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John the Baptist: Luke 3:1-6

Jeffrey A. Gibbs

Second Sunday in Advent
Luke 3:1-6

December 7, 1997

Exegetical notes: The text presents a striking contrast and a repeated emphasis. The striking contrast is between Luke's lengthy introductory dependent clauses (thirty-nine words, fully one third of the appointed text) and verse two's main clause of only eleven words. Luke names the rulers of the earth, Roman and Jewish, imperial and local, secular and religious, only in order to contrast their prominence and power with the event of greatest importance: "the word of God came to John, son of Zechariah, in the desert." The strong echo of Jeremiah 1:1 ("the word of God, which came to Jeremiah, son of Hilkiah) further invites the contrast, for Jeremiah is the prophet who is given the Lord's word and appointed "over nations and kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant" (Jer. 1:10). Neither to the rulers nor in their places does God come. The word of God comes to John, in the desert.

The repeated emphasis of the text is the word of God. It is the Á·²± ¸µ¿° that came to John. Then, John went and Luke says that he preached a repentance-baptism for the forgiveness of sins. Finally, the citation from Isaiah 40:3-5 identifies John as the "voice of one crying in the desert". The word of God that came to John is the operative power. The people come, repentant, to John's baptism and receive forgiveness because he preached that such was their need. John's whole ministry is an "oral" one. He is a voice, and in speaking he accomplishes the preparatory upheavals and reversals prophesied by Isaiah 40:3-5.

The metaphors of verse 5 bespeak the radical nature of repentance and forgiveness. This is conversion, the radical turning away from self and all idols to the truth of the God of Israel. This is forgiveness of sins, the restoration of Israel to the Lord their God. And it is for all: every ravine, every mountain and hill, all flesh.

When the changes are accomplished, what will those who have been changed see? The salvation of God. Isaiah foretold it. Simeon has already said it: "My eyes saw your salvation" (Luke 2:30). Without repentance and resulting faith, Israel doesn't even see Jesus. With the repentance and faith worked by God's Word, Israel-and all people look at the infant Jesus in the temple who becomes the crucified, risen, ascended Lord and in Him we see the salvation sent from God.

Introduction: There's lots to be done this busy time of year. It's crucial to be efficient, to do things the way they should be done.

There's lots to do in the church, and lots of different ways of doing different things. But the most important thing is preparing for our God, being ready to receive Him and to rejoice. The most important thing is for us to be Christians, and for us to be engaged in helping others to be Christians. The biggest and hardest job of all.

The Right Tool for the Right Job

I. The job ahead of John the Baptist was bigger than ever before.

A. Judah in the sixth-century exile.

1. Comfort a people and bring them back to their land.
2. It happened, through the Word of the Lord.

B. Judea and Galilee in the first century..and all the world.

1. All of Caesar's domain; all flesh.
2. Israel had lost their way, like sheep. A whole world people covered by the guilt of their sins.
3. It's no less a challenge today.

a. Keeping us in the faith.
b. Bringing others into our Advent faith.
c. This is a huge task-like shaving off the mountains and filling in valleys.

II. John used the one tool that he had; the tool that he was.

A. He was a voice; he spoke the word; he preached

1. Baptism of repentance-human need, lostness, sin.
2. For the forgiveness of sins-God's full and free forgiveness.

B. The changes happened. The people came out. They repented. They turned. They were baptized. They believed.
C. Their eyes were open, and they could see.

1. Like Simeon.
2. Like the thief on the cross.
3. God's salvation is Jesus, casting down the mighty from their thrones, exalting those of low degree. God's Word, proclaimed by John, opens eyes to see.

III. It is still the same for us today.

A. John's baptism is gone, now, caught up and fulfilled in Christian Baptism.
B. But the sin is still there, and the Word still has to do the job that only God's Word can do.
C. The right tool for the right job!

1. Rejoice in what the Word has done in us!
2. Hold firm to that Word, and use it to bring others to see their salvation in Jesus Christ.

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