Luke 3:1-20

Parallel Accounts: Matt 3:7-17; Mk 1:1-11; Jn 1:29-34

1In 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— 2during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert. 3He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 4As 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. 5Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. 6And all mankind will see God's salvation.' "

7John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. 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. 9The axe 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."

10"What should we do then?" the crowd asked.

11John answered, "The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same."

12Tax collectors also came to be baptized. "Teacher," they asked, "what should we do?"

13"Don't collect any more than you are required to," he told them. 14Then 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."

15The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Christ. 16John answered them all, "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. 17His 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." 18And with many other words John exhorted the people and preached the good news to them.

19But when John rebuked Herod the tetrarch because of Herodias, his brother's wife, and all the other evil things he had done, 20Herod added this to them all: He locked John up in prison.

Opening Note

In this passage, we have the fulfillment of what Gabriel prophesied about Zechariah's son in Luke 1:16-18.

Main Points

1. The events of Luke's gospel account are rooted in history (vv. 1-2).

Luke takes care to provide the political context (vv. 1-2) of John the Baptist's ministry as part of his intention to assure Theophilus that his account is grounded in historical fact (1:3-4).

See also 2 Pe 1:16-18: "We did not follow cleverly invented stories..."

2. The way individuals can prepare themselves to meet Christ is by repenting of sin (vv. 3-6).

What is sin? - rebellion against, and/or indifference to, the rule of God - all people are guilty upon birth of this (Ps 51:5; Ecc 7:20; Rom 3:10-18; 23) and are under His wrath (Rom 1:18-32)

What is repentance? - turning away from a life of offending God - Eze 18:30-32

Why is repentance needed? - because of the impending judgment of God's wrath (vv. 7, 9, 17) upon those who don't repent.

Is it a one-time act? - No. Although a believer's initial (genuine) act of repentance and faith ushers in an unbreakable relationship with God (Acts 3:19-21; Rom 8:18-39), the Christian's life is to be marked by an ongoing repentance (reflect on what Christ often commands the churches to do in Rev. 2 and 3).

3. Genuine faith and repentance are shown by their fruit (vv. 8-9).

- Horticultural imagery is used quite often in Scripture (e.g. Ps 1:1-4; Mt 7:15-23; Jn 15:1-8; Rom 7:4), partly to make this point: just as firmly rooted plants and trees must bear fruit, so must genuine Christians show evidence of a transformed life, because God has given them new life and is at work in them (Rom 8:28-30; Eph 2:8-10; Phil 1:6; 2:12-13; Tit 2:11-14)

4. A spiritual heritage cannot save anyone (v.8).

"do not say for yourselves, we are Abraham's children..." (v.8)

-As can be inferred from what Paul says about the faith of Timothy's grandmother and mother (2 Tim 1:3-5), being part of a family or community of faith can be a great privilege for people.

-Yet, at a point in time when the people of Israel had the message of God's grace proclaimed to them, what "they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith" (Heb 4:1-3).

5. Some fruits of repentance are a generosity in giving; a refusal to abuse a position of power; and a contentment with what one has (vv. 10-14).

John's words to the tax collectors and soldiers are also appropriate for all of God's people:

Giving - we are called to share with those in need, in view of God's mercy to us (Rom 12:1-13)
Not taking advantage of people - positions of power and privilege can easily tempt us to do so, but we are called to serve (Lk 22:24-26)
Contentment - knowing that we have "every spiritual blessing" in Christ (Eph 1:3), we are called to always put our hope in God and not the uncertainty of riches (Lk 12:13-21; 1 Ti 6:6-10; 17-19; Heb 13:5-6).

6. Christ reveals Himself as a Judge as well as a Savior (vv. 15-17).

"winnowing fork is in his hand" (v. 17) - as a farmer separates the wheat from the chaff, so the Lord Jesus separates those whom He shows mercy to, and those whom He will judge with perfect justice.

7. Exhortation is part of faithful gospel proclamation (v. 18).

The NIV doesn't capture what John is truly saying here:

"So with many other exhortations he preached the gospel to the people." (v. 18, NASB)

This can raise an eyebrow from many Christians: "Wait a minute - aren't exhortations associated with Law? And I thought the gospel was a message of free grace- what's going on here?"

We can understand this verse better if we realize two things:

a) The call to repent and believe in Christ can be understood as good news, in the sense that it holds out hope to the sinner by revealing God's mercy, but it is a command nonetheless.

b) If the gospel is viewed by believers as not merely as the work of Christ in saving us from the wrath of God through the payment of His own blood (although that is central - Rom 3:21-26; 8:32), but ultimately as the entire work of God in justifying, sanctifying and glorifying His people (Rom 8:30) so that they may be with Him and know Him forever (Jn 17:3; 1 Th4:13-18; Rev 21:1-4), then to say that God's exhortations to believers function as part of the gospel starts to makes sense. How?

Exhortations are some of the means by which God directs His people on the path towards holiness, so they are made "fit" to enjoy Him forever in the new kingdom (Ps 19:7-11; Jer 32:40; Eph 5:25-27; Php 2:12-13; Heb 12:14; 2 Pe 3:10-16). So exhortations (and our humble reception of them) do not call into question the assurance of our salvation; rather, they confirm it.

8. Telling the truth will bring opposition to God's people (vv. 19-20).

- Herod the Tetrarch's imprisonment of John is a reminder to all believers to "not be surprised... if the world hates you" (1 Jn 3:13; see also Acts 5:27-42 and 2 Co 2:15-16)

Discussion Questions

a. According to this passage, what does a genuine belief in Jesus Christ involve?

b. What are the benefits and dangers to someone who has had a "Christian upbringing"?

c. Which of the examples of "fruits of repentance" that John gives here is particularly challenging for you to bring forth? Why?