[Luke 3] The Message of Repentance Given to John: In chapter 3 of Luke, we learn something of the message of John the Baptist. John clearly preached repentance, but it was a different word used here preaching to unredeemed men, than the word repent used in speaking to those who have been born again. What is the difference between the sinner’s repentance and the Christian’s repentance? Is there any need having been born again for us to ever repent again? The message of Luke 3 gives us insight into this question.
[Luk 3:1-38 KJV] 1 Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judaea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of Ituraea and of the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias the tetrarch of Abilene, 2 Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests, the word of God came unto John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness. 3 And he came into all the country about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins; 4 As it is written in the book of the words of Esaias the prophet, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. 5 Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways [shall be] made smooth; 6 And all flesh shall see the salvation of God. 7 Then said he to the multitude that came forth to be baptized of him, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance, and begin not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to [our] father: for I say unto you, That God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. 9 And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: every tree therefore which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. 10 And the people asked him, saying, What shall we do then? 11 He answereth and saith unto them, He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do likewise. 12 Then came also publicans to be baptized, and said unto him, Master, what shall we do? 13 And he said unto them, Exact no more than that which is appointed you. 14 And the soldiers likewise demanded of him, saying, And what shall we do? And he said unto them, Do violence to no man, neither accuse [any] falsely; and be content with your wages. 15 And as the people were in expectation, and all men mused in their hearts of John, whether he were the Christ, or not; 16 John answered, saying unto [them] all, I indeed baptize you with water; but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire: 17 Whose fan [is] in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and will gather the wheat into his garner; but the chaff he will burn with fire unquenchable. 18 And many other things in his exhortation preached he unto the people.
In chapter 3 we meet Annas and Caiaphas, the high priests who colluded in the trial and consequent execution of Jesus. Why does the verse mention two names instead of just one? Annas was actually the high priest when Jesus was born, but was removed by the Romans when Jesus was about 13 years old. Annas was removed, but five of his sons were high priest after him, and Caiaphas, Annas son-in-law was in power when Jesus was tried and crucified. Although Caiaphas was the official high priest, Annas was the power behind the throne, as it were. When Jesus was first taken from the garden of Gethsemane, He was taken first to Annas, and then to Caiaphas, before being turned over the Pilate.
It was during the joint tenure of Annas and Caiaphas that John the Baptist began to make his voice heard in the wilderness from the banks of the Jordan, preaching repentance for remission of sins. He was as Isaiah prophesied, the voice of one crying in the wilderness, “prepare the way of the Lord.” It was certain that the people who came to John and heard his message, though he was predicting the imminent arrival of the Messiah who would drive out the Romans and restore the kingdom of Israel to its former glory. It would be good for us to remember the prophetic declarations of John’s father Zacharias from chapter 2, however that did not suggest in any way that this nationalistic perspective of the coming of the Messiah would be the true message that John as the forerunner of Christ would declare. Zechariah described the ministry of his son John as that of dealing with much deeper and spiritual concerns, not only of consequence for Israel as a nation but for all the gentile nations as well:
[Luk 1:76-77 KJV] 76 And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways; 77 To give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins,
The Jews wanted to hear that they would be saved from the consequence of their sins, but the true message of John was that they would be saved from their sins that brought upon them the penalties of Roman domination. This was not a message they were prepared to hear. They never considered sin to be anything other than part and parcel of the human condition. Their understanding of the law was not to do away with sin, but to mitigate it through ceremonial law and animal sacrifice. God was working in Christ to do much, much more than this. His plan was to do away with animal sacrifice, the temple of Herod and the ceremonial laws for these were only a shadow of which Christ was the substance. To the Jews, who never looked beyond their own self-sufficiency this was blasphemy.
When John preached repentance, what was he actually saying? If you study the word repentance in the preaching of John to unredeemed men, and references to repentance taught to Christians in the early church you will find they are two different things. When the New Testament speaks to unbelievers of repentance, the word means to “abhor” or hate evil. When the New Testament speaks to Christians, having been born again and indwelt by the Holy Ghost the word repentance doesn’t mean simply to hate or abhor evil but to abandon evil altogether. Do you see the difference? A non-believer, hearing the message of the gospel, is only capable under the conviction of the Holy Ghost at that moment, to hate his sin, and to hate or abhor his sinful condition, for which accepting Jesus is the cure. Having once accepted Jesus as savior, the believer is now empowered not just to hate sin, but to abandon it altogether.
[Rom 6:14 KJV] 14 For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.
Sadly, we live in a day that many Christians do not have a sense of their own sin. Sin to them is an archaic term that has little bearing on their lives, and certainly very little actual frame of reference to any specific heart condition or action on their part. Sin, like teachings on hell is not in vogue. We have been taught by our school system that there is no objective right or wrong, that everyone has their own personal truth and that ideas of universal right or wrong are only useful in terms of keeping an orderly society while each person goes their own way, living as they please as long as they maintain tolerance of every other person’s choices. The Christian worldview however is very different, or at least it should be. Sin is a condition every one of us are born to, because of Adam’s transgression. We are born enemies of God and outside of saving grace. Even our most benevolent actions and sacrificial living cannot reconcile us to His mercy. Sin comes from the Greek word “hamartia” and means to “miss the mark”. What mark are we talking about? The perfect standard of God’s law. This is more than Jewish laws and statutes but the law of God in our hearts that fulfills and supersedes the laws and ordinances of Moses. In John we learn to hate evil and the sin that is hopelessly rooted in our character. In Christian repentance we aspire not only to hate sin but to identify it and abandon it altogether by the empowering grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.
19 But Herod the tetrarch, being reproved by him for Herodias his brother Philip’s wife, and for all the evils which Herod had done, 20 Added yet this above all, that he shut up John in prison. 21 Now when all the people were baptized, it came to pass, that Jesus also being baptized, and praying, the heaven was opened, 22 And the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon him, and a voice came from heaven, which said, Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased. 23 And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed ) the son of Joseph, which was [the son] of Heli, 24 Which was [the son] of Matthat, which was [the son] of Levi, which was [the son] of Melchi, which was [the son] of Janna, which was [the son] of Joseph, 25 Which was [the son] of Mattathias, which was [the son] of Amos, which was [the son] of Naum, which was [the son] of Esli, which was [the son] of Nagge, 26 Which was [the son] of Maath, which was [the son] of Mattathias, which was [the son] of Semei, which was [the son] of Joseph, which was [the son] of Juda, 27 Which was [the son] of Joanna, which was [the son] of Rhesa, which was [the son] of Zorobabel, which was [the son] of Salathiel, which was [the son] of Neri, 28 Which was [the son] of Melchi, which was [the son] of Addi, which was [the son] of Cosam, which was [the son] of Elmodam, which was [the son] of Er, 29 Which was [the son] of Jose, which was [the son] of Eliezer, which was [the son] of Jorim, which was [the son] of Matthat, which was [the son] of Levi, 30 Which was [the son] of Simeon, which was [the son] of Juda, which was [the son] of Joseph, which was [the son] of Jonan, which was [the son] of Eliakim, 31 Which was [the son] of Melea, which was [the son] of Menan, which was [the son] of Mattatha, which was [the son] of Nathan, which was [the son] of David, 32 Which was [the son] of Jesse, which was [the son] of Obed, which was [the son] of Booz, which was [the son] of Salmon, which was [the son] of Naasson, 33 Which was [the son] of Aminadab, which was [the son] of Aram, which was [the son] of Esrom, which was [the son] of Phares, which was [the son] of Juda, 34 Which was [the son] of Jacob, which was [the son] of Isaac, which was [the son] of Abraham, which was [the son] of Thara, which was [the son] of Nachor, 35 Which was [the son] of Saruch, which was [the son] of Ragau, which was [the son] of Phalec, which was [the son] of Heber, which was [the son] of Sala, 36 Which was [the son] of Cainan, which was [the son] of Arphaxad, which was [the son] of Sem, which was [the son] of Noe, which was [the son] of Lamech, 37 Which was [the son] of Mathusala, which was [the son] of Enoch, which was [the son] of Jared, which was [the son] of Maleleel, which was [the son] of Cainan, 38 Which was [the son] of Enos, which was [the son] of Seth, which was [the son] of Adam, which was [the son] of God.
Having garnered the unwanted attention of the scribes and Pharisees, John’s preaching reaches the hearing of Herod, who moves to have John imprisoned for speaking against the marriage that he entered into with his brother Philip’s wife. Here again, we see how the world responds to the message of repentance. Herod no doubt felt that John’s preaching against his personal choices was crossing a line. That attitude continues still today. It is one thing to speak generally about the need to be better people, it is another thing to point out specific things in people’s lives that need to be repented of. I remember as a pastor in central Louisiana, a situation I had to deal with in the life of an assistant pastor. This particular man served in my church and was also a business man, operating a retail business in our small town. When I would visit his business, it was always bustling with customers, perusing the shelves, shopping for the goods available there, and in the background a local AM country music station was blaring quite loudly. The problem with this particular station was that it exclusively played songs 24/7 that celebrated drunkenness, partying, adultery, sexual escapades and immorality. It was non-stop. All the while, the assistant pastor and his wife were toe tapping, singing along, whistling the tunes, and after a time something in my heart just became grieved. Gently, as lovingly as I knew how, I suggested to them that to claim to be a Christian, and not only a Christian but a church leader and to have this ungodly music blaring in their business was a contradiction to their testimony. The reaction was immediate and fierce. You would have thought I had asked them to sever a limb from their body. It created a controversy in the church. My leadership was called in question. It brought about one of the first great defections of congregational loyalty in my ministry. Not only was the man absolutely steadfast in refusing to reconsider his actions, he successfully colluded in provoking a large number of people in the church to agree with him and stand against what they considered an invasion of their privacy and personal choice.
Ask yourself the question, what would you do if a pastor approached you and began to delve into your personal life in an uncomfortable way? In the culture in which we live, this is almost universally considered to be completely inappropriate, yet the New Testament is replete with examples of Christian leaders dealing with marriage issues, matters of what groceries believers bought and where they bought them, what their drinking habits were, or business practices. If we are ever to have New Testament Christianity (if we have any interest at all to do so) we are going to have to rethink this impenetrable wall of privacy, and personal choice we have erected round about us that has effectively and quite resoundingly neutered our pastors, rendering them nothing more than Sunday morning cheerleaders, expected to give a snappy sermon fast in 30 minutes or our tithe check will be refunded.
The chapter concludes with a recitation of the genealogy of Jesus. This genealogy when compared to that found in Matthew is quite different. Matthew’s genealogy follows the line of Jesus through Solomon, whereas Luke’s genealogy follows the line of Jesus through Solomon’s older brother Nathan. There are many suggested explanations for this, in fact most scholars who consider themselves authorities in such matters claim that the divergences in the genealogy of Matthew and that of Luke constitutes a glaring error in the scripture that goes so far as to impeach the belief that God’s word could ever be considered infallible. In fact, if you study the two genealogies carefully, you will find that Matthew’s genealogy is that of the line of Mary and Luke’s genealogy is that of Joseph. Mary is not mentioned in either genealogy because genealogy was reckoned through the fathers and not through the mother, and therefore Jesus would have been named after Mary’s father instead of Mary because Mary’s father would have been seen as father, or we would say father-in-law to Joseph, even though Joseph is only Jesus’ adoptive father. This is only one of many explanations giving alternate understandings of these two different genealogies. What is interesting to note is that whichever genealogy you examine, it is clear that the line of Jesus is primarily reckoned through the sons of Bathsheba born to David and not any of his several older sons who were excluded. God is a God of grace. The Jews in their histories are loathe to even mention Bathsheba’s name yet she was honored by God to be the one through whom the lineage of the savior of the world would pass through, a sign of God’s mercy, and clemency and the thorough cleansing of sin that is put away that you and I might likewise fulfill our purposes in God.
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