Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THEY WERE UNLIKE AS THEY COULD BE TO ONE ANOTHER IN THE CIRCUMSTANCES AND SURROUNDINGS OF THEIR LIFE. These Roman worldlings dwelt in palaces, lived in luxury, surrounded themselves with everything that could minister to comfort and enjoyment; they were gorgeously apparelled, and lived delicately in their kingly courts (Luke 7:25). John was a man who despised delicacies, and deliberately chose that which was coarse in garment, unpalatable in food, rude in dwelling. His life was positively devoid of that which was refreshing, comforting, delightful, so far as the outward and the visible were concerned.
II. THEY WERE DIAMETRICALLY OPPOSED IN CHARACTER. If we except Philip, who left a reputation for justice and moderation, and Lysanias, of whom nothing or little is known, we may say of the others that they were men whose character was not only reprehensible, but even hideous. Of Tiberius Caesar we read that, after he came to the throne, he entirely disappointed the promise of his earlier years, and that he "wallowed in the very kennel of the low and debasing." Of Pilate we know from the evangelists' story that he was a man, not indeed without some sense of justice and pity, not incapable of being moved at the sight of sublime patience and innocence, but yet sceptical, superstitious, entirely wanting in political principle, ready to sacrifice righteousness to save his own position. Of Herod Antipas we know from Scripture that he was cunning, licentious, superstitious. But of John, the Hebrew prophet, we know that he was utterly fearless and disregardful of his own interests when duty called him to speak freely (ver. 19); that he was a faithful preacher of Divine truth (vers. 7-14); that he was perfectly loyal to that One who was so much greater than himself (ver. 16); that he was capable of a most noble magnanimity (John 3:29). He was a godly, upright, heroic soul.
III. THEY HAVE LEFT VERY DIFFERENT MEMORIES BEHIND THEM. Of one of these Romans (Tiberius) we read that he "deserved the scorn and abhorrence of mankind." Perhaps this language, only a very little weakened, might be used of two others of them. But concerning John, after our Lord's own eulogium (Luke 7:25), we feel that we can be in little danger of thinking of him too highly and of honoring him too much.
IV. THEY RESEMBLED ONE ANOTHER ONLY IN THAT THEY BOTH RAN GREAT RISKS OF EARTHLY ILL. Devotedness in the person of John exposed itself to severe penalties, to the condemnation of man, to imprisonment and death. But worldliness in the person of these Roman dignitaries ran great risks also; it had to encounter human fickleness and human wrath. Tiberius is believed to have become insane. Pilate committed suicide. Herod died in exile. Worldly policy may succeed for a time, may stand in high places, may drink of very sweet cups, but it runs great risks, and very often it has to endure great calamities. Alas for it, that, when these come, it is wholly destitute of the more precious consolations!
V. AT DEATH THEY CONFRONTED A VERY DIFFERENT FUTURE. Well might the least guilty of them shrink from that judgment-seat at which all men must stand! how must the worst of them be covered with shame in that awful Presence! and how serious must be the penalty that will be attached to such flagitious abuse of position and opportunity! On the other hand, how high is the power, how bright and broad the sphere, how blessed the hope, into which the faithful forerunner has entered! He has "passed into that country where it matters little whether a man has been clothed in finest linen or in coarsest camel's hair, that still country where the struggle - storm of life is over, and such as John find their rest at last in the home of God, which is reserved for the true and brave." - C.
Mark 6:3), that we may contemplate the preparatory movement under John the Baptist. In these verses we find Luke entering upon the description with the hand of a true artist. He summarizes for us a whole life in fewer verses a great deal than it had years. And yet they are so deftly written that, had John Baptist no other memorial, they would secure for him undying fame. Let us take the facts as they are put before us by Luke, noting such lessons as they are well fitted to suggest. And -
I. THE BAPTIST APPEARED WHEN DECAY HAD SET IN BOTH IN CHURCH AND STATE. (Vers. 1, 2.) The Jewish kingdom, which had a unity until the death of Herod the Great, has now been parcelled into tetrarchies, each governor reigning by grace of the Roman emperor. The scepter is assuredly departing from Judah. The ancient glory of the Israelitish monarchy only makes the present decline the more impressive. The kingdom needs resuscitation or to be supplanted by a better kingdom. A national leader was never more needful than now. The fullness of time has surely come. Again, decay has seized upon the Jewish Church. The singular number used here (ἀρχιερέως) while two names are associated with the high priesthood, shows to what a condition the affairs of the Church had come. Annas is not allowed his lifetime of the office, according to the Law of Moses, but Caiaphas, his son-in-law happily, has been appointed by the civil power in his room. Reformation is, therefore, sadly needed; the hour has struck, and happily the man is here.
II. THE BAPTIST CAME AS THE PIONEER OF THE LORD. (Vers. 3-6.) Luke here borrows imagery from the prophecy of Isaiah (Isaiah 40:3-5), and a careful study of the passage endorses the application of it to the preparatory work in view of the advent of Messiah. John, like a pioneer, is to make a smooth path for the Prince of Peace; but the valleys to be raised, the mountains to be laid low, the crooked to be made straight, and the rough ways to be made smooth, are not outward and physical obstacles. It is not by force they are to be overcome, but by a voice, by a cry. They represent consequently the characters of men. The valleys represent the depressed and despairing; the mountains, the exalted and proud; the crooked, the tortuous in sin; the rough ways, the rugged and uncouth in nature. All these classes, through John's preaching, are to be prepared for a sight of God's salvation in the Person of Messiah. How, then, did John try to prepare his generation for Jesus? By "preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins." Now, this new rite introduced by John (cf. Godet, in loc.) was a tremendous indictment, so to speak, against human nature. It was as much as to say to every man, "You need to be washed, entirely washed; you are so defiled, you are sinners against God to such a degree that you must be not only washed and purified, but also pardoned, before you can take your places in the kingdom of Messiah." It was the proclamation to all his contemporaries that the one reformation needed in order to better times was self-reformation - reformation beginning at home in one's own bosom by the grace of God, as the most important preliminary to the reformation of the world. Repentance has been well defined as a taking of God's side against ourselves; and this was the spirit of John's reformation. It was a call to arms, but to arms against self, not against one's neighbors. And it is here that every true reformer must begin. We must reform ourselves first by the grace of God, or we shall be quite unequal to any large reformation in the world.
III. THE BAPTIST'S PREACHING WAS EXCEEDINGLY PLAIN AND PRACTICAL. (Vers. 7-9.) Luke here gives a resume of John's discourses. They were not certainly very conciliatory. They did not mince matters. The vast multitude which came to hear him was, he knew, largely of the Pharisaic class. They were proud to be children of Abraham according to the flesh. They fancied this was sufficient to secure their acceptance with God. But in spite of their good pedigree they were venomous at heart, would sting a neighbor like a viper, and do the most unbrotherly things. Hence, as a faithful messenger from God, John tells his hearers what they are - but "a generation of vipers." He asks them further who has warned them to flee from "the wrath to come," that is, the judgments of Messiah? He exhorts them in such circumstances to put away their fancied merit as children of Abraham, and to bring forth fruits worthy of repentance, for in case they did not do so, they would be cut down and cast into the fire. The "fruits" demanded were not, of course, graces of the Spirit, which they could not of themselves produce; but acts of reparation, of justice, and such like, which were fitted to show the better view they were taking of their previous life, and the amends it demanded at their hands. If sorrow for sin is genuine with us, it will work a reformation immediately in our conduct; we shall not do the old hard-hearted things we once were guilty of. Now, John, in thus dealing with the question of human nature and its depravity, is an example to all our reformers. It is here that reformation is required, and the philosophy that fails here has no pretensions to the leadership of the world. No wonder, therefore, that "pessimism "hangs like a nightmare on the boasted philosophy of the time, and men by philosophy alone cannot get rid of it.
IV. THE PRACTICAL ADVICE GIVEN TO DIFFERENT CLASSES BY JOHN. (Vers. 10-14.) The real success of preaching is proved by inquirers. When people begin to ask what they must do, the message has begun to tell. Now, different classes became inquirers. They were from the lower ranks of the people. The Pharisees largely declined baptism, as Luke 7:30 shows. And:
1. The common people asked John's advice as to what they should do. He tells them to be brotherly instead of grasping. He preached "fraternity." He that had a second coat, or some meat to spare, would do well to impart to a needy brother. Cooperation in the battle of life is our first duty.
2. The taxgatherers ask what they should do. John tells them to avoid their easily besetting sin of extortion. In fact, here, as always, the gospel begins by antagonizing man's selfish impulses.
3. The soldiers also ask his advice. These are believed to have been soldiers on the march to a war in Arabia Petraea on behalf of Herod Antipas, and to have been caught at the fords of the Jordan by the wave of religious excitement which was surging there. The brave Baptist advises them to avoid
(2) perjury, and
(3) grumbling about better wages.
He thus sets each class to fight against its easily besetting sins.
V. THE BAPTIST'S MISSION WAS BUT A PROMISE OF A BETTER BAPTISM, (Vers. 15-18.) When John's preaching had proved so successful, the people began to wonder if he were not Messiah himself; and then it was that he declined leadership and spoke of a greater Leader and a far more important baptism. So great was his successor to be, that John was not worthy to unloose his shoe-latchet; and he was to have the grand prerogative of baptizing the people with the Holy Ghost and with fire, or, as it perhaps had better be, "in the Holy Ghost and fire (ἐν πνεύματι ἁγίῳ καὶ πυρί)." The Spirit is an Agent, not a means, as water is; and his agency has all the purifying and sublimating effect of fire, rendering those on whom he descends pure and ardent in the service of the Lord. This baptism of the Spirit is what characterizes the dispensation of Messiah. But Messiah will exercise authority and execute judgment, as well as baptize with fire. He will separate by his doctrine, which is his fan, the wheat from the chaff; and those who demonstrate their worthlessness by rejecting the gospel, will be consigned by him to fire unquenchable. If we will not accept of fire as purification, we shall receive it in another form as fire of judgment (cf. Godet, in loc.). Hence the solemn alternative which Jesus sets before us in his gospel.
VI. THE REWARD THE WORLD GIVES ITS SPIRITUAL HEROES. (Vers. 19, 20.) It has been supposed that John accepted a crafty invitation from Herod Antipas to come to his court. The last act in the tragedy of his life is when he appears before us as a courageous "court-preacher." Here the Baptist would not take things easily, as courtiers do, but denounced the infamy of the monarch. His reward is a dungeon. The finale is his murder. So has the world rewarded its spiritual heroes. It has nothing better for the noblest than a castle-dungeon and a headsman's sword. This shadow is inserted in Luke's history by anticipation. But there is artistic power in so inserting it. It completes the picture of a great ministry. The forerunner of Messiah has not a much better fate than Messiah himself. The age of heroes is beginning in the person of John, the heroes who had heart to die for truth. Their blood is truth's most precious seed, and the gospel which can command "the noble army of martyrs" is destined to endure! - R.M.E.
I. HISTORICALLY. Jesus, as his name indicated, came to be a Savior; but he came to bring a very different salvation from that which was expected of him. His contemporaries were not aware that they themselves were in any need of salvation. They supposed it was their political condition which needed to undergo a change. They were full of a fatal self-sufficiency so far as their own character was concerned; they esteemed themselves the prime favorites of Heaven, and thought that, when the great Deliverer appeared, it would be entirely on their behalf, in order that they might be restored to their rightful place and assume the government they believed themselves so worthy to conduct. If they were to receive, with any cordiality of welcome, a Savior who came to save them, to deliver them from guilt, it was necessary that a voice should be heard speaking in plainest tones breaking through the hard crust of complacency and delusion, working conviction of guilt within the soul; it behoved that he should come "preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins." Thus did John "prepare the way" for Jesus - the apostle of repentance for the Savior of mankind.
II. EXPERIMENTALLY. That which was the historical order is also the order in our heart's experience. We repent of sin before we know the Savior so as to possess his full salvation. It is indeed true that the Words of Jesus Christ, the view of his holy life, the consideration of his dying love - that this is a power working, and working mightily, for repentance on the soul; yet must there be repentance, as an existing condition of mind, for a true and full appreciation of the great service Jesus Christ offers to render to us. We cannot rejoice in him as in our Divine Savior, redeeming us from the penalty and the curse of sin, until we have known and felt our own unworthiness and wrong-doing.
1. This is the scriptural doctrine. Our Lord, before he left his apostles, instructed them to preach "repentance and remission of sins in his:Name among all nations" (Luke 24:47). Peter said, "Repent... for the remission of sins" (Acts 2:38). Paul testified to Jews and Greeks "repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 20:21). John wrote, as he doubtless preached," If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves... if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteoushess" (1 John 1:8, 9).
2. This is the obvious spiritual order. For how can we make our appeal to Christ, how can we put our trust in him as in our Divine Redeemer and the Propitiation for our sins, until we have recognized in ourselves the sinners that we are? For this there is necessary;
(1) The idea of sin - in many hearts, in many places, found to be wholly wanting, and having to be planted there.
(2) The sense of sin - absent from a great many more; absent, it may be, because it is forgotten that our guiltiness before God is not only nor chiefly found in doing what he has forbidden, but in withholding what he has desired and required of us, in the non-payment of the "ten thousand talents" of reverence and gratitude and service we owe him.
(3) Shame for sin, and a strong and deep desire to be cleansed from its evil stain. This true penitence brings us in eagerness and hope to the feet and to the cross of the Divine Savior. - C.
I. THE FUTURE WHICH WE HAVE TO FEAR. We are not to imagine that because those terrible pictures of physical suffering which arose from mistaking the meaning of our Lord's figurative words have long ceased to haunt the minds of men, there is therefore nothing to apprehend in the future. That would be a reaction from one extreme to another. If we take the authority of Scripture as decisive, it is certain that the impenitent have everything to fear. They have to face:
1. Judgment and, with judgment, condemnation. "We must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ." "Every one shall give account of himself to God." What reason here for keen apprehension on the part of the impenitent sensualist, oppressor, defrauder, scorner!
2. The penalty which is due to guilt. This may be heavier or lighter, according as the light in which a man lived was clearer or less clear; but when we think how sin is branded and smitten now, what shame and suffering follow in its train in this world of probation, how seriously Divine wrath visits iniquity even in the day of grace, we may well shrink, with a fear that is not craven but simply wise, from enduring the penalty of unforgiven sin in the world of retribution (see Romans 2:5-9). It is not the brave, but the blind and the infatuated, who are indifferent to "the wrath to' come."
II. OUR COMMON INTEREST IN THIS SOLEMN THEME. "Who hath warned you," said John, addressing himself (as we learn from Matthew) more particularly to the Pharisees and Sadducces, "to flee from the wrath to come? How comes it that you, who are so perfectly satisfied with yourselves and charge yourselves with no defects, are concerned about judgment? And how is it that you Sadducees, who profess not to believe in any future at all, are trembling in view of another world?" Why did the rigid formalist and the sceptic come to listen so attentively to his doctrine of repentance? The truth was and is that the supposed sufficiency of Pharisaical proprieties, and the barrier of sceptical denials, break down in the hour when the faithful and fearless prophet speaks, when the stern but friendly truth of God finds its way to the human conscience. Our carefully constructed defenses may last for days, or even years, but they will not last for ever; the hour comes whoa some strong reality sweeps them away. There is not one of us, into how many different classes or denominations we may be divided, who does not need to inquire earnestly of God's spokesman what is the way of escape from the penalty of sin. And we know what is -
III. THE SURE WAY OF ESCAPE. It is that of penitence, on which John so strongly insisted; and of faith in that "Lamb of God" whom he pointed out as "taking away the sins of the world." - C.
I. THE FUTILE. The Pharisee, if he were charged with any evil course, consoled himself with the thought that he was a "son of Abraham;" to his mind it was everything with God that he was lineally descended from the father of the faithful, and had been admitted by the rite of circumcision into the "commonwealth of Israel." John, anticipating the doctrine of Jesus Christ, demolishes this delusion. That, he tells his audience on the banks of Jordan, is a matter of very small account with Heaven; that is not the criterion of character; that is not the passport to the kingdom of God. Let no man think to build on that poor foundation. Not genealogical connection with the best of men (see John 1:13), not admission by outward rite into any visible community, decides our state before God. If we appear before him, and have no better plea than this to offer, we must prepare for his dismissal. All that is fleshly, all that is circumstantial, all that is outward and unspiritual, falls short of the Divine requirement. It does not bring us into the kingdom of heaven.
II. THE DIFFICULT. "God is able of these stones," etc. Nothing could be easier than for Almighty power to raise up children unto Abraham - to bring into existence more children of privilege. He had bet to "speak, and it would be done; to command, and it would come forth." But it was quite another thing to win the disobedient and the disloyal to filial love and holy service, to bring the hard of heart and the proud of spirit to penitence and confession of sin, to conduct the feet that had long been walking in paths of selfishness and guilt into the ways of wisdom and of worth. This is a work in the accomplishment of which even the Divine Spirit employs many means and expends great resources and exercises long patience. He teaches, he invites, he pleads, he warns, he chastens, he waits. And on this great, this most difficult work, this spiritual victory, on which the eternal Father spends so much of the Divine, we surely may be well content to put forth all our human, strength.
III. THE SEVERE. "Now also the axe is laid unto the root... is hewn down, and cast into the fire." John intimates that a new dispensation is arriving, and with its coming there will come also a more severe sentence against disobedience and unfruitfulness. The shining of the fuller light will necessarily throw far deeper shadows. They who will not learn of the great Teacher will fall under great condemnation. The useless trees in the garden of the Lord will now not only be disbranched, they will be cut down. It is a very solemn thing to live in the full daylight of revealed religion. With every added ray of privilege and opportunity comes increase of sacred responsibility and exposure to the Divine severity.
IV. THE PRACTICAL. (Vers. 10-14.) Real repentance will show itself in right behavior, and every man, according to his vocation, will take his rightful part. The man of means will be pitiful and generous; the man in office will be just and upright; the soldier will be civil; the servant will be faithful and be satisfied with the receipt of what is due to him; the master and the mistress will be fair in their expectation of service; the father will be considerate of his children's weakness; the children will be regardful of their parents' will. And while the right thing will be done, it will be done reverently and religiously, not only as unto man, but as "unto Christ the Lord." - C.
Matthew 11:2, 3). He does not appear to have wavered for a moment in his fidelity to the Lord whose way he came to prepare; he always retained a true estimate of himself, his work, and his Master. In this respect he was as wise as he was true, and we cannot do better than emulate his wisdom.
I. A TRUE ESTIMATE OF OURSELVES. John knew that in personal worth and dignity he was not for a moment to be compared with Jesus. That great Prophet whom he was preceding was "One mightier than himself," One for whom he was not worthy to discharge the meanest office which the slave renders his master. In cherishing this thought he was both fight and wise. There is the truest wisdom in humility. To mistake ourselves, to think ourselves greater or worthier than we are, is to do ourselves the greatest injury and wrong.
1. It is to offend God and to draw down some sign of his serious displeasure (James 4:6).
2. It is to incur the disapproval and hostility of our fellow-men; for there is nothing that our neighbors more thoroughly dislike our part than an exaggerated notion of our own importance.
3. It is in itself an evil and perilous condition, in which we are open to the worst attacks of our spiritual enemies. On the other hand, humility is acceptable to God, approved of man, and safe.
II. A TRUE ESTIMATE OF OUR POSITION and of the work we have to do in the world. John clearly recognized, and very distinctly declared, that his mission in the world was one altogether and immeasurably inferior to that of Christ; to those who would not have been surprised to learn that he claimed to be the Messiah he made it known that he was doing that which was slight and small in comparison with the work of Christ. It is indeed a good and a wise thing for us to aspire to do all that God gives us the capacity and the opportunity to do. But let us take great care that we do not, from pride or vain-glory, go beyond that boundary-line. If we do we shall make a serious and possibly even a calamitous mistake. Many that have done excellent service and have had great joy in the doing it when they have worked within the range of their powers, have done grievous mischief and have suffered sad trouble when they have attempted that which was beyond them. Nothing but injury to others, damage to the cause of God, and sorrow for ourselves can arise from an over-estimate of the position we are able to fill.
III. A TRUE ESTIMATE OF OUR LORD. That Mighty One who was coming should do the very greatest things. He would:
1. Act with direct Divine energy upon the souls of men - "baptize with the Holy Ghost."
2. Utter truth which should have great testing and cleansing power; his fan would "throughly purge his floor" homily on Luke 2:34).
3. Make a final distinction between the true and the false: "He will gather the wheat into his garner," etc. No man who cares for his own spiritual and eternal interests can afford to disregard the words or the work of this great Prophet that was to come, that has come, that "is now exalted a Prince and Savior," giving redemption and eternal life to all who seek his grace and live in his service. - C.
1. That piety will sometimes prompt us to do that which we are under no constraint to do. Jesus was not under any obligation to be baptized with the baptism of repentance. Moreover, he could not be said to be enrolling himself as a disciple of John. But he felt that "it became him" to do what he did (Matthew 3:15); probably his abstention would have been far more likely to be misunderstood than his compliance: hence his action. If we are earnestly desirous of doing everything we can in the cause of truth and righteousness, we shall not stop at the line of positive commandment or of necessity; we shall consider what it becomes us to do and how we shall best serve the purposes of God's love.
2. That God will not fail to manifest himself to us in the hour of need. Again and again he appeared in strengthening grace unto his Son; on this occasion, when "the heaven was opened," etc.; and when "his soul was troubled" (John 10:28); and in the garden (Luke 12:43). So did he appear to Paul in the time of his necessity (Acts 18:9; Acts 23:11; 2 Timothy 4:17). So will he appear in all-sustaining power unto us in the crises of our life.
3. That in proportion to our true devoutness of spirit may we look for the manifestations of God's kindness. "Jesus... praying, the heaven was opened." The main lesson is that those who are God's true children may be assured of his good pleasure in them.
I. GOD'S GOOD PLEASURE IS HIS SON JESUS CHRIST. "Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased." The sentiment of Divine complacency and gladness in Jesus Christ probably had regard to:
1. Our Lord's past earthly life, to the innocency of his childhood, to the integrity of all his life at home, to the preparation he had been making in solitary study and devotion for his life-work.
2. To his then spiritual condition, especially to his attitude toward his Divine Father, his submission to his holy will, his readiness to undertake whatever that holy will should appoint him, and, therefore:
3. To his sacred and sublime purpose, his intention to enter on that great work which should issue in the redemption of mankind. It must have been no slight access of holy strength to the Savior to be so strikingly assured of his Father's love and good pleasure as he entered on that most arduous and lofty enterprise.
II. GOD'S GOOD PLEASURE IN US. We cannot hope to have for ourselves the measure of Divine complacency which was possible in the Person of our Lord. Yet in our measure may we hope to have and to enjoy the good pleasure of our heavenly Father. For us there may be:
1. Full forgiveness of the faulty past. Grieved with all that is guilty, and resting on the abounding mercy of God in Jesus Christ, we are freely and frankly forgiven; so truly and thoroughly forgiven that our past transgressions and shortcomings are buried from the sight of the Supreme; they do not come between our souls and his favor; they are to him as if they were not; they do not make us less dear to his parental heart.
2. Positive Divine delight in our filial loyalty and love. As God, searching our hearts with pure and benign regard, sees in us a true filial spirit, a spirit of grateful love and of cheerful submission and of glad consecration to himself, he is glad in us with a Divine, parental joy.
3. Divine satisfaction with our purpose for the future - our intention to dedicate our life to the service of God and to spend our powers in the service of our kind. - C.
ἅπαντα τὸν λαόν) had submitted to the rite, with, of course, the Pharisaic exceptions already noticed (Luke 7:30), that Jesus appeared at the Jordan to claim the rite too. We learn also from Matthew that John at first objected, feeling an incongruity in the case. Had he been allowed, he would have changed places with Jesus, and been the baptized rather than the baptizer. But Jesus never descended to the administration of water-baptism; he always maintained his high prerogative as the Baptizer of men with the Holy Ghost and fire. Hence, while he insisted on receiving water-baptism, he left it to others to administer it (cf. John 4:2). Let us, then, proceed to the following inquiries: -
I. WHAT WERE CHRIST'S REASONS FOR SUBMITTING TO THIS BAPTISM UNTO REPENTANCE? We must reject at once the insinuation of Strauss and others, that it implied some sense of sin. Jesus never was conscious of sin, as his whole life and his express testimony show (cf. John 8:46; see also Ullman's 'Sinlessness of Jesus,' passim). Why, then, should he come under even the suspicion through a baptism unto repentance? The national character of the movement will help to explain our Lord's act. The multitudes who submitted to baptism did so in hope of a place in Messiah's kingdom. But as a "kingdom of God" the impenitent and unpardoned could have no place in it. A way must be found for the pardon and purification and penitence of sinners. Christ's identification of himself, therefore, in baptism with the expectant people was his surrender of himself so far as needful for the accomplishment of this great work. It was not only a response to the Father's call to enter upon his peculiar Messianic work, as Weiss in his 'Leben Jesu' has very properly suggested, but also a deliberate assumption of the responsibilities of sinners. Hence it has been supposed that, as the ordinary candidates for baptism confessed their personal sins (Matthew 3:6), so Jesus most probably confessed the sins of the nation and people who were looking hopefully for his advent. This dedication, moreover, implied self-sacrifice in due season. The Messiah hereby became voluntarily "the Lamb of God" to take away the sins of the world, and John seems to have realized this himself (John 1:29). It was consequently the most sublime dedication which history records. It was not a mere entrance of the "valley of death," like a soldier in a battle-charge, with a few moments' agony and then all is over; but it was a dedication of himself, three years and more before he suffered, to a policy which could end only in his crucifixion.
II. IN WHAT WAY DID THE FATHER RESPOND TO THIS SUBLIME DEDICATION OF THE SUN? We are told that Jesus was "praying" during the administration of the rite. As Arndt observes, "Instead of John urging Jesus to bring forth fruits meet for repentance, as he had done with others, it is here simply said by Luke, 'And Jesus prayed.' "He prayed with uplifted eye, and for those gifts and graces which his great work needed. His prayer was for his rights in the emergency of his sacrificial life. We seek grace from God as a matter of free favor, and for the Savior's sake. He sought grace and gift as a matter of simple justice, seeing he was undertaking to perform the Father's good pleasure in the salvation of sinners. And now we have to notice how the Father responded to his appeal.
1. The Father granted him the gift of the opened heaven. When it is said "the heaven was opened," we are not to understand by it merely that a rent took place among the clouds to allow the Divine Dove to come fluttering down, but rather that the right of Jesus to access to the heavenly light and secrets is recognized. As Godet puts it, it was the guarantee of a perfect revelation of the Father's will in this great work of saving men. Any clouds which sin may have interposed between man and God were in Christ's case cleared away; and, as a sinless Representative, he is enabled in unclouded light to realize his duty in the matter of man's redemption. It was a splendid assurance that Jesus, at all events, would not want light in the midst of duty. And if we follow the Lord fully, we too shall have such opening of the heavens, and such revelation of duty, as will enable us to see the proper path, and to tread it for the benefit of mankind.
2. The Father granted him the Holy Spirit in the organic form of a descending dove. This symbol is only used in Genesis 1:2, where the Spirit is represented as "brooding dove-like o'er the vast abyss," to use the Miltonic paraphrase; and here in connection with Christ's baptism. The soul of Christ, upon which the Holy Spirit on this second occasion descended, was the scene of a mightier work than the chaotic abyss at first. The new creation is greater than the old; and the sinless material upon which the Divine Dove had to brood guaranteed a more magnificent result than the sensible world affords. The "super- natural evolution" hereby secured has been mightier and more magnificent than the evolution in nature. Now, regarding the significance of the symbol, we are taught that
(1) the Holy Spirit came down in his entirety upon Jesus. Other men receive the Spirit in measure, and hence as oil, as fire, as water, as wind, - these minor symbols sufficing to represent our tiny inspirations; but Jesus receives the Spirit as a dove, an organic whole - the Spirit without measure (John 3:34). We are also taught
(2) that the dove-like graces were imparted in all fullness to Jesus. "As the dove is the symbol of innocence, of purity, of noble simplicity, of gentleness and meekness, of inoffensiveness and humility, so Jesus stood there in possession of the Holy Ghost, as the complete embodiment of all these perfections." And it is out of his fullness we must all receive, and grace for grace. His is the perfect inspiration, ours is the mediated inspiration, so far as we can receive the Spirit. Let us look prayerfully for the descent of the Dove, and he will come to abide even with us! But yet again
(3) the Father granted to Jesus the assurance of Sonship. From the account in Matthew we should suppose the words were spoken to John; from this in Luke we should infer that they were spoken only and directly to Jesus. Both hearers were doubtless regarded in the paternal communication. Now, when we consider all that Jesus had undertaken in accepting baptism, he surely had a right to this assurance, that as a Son he was well-pleasing in all his consecrated life to the Father. It was upon this he fell back in the lonely crisis of his history (John 16:32). It was the only consolation left to him. And a similar assurance may be looked for by us if we are trying to follow in the footsteps of our Lord. It will in our case be a matter of free grace, and not of strict right; but it will in consequence be all the more precious. Most likely we shall have lonely hours when we shall be deserted by supposed friends, and be put upon our mettle as to our faith in the ever-present Father; but at such times the assurance that our conduct has been pleasing in some measure to the Father, and that he sympathizes with us in our work, will be the greatest earthly consolation. If, in studying to show ourselves approved unto God, we are denied every other approval, we can feel the Divine to be all-sufficient!
III. WHAT ARE WE TO LEARN FROM THE INTERPOSED GENEALOGY? Jesus had just been assured of his Sonship, according to St. Luke's history, and now the evangelist interposes between the baptism and the temptation the genealogy of his human nature, carrying it upwards, step by step, to God. The course taken is the reverse of Matthew's. Writing for Jews, Matthew simply starts with Abraham and descends to Joseph, the reputed father of Christ, and so fulfils all Jewish demands. But Luke, writing for a wider Greek-speaking audience, begins with Jesus, the all-important Person, passes to Heli, Mary's father, and then upwards, step by step, past Abraham to Adam, and from Adam to God. Is it not to make out, in the first place, a wider relation for Jesus than Jewish prejudice would afford; to show, in fact, that he is related by blood to the whole human family, and contemplates in the broadest spirit its salvation? In the second place, does the genealogy not clearly imply a direct relation between human nature and God? Man was made at first in the Divine image. This fact affords the basis and the key to the Incarnation. The Divine can unite with the human, since the human was originally the image of the Divine. This relation to God, this spark of Divinity within human nature, constitutes even still man's chief glory. "According to the gospel of the Spirit, Adam is the son of God; according to the gospel of the senses, man is the son of an atom.... If the former prove to be the true descent of man, then we are capable of religion, and we live in some personal relationship to a Being higher than ourselves, from whom we came." We accept, with Luke, as truth the Divine "descent of man," whatever analogies may be made out between man and the beasts. It is surely evidence of our degradation that this Divine descent should be called in question, and its demonstrations disregarded. In the third place, we have to notice that some of Christ's ancestors were not very creditable - the "bar sinister" enters once or twice, as in the case of Thamar and of Rahab; yet this only shows that he owed nothing to his pedigree, but was willing to be related to all kinds of people that he might become their Savior. Let us, then, rejoice in the relation thus established between the eternal Son of God and the human race; and may that Divine image, implanted in the race at first, have its glorious renewal in our individual experience! - R.M.E.
The Pulpit Commentary, Electronic Database.
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