Good News is Arriving!
God Saves Gentiles! Luke Has Good News!
A study of the NT book of Luke
by Pastor Frank Rice
Most of us heartily welcome good news! But what is good news for one person can be horrible news for another; “PennState won!” is great news for those living in PA, but for those living west of PA, not so much! It depends somewhat on which side of the line you live!
Luke introduces the one who will introduce the Messiah. He brings good news… for those who are willing to relocate to the correct side of the proverbial line which he draws in the sand!
I. Luke Introduces John in His Historical Context (Vv. 1-6)!
❖ Luke describes the socio-political landscape into which John is introduced (v. 1). (This is not exactly a friendly environment…)
- It’s been ~30 years since we last heard of John and ~20 since we last heard of Jesus! (The reset button is fitting!) John is the bridge between the OT and NT eras.
- The political leaders in John’s world are listed in the order of their respective geographical realms and reigns. “John’s ministry stepped into this complex political situation.” (Bock) “The mention of the rulers provides the political context and opposition that will ultimately bring about John’s undoing.” (Garland)
❖ Luke describes the socio-religious climate into which John appears (v. 2). (…nor is this a friend of truth and righteousness!)
- The official priesthood had become controlling, corrupted, and calloused, unwilling & unable to hear from God (v. 2a)! Caiaphas was the formal high priest during this time but Annas exercised immense power behind the scenes.
- Bypassing the official religious leaders, God sent a prophet out of nowhere to warn of impending judgment (v. 2b)!
- This “miracle boy” has become a man with a message, a fearless, if unpolished, preacher of truth!
❖ Luke describes the manner and mission of his ministry (vv. 3-6).
- He distanced himself from official religion and purveyors of empty ritualism, and chose the fringes of civilization (v. 3a).
- He challenged the people to come out spatially and spiritually, to deal with the reality of sin and judgment, to change their minds and lifestyles, and declare it by being baptized (v. 3b)!
- Luke saw him as the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, the one assigned to challenge people to clear and smooth the way, to remove the obstacles impeding God’s work in their lives (vv. 4-5). “This leveling imagery has ethical overtones. The physical imagery conveys ethical realities.” (Bock)
- God wants men and women to know His salvation (v. 6)! Anything that gets in the way needs to go! Application is easy theoretically, but difficult practically. “Jesus’ coming offers the opportunity of salvation for all.” (Bock)
II. Luke Illustrates the Vital Content of John’s Message (Vv. 7-18)!
❖ The preacher confronts a general audience with his standard message and he doesn’t mince words. He is a prophet (vv. 7-9)! This is a heart issue!
- He challenges them regarding their motivation (v. 7). (He preaches to the crowd, but seems to take aim at the religious leaders!) Judgment is coming! “How can we appease God and avoid it?”
- “One has the impression that John spoke to the crowd but focused on the Pharisees and Sadducees as he made his remarks.” (Bock)
- Only a genuine, demonstrated change of mind (repentance) will save them from the ax and the fires of judgment (vv. 8a & 9)! [“John stresses that only the unfruitful, the unrepentant, need to be concerned about the ax’s falling.” (Bock)]
- Don‘t even think of offering your religiosity as an adequate “appeasement” to God. Who are you kidding (v. 8b)!? “John’s preaching debunks the pretensions of outwardly religious people who try to pass themselves off to God and to others as virtuous.” (Garland)
❖ The preacher responds to a range of seemingly sincere seekers from representative backgrounds (vv. 10-14). (Baptism declares a commitment; a change life demonstrates it!)
- The “ordinary” person must demonstrate kindness, concern, and compassion to others in practical ways (vv. 10-11)!
- The entrepreneurs must demonstrate integrity, compassion, and fairness and not abuse their positions (vv. 12-13). (Toll gatherers purchased the right, then tacked on surcharges!) City rulers sold the right to collect tolls to the highest bidder, who in turn hired others to do the dirty work. “This system of multiple collectors, each of whom could add his own surcharges, could create great abuse.” (Bock).
- Those in uniform must stop intimidating and selling their authority for profit; be satisfied with what you earn (v. 14)! “Repentance… is reflected in a concern for one’s fellow humans, which makes an effort to meet needs.” It “produces a life lived with a sense of responsibility before a sovereign God.” (Bock)
- True repentance does not involve some ascetic lifestyle, a particular feeling of remorse, participating in religious rites, or mere mental acknowledgement! It begins much deeper and extends much farther than that!
❖ The preacher clarifies his identity and clears up any confusion concerning the ministry of the coming Messiah (vv. 15-18).
- He senses people are wondering if he’s the Messiah, and he’s quick to clarify His greatness and His goal to do something far greater than he has done (vv. 15-16a)!
- The genuineness of John’s baptism is seen in a changed life. The genuineness of Jesus’ baptism is seen as the Holy Spirit separates the real from the fake (v. 16b).
- “John explains the baptism of Spirit and fire through the picture of sifting grain at harvest time.” (Bock) The “wind” is the separator of the wheat and chaff (v. 17). “True character is revealed in the threshing process.” (Garland)
- There’s no getting around it; “John the Baptist’s ministry, like Jesus’ ministry, forces choices and creates a division among people.” (Bock)
- And the preacher kept on exhorting the people (v. 18)!
III. Luke Closes Out His Coverage of John’s Ministry (Vv. 19-20)!
❖ The prophet’s message was good news; but only for those who responded in genuine repentance and a changed life!
❖ The prophet’s message was not good news; but only because it was resisted and rejected by those with conflicting lifestyles, i.e. Herod and his ilk. (Truth is not popular among some lifestyles! Be forewarned!)
❖ Luke most likely inserts this episode here to wrap up John’s ministry so he can move on to the ministry of Jesus. “He moves John onto center stage for his prophetic mission, then removes him so as to center exclusively on Jesus.” (Green)
Good news has arrived!
How have you responded? How does your life demonstrate it?