Luke 3

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A Key Verse

John went throughout the region of the Jordan River, calling for people to be baptized to show that they were changing their hearts and lives and wanted God to forgive their sins.
– Luke 3:3

What’s Happening?

Fast forward: John and Jesus have grown up.  John was roaming the wilderness when “the word of God” came to him. This moment is called a “prophetic call,” the moment God tells someone to stop what they are doing and go share a message.  John got people’s attention, for good and bad.  Even while calling his listeners “children of snakes,” people were touched and motivated to change their ways.  But not everyone liked it, leading to John’s arrest by the local ruler Herod.

Jesus was one of John’s followers.  It is not clear how long Jesus had spent with John, but it seems that being a learner and follower for a time was part of how Jesus “matured” and prepared for his own time of leading.

This Chapter’s Mini-Message

John the Baptist Preaching, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, 18th century Italy

John the Baptist’s message

3 In the fifteenth year of the rule of the emperor Tiberius—when Pontius Pilate was governor over Judea and Herod was ruler over Galilee, his brother Philip was ruler over Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was ruler over Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas—God’s word came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. John went throughout the region of the Jordan River, calling for people to be baptized to show that they were changing their hearts and lives and wanted God to forgive their sins.

A Youth choir from the Disciples of Christ denominational
conference sing “Standing on the Banks of the Jordan,”
a contemporary hymn that ties together themes of
the Jordan River from the Old and New Testaments
This is just as it was written in the scroll of the words of Isaiah the prophet,

A voice crying out in the wilderness:
Prepare the way for the Lord;
make his paths straight.
Every valley will be filled,
and every mountain and hill will be leveled.
The crooked will be made straight
and the rough places made smooth.
All humanity will see God’s salvation.

3:7 baptized The ritual of baptism has roots in the mikvah, a ritual cleansing bath in Jewish tradition.  John seems to be adding new meaning to the ritual by performing it independently of the temple and as a response to personal sin rather than mikvahs which removed ritual impurities.  The word we use for baptism comes from the Greek for “immersion,” but already by the time of Jesus it had an additional definition of “ablution” or ritually cleansing, which has led to Christians disagreeing about the proper way to baptize.  The earliest Christian art shows those being baptized going naked into water and then having water poured over them.

3:7-8 children of snakes John was a passionate preacher!  John was not impressed with claiming descent from Abraham, he wanted “fruit that shows you have changed your life.”

3:12-14 tax collectors and soldiers In a conquered land, these were two of the least welcome kinds of people.  Tax collectors were often ethnically Jewish, and were reviled as sell outs who had abandoned their own people to make money from Rome.  Soldiers were foreign intruders.  But John seems to be moderate, still welcoming them, but telling them stop abusive practices like taking too much money and pocketing the extra for themselves.

Then John said to the crowds who came to be baptized by him, “You children of snakes! Who warned you to escape from the angry judgment that is coming soon? Produce fruit that shows you have changed your hearts and lives. And don’t even think about saying to yourselves, Abraham is our father. I tell you that God is able to raise up Abraham’s children from these stones. The ax is already at the root of the trees. Therefore, every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit will be chopped down and tossed into the fire.”

10 The crowds asked him, “What then should we do?”

11 He answered, “Whoever has two shirts must share with the one who has none, and whoever has food must do the same.”

12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized. They said to him, “Teacher, what should we do?”

13 He replied, “Collect no more than you are authorized to collect.”

14 Soldiers asked, “What about us? What should we do?”

He answered, “Don’t cheat or harass anyone, and be satisfied with your pay.”

Reaction to John

3:18 good news Luke tells us the John was proclaiming “good news” or “the Gospel.”  Look at the paragraph, though.  Can you find the good news in all of John’s warnings?

15 The people were filled with expectation, and everyone wondered whether John might be the Christ. 16 John replied to them all, “I baptize you with water, but the one who is more powerful than me is coming. I’m not worthy to loosen the strap of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 The shovel he uses to sift the wheat from the husks is in his hands. He will clean out his threshing area and bring the wheat into his barn. But he will burn the husks with a fire that can’t be put out.” 18 With many other words John appealed to them, proclaiming good news to the people.

19 But Herod the ruler had been criticized harshly by John because of Herodias, Herod’s brother’s wife, and because of all the evil he had done. 20 He added this to the list of his evil deeds: he locked John up in prison.

Baptism and apostles, 6th century dome mosaic. Baptistery at Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Ravenna, Italy

Jesus is Baptized

3:21 Jesus was baptized, but Luke does not explain why Jesus needed to be baptized.  There is no mention of Jesus repenting or seeking forgiveness.  But what happens next seems to hinge on his baptism, showing baptism not just as an act of repentance but as an initiation ritual, a ritual to show membership or starting something new.  Jesus is empowered to do his ministry by the Holy Spirit arriving like a dove and a heavenly voice declaring Jesus as “my Son.”

21 When everyone was being baptized, Jesus also was baptized. While he was praying, heaven was opened 22 and the Holy Spirit came down on him in bodily form like a dove. And there was a voice from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness.”

Jesus’ genealogy

3:23-30 Why a genealogy?  Here Luke shows a genealogy connecting Jesus all the way back to Adam.  The details of this genealogy conflict with other Biblical genealogies, including the one in the Matthew.  What is unique about it is that while Matthew only goes back to Abraham, showing Jesus as a Jew, Luke goes all the way to Adam, showing Jesus as a brother to all of humanity.

23 Jesus was about 30 years old when he began his ministry. People supposed that he was the son of Joseph son of Heli 24 son of Matthat son of Levi son of Melchi son of Jannai son of Joseph 25 son of Mattathias son of Amos son of Nahum son of Esli son of Naggai 26 son of Maath son of Mattathias son of Semein son of Josech son of Joda 27 son of Joanan son of Rhesa son of Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel son of Neri 28 son of Melchi son of Addi son of Cosam son of Elmadam son of Er 29 son of Joshua son of Eliezer son of Jorim son of Matthat son of Levi 30 son of Simeon son of Judah son of Joseph son of Jonam son of Eliakim 31 son of Melea son of Menna son of Mattatha son of Nathan son of David 32 son of Jesse son of Obed son of Boaz son of Sala son of Nahshon 33 son of Amminadab son of Admin son of Arni son of Hezron son of Perez son of Judah 34 son of Jacob son of Isaac son of Abraham son of Terah son of Nahor 35 son of Serug son of Reu son of Peleg son of Eber son of Shelah 36 son of Cainan son of Arphaxad son of Shem son of Noah son of Lamech 37 son of Methuselah son of Enoch son of Jared son of Mahalalel son of Cainan 38 son of Enos son of Seth son of Adam son of God.

Things to Think About
  • Luke presents John the Baptist as the one who prepared people for Jesus.  How do the things John preaches in this chapter help people follow Jesus?
  • If you have been baptized, were you fully immersed under water, was water poured on you, or was it sprinkled?  Were you an infant or was it your own choice at an older age?  Talk with your parents and your pastor or priest about why you were baptized the way you were.
A Prayer

God of perfect examples, help me like follow Jesus’ example, and guide me by the presence of your Holy Spirit as I do, Amen.

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