Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judaea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of Ituraea and of the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias the tetrarch of Abilene,
I. How shall we picture John the Baptist to ourselves? Great painters, greater than the world seems likely to see again, have exercised their fancy upon his face, his figure, and his actions. We must put out of our minds, I fear, at once, many of the loveliest of them all, those in which Raffaelle and others have depicted the child John, in his camel's-hair raiment, with a child's cross in his hand, worshipping the Infant Christ. There is also one exquisite picture, by Annibale Caracci, in which the blessed Babe is lying asleep, and the blessed Virgin signs to St. John, pressing forward to adore Him, not to awake his sleeping Lord and God. But such imaginations, beautiful as they are and true in heavenly, spiritual sense, which therefore is true eternally for you and me and all mankind, are not historic fact. For St. John the Baptist said himself, "And I knew Him not." The best picture which I can recollect of John is the great picture by Guido of the magnificent lad sitting on the rock, half-clad in his camel's-hair robe, his stalwart hand lifted up to denounce he hardly knows what, save that things are going all wrong, utterly wrong to him. The wild rocks are around him, the clear sky is over him, and nothing more.
II. St. John preached the most common—let me say boldly, the most vulgar, in the good old sense of the word—the most vulgar morality. He tells his hearers that an awful ruin was coming unless they repented and mended. How fearfully true his words were the next fifty years proved. The axe, he said, was laid to the root of the tree, and the axe was the heathen Roman, even then master of the land. But God, not the Roman Cæsar merely, was laying the axe. And He was a good God, who only wanted goodness, which He would preserve; not badness, which He would destroy. Therefore men must not merely repent and do penance, they must bring forth fruits meet for penance; do right instead of doing wrong lest they be found barren trees to be cut down and cast into that everlasting fire of God, which, thanks be to His Holy Name, burns for ever, unquenchable by all men's politics and systems and political or other economies, to destroy out of God's kingdom all that offendeth and whatsoever loveth and maketh a lie—oppressors, quacks, cheats, hypocrites, and the rest.
C. Kingsley, All Saints' Day and Other Sermons, p. 256.
Reference: Luke 3:2.—J. M. Sloan, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xix., p. 355.
Luke 3:3I. The teaching of St. John the Baptist, as it is described to us in Scripture, was perhaps different to what many would have expected. He had not only been sanctified to God in the world, and had been born of holy parents and kept unspotted from the world; but when he came forth to preach repentance he had been dwelling for thirty years in the wilderness, not only apart from other men, but living in a very hard and severe way, unlike other men. When, therefore, he came down among the cities of men as the great preacher of repentance; and found himself surrounded with multitudes of all kinds given up to sins and vices of which he knew nothing; we might have expected that he would have said something of the desert and his own more excellent mode of life, that he would have called upon all men to retire from so wicked a world, and to live, like himself, quite disengaged from all temporal things. But the holy Baptist's teaching was far different from this; he was as gentle and considerate to others as he was severe and unsparing to himself; they confessed their sins unto him, and he entered into all their temptations; and instead of requiring of them great and difficult things, he told them to avoid their besetting sins and temptations, and so amend their lives.
II. It may be observed that the teaching of the Bible is throughout of this nature. Men are inclined to put themselves forward for great things, and for putting great things before others, because this gratifies the secret pride of our hearts; and certain it is that there is nothing so great but that we ought to do it in religion and which God will, if we seek Him, give us strength to do. But this great thing probably lies much nearer home than we are willing to suppose; it consists in overcoming ourselves and in breaking through some besetting sin which may seem a small matter: so it was in the teaching of the great preacher of repentance; he told men of some besetting temptation which lay at their own door—of that evil spirit who was watching and waiting for them in their daily life; which was first and beyond all things to be attended to.
Plain Sermons by Contributors to "Tracts for the Times," vol. i., p. 20.
References: Luke 3:3.—Homiletic Magazine, vol. x., p. 99. Luke 3:3, Luke 3:4.—F. W. Robertson, The Human Race and Other Sermons, p. 267.
Luke 3:4It may be that many have never clearly understood what was meant by John being Christ's forerunner, why any forerunner was needed, and what truth is declared to us in this part of God's dispensations, which showed that he was needed.
I. The subject is very vast, and might be illustrated by many examples, taken either from history or from private life. And the truth contained in it is this: that Christ's work has never been done effectually in men's hearts, except so far as the work of His forerunner has been done beforehand; that the baptism of the Spirit requires the previous baptism of water; or, in other words, that no man can profitably receive the truths of the Gospel, unless they find his heart made ready by repentance; unless they find him in that state that he knows the evil of his heart, and hates it, and longs to be delivered from it.
II. Why is it that, within our own knowledge, the work of Christ's Spirit is yet wrought so imperfectly? Why are not our lives and thoughts Christian, as well as our outward profession? Is it not because with us too, in so many instances, Christ had been preached to us without His forerunner; because we have never been prepared by repentance to seek His salvation aright?
III. Again, the preparation of Christ's forerunner is needed, because we are apt, as the world goes on, to take up our notions of right and wrong from those about us; to call good what the world calls good, and evil what the world calls evil. The business of Christ's forerunner was to make men aware of this; to show them that their notions of good and evil wanted correction; that far less faults than they dreamed of would be their condemnation in God's judgment; that far higher virtues than those which they thought excellent were needed to enter into the kingdom of heaven.
T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. vi., p. 109.
Of all men that ever lived, John the Baptist was one great concentrated earnestness. The earnestness of which I wish to speak consists in a "prepared way" and straight paths.
I. Before there can be earnestness, there must first be: (1) A fixed conviction that God loves you; that God desires to have you; that Christ is waiting to come into your heart; that He will soon be here; and that your eternal happiness depends upon whether you are ready to meet Him as a forgiven man, as a holy man, as a prepared man. (2) Next, upon these facts it is to have made up your mind thoroughly, once and for all, that you will be a Christian—cost what it may. (3) It is to have made up your mind that nothing whatever shall stand in the way—no object, however dear, no sin, however pleasant. (4) It is to have some great object in view, something steadily in hand, something you are living up to—some good work which you will enterprise, something for love, something for God. (5) It is to be faithful and diligent in the use of means, as one who feels very weak, whose new warmth makes him feel very cold. (6) It is to do all as in a very short time. "My Saviour will soon be here,—I must keep all the approaches clear."
II. Let me ask three things: (1) Are you, as yet, really in earnest about your soul? Are you earnest in proportion to the greatness of the subject? (2) Is the way of God prepared? Is it a highway? Could He come in and find everything open and ready to receive Him? (3) Are all your "paths," your little "ways"—your paths, are they all straight, quite straight? With a God so earnest in all He is doing for you, with death so earnest all about you, with an enemy so very earnest in your breast, with so much to be done in that heart of yours before it is ready, with such a work for God to be done in the world before you die, with such issues at stake—a Christ so near—it is time to be earnest.
J. Vaughan, Sermons, 1871, p. 137.
References: Luke 3:4.—Spurgeon, Evening by Evening, p. 3. Luke 3:7.—New Manual of Sunday School Addresses, p. 52. Luke 3:7-18.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. i., p. 127. Luke 3:8, Luke 3:9.—Ibid., p. 46.
The final stage of religion is duty. Everything else, however comforting, however holy, however true, is only its cradle. The maturity of man is his obedience. If I had to define duty, I should say that it is doing what is right—that is, what conscience and the Bible tell us to do—in any relation of life. And since we have all a relation to God in everything we do, it is doing what is right towards God, or what is right towards man, for God's sake. But we have to do this morning with duty as it connects itself with Advent. And let me mention one of the two points in which duty and Advent meet.
I. In every Advent of Christ, whether it be those continual Advents by which He now approaches and knocks at the door of a man's heart, or whether it be the early harbingers and the tokens of His arrival, when He shall return to our earth again, it is of immense importance that we shall be able quickly to recognise and clearly to perceive it. Now keen religious perception always goes with a high moral state. Trace it as you may, the fact is certain, that a life of duty and a ready apprehension of truth always go together.
II. Another link which fastens duty to Advent is this: that our Lord, when He comes, would wish to find us each at our own proper work, whatever that work may be. I gather this from three things: (1) First, as far as we have any record, Christ, when He came before, always chose those whom He found at their work. The call did not find them in their retirement, but in their engagements. (2) Christ Himself has said it, speaking of domestic duties, "Blessed is that servant whom his Lord, when He cometh, shall find so doing." (3) The Advent will be the end of all earthly work; and therefore it must find it done, else it will be undone for ever. Would you not wish Christ to have the joy of finding you, when He comes, where you ought to be, copying His busy, useful life, and doing right and important things for His glory, with the very motive that may be blessed when He comes to see you?
J. Vaughan, Sermons, 1871, p. 153.
Luke 3:10-14I. St. John's three answers all go upon the principle of "doing our duty in that state of life unto which it hath pleased God to call us;" but they are the more striking as coming from a person like St. John, a person so entirely out of the ordinary course, to whom any of the names with which careless people delighted to brand those who have been led to a more than usually solemn sense of their condition before God, might be most fitly applied; he might be called an enthusiast, one who held very strange notions, a man whose religion had turned his head, and so forth; and yet you will perceive that this strange preacher of repentance who appeared to hold such extreme views about fasting and penance and the like, did, when applied to, give rules of holiness which seem to err all on the other side. Some persons would tell us that there is no religion in them at all, that they are only rules of morality, and that spiritual religion is something different from and beyond morality. Well, be it so; but still these were St. John's directions for preparing to meet Christ.
II. St. John did not say that this was the whole of the religion which He who came after him would have to teach; on the other hand, he used some mysterious language about a "baptism with the Holy Ghost and with fire," which should contrast strongly with his own baptism, which was merely a baptism with water unto repentance. But although St. John knew better than most men the truth that Christ was coming as a revealer of mysteries, and a founder of a more spiritual religion, and a medium of much nearer communion with God than any which had yet been vouchsafed to man, he still laid the foundation in the performance of common duties, he still preached this as the best preparation for the coming of Christ, that men should each in their own calling do their duty as in the fear of God. Do your duty where God has placed you; be honest, be diligent, be kind, be pitiful, not slothful in business, but yet in all things fearing the Lord; and though this may not be all, yet at least it is the beginning of all good things, and is the true foundation of the house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.
Bishop Harvey Goodwin, Parish Sermons, 4th series, p. 346.
References: Luke 3:10-14.—Homiletic Magazine, vol. viii., p. 151. Luke 3:10-15.—Outline Sermons to Children, p. 153. Luke 3:15-22.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. i., p. 449.
Have you never observed that everyone's character is determined by what he is living up to? Why is the Mohammedan an idle and self-indulgent man? Because he lives up to a corporeal and indolent and sensuous heaven. Why is the Brahmin a man of apathy? Because, after all his transmigrations, he has nothing to expect, according to his creed, but annihilation, absolute annihilation. Why does the believer grow holy and loving, but because he is always realising in his mind the heaven of holiness and love to which he is going? Certainly expectation is a duty.
I. But God has done with this faculty of expectation what He has done with all the natural powers and habits of the human mind—He has sanctified it and elevated it. And this is the way God has done it. He has thrown into it first truth, then affection, and then great delight, so He has made it hope. What is it? Expectation with desire from the beginning, hope has been the great principle of God's moral government of the world. The moment that man fell, and the present became unhappy, the antidote was hope: "I will put enmity;" "the seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent's head." Observe, at once, the mind was sent off into the future for its comfort. It was the same with Abraham; he had nothing, he was to have everything. The Jews lived by their prophecies. All sacrifice speaks the same language. And now what is the aim, the consolation, the theme, the life of the whole Church, but the coming back of her dear Lord? And when He comes, there may be another future to look forward to still, and probably another and another and another.
II. Notice in this long line of expectation that the next thing in the succession is always greater and better than that which preceded it. The series is always rising—every prophecy has its range of fulfilment; first an early and historical one, then an inward and spiritual one, then an evangelical one in the life and death of Jesus Christ, then an ultimate one in yet future glories. If you could read it so, whenever anything happy comes to you—an answered prayer, a gift of God—you may always hear it saying, "I am only a pledge of something else; there is something better than I am behind." All along, at every stage, the principle is the same, and the words of the Baptist have their echo and their counterpart everywhere: "One mightier than I cometh."
J. Vaughan, Sermons, 1871, p. 170.
References: Luke 3:16.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xviii., No. 1044; Homiletic Magazine, vol. i., p. 99.
Luke 3:17Judaism and Christianity.
Christ came and hewed out for the waters of the old Judaism a new and fitting channel. He led it away from the political groove where it would have been destroyed by uniting it with a spiritual kingdom. He added to it other and deeper thoughts. Instead of saying that Christ caused a revolution which put back the progress of the world, we should say that He saved the revolution which was necessary from the violence which would have brought about its ruin; that He saved it from having to be done all over again; as, to give a political illustration, has been the case with the French Revolution. What now were the characteristics of the revolution?
I. It was destructive. Christ saw that the time had come, that the whole world of Jews and heathens was so choked up with chaff that a slow process would be ruin. He seized the moment, He accepted its dangers, and He sent forth ideas which flew along like flame, consuming, destroying, but also assimilating. "The chaff He burned up with unquenchable fire."
II. But if Christianity was destructive as a revolution it was also preservative. If Christ sent forth ideas which consumed the chaff, He sent them forth also to gather the wheat into His garner. No noble feelings or true thought, either in Judaism or in heathenism, perished. They were taken up and woven into the new fabric.
III. Its third element was a civilising power. Neither Greek science nor Roman culture had power to spread beyond themselves. Rome did not try to civilise in the right way. Instead of drawing forth the native energies of conquered nations, it imposed on them from without the Roman education. It tried to turn them into Romans. The Christian teachers reversed the Roman mode of proceeding. Hence the peculiar character of any nation was not lost in Christianity, but so far as it was good developed and intensified. The people grew naturally into their distinctive place in the world.
S. A. Brooke, Christ in Modern Life, p. 47.
References: Luke 3:18-20.—Homiletic Magazine, vol. xi., p. 49. Luke 3:19, Luke 3:20.—Ibid., p. 235; F. W. Robertson, Sermons, 3rd series, p. 270.
Luke 3:21-22Christ's Baptism, a Token of Pentecost.
Without all question, there is a deep and mysterious connection between the baptism of our Saviour and the coming of the Holy Ghost upon the Apostles. They are, if we may so speak, parts of the same wonderful work of God, the saving Christian people by the kingdom of heaven. Christ's baptism was the beginning, the coming down of the Holy Ghost on the day of Pentecost was the middle, the baptism of each Christian is, in a certain sense, part of the end.
I. Our Saviour was praying after His baptism when the Holy Ghost came upon Him; so the Apostles, when they returned from witnessing His ascension, continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, until He sent the Comforter, according to His promise. As it was the same heavenly Person who came down first upon the Head and afterwards upon the members, so there was, by God's providence, a great resemblance between the outward tokens given in the one case and in the other.
II. These outward tokens of the Holy Comforter's presence do not only make us sure of that presence, but also instruct us not a little in the manner and in the greatness of the change He works in us. (1) Water, for example, pure water, springing out of the earth, or dropping from heaven by the immediate gift of God, who sees not that it represents the refreshing and cleansing power of that Divine grace which, coming direct from God, purifies the stain of our hearts, and makes us strong and active to keep the commandments? Who is not reminded by it of the living water which the Lord has promised to give us, not only to quench our thirst for the time, but to be in us "a well of water springing up to everlasting life"? (2) Again, what signified the fiery tongues? Surely they had the substance of of fire, because of the searching power of Christ's Spirit, which in a wonderful manner tries every man's heart of what sort it is, penetrating into all the dark corners of our souls, and where it is not resisted, enlightening, warming, melting all. (3) What are we to learn from the appearance of the Holy Ghost as a dove? The voice of the Holy Ghost in prayer, inwardly uttered in a Christian's heart, is like the unwearied melancholy tones of the dove. This reason is given us by a great and holy bishop, St. Augustine; and he adds another—the simple, harmless innocence of the dove; and yet another—its gentle, peaceful, loving nature, whereby it becomes the token both of truth and charity.
Plain Sermons by Contributors to "Tracts for the Times," vol. vii., p. 136; see also J. Keble, Sermons from Ascension Day to Trinity, p. 176.
References: Luke 3:21, Luke 3:22.—G. Brooks, Five Hundred Outlines, p. 75; Homiletic Magazine, vol. vi., p. 75; vol. x., p. 294. Luke 3:21-23.—W. Hanna, Our Lord's Life on Earth, p. 50.
Luke 3:22The descent of the Holy Ghost in the form of a dove was an emblem of the new dispensation which the Saviour came to announce; and instead of the fiery law, delivered in the midst of blackness and darkness and tempest, and the deafening sound of the trumpet, the blessed Spirit descended in the form of a dove, and the assuring truth was taught that grace and truth had come by Jesus Christ.
I. As the brooding of the Spirit of God upon the face of the deep produced order and life in the beginning, so does He impart new life to the soul and open the eyes of the understanding, that we may behold the wonders of God's law.
II. In the fact that the Holy Ghost descended upon the Lord Jesus in the form of a dove, we are reminded that quietness is often essential to many of the operations of grace.
III. As the dove is an appropriate emblem of love, so the soul which is influenced by the blessed Spirit will abound in love to God and love to His people, IV. The descent of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove should remind us that gentleness is a distinguishing mark of Christian character in which most of us have very much to learn. The sight of a gentle dove picking its food quietly in the midst of a crowded street, noisy with the busy hum of traffic, suggested a pleasant thought. The beautiful bird did not seem out of place, but it rather appeared to say, by its guileless, innocent ways, that worldly employments have no triumphs so complete as to excuse the surrender of the pure and meek virtues of which the dove is a symbol. Its white glistening plumage casts rays of brightness even on the stony pavement, trodden by the hurried footsteps of the trader and the money-changers, and its gentle eyes reflected the spirit of the Saviour's words: "Be ye wise as serpents, and harmless as doves."
J. N. Norton, Every Sunday, p. 288.
Luke 3:23The Divinity of Christ.
Our discourse will turn upon the words, "As was supposed." Our blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ was "supposed" to be the son of Joseph. But the words of the text seem to imply that He was not actually the son of Joseph: they are an indirect testimony to that grand truth which the evangelist St. Luke has already recorded, and the taking away of which would be the overthrow of the Christian religion: "Therefore also that Holy Thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God."
I. There is no dispute that Christ is spoken of in the Bible as God, but there is much dispute as to the sense in which the language ought to be understood. There can be no dispute that the name "God" is often used in the Bible, when it cannot for a moment be supposed that it is used in its high and incommunicable sense. Thus it is said to Moses, "I have made thee a god to Pharaoh,"—where Moses is so called evidently not as being properly a god, but as being in that instance or circumstance in the place of God, and doing that which it is God's office to do. But when you turn to the Bible, in order to determine whether it can only be in this secondary or figurative way that Christ is styled God, we are overwhelmed with proof that it must be in the same sense, and in as high a sense as the Father Himself is so styled. For Christ is called the Jehovah—a word of absolute signification, which is never given to any but the one true God.
II. Not only the titles but the attributes of Deity are ascribed in Scripture to Christ. The eternity of the Son is distinctly asserted; for Christ spoke of Himself as "He which is, and which was, and which is to come"—words which, like the name Jehovah, can only be interpreted as denoting independent and therefore eternal substance. Christ is also declared to be immutable, "Jesus Christ, the same yesterday and today and for ever;" omniscient, "Lord, Thou knowest all things;" omnipresent, "Where two or three are gathered together in My Name, there am I in the midst of them." These attributes are all ascribed to Him whom some suppose to have been only Joseph's son, and regard it as monstrous to look upon Him as God. Who can God be, if Christ be only man—Christ the eternal, Christ the omniscient, Christ the omnipresent?
H. Melvill, Penny Pulpit, No. 2,281.
Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests, the word of God came unto John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness.
And he came into all the country about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins;
As it is written in the book of the words of Esaias the prophet, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth;
And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.
Then said he to the multitude that came forth to be baptized of him, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance, and begin not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, That God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.
And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: every tree therefore which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
And the people asked him, saying, What shall we do then?
He answereth and saith unto them, He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do likewise.
Then came also publicans to be baptized, and said unto him, Master, what shall we do?
And he said unto them, Exact no more than that which is appointed you.
And the soldiers likewise demanded of him, saying, And what shall we do? And he said unto them, Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages.
And as the people were in expectation, and all men mused in their hearts of John, whether he were the Christ, or not;
John answered, saying unto them all, I indeed baptize you with water; but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire:
Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and will gather the wheat into his garner; but the chaff he will burn with fire unquenchable.
And many other things in his exhortation preached he unto the people.
But Herod the tetrarch, being reproved by him for Herodias his brother Philip's wife, and for all the evils which Herod had done,
Added yet this above all, that he shut up John in prison.
Now when all the people were baptized, it came to pass, that Jesus also being baptized, and praying, the heaven was opened,
And the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon him, and a voice came from heaven, which said, Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased.
And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, which was the son of Heli,
Which was the son of Matthat, which was the son of Levi, which was the son of Melchi, which was the son of Janna, which was the son of Joseph,
Which was the son of Mattathias, which was the son of Amos, which was the son of Naum, which was the son of Esli, which was the son of Nagge,
Which was the son of Maath, which was the son of Mattathias, which was the son of Semei, which was the son of Joseph, which was the son of Juda,
Which was the son of Joanna, which was the son of Rhesa, which was the son of Zorobabel, which was the son of Salathiel, which was the son of Neri,
Which was the son of Melchi, which was the son of Addi, which was the son of Cosam, which was the son of Elmodam, which was the son of Er,
Which was the son of Jose, which was the son of Eliezer, which was the son of Jorim, which was the son of Matthat, which was the son of Levi,
Which was the son of Simeon, which was the son of Juda, which was the son of Joseph, which was the son of Jonan, which was the son of Eliakim,
Which was the son of Melea, which was the son of Menan, which was the son of Mattatha, which was the son of Nathan, which was the son of David,
Which was the son of Jesse, which was the son of Obed, which was the son of Booz, which was the son of Salmon, which was the son of Naasson,
Which was the son of Aminadab, which was the son of Aram, which was the son of Esrom, which was the son of Phares, which was the son of Juda,
Which was the son of Jacob, which was the son of Isaac, which was the son of Abraham, which was the son of Thara, which was the son of Nachor,
Which was the son of Saruch, which was the son of Ragau, which was the son of Phalec, which was the son of Heber, which was the son of Sala,
Which was the son of Cainan, which was the son of Arphaxad, which was the son of Sem, which was the son of Noe, which was the son of Lamech,
Which was the son of Mathusala, which was the son of Enoch, which was the son of Jared, which was the son of Maleleel, which was the son of Cainan,
Which was the son of Enos, which was the son of Seth, which was the son of Adam, which was the son of God.