See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes….. – Malachi 4:5
The last book of the Old Testament ends with letting the people of Israel know, that before the coming of our Lord, there will be another prophet like Elijah who will warn the nation to turn from their evil ways.
John the Baptist Prepares the Way
As we have seen in the previous chapters, Luke begins to recount the life of John by giving a parallel historical point of reference. This would have helped his largely Gentile audience, to better relate to his narrative, with memorable lifetime events and perhaps even gave context to his message.
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, … during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. – Luke 3:1-3
The key figures involved in the crucifixion of Jesus are mentioned right at the start of Luke’s Gospel. Annas and Caiaphas were the high priests, who charged Jesus with blasphemy (John 18). Herod and Pilate kept shrugging off the execution of an innocent man until Pilate eventually gave the orders to hang Jesus on a cross (Luke 23).
During this time, John finally came out of the wilderness and began preaching from the book of Isaiah.
“A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. And all people will see God’s salvation.’” Luke3:4-6
When the people heard that God’s salvation was available to all, they poured in great numbers at the banks of the Jordan River where John was baptizing them. For the first time, coming into the fold of God did not seem like joining an exclusive club, which handed out memberships only to the children of their alumni.
Similarities in the sermons of John and Jesus
The message of John was almost a blueprint of what Jesus would later preach. Like using the same metaphor for disciples, who did not want to fulfill the will of God in their lives,
John: The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. – Luke 3:9
Jesus: If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down. – Luke 13:9
and the one below where both talk about not worrying with regards to earthly possessions.
John: Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same. – Luke 3:11
Jesus: And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. – Matthew 5:40
The Jews wondered in their hearts whether John might possibly be the Messiah but when Jesus preached on the same lines in Nazareth, they rejected him immediately (Luke 4:14-30). The world will always try to distract us and profess the wrong person as being the Messiah but the Holy Spirit will always help us in recognizing the true Messiah.
John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. – Luke 3:16
John rightly diverted the attention he was getting on proclaiming the Gospel. He called himself a simple messenger and said that all glory belonged only to the one who was coming after him. When doing the work of God, we must not let others put us up on a pedestal but reserve the praises only for God, who works in and through all of us.
Baptism of Holy Spirit and Fire
In ancient Jewish rituals, immersion in a water body was required to convert a Gentile to Judaism. But John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance for everyone, even the Jews. This would have been a rude awakening for the Jews who thought their lineage assured their safe passage to heaven. John makes a clear distinction between the baptism of repentance that he ministered and the baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire that the Messiah would bring.
Geneology of Jesus
The Jews knew that the Messiah would come from the line of David, Luke notes that Jesus was thirty years old when he began his ministry. Everyone thought that Jesus was only a mere carpenter’s son. So Luke traced a different genealogy that led up to Jesus being the Son of God.
- Jesus waited for 18 years before starting his ministry when the Spirit led him, what can we learn from this?
- John was arrested and later beheaded. Did John’s outspokenness act as a barrier to his true Mission?
- Why did Jesus take the baptism of repentance before starting his ministry? What did he have to repent for?