Advent 03 - Luke 3:7-18 - The Witness of John and the Withness of Jesus
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.” 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.” 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.” 18 So with many other exhortations he preached the gospel to the people. Luke 3:7–18
The Witness of John - John provided a strong “witness” (martureo) of the coming Christ. John even became a literal martyr for his testimony which especially called for repentance in preparation for Jesus (Jn. 1:7). He spoke directly to the sins of the people, calling them the offspring of serpents. Matthew references “the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism” as a “brood of vipers” (3:7). He commands them to (literally) “make fruits” “worthy” of or “in keeping” with repentance. John may have been preaching one of the Servant Songs (Is. 50:4-7) which includes both humiliation of the Servant and a call to, “Look to the rock from which you were hewn and to the quarry from which you were dug. Look to Abraham your father” (Is. 51:1-2). The message includes both comfort and chastisement (cf Is. 50-51). While all agree that Abraham’s “physical” children can face judgment, we may ask whether Abraham’s “spiritual” children can face judgment? Paul answers this in Galatians when he addresses (alleged) “spiritual children” with the warning not to embrace a false/different gospel (Gal. 1:6). In other words (non-Jewish) Christians certainly can be subject to judgment as a result of apostasy from the gospel (Gal. 1:8-9, 5:4). Don’t presume; the axe is about to chop and wild branches are to added (Rom. 11:17). “So do not become proud, but fear” (Rom. 11:20). What is repentance? Rich definitions of repentance could be presented (e.g., Westminster Larger Catechism, Q. 76), but John provides simple examples of what such “fruits” entail (3:11-14). These are basic applications of the Law of God: generosity, ceasing from corruptions, such as theft, extortion, false accusations. Don’t be driven by greed; be “content with your wages.” This is a witness to the character of those who will be in the kingdom and a reproof to the disobedient who presume kingdom membership based on (mere) covenant credentials.
The Withness of Jesus - John also addressed the ministry of Jesus. This kind of ministry prepared the way for Jesus and so “people were in a state of expectation” (3:16). Given the expectation of the people, the natural question was whether John was Messiah (3:15-16). This question lingered even after Jesus began ministering (Mt. 14:2, 16:14; Jn. 1:8). John baptized with water, but “One is coming who” will baptize you with the Holy Spirit (3:16). “Fire” (quite literally) will come on Israel (including the leadership) who should have received John’s preparation and sign of renewal (Lk. 7:30; Mt. 21:32). But even accepting the preparation is insufficient if it does not lead to the coming One (Christ) (Acts 19:5). From the descriptions of “all Jerusalem and Judea” going to John, it seems that many more accepted John’s preparatory word, than the Object of that word, Jesus. Jesus would not come as a “witness.” He would be &ld
Gregg Strawbridge, Ph.D., is the pastor of All Saints Church in Lancaster, PA. He became a committed follower of Jesus Christ at age 20, discipled in the context of a University Navigator Ministry. As a result of personal discipleship he went on to study at Columbia Biblical Seminary (M.A., Columbia, SC, 1990), as well as receive a Ph.D. in education and philosophy... read more