Read the first couple of verses… For the third chapter in a row, Luke wants to anchor these key events firmly in a historical context and so he links the lives of seven famous people of the time to the emergence of John the Baptist. As a result, historians of today have a simple task of ‘triangulating’ when this occurred.
John’s message was in two parts: ‘Get right with God now, by living the sort of lives that God approves of’ and ‘I am not the Messiah, but he is coming along soon, so get yourselves ready!’
John was not aiming to make friends of people, but to give them the undiluted truth. “You brood of vipers…” (v7). He was certainly not a people-pleaser! Let us examine ourselves and ask whether we are more concerned to make and keep friends than to expose them to the truth. Jesus, himself, was known as the ‘friend of sinners’, but he always told it as it needed telling.
Both Matthew’s and Luke’s gospels highlight John’s condemnation of the Jewish authorities over their hypocrisy and pride. However, in Luke, John’s additional requirements for righteous living were listed: care for the poor, honest financial dealings, eradication of bullying and injustice. He was not concerned about a person’s job title or role in life, and he certainly did not insist on soldiers becoming pacifists; I can only assume that God thinks the same way. John also required a one-off baptism of repentance to anchor this new-found commitment to righteous living. Even this baptism had power, however; if you have a glance at Luke 7:29-30; repentance opens to doorway to faith in Jesus Christ, it seems. John goes on to contrast his baptism – in water – to that of the coming Messiah, who would baptise with the Holy Spirit’s fire!
You would have expected Jesus to be the last person on earth who required a baptism – and John thought so too. But for Jesus it was not so much a need to sever links with sin, as to build bridges with sinners. He had to become like us in every way (except by actually sinning, that is). And as he obeyed ‘to the letter’, heaven opened up and had a small celebration: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit were all together in one place and in perfect unity. Even Jesus needed to hear his Father say: “I love you, Son”! It was also following in the Jewish tradition of a father publicly including his ‘coming of age’ son in the family business, by making such an announcement at the city gates. In effect, the father was saying, that when you trade with my son, you are also trading with me.
Where did that young baby who began life in Mary’s womb come from? Was he one hundred percent ‘heavenly’ DNA? I don’t think so. If that were the case, how could Jesus have been, in any real sense, a descendant of King David? My view is that he was a ‘heavenly-fertilised’ human ovum from the body of Mary, who was herself descended from King David, as Joseph was. The key phrase: “…so it was thought” (v23) reinforces the fact of the virgin birth.
Unlike Matthew’s gospel, where the genealogy of Christ begins with Abraham and extends forward in time to Joseph, Luke’s genealogy begins with Christ and passes back in time until it reaches Adam, the first physical child of God – it is almost certainly Mary’s biological line. However, the heavenly genealogy goes back much, much further: “…Out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from days of eternity” (Micah 5:2). It is hard enough for our simple minds to grasp eternity in a ‘future’ direction, let alone eternity that emerges towards us from our past! Why not meditate on this for a while!
And so, the Eternal God has penetrated our orderly space-time continuum with His very own presence, becoming one of us to bring disorder and disruption to our cosy existences. His aim is to force us to discard the shallow reasons for living that we hold so tightly, and to stretch higher and deeper to reach Him – the one who gives our very existence meaning and purpose. So let’s do just that. As Saint Augustine said: “God, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you”.