Luke 3

Luke 3:1-14.38

Matt. 3:1-12; Mark 1:1-8.

The dates are given in Luke reckoning from the years of the Roman empire. Judea is but a province of it, the Herods are in power. All this was a very humiliating and significant circumstance for Israel — impossible if the people had been faithful to God. But God does not hide the shame of His people; on the contrary He makes it manifest by this very fact — He gives it a record in His own eternal Word, the Word that liveth and abideth for ever.

“Now, in the fifteenth year of the government of Tiberius Caesar,68 Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod Tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip Tetrarch of Ituraea and the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias Tetrarch of Abilene,69 in the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas.”39 We see from this that, although the high priests were there, yet even this holy office was affected strangely by the new circumstances of Israel. There was not one high priest but two;70 there was disorder that not only dislocated the people politically, but tainted their religious relations. However, God was faithful and His word “came upon 71 John, the son of Zacharias, in the wilderness” — even in spite of these circumstances, but in the wilderness. It is no question of the city of the great King now, but of the wilderness; and John the Baptist’s dwelling in the wilderness, and the Word of God coming upon him there, speak volumes as to the real state of the holy city. It was not to Zion that the Word of God came.

Accordingly, John “came into all the district round the Jordan,72 preaching [the] baptism of repentance for [the] remission of sins.” Repentance was what characterised John’s preaching; not but that repentance was and abides always a truth obligatory upon every sinful soul that comes to the knowledge of God. Under Christianity repentance, so far from being lessened in its character, is deepened: yet you could not say that it is characteristic of Christianity — faith is much more so. Hence in Galatians the apostle speaks of “when faith was come.” (Gal. 3:23-25). “When repentance was come” would be no description of the new thing, whereas in John the Baptist’s preaching it was the emphatic word that described the character of his message. John came therefore “preaching [the] baptism of repentance for [the] remission of sins.” He had indeed a peculiar position. It was not law simply nor even prophets, though in truth he was the greatest of prophets; none had arisen greater than John the Baptist. But it was one who was the herald of the Messiah, Whom he proclaimed to be just at the doors — yea, in their midst, as he says — and in view of His immediate coming he calls men to repentance. It was the confession of utter failure with respect to the law and despising of the prophets, but it was also to confess their sins in view of One just coming Who could and would forgive their sins. He preached therefore “[the] baptism of repentance for [the] remission of sins.” This was not arbitrary but of Divine authority. “He that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost.” He was really sent to baptize with water; but at the same time there was an intimation given to him that he should see the Spirit descending upon some special Individual — the Messiah; and that the Messiah should be a baptizer (not with water, but) with the Holy Ghost. This was his peculiar mission. Christ, and He alone, baptizes with the Holy Ghost, and this the Lord Jesus did when He went up to heaven. But John baptized upon earth with water. No doubt under Christianity baptism with water still continues and has a very important meaning, - I do not doubt a good deal deeper than John’s. It is not merely baptism unto repentance that “they should believe on him which should come after him.” But now baptism is founded on the faith of Him Who has already come and died; consequently, the great point of Christian baptism is burial (not into Christ’s life, of course, but) into His death. John could not say this; he saw a living Christ, though he spoke by the Holy Ghost of His being “the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29). How far he entered into the meaning of what he said is another matter. We know for certain that when he was thrown into prison himself afterwards, he was somewhat offended or stumbled, and sent some of his disciples to ask, “Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?” (Luke 7:19). It is clear therefore that he looked for a Christ in power to break the chains of the oppressed and to deliver the captives, as well as to preach the Gospel to the poor. But to see a Saviour despised and rejected more and more, and himself, His forerunner, languishing in a prison, these were altogether new and strange thoughts to John the Baptist. Nevertheless God had taken care that his lips should proclaim the mighty work of Christ in both its parts, as the Lamb of God taking away the sin of the world, and as the One Who baptizes with the Holy Ghost.

Now we have John the Baptist acting here according to Isaiah the prophet. “Voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” Only the Spirit of God in Luke takes care to give it the utmost breadth. “Every gorge shall be filled up, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low, and the crooked [places] shall become straight [paths], and the rough places smooth ways. And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”73 (Isa. 40:3-5). We have not this elsewhere. In Matthew, Mark, and John the quotation stops short of this. But Luke, though he begins with the Jew, does not end with him; but very decidedly goes out to all the nations. Hence expressions that would add largeness and comprehensiveness are particularly added by the Spirit here.

But another peculiarity of Luke is exemplified here also. There is not only exceeding breadth given to the ways of God, but also the Word of God in its moral power is continually enforced. So when John the Baptist speaks to the multitudes that come to be baptized of him, he warns them, as the other Evangelists do also, to flee from the wrath to come, and not to presume upon their privileges of birth, saying, “We have Abraham for [our] father74; for I say to you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children to Abraham.” Moreover, already “the axe is applied to the root of the trees”; judgment was at the door; - “every tree therefore not producing good fruit is cut down, and cast into the fire.” This process was what was now going on. So far we have what is common to Luke with Matthew. But we have afterwards what is peculiar. “And the crowds asked him, saying, What should we do then?” And then we have John the Baptist’s detailed exhortation to different classes of men. “He answering says40 to them, He that has two coats let him give to him that has none; and he that has food let him do likewise.” Although John called to repentance, it is a poor and superficial sorrow for sins that simply owns the past and judges, however strongly, the evil that has hitherto broken out in our ways. John lays down suitable conduct for those who professed to repent. God was acting Himself for His own glory in the spirit of this same grace. Repentance prepares the way for grace; it is produced by grace, of course, but at, the same time it leads into a path of grace.

So also when the tax-gatherers came to be baptized, instead of dismissing them contemptuously as a mere Jew would have done, he answers their question, “Master what should we do? And he said to them, Take no more [money] than what is appointed to you.” Notoriously they were extortioners, their rapacity was proverbial; they plundered the people of whom they were the official tax-gatherers. The soldiers similarly “asked him, saying, And we, what should we do? And he said to them, Oppress no one, nor accuse falsely; and be content with your pay.”74a It is clear that here we are warned against violence and corruption, the two great features of men left to themselves But, besides, contentedness with their pay is pressed upon them. It is remarkable how much the spirit of contentment has to do not only with the happiness of a soul but with its holiness. There is scarcely another thing that so tends to disturb our relationship with God and man as discontent. It makes an individual ripe for any evil. It helps, on a great scale, to the revolutions of nations and other social ruptures. On a smaller scale, it subverts the equilibrium of families and the right attitude of individuals as nothing else can. So we read of “unthankful, unholy” classed together by the Spirit of God. We also find unthankfulness mentioned as leading into idolatry. The Gentiles not only did not glorify God as God, but they were unthankful, and they fell into all kinds of moral depravity. There is nothing more important than to cherish a thankfulness of heart, sanctifying the Lord God in our hearts, having confidence in His goodness, and also in the certainty that He has given to ourselves individually exactly the thing that is best for us. But the only way to be thus content, whatever may be our lot, is to look at God as dealing with us in Christ for eternity.

There is thus, under the most homely words of John the Baptist, real moral wisdom from God suitable to men’s circumstances here below. We have not here heavenly things; these are the fruit of Christ’s redemption. Nevertheless, the sketch that is given us of John the Baptist’s teaching, is eminently practical, and suited to deal with the conscience and heart. And we shall find this to be always true as we advance further in our Gospel.

Luke 3:15-18.

Matt. 3:11, 12; John 1:10ff.

John the Baptist’s appearance in Israel at this moment struck them the more, because, in consequence of Daniel’s famous prophecy of the seventy weeks, and it may be other scriptures, they were at that very time waiting for the Messiah. The expectation was general over the East, no doubt through the Jews who were scattered abroad. Therefore a man so distinguished as John the Baptist was for righteousness raised the question whether he were the Christ75 or not. But his answer was always distinct. He pointed to the fact of his own baptizing with water. This was peculiar to him and a sign to Israel. But even his (if I may so say) coming by water gave him the opportunity of contrasting One Who had come after a far different sort, even looking at power, not to speak of blood. Jesus “came by water and blood.” (1 John 5:6). The point, however, that John contrasted with the water is His baptizing with the Holy Ghost. It was a Person infinitely greater than himself, One Whose dignity was such that the tie of His sandals he was not worthy to unloose; One not only mightier and more dignified, but Who would be distinguished by baptizing with the Holy Ghost and with fire baptizing with the Holy Ghost as the fruit of His first advent, and baptizing with fire as the accompaniment of the second. When the Lord Jesus comes again, He will baptize with fire; He will execute the solemn judgment of God upon the world. Baptizing with the Holy Ghost is what makes the Church (that is, God’s present assembly) separate from the Jew even.

The Acts of the Apostles may serve to make this particularly plain. When the disciples were with the Lord after His resurrection, He spoke to them of the things concerning the kingdom, besides giving them many infallible proofs of His own life in resurrection after His suffering. Among the rest, He told them that they were not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father. The Lord therefore distinguished John’s from His own mission by this. He baptized with the Holy Ghost, John only with water. Accordingly not many days after this, on the day of Pentecost, the baptism of the Holy Ghost became a fact. The Lord shed forth what was then seen and heard: the Holy Ghost came upon them, and they were thus baptized (as Paul afterwards taught — into one body; that is, the Church). Of the baptism with fire, you will observe, the Lord does not speak one word. The reason is that this was not to he accomplished then. When John is looking onwards, he sees both, but when Christ had actually suffered on the cross, He announces the one and not the other. Baptism with fire will take place when the Lord will be revealed from heaven “in flaming fire, taking vengeance on them that know not God, and them that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Thess. 1:7 f.) This is plain from verse 17: “Whose winnowing fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge41 his threshing floor, and will gather42 the wheat into his garner; but the chaff he will burn with fire unquenchable.” This is the baptism with fire.76 “Exhorting them many other things also, he announced [his] glad tidings to the people.”

Luke 3:19-20.

Then we have in Luke’s remarkable manner a compendious description of John up to his imprisonment. “But Herod the Tetrarch being reproved by him as to Herodias the wife of his brother,43 and as to all the wicked things which Herod had done, added this also to all[the rest], that he shut up John in prison.” The object is to present a full picture of John77; and hence Luke does not adhere to mere time any more than Matthew, does. Whatever adds to the moral description is Luke’s province. John was faithful not only to the lower classes, but also to the highest. His testimony to Christ was decisive, making nothing of his own glory in order to exalt the Lord; and he suffered for it too; he was shut up in prison because of righteousness.

Luke 3:21, 22.

Matt. 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11.

And now the door is open for presenting Jesus. And it came to pass “all the people having been baptized, and Jesus having been baptized, and praying, the heaven was opened.” How lovely the picture! The Lord, perfect as He was, did not keep Himself aloof from the people. Morally separate from sinners, nevertheless their confession of sin, which was implied in their baptism, attracted the Lord’s heart, and He would be with them, though Himself absolutely sinless. The Holy Jesus also being baptized, and praying — so thoroughly was He found taking His place as the dependent Man upon earth, and while He was praying — the heavens were opened “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 have found my delight.”78 The heavens had never opened before, except in judgment when Ezekiel had seen them. But there was an object upon earth that even God could look upon with delight. There was none in heaven that was adequate to draw out and fix the attention of God; nothing could solicit His complacency: a creature could not, but Jesus, because He was not only God but perfect man, was precisely what met the love of God — of His heart. It was God’s delight to look down and see a Man Who could answer to all His affections and nature and mind and judgment about everything. This is beautiful, and shows what the grace of God is in connection with His being baptized when all the people were. Man as such knows nothing of the mind of God. As the heavens are high above the earth, so are His thoughts higher than our thoughts; and the heavens now answer to Jesus on the earth, and the Holy Ghost descends upon Him.

From the very first the Holy Ghost had to do with Jesus as man; we were told so in the first chapter, where it was said (when Mary inquired how she was to be the mother of a child) that the Holy Ghost should come upon her. But Jesus was much more than thus conceived of the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost descended upon Him. This is what is called by Luke, in Acts 10:38, His anointing of God: “How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power.” The anointing of the Holy Ghost was not to counteract the evil of human nature — this was already secured by His miraculous conception. There was no taint of evil whatever in the humanity of Christ; all was perfectly pure, there being a total absence of sin, sin in nature as well as in act. But now there was more than this; there was the Spirit of God poured upon Him. Him God the Father sealed, and this when He was baptized, before He entered upon His public service. It was the expression of God’s perfect delight in Him, and it was also power for service. He alone of all men needed no blood to fit Him, as it were, to be anointed with the Holy oil. I speak now after the language of Exodus and Leviticus. (Ex. 29:21, Lev. 8:23f.) Others of His people would receive the Holy Ghost, but this only in virtue of blood, His atoning blood being put upon them. Where the blood was put, the oil could be. But Jesus as man receives the Holy Ghost without blood shed or sprinkled. The Holy Ghost descended upon Him in a bodily shape like a dove. I do not doubt that the outward form of the Spirit’s descent was in relation to the character of Christ, just as the cloven tongues as of fire were in relation to the place and work of the disciples on the day of Pentecost. It was not merely a tongue, but a divided tongue, showing that God was now going out to the Gentiles as well as to the Jews. It was a tongue of fire, whatever the grace; it was in the Divine judgment of all evil. But in Christ’s case there is neither of these characteristics. In bodily shape the Spirit came down like a dove, the emblem of what is proverbially pure and gentle to the last degree. “Holy, harmless, undefiled,” (Heb. 7:26) such was Christ.

But more than this the voice came from heaven which said, Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I have found my delight.” This voice is of all importance too. It is manifested that Jesus was the delight of God as man, not merely in consequence of a work that was going to be done; it was the Person Who was owned, and His Person too after He had identified Himself with the people who were baptized. They must not mistake nor misinterpret His baptism; it was the baptism of repentance for them, but thoroughly in grace for Him. He had nothing to own. He was about to enter upon a great work, but baptism was in no way the expression of need on His part, nor to fit Him for what He was entering upon. “Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased” — not only I am, but I have been well pleased, “have found my delight.” It is retrospective, and not present merely.

Luke 3:23-38.

Then we have in a very remarkable manner the genealogy of Jesus introduced.79 It ought to strike any thoughtful mind that the Spirit of God must have sufficient reason for introducing it here. The natural place we might think for such an account of our Lord’s ancestry mould be when He was born, or even before His birth, as we have had one in Matthew. A Jew would require it there, and has it there in the first Gospel; but here it is introduced when He is baptized. The reason is just this, that the genealogy here is brought in, not so much to show whence Jesus was naturally or rather legally, to meet the difficulties of a Jew, and to prove He was truly the Messiah according to the flesh, but to bring out the Person of Jesus on the human side as the Father had just owned Him on the Divine. Accordingly, the genealogy is very peculiar in this — that it traces him up to Adam and to God. Why so? Clearly this has nothing to do with His being the Messiah; but it is expressly to manifest One Whose heart was toward the whole human race. It is the genealogy of grace, as Matthew’s is of law. It is not one traced down from the two great fountains of blessing for Israel, Abraham, and David, the stock of promise and the line of royalty. Here it is tracing Him up; this wonderful Person owned as the Son of God, Who is He? So the Spirit of God deigns to show that He was, as it was supposed (He was legitimately counted), the son of Joseph. This implies that the writer of the Gospel was perfectly aware that He was not a mere man, that He was not Joseph’s son except before the eyes of men. I presume that the genealogy was really Mary’s, but Mary being Joseph’s wife) He could be “as was supposed, the son of Joseph,” and so on. This will accord with the character of the Gospel, because the Lord Jesus was not a man in virtue of His connection with Joseph, but with Mary. The reality of His manhood depended on His being the son of Mary; nevertheless He was, as was supposed, the son of Joseph, which was of Heli. Heli, as I take it, was the father of Mary; hence the genealogy here traces Him through Nathan to David; this was His mother’s line, as it appears to me. In Matthew He is derived through Solomon, which was Joseph’s line. Therefore, as the law required, it was the father who gave Him His title, and thus He had a strict legal title to the throne of David. The great point in the Jewish system was the father. Thus Matthew gives us Joseph’s royal genealogy; but Luke furnishes the maternal line through Mary. This indeed was the real one for Christ’s humanity; and the object of Luke was to attest the grace of God displayed in the Man Christ Jesus. The humanity of Christ has the largest place throughout this Gospel.

38 Cf. “Introductory Lectures,” pp. 256-262.

39 “In the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas”: so Edd. after ABCDEGHKL, etc., and most cursives. The plural “A. and C. being high priests” is confined to minuscules.

40 Says” is the reading of AD., etc., whilst BCpm LX, 1, 33, 69, have “said,” which Edd. (Revv.) adopt. Blass, however, retains λέγει.

41 “And he will thoroughly purge”: so ACDL, all later uncials, every cursive, and Amiat.-Edd. adopt “thoroughly to purge,” after pm B, Memph. Arm.

42 “Will gather”: so ACDL, later uncials, cursives, etc.; but Edd. “to gather,” with AB, Old Lat., Arm.

43 “His brother”: so Edd., after BDEL Ξ and Old Lat. — ACK and later uncials, with 33, Syrr. Memph. add “Philip.”