For an introduction to this series, click here.
Feb. 13, 2007
Here we have a very in-depth discussion of John the Baptist. I know we discussed John earlier, but let's discuss him again. John's parents were very old when he was born, so he likely was alone at a very early age. He did live with them long enough to know who he was, the one who would prepare the way for the Messiah. He was baptizing people in the Jordan River and presumably other streams in Palestine. This was the main problem the religious leaders had with John. Baptism was a symbol of conversion of a Gentile to Judaism, and here was John baptizing Jews, who in their mind had no need of baptism. But John had an important message: "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire." (3:7-9, ESV)
It's not very good salesmanship to call your audience a bunch of snakes, but that's what John called them. I think it's safe to say that it was more acceptable to use outrageous language a long time ago than it is in our time. Jesus of course called people all sorts of things, and His enemies called Him worse things back. Call it political correctness, call it what you will, but it is true that people accepted such insults as part of public discourse back then, and they don't now. I have heard of a some preachers who curse and call people names in the pulpit and defend themselves by saying Jesus used that kind of language. Perhaps He did, but we are living in different times. We don't "greet the brethren with a holy kiss" anymore either, even though at least four times in the New Testament Epistles the Apostles told the recipients to do so. (So much for "If God says it more than once, it must be really important.") There are some things that we need to adapt to our own culture if we are going to be effective.
But the main point of John's message is that Israel needed to repent. It's not good enough just to be in the physical lineage of God's people. God's plan of salvation has always been a personal matter. Even in the Old Testament, when God had special dealings with the Jewish nation, they were not the only ones who followed the Lord. Look at Hiram, king of Tyre, who gave millions in gold and other supplies for Solomon's Temple. Job was not a Jew, neither was Nebuchadnezzar, who apparently wrote the fourth chapter of the book of Daniel. Jethro, Moses' father in law, is another example. There are also examples like Rahab and Ruth, Gentiles who became part of the Jewish nation. And then of course not every Jew ever was or is now converted. The message throughout the prophets, and indeed the entire Old Testament is one of personal accountability and personal faith in God.
Luke also includes a genealogy of Jesus (I always want to put an extra "o" in "genealogical"). This one is different from Matthew's genealogy of Joseph, and most scholars believe that this genealogy is that of Mary. Apparently Mary was a descendant of David's son Nathan instead of Solomon, as Joseph was. I don't know. There's some people who can talk for hours about the interesting things they find in genealogies. I'm sorry, but I can't. They just seem like a bunch of names to me.