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).