Summary: John the Baptist confronts the people with the truth, that they need to repent.
“The Truth Can Be Hard”
This morning you we are going to be introduced to the ministry of John the Baptist. If we were to judge John the Baptist by today’s formula for a successful ministry, he pretty much did everything wrong. He did not go to where the people were he made them come to him. He did dress in the most modern style, in fact his dress was pretty weird. He did not speak pleasantly or speak to his listeners about how to “live your best life now.” He used harsh words and told some of his listeners that they were hypocrites and “snakes in the grass.” He confronted the nation of Israel as the first authentic prophet in over 400 years: as God’s messenger, with God’s message and declaring God’s judgment. And Jesus declared that he was the greatest man born of woman (Matt.11:11).
Approximately eighteen years have passed since Mary and Joseph found their lost twelve-year old son in the temple, “going about his father’s 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. In verse one we read, “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 as an able historian prepares us for John abrupt appearance on the world’s stage by listing no less than seven historical figures to establish the date
and context of John’s ministry. 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, (although he was not Jewish) was unbalanced, dangerous and cruel; all were noted as men who wanted more than anything else to retain their power. Annas’ legacy was that although deposed by the Romans he continued to control the Jewish High Priest office for three decades first through his sons (6-15 A.D.) and then 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).
Born 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). 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.
Note with me three things about Truth.
First, The Truth May Not Be Easy To Hear. (3:3-6)
“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.’”
• Baptism of Repentance.
John came preaching the “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin” (v. 3). This does not mean that baptism brings forgiveness of sins. But rather it means baptism which follows repentance and is a sign of it. John called on people to turn away from their sins and their baptism was a sign that they had. “John’s baptism did not give salvation; it prepared the person to welcome the coming Messiah and receive HIS message and HIS baptism.” [Life Application Commentary: Luke.(Wheaton: Tyndale, 1997) p. 70]