Stories with Luke Week 2:
Pastor Terry Inman
If there is anything we could predict about 2017, it’s get prepared for a year of change! Luke introduces us to John the Baptist’s prophetic ministry. He was sent to get people prepared for the coming Messiah.
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene— during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert. (Luke 3.1-2 NIV)
There are several times in the scriptures when “the word of the Lord” comes to the prophets at specific times identified by rulers and events.
Luke mentions a long list of governmental and religious rulers here—but God speaks though His prophet living in the desert! “The word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert.”
God’s people spent a lot of time in the desert during their exodus from Egypt. We all go through deserts—times when we feel spiritually dry. But if we learn to hear his word there, will it bring us though to new freedom.
Today this could read something like this. In the year Donald Trump took office the “word of the Lord” came to his prophets. The “word” in God’s house is far more significant than the tweets from the White house!
As our new President is inaugurated this week let’s pray for his success. There are negative and positive reactions to him on both sides of the political spectrum, but God will have the last word! He is non-partisan!
Luke told us about the unique births of John and Jesus. Now He tells us the stories of their early ministry. Both were rather short lived.
Zachariah the priest prophesied over his son at birth.
“You, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins…” …because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”
(Luke 1.76-80 NIV)
John came to guide people in the dark to the light.
According to Luke John called for water baptism as a visible sign of repentance for forgiveness. Repentance is a theme in Luke’s stories.
He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Repentance (metanoia) is a transformative change of heart. It’s a spiritual metamorphosis.
John’s preaching was a fulfillment of prophecy. “As is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet: “A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘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 mankind will see God’s salvation.’” (Luke 4.4-6 NIV)
Road construction and improvement was customary for arriving Kings or other dignitaries. The El Camino Real, “the way of the King”, now Highway 82, here in the bay area, once linked the early California Missions.
One of my favorite pastimes as a child was road building in a mound of dirt in the back yard. I still have my collection of Tonka trucks.
John was clearing a path for the Messiah. He was a voice calling out in the desert; “prepare the way” for the Lord. Fill in the ditches, level the ground, straighten the curves, and remove obstacles.
Are there obstacles in our lives--things that obstruct God’s love for us? Are we getting things straightened out? Isaiah mentions a highway of holiness in the desert. “a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness. The unclean will not journey on it; it will be for those who walk in that Way; wicked fools will not go about on it.” (Isa. 35.8 NIV)
Is there a voice calling out to us today? Prepare the way of the Lord! What changes of heart will clear a path for the Lord’s presence! Listen to the Holy Spirit. What do you think he might be saying to us right now?
John’s preaching was attractive but also provocative. He challenged motivations and demanded evidence of repentance. John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. (Luke 3.7-8 NIV) Mark has him saying this to Pharisees.
Religious affiliation is not enough. “And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 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 NIV)
Jesus gave his life for us. Our salvation is free, but he does expect our relationship with him to bear fruit. Jesus said, “If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.” (John 15.6 NIV)
Jesus came for all people—not just those in the Jewish family tree. Our Christian heritage is great but each of us must demonstrate our own heart change. John gives some practical ideas on what that may look like.
The crowds coming out to see John asked what they should do to repent. (Luke 3.10 NIV) His answer suggests some radical behavioral changes.
Sharing our recourses is one way we demonstrate repentance. John answered, “The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same.” (Luke 3.11NIV)
Tunics were like short vests worn under an outer coat in the winter. You might want layers but if someone else has none—give it away. It OK to have things but excessive wealth in the face of others poverty is sinful.
In Matt 25 Jesus said, “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was naked and you clothed me. What you do for the least of these brothers of mine you do for me.” What to have that you can share?
Business or work-related integrity is also a way to express repentance. “Tax collectors also came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?” “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them. (Luke 3.12-13 NIV)
Luke tells the story of Zacchaeus the repentant Tax Collector. Tax Collectors were hated. They consorted with the Romans and took advantage of their own people. Jesus showed him acceptance by going to his house. He repented and refunded four times what he had extracted.
Promoting justice and equality is repentant. Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?” He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.” (Luke 3.14)
We are concerned about moral issues in America and we should be. But economic and social justice should not be left to the liberal politicians. The church of Jesus Christ must address poverty and racial inequality!
Apparently some thought John was the coming deliver. “The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Christ.” (Luke 3.15 NIV) John had an answer for them…
“I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire. And with many other words John exhorted the people and preached the good news to them. (Luke 3.16-17 NIV)
John’s message was tough love. It was good news!
John was definitely not competing with his cousin. He said, “Jesus is more powerful”. He also felt unworthy to remove his sandals--probably a reference to a servant’s foot washing role.
John knew his purpose was to prepare people for Jesus arrival. In the gospel of John he said, "A person can receive only what is given them from heaven…I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him…He must become greater; I must become less." (John 3.27-30 NIV)
A “baptism of fire” doesn’t sound like good news. John’s water baptism was a familiar preparatory cleansing rite for temple worship. Jesus would start a fire. Luke explains this with an agricultural metaphor. Harvested wheat was separated from chaff by tossing it into the air with a pitchfork.
The light chaff would blow away. It was gathered and burned.
After his resurrection and ascension Jesus sent the fire of the Holy Spirit. One of the functions of the Spirit is refinement. Fire is revealing and purifying. “When he comes, he’ll expose the error of the godless world’s view of sin, righteousness, and judgment: He’ll show them that their refusal to believe in me is their basic sin. (John 16.8-10 MSG) Jesus sent His Spirit to set a fire in us. A fire of purity, passion, and power!
Prophets pay a price. We don’t like people telling us how to behave. Luke reports King Herod’s reaction to John’s preaching. When John rebuked Herod the tetrarch because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and all the other evil things he had done, Herod added this to them all: He locked John up in prison. (Luke 3.19-20 NIV)
Mark’s gospel adds the detail of John’s beheading. Herodias seduced Herod with her daughters dancing. She asked for John’s head on a platter. This seems so far removed from our culture but there are more Christians being martyred today than at any time in history. Every five minutes a Christian is being martyred for their faith.
This may sound ominous but the early believers considered it a gift. They fully anticipated the joy of living in Christ’s presence. We may not face martyrdom but we will face opposition. “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12-13 NIV)
We are living in times when it will become more challenging to be visible and vocal about our faith. However this is when the church is at its best!
Luke concludes the story with a handoff between John and Jesus. “When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3.21 NIV)
First Jesus identifies with all the people. He didn’t need to be baptized for repentance. He had done no wrong. John was hesitant. He thought Jesus should baptize him. Matthew records Jesus insisting on baptism to fulfill all righteousness. (Matt 3.15) His father was pleased! There was an open heaven. The Holy Spirit came upon him and His father affirmed him.
What will we do this year to please Him and prepare our heart Him