The Advance Party part II
Topic: Gospel Verse: Luke 3:1–3:6
“THE ADVANCE PARTY”
Theme: The Word of God is given to enable lost souls to be saved through faith in Jesus Christ.
II. The “Threat Assessment” – 3:1-2a
A. The Social Bondage to Paganism – v. 1
- Our text today signals a major transition – from the birth narrative and early childhoods of John and Jesus to the beginning of the prophetic and then Messianic work to be done by these men.
- Luke, taking great care to do what he promised in Luke 1:3, provides us with an awareness of the precise context in which the events of the remainder of his Gospel will unfold.
- He begins by precisely referencing seven individuals – both political figures and religious figures that define the background for these events.
- Essentially, Luke provides the social conditions under which Israel had been enslaved – having to subject themselves to Romans civil authority.
- He begins by introducing the human sovereign – “Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar …”
- This “fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar” provides a specific historical date when the ministry of John begins.
- We know that “Tiberius” became a co-regent with Caesar Augustus as Augustus sought to thwart the will of the Senate of Rome and appoint the next Caesar.
- To do this, he appointed “Tiberius” as “Caesar” a little more than two years before his death on August 19, AD 14
- Therefore, we know that “Tiberius” became Caesar in AD 11-12 – making the “fifteenth year of [his] reign” approximately AD 26.
- This squares with the statement in Luke 3:23 that Jesus was about thirty years old when He began His public ministry. Since Jesus was born shortly before the death of Herod the Great in 4 BC, Jesus would have been 30 in 26 AD.
- He then brings the focus more precisely to the region and introduces us to the highest ranking Roman authority in the land – “… when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea …”
- “Pontius Pilate” was appointed by “Tiberius” in 26 AD and ruled in Palestine until 36 AD.
- He was a weak, vacillating ruler who exercised poor discernment on multiple occasions and ruled in fear of political pressures.
- He was the Roman leader who would ultimately give the order for the murder of Jesus because of political manipulation by the religious leadership in Jerusalem.
- Still further defined, Luke says “… and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip was tetrarch of the region of Iturea and Trachonitis …”
- “Herod” and “Philip” were two of three sons of Herod the Great whose Kingdom was divided and distributed to his sons.
- The other son was named Archelaus who “proved to be such an inept and brutal ruler that he was deposed in 6 AD and his territory (Judea, Samaria, and Idumea) was placed under the rule of Romans governors” – “Pontius Pilate” was the fifth such governor.
- The “Herod” mentioned here is Herod Antipas who ruled from 4 BC – 39 AD and had a role in the execution of John, and sought a miracle from Jesus at His trial.
- “Philip” was probably the best of the rulers, but was the man whose wife Herod Antipas stole – both had married Herodias – a marriage condemned by John as unlawful.
- Finally, Luke identifies “Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene”
- “Lysanias” is the least known of all those listed by Luke – ruling an area northwest of Damascus.
- This all shows that from the greatest of the Gentile rulers to the most incidental ruler, all of them were corrupt and oblivious to the divine authority that Jesus’ possesses and that is vested in the Word of God delivered through the prophet John.
- Each of these men were godless autocrats who did whatever they wished and were completely unconcerned about their sin and their need for forgiveness through repentance.
B. The Spiritual Bondage to Externalism – v. 2a
- As corrupt as the Gentile rulers were, there were some who were even more corrupt and dangerous to the ministry of the Messiah – “… in the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas …”
- This is a strange reference to two “high priests” who were serving as “co-priests”
- “Annas” was truly the powerful one between the two – having served as high priest until he was removed from office after some kind of tension with Pontius Pilate’s predecessor in 15 AD.
- However, the Jews still looked to him as the High Priest as the Law declares that a High Priest is one for life – cp. Numbers 35:25
- The Romans had allowed Annas’ son-in-law “Caiaphas” to be the “figure-head” high priest – he served from 18-36 AD.
- These two formed a corrupt, mafia-like reign that became a big-business utilizing the Temple trade, sacrifice sales, and money-changing as they exercised greedy and corrupt control over most of the Jewish population.
- They would grow to hate Jesus because of the way that He ripped the mask off what they were doing by means of His cleansing of the Temple and denunciation of what they were doing in a holy place.
- Their influence will be ultimately proven through the mock trials of Christ before the crucifixion where they succeeded in calling for His death.
- What are some ways that the secular culture affects the personal faith and responses to Jesus?
- How can religion be the real enemy of genuine faith?
- What are some ways that believers can interact with the culture without being compromised?
II. The “Public Announcement” – 3:2b-3
A. God Supplies the Announcement – v. 2b
- John had apparently been dwelling in “the wilderness” [ἔρημος] – a reference to being in a state of isolation, an area in Judea stretching from the hill country of Judah on the west to the shores of the Dead Sea on the east.
- John’s isolation was a form of indictment on the corruption that had overtaken the religious community in Israel – he separated from them as a form of rebuke.
- It was to him that “the word of God came … in the wilderness” –
- “The word of God” [ῥῆμα] is a reference to a spoken message – most likely a provision of exactly what God wanted John to do and say as he begins to call Israel to repentance in preparation for the arrival of the Messiah
- It was God who instigated the preaching of John – not John usurping some notable role or inventing a message that was of his own interpretation.
- God is always the One who seeks reconciliation – often being rebuffed by sinful men who refuse to respond to His love.
- God’s role in initiating John’s message is emphasized in the ways that John is described in other Gospels – cp. Mark 1:1-4; John 1:6.
B. Grace Saturates the Announcement – v. 3
- John is said to have traveled with a message of hope – “And he came into all the district around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”
- God’s message, delivered through John, was that sinners could find “forgiveness of sins” through “repentance” and submission to the Gospel
- “Repentance” [μετάνοια] describes a work of God’s grace whereby He grants the ability to have one’s attitude toward sin completely change –
- It always results in confession – the agreement with God about the heinousness of one’s sin and the propriety of its consequences – 1 John 1:9
- It always results from God’s grace whereby He grants repentance – it springs from a heart that has been changed by God – cp. 2 Timothy 2:25-26.
- This resulted in the desire to publicly identify with others who had also repented of sin – making it a “baptism of repentance” in preparation for the arrival of the Messiah.
- “Forgiveness of sins” [ἄφεσις] is the act of God’s grace whereby He frees a sinner from his sins – removing the obligation, guilt, and punishment for the failure to maintain the standard of God’s holiness – cp. Psalm 86:5; 103:12; Luke 1:76-77.
- This was a message desperately needed by Israel – a people who were staggering under the weight of sin and guilt.
- Why is it important that we recognize that the Gospel originates with God and not with us?
- What is to be learned of the repudiation by John of the religious establishment? Does this mean that organized religions are to be automatically repudiated?
- Why do people often desire forgiveness but avoid repentance and confession? How does this manifest itself in your life?
III. The “Planned Event” – 3:4-6
A. The Honor Given to the Messiah through Repentance – vv. 4-5
- Luke allows us to see the singularity of God’s eternal purpose as he declares that the blessing of forgiveness through repentance has been God’s promise for centuries – “… as it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet …” – cp. Isaiah 40:3-5
- This continuity between the ministry of John and the Old Testament prophets was essential if the Jewish people were to accept his message as from God.
- It has already been noted that John’s ministry was a specific fulfillment of this very prophecy – “The voice of one crying in the wilderness …”
- As a show of respect, honor, and devotion, citizens where a ruler is to visit would do everything that they could to “spruce up” their region – “Make ready the way of the Lord, make His paths straight.”
- Any anomaly was corrected, trash removed, streets washed, potholes filled, and whatever else is necessary was corrected, repaired, or installed – “Every ravine will be filled, and every mountain and hill will be brought low; the crooked will become straight, and the rough roads smooth …”
- Ultimately, this is a reference to the spiritual, physical, and universal characteristics that will be experienced at the 2nd Coming as Christ establishes the Millennium when the curse is lifted and Christ rules without opposition.
- However, there is an analogy present here where John is calling for individuals to spiritually respond to the coming of Christ Jesus through personal repentance through which the empty hearts are filled with truth; lofty, mountainous obstacles of sin are leveled; crooked, perverse things straightened into conformity to the truth of God’s holiness; and, “rough” roads filled with lusts, indulgences, and unbelief are smoothed.
B. The Help Given to Sinners through Grace – v. 6
- As God, through His grace, grants such repentance and provides the knowledge of the truth, His salvation is experienced by sinners.
- This is the joy of sinners who know this grace – “and all flesh will see the salvation of God.”
- It will be seen in two ways:
- It will be seen in one’s own life whereby they are converted and regenerated as new creatures for whom all things become new – 2 Corinthians 5:17.
- It will be seen by people who observe the power of God’s grace through the transformation that is unmistakable – whereby God receives glory for what He does – cp. Matthew 5:16.
- What are ways that the description of the changes that ought to be made when the Lord “visits” are evident in your life?
- Have you ever seen “the salvation of God?”
- Describe an experience where you observed the transformation of a believer that you knew as unsaved and then became a believer
- Describe the experience where you were transformed into a new creature