Summary: Repentance and its relationship to the truth. 1. The Truth may not be easy to hear. 2. The Truth demands change. 3. The truth is the same for everyone.
A Study of the Book of Luke
Sermon # 6
It’s Time to Turn
Dr. John R. Hamby
Approximately eighteen years have passed since Mary and Joseph found their lost twelve-year old son in the temple, “going about his fathers business” (2:49). During the years after their return to Nazareth, Luke says that Jesus kept “increasing in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and men” (2:52). At the same time Luke writes that that our Lord’s cousin, John “…continued to grow and to become strong in spirit, and he lived in the deserts until the day of his public appearance to Israel ” (1:80).
Luke wanted his friend Theophilus, for whom this gospel account is written to remember how spiritually dark the world scene was before the appearance of John the Baptist, began to “preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins,” and John’s cousin Jesus Christ, the Light of the World, was revealed as “the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). He therefore begins by looking at who occupied the seats of highest authority in the land at the time. “Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea (I’-tu-re’-ah) and the region of Trachonitis, (Tra-ko-ni’-tis) and Lysanias (li-sa’ni-as) tetrarch of Abilene, (2) while Annas (also Ananias) and Caiaphas were high priests,”
Luke begins with a list: it would take some doing to assemble a more wicked company of scoundrels; Tiberias, the Roman emperor wanted to be a god; Pilate, the Roman governor was despised and feared; Herod, the occupant of the Jewish throne, was unbalanced, dangerous and cruel; all were noted as men who wanted more than anything else to retain their power. Ananias’ legacy was that he controlled the high priest office for three decades through his sons (6-15 A.D.) and his son-in-law, Caiaphas (18-36 A.D.).
It was against this backdrop of political and religious darkness that “the word of God came to John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness” (v. 2).
As a son of a legitimate priestly family John could have served in the temple, dressed in the finest clothes, eaten from the best of meats and bread sacrifices. However, he came dressed in a camel hair garment, a leather belt and had a daily diet of locust and wild honey (Mark 1:6). He confronted the nation as the first authentic prophet in over 400 years: as God’s messenger, with God’s message and declaring God’s judgment.
I believe that what John was saying through his appearance was, “What you see in me and where I am from is what you are spiritually.” The wilderness where John preached was a symbol of the spiritual barrenness that Israel was experiencing. Spiritually speaking the nation of Israel was living in the wilderness of unbelief, and the road to spiritual truth were twisted and in despair. The priesthood was corrupt and scribes and Pharisees were hypocrites. The people desperately needed to hear a voice from God.
1. THE TRUTH MAY NOT BE EASY TO HEAR (vv. 3-6)
“And he went into all the region around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins, (4) as it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, saying:“ The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the LORD; Make His paths straight. (5) Every valley shall be filled And every mountain and hill brought low ;The crooked places shall be made straight, And the rough ways smooth;(6) And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”
John came bearing the message of repentance. The word repent today carries a lot of baggage. The Hebrew and Greek behind the English word means “turn back,” “change,” and “turn around.” They imply an understanding that the simple act of turning is reflective of a change of heart and mind. Repentance prepares the way for Jesus to come into our hearts.
A unique feature of John’s ministry was baptism. Baptism was nothing new to the people; the Jews baptized Gentile converts to Judaism. But John was baptizing Jews and this was unusual.
John said, “Turn back to God and be baptized. Then your sins will be forgiven.” This does not mean that baptism brings forgiveness of sins. In fact, John’s baptism followed each person’s repentance and was a sign of it. John applied the pressure to people to take an honest look at them selves and then to change. Young and old, high born and common man, priest and soldier were asked to meet the challenge.
John was full of the Spirit and preaching with such effect that the multitudes that came out to hear him visibly fell under conviction, resulting in many repenting of their sins and ten asking for John’s baptism. Entering the waters of the Jordan physically demonstrated the person’s spiritual willingness to have the Messiah forgive his sins.