JESUS AND JOHN Luke 2–3
“John 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’ “ (Luke 3:16).Luke’s written history draws attention to the special signs associated with Jesus’ birth and His announcement by John. Truly, Luke is telling us, Jesus is the Son of man and the Son of God.
Luke dated Jesus’ birth (2:1–7), and told of another angelic visitation (vv. 8–20). When presented at the temple, the Infant Jesus was identified as the Messiah by Simeon (vv. 21–32) and the Prophetess Anna (vv. 33–40). At age 12 Jesus visited the temple and called it “My Father’s house” (vv. 41–52). Luke then dated and described John’s ministry (3:1–20), reported Jesus’ baptism (vv. 21–22) and gave Jesus’ genealogy (vv. 23–38).
Understanding the Text
“Everyone went to his own town to register” Luke 2:1–7. Luke was careful to pinpoint the date. But the passage of time has caused the reference points to be lost today, and the specific time of Christ’s birth and the census continues to be debated. There is no doubt, however, that Roman practice required citizens of provinces to be enrolled in one’s original home. Why is this important? Micah had predicted the Christ would be born in Bethlehem. God used a census, called for by a pagan Roman emperor, to arrange for Mary and Joseph to travel to Bethlehem at just the right time. How wonderful our God is. He so shapes history that the decree of Augustus became a means of accomplishing His own divine decree. There is no circumstance beyond the power of our God to control—or to overcome. “There was no room for them” Luke 2:7. This poignant phrase has touched Christians ever since Luke penned it. It may not have been an “inn” that turned the couple away: the Greek word is also used of guest rooms in private homes. As the crowds returned to Bethlehem for the registration, space was finally found for Mary in what tradition says was a cave used to stable animals. There, we’re told, the Christ was born. Contemplating the humble surroundings and the audience of animals, one hymn writer penned: Thou didst leave Thy throne and Thy kingly crown, When Thou camest to earth for me. But in Bethlehem’s home there was found no room For Thy holy nativity. O come to my heart, Lord Jesus; There is room in my heart for Thee.-Emily E.S. Elliott “Good news of great joy that will be for all the people” Luke 2:8–18. A great company of angels appeared to shepherds in fields near Bethlehem, praising God. The meaning of their words, once translated: “Peace on earth to men of good will,” is better captured in the eQ¸: “Peace to men on whom His favor rests.” Rather than limit the promise of joy to men of good will, the angelic shout proclaims a grace of God that is Good News and the promise of joy to all! In Christ the Saviour, man’s deepest need is met. Through Christ, God’s favor is poured out on all who will but believe. “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” Luke 2:19. Despite all Mary had been shown, she could hardly grasp the full implication of her calling to be Jesus’ mother. The Greek text draws a fascinating comparison. While shepherds and people who heard their report were amazed and excited, Mary in contrast (“but”) chose to hold these things in mind and meditate on them. Mary’s course is the better one. Some of us respond with great, immediate emotion to almost any message. But the feelings quickly wear off, and with them our interest in the message disappears. Mary did not overreact to the amazing events. She chose to think about them, meditating on them for a long time. It’s true that God touches our emotions as well as our minds. But, like Mary’s, our faith must be rooted in contemplation of what God has done and its meaning for us, not in feelings primarily—or alone. “Moved by the Spirit” Luke 2:21–40. Luke related two more incidents that serve to demonstrate Jesus’ identity. On the 40th day after His birth Jesus’ mother came to the temple to offer the sacrifice required of the poor for purification after childbirth (v. 24; cf. Lev. 12:8). There the Holy Spirit caused two aged saints to identify Jesus as the promised Messiah. While the incidents serve as historical evidence, they surely had special meaning to Joseph and Mary. Very shortly after this, Matthew tells us, the couple was forced to take the Baby Jesus and flee the country. How much the memory of every unusual word about their Child would serve to encourage Joseph and Mary then. Many of God’s most unusual works are performed more for the comfort of His own than for some great theological purpose. Here God comforted four: Simeon and Anna near the end of their lives; Joseph and Mary at the beginning of a difficult period in theirs. The very personal purposes seen here encourage us to expect the Lord to meet our needs as well. “I had to be in My Father’s house” Luke 2:41–52. At age 12, when custom dictated a boy became responsible to the Law, Jesus’ parents took Him to the temple at Passover. We might focus on Jesus’ conversation with the sages who, during festival periods, taught publicly in the temple courts. Most significant, however, is Luke’s mention of Jesus’ attitude toward God. The “theantropic person,” a name theologians give to the bonding of Deity and humanity in Jesus, remains a great mystery. The incarnate Christ clearly did not exercise all of His attributes as Deity. As Luke says, He “grew in wisdom” as well as in stature. Yet there seems no question that Jesus was conscious at an early age of His unique relationship with God His Father. Yet at all times Jesus lived His life as a godly human being, even as a Child being “obedient to” His parents. We will never unravel the mystery, or be able to isolate God from man in Jesus. And frequently, as here, we will be reminded by Luke of the mystery as well as history of our faith. “As He was praying, heaven was opened” Luke 3:21–22. Luke is the only one of the Gospel writers to tell us that Jesus was praying as He was baptized and as the Spirit descended from heaven. Only Luke tells us Christ also prayed before choosing the Twelve (6:12) and on the Mount of Transfiguration (9:29). Other instances of Jesus praying are found in 5:16; 9:18; and 11:1. Jesus did live His life on earth as a human being, but as a perfect Man. Christ’s reliance on prayer reminds us how much we need to communicate constantly with our Heavenly Father. “The son, so it was thought, of Joseph” Luke 3:23–37. The phrase “about thirty” in that culture is an approximate number. Christ may have been in His mid-30s when He began to minister. But while age was dealt with loosely, genealogy in ancient Israel was a serious issue, and records were meticulously kept. Luke would have had access to records that contained the data found in this chapter. Luke’s genealogy differed from the genealogy in Matthew. The places where the lines diverge have been explained by assuming Matthew traced the legal line through Joseph, while Luke traced the actual line of Jesus through Mary. Other explanations of the differences have also been suggested. We do not have enough information to know which explanation is the actual source of the variance. What is most significant, however, is that while Luke made it clear that Joseph was only assumed to be Jesus’ father (v. 23), Luke traces His ancestry not to David or Abraham but to Adam. Luke wants us to understand that Jesus was a true human being; one of us, as well as the Son of God.
Kill to Make Alive (Luke 3:1–20)
John was not a smooth, comfortable preacher. He was blunt, confrontive. He pulled no punches, and preached a message of coming wrath. He was one of those “sin” preachers that folks today seem to find so distasteful. John’s warning not to rely on descent from Abraham (v. 8) struck at a root of first-century Jewish faith. As the chosen people, the seed of Abraham, and possessors of God’s Law, many felt their standing with God was secure. John attacked this favored doctrine, and demanded repentance matched by moral reform. Perhaps it’s surprising, but people often hunger for just this kind of preaching. Deep down everyone senses he is not what he could or should be. There’s a sense of relief when pretenses are stripped away, and we’re forced not only to face our need—but are given hope that we may somehow become better than we are. It’s this that kept crowds coming to hear John, and wondering in their hearts if John might be the Christ. And it’s this that makes modern John—like messages of repentance and “unquenchable fire” messages of “good news” too (vv. 17–18). The Bible’s “condemning” word about sin isn’t condemning at all! In demanding that we face our guilt, Scripture brings rather than annihilates hope. Only when we face guilt do we seek forgiveness, and find the new life in the Jesus that John preached. So while you and I rightly major on the grace of God when sharing Jesus with others, it’s not wrong now and then to stand, like John, and fearlessly rebuke both sin and sinner. The word that condemns is at times the door of hope.
Let God guide you when to share the Good News in the guise of bad.
“Ministers who can preach the Gospel of Jesus in our kind of civilization without making anyone uncomfortable deserve an automobile for the difficult feat. And they need one to compensate them for the lack of spiritual vitality which makes performance of the feat possible.”—Reinhold Niebuhr