Son, come to earth as the promised Messiah to fulfill prophecy and bring salvation to all who believe.
In 3:21-22, all three persons of the Trinity are named as present and active. The doctrine of the Trinity teaches that God is three persons and yet one in essence. God the Father speaks; God the Son is baptized; God the Holy Spirit descends on Jesus. God is one, yet in three persons at the same time. This is one of God’s incomprehensible mysteries. Other Bible references that speak of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are Matthew 28:19; John 15:26; 1 Corinthians 12:4-13; 2 Corinthians 13:13; Ephesians 2:18; 1 Thessalonians 1:2-5; and 1 Peter 1:2.
- LIFE APPLICATION- WHY WAS JESUS BAPTIZED?
- Some theologians have been troubled by Jesus’ allowing himself to be baptized by John. After all, baptism was for sinners. Why did Jesus agree to undergo baptism? He did it because he is both God and man—in identifying with people, he underwent their baptism; in his role as God, he both gives the Holy Spirit and receives the anointing of the Spirit as the one and only Son, in whom the Father is well pleased. God and man, two natures in one Person. He gives the Holy Spirit and life, as only God can; he undergoes baptism and even death, as only a human can. He represents the sacrifice for sins before the Father, and he communicates the Father’s love. When you are hurting, depressed, broken, remember: you have a Savior who understands your humanity. When you sin, remember: He has paid the price for your disobedience. When you follow God in obedience, remember that Jesus did too.
The Record of Jesus’ Ancestors / 3:23-38
Although many Bible readers either skip over the extensive genealogies in the Bible or read through them quickly (Genesis 4–5; 1 Chronicles 1–9), it is important to pause at these genealogies and recognize their significance. Unlike Matthew, who provides a genealogy to Abraham (Matthew 1:1-17), Luke provides a genealogy that reaches back to the beginning of human history—to Adam himself (3:38). This is the point: Jesus is not only the fulfillment of the promises given to Abraham (3:34) and to King David (3:31), but the embodiment of perfect humanity. And unlike Matthew and Old Testament genealogies, Luke starts with the most recent names and works backward. This procedure enables him to end with “Son of God” (cf. Luke 1:35; Luke 3:22; Luke 4:3).
- Thirty was the age when the priests began their work (Numbers 4:3).
- Thirty was also the age when a Scribe was allowed to begin his teaching ministry.
- Thirty was the age whan a man was thought to reach full development and maturity.
- LIFE APPLICATION – WAITING ON GOD
- Imagine the Savior of the world working in a small-town carpenter’s shop until he was thirty years old! It seems incredible that Jesus would have been content to remain in Nazareth all that time, but he patiently trusted the Father’s timing for his life and ministry. Like Jesus, believers need to resist the temptation to jump ahead before receiving the Spirit’s direction. Are you waiting and wondering what your next step should be? Don’t jump ahead—trust God’s timing. In the meantime, do what he wants you to do, right where you are.
Matthew included a genealogy of Jesus at the very beginning of his Gospel because his Jewish audience would have wanted to know Jesus’ heritage. A person’s family line proved his or her standing as one of God’s chosen people, so Matthew showed that Jesus was a descendant of Abraham, the father of all Jews, and a direct descendant of David, fulfilling Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah’s line.
Luke’s genealogy begins by saying that Jesus was known as the son of Joseph . . . the son of Heli. Genealogies were always traced through the fathers, so Luke begins with the man who was “thought” to be Jesus’ father, Joseph. Although God was Jesus’ Father, God had a reason for placing him in this particular line with Mary as his mother and Joseph as his legal father.
Luke accomplished his goal for this genealogy—to establish for his Gentile readers Jesus’ direct connection, not only with the promises recorded in the Jewish scriptures, but also with the entire human race. Jesus came for all people.
Until tomorrow, Darrell
Bible Background Commentary, Bible Knowledge Commentary, Life Application Bible Commentary, Life Application Concise New Testament Commentary and Preacher’s Outline and Sermon Bible – Commentary
For more about The Ridge Fellowship or Darrell Koop, go to www.ridgefellowship.com