SSL 6 - Luke 3:7-18 - PREPARED
BACKGROUND: In Luke Chapters 1 and 2 we studied the birth stories of John the Baptist and Jesus, who are thought to be related to one another because Luke reveals that Elizabeth was a relative of Mary (1:36). The stories of these two births are interwoven, with the birth of John being foretold first (1:5-25) and the birth of Jesus being foretold next (1:26-38). Even at this early stage of the gospel, we learn of Jesus' pre-eminence over John. Last week in Luke 2:41-52, we studied the only confirmed record of a brief episode in Jesus' life between His presentation at the Temple and the start of His public ministry at age 30. That lesson showed us that as early as age 12, Jesus was clearly aware of who He was-the Son of God, the Messiah, the Savior of the world. Yet, at the same time, we also learned that Jesus was fully God and fully human and experienced all of the distinct stages of human development-Infancy, childhood, adolescence, and manhood-both physically and spiritually. The first seven verses of Chapter 3, which we skip, begins with an account of John the Baptist's proclamation of a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins and a quotation from Isaiah 40:3-5, proclaiming the Lord Himself is coming to bring salvation to His people. Our lesson today will focus on three examples that reveal the major themes of John's preaching: (1) Eschatological (end-times) in vv. 7-9 warning of potential judgment and calling the people to "bring forth fruits worthy of repentance"; (2) Ethical (or moral) in vv. 10-14 that includes very specific guidance to the crowds, tax collectors, and soldiers; and (3) Christological (the person, nature, and role of Christ) in vv. 15-18, as John points to the One who will baptize "in the Holy Spirit and fire." Let's see what John has to say.
Read Luke 3:7-9 - ESCHATOLOGICAL FOCUS: THE WRATH THAT IS COMING
7 So he began saying to the crowds who were going out to be baptized by him, "You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Therefore bear fruits in keeping with repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham for our father,' for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham. 9 Indeed the axe is already laid at the root of the trees; so every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire."
Comment: The first section of John's message is eschatological-the end times of history and how God ultimately plans to deal with humanity. John's message also employs many metaphors (figures of speech) and word pictures that need to be understood and explained in context.
v. 7a: "So he began saying to the crowds who were going out to be baptized by him" - Notice that John has attracted "crowds," an enormous audience-thousands and thousands probably-that Matthew described as "Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan" (Matthew 3:5) coming out to hear John and be baptized.
v. 7b: "You brood of vipers" - a viper is a poisonous snake. These Jews coming out to hear him think of themselves as the children of Abraham, but John classifies them as descendants to the "serpent," (Satan) the destroyer in the Garden of Genesis 3:5, in other words, sinners under condemnation.
v. 7c: "who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?" - John is referring of course to the final judgment, when Christ will separate the sheep from the goats. This is the first "warning" they have heard in over 400 years! Some were undoubtedly coming out of mere curiosity but others were being called by God's Holy Spirit out of a hunger to hear God's Word from this new prophet.
v. 8a: "Therefore bear fruits in keeping with repentance" - John means that true repentance involves inward change evidenced by transformed lives that will outwardly bear "fruits"-such as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and self control (Gal. 5:22-23).
v. 8b: "and do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham for our father'" - The Jews believed that because of their status as God's chosen people, that God would judge nations with one standard but Jews with another. They believed that a person was safe from judgment simply by virtue of being a Jew. John, however, totally refutes this idea, warning them that God will not exempt them from judgment, but that their salvation will depend upon sincere repentance.
v. 8c: "for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham" - John is using this figure of speech, "from these stones," to make the point that if God could make Adam from dust, He can certainly sanctify and offer a way of salvation to these misinformed Jews. The message to us is that we cannot trust our roots, whatever they may be, to save us but only by honest repentance characterized by faithful fruitfulness.
v. 9: "Indeed the axe is already laid at the root of the trees; so every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire" - In short, judgment is imminent and your pedigree is no defense! The Keeper of the trees has only to draw his ax and take a good swing and slash, it's over! The Keeper asks only one question: Does this tree bear good fruit, or not?
Luke 3:10-14 - ETHICAL-MORAL FOCUS: WHAT THEN MUST WE DO?
10 And the crowds were questioning him, saying, "Then what shall we do?" 11 And he would answer and say to them, "The man who has two tunics is to share with him who has none; and he who has food is to do likewise." 12 And some tax collectors also came to be baptized, and they said to him, "Teacher, what shall we do?" 13 And he said to them, "Collect no more than what you have been ordered to." 14 Some soldiers were questioning him, saying, "And what about us, what shall we do?" And he said to them, "Do not take money from anyone by force, or accuse anyone falsely, and be content with your wages."
v. 10: "And the crowds were questioning him, saying, 'Then what shall we do?'" - We need to keep in mind that this takes place before Jesus' ministry and doesn't include baptism incident to salvation and the gift of the Holy Spirit but places emphasis on changes in moral behavior and actions that show true repentance.
v. 11: "And he would answer and say to them, 'The man who has two tunics is to share with him who has none; and he who has food is to do likewise '" - This might seem to be a minor solution to a bigger problem; however, this is similar to Jesus' challenge to the rich man who wants to gain eternal life (18:22). John is calling them to examine their true needs and to share with those who have less. Put this into perspective today: how many of us have clothing in our closets we don't need or wear?
v. 12-13: "And some tax collectors also came to be baptized, and they said to him, 'Teacher, what shall we do? 13 And he said to them, "Collect no more than what you have been ordered to.'" - In those days, tax collectors (like Matthew) appointed by the Roman Govt. routinely extorted more tax from people than what was actually due in order to pocket the difference. But notice, John doesn't tell them to stop collecting taxes but to simply collect only what is due.
v. 14: "Some soldiers were questioning him, saying, 'And what about us, what shall we do?' And he said to them, 'Do not take money from anyone by force, or accuse anyone falsely, and be content with your wages.'" - The soldiers here are most likely Jews in Herod's service who provided the muscle for the tax collectors and were notorious for sharing profits extorted by them. Once again, John doesn't tell them to find a new profession but to deal fairly and honestly with people and simply be content with the wages they earn as soldiers. Are there proscribed occupations? Yes! Things like drugs, prostitution, gambling, pornography, illegal rackets, etc., but John's emphasis is upon exercising true honesty and integrity in whatever everyday line of work you've chosen.
Luke 3:15-17 - CHRISTOLOGICAL FOCUS: HE WHO IS MIGHTIER THAN I
15 Now while the people were in a state of expectation and all were wondering in their hearts about John, as to whether he was the Christ, 16 John answered and said to them all, "As for me, I baptize you with water; but One is coming who is mightier than I, and I am not fit to untie the thong of His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in His hand to thoroughly clear His threshing floor, and to gather the wheat into His barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire."
v. 15: "Now while the people were in a state of expectation and all were wondering in their hearts about John, as to whether he was the Christ" - Keep in mind that it has been a very long time since the Jewish people have seen a prophet of John's stature. It is no surprise that they wondered if he might be the One for whom they has been waiting-the Messiah foretold. And all of the gospel writers took great pains to make it unmistakably clear that John the Baptist was subordinate to Jesus.
v. 16: "John answered and said to them all, 'As for me, I baptize you with water; but One is coming who is mightier than I, and I am not fit to untie the thong of His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire'" - Despite John's negative assessment of the crowd ("brood of vipers" v. 7b), he doesn't deny them baptism, which symbolizes repentance. John is quick to subordinate himself to the "One" (note upper case for deity), "not fit to untie." The connection between "Holy Spirit," which saves, and "fire" isn't totally clear. Most scholars believe John is referring to the fire of judgment, for those who refuse to repent.
v. 17: "His winnowing fork is in His hand to thoroughly clear His threshing floor, and to gather the wheat into His barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire." Psalm 1:4 says "The wicked are...like chaff." Chaff is the light shell around a kernel of grain that must be removed before it can be ground into something useful. Once removed, the chaff is intrinsically worthless, dead, and easily carried away. By analogy, the wicked are like the chaff, having no spiritual substance, they are dead and weightless (hold that thought), and because wicked people have no "weight," they will be swept away and burned-suffer God's final judgment-and in lake manner, Jesus, holding the "winnowing fork," would separate the good from the bad.
Luke 3:18 - HE PREACHED GOOD NEWS
18 So with many other exhortations he preached the gospel to the people.
v. 18: Are you surprised to hear John's preaching characterized as "good news"? In actuality, John's "gospel" is not all good news. The bad news is that "the ax is already laid at the root of the trees," meaning that judgment is imminent (v. 9) and "He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire" (v. 17, note, "He" refers to Jesus). John clearly provides the objective and accurate model of the "One" who comes after him: redemption for those who repent and judgment for those who don't.
1. Your religious heritage won't exempt you from the wrath of God. John completely refuted the belief that a person was safe from judgment simply by virtue of being a Jew. This includes people today who think they are exempt simply because they belong to a church, when in fact they haven't repented and confessed Jesus as Lord.
2. Honest repentance is characterized by faithful fruitfulness. When the crowd asked John "what shall we do?," as examples, he told them to (1) share with others `who are in need and (2) perform whatever job they had with honesty and integrity. Those aren't the only examples of being fruitful, but they do represent a good starting place.
3. John announced that salvation or judgment would come from the One who is mightier. The One who is mightier than John is Jesus Christ, and salvation promises the good news that, if you will repent and believe in Jesus Christ, God will forgive all your sins. Amen?