Luke 3:2

I. THE BEGINNING OF ST. MARK'S MEMOIR.

1. The commencement. It is a remarkable circumstance and a curious coincidence that the first words of this Gospel are an echo of Peter's confession, in that confession, as recorded by St. Matthew, Peter expresses his belief in the very remarkable words, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. In nearly the same words St. Mark commences his narrative: The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

2. Difference of construction. The words of this first verse may be taken

(1) as the title of the entire book; or

(2) in construction with the following verse, "The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was as it is written in the prophets;" or

(3) even in connection with the fourth verse, the second and third being parenthetic; that is, "The beginning of the gospel... was John baptizing."

3. Omissions. After a brief but indispensable introduction, touching the ministry of the Baptist, the evangelist hurries on to his concise but clear and comprehensive narrative of our Lord's public life, beginning with his baptism by John. He passes over the four events of the Saviour's childhood - the circumcision and presentation in the temple, which are recorded by St. Luke, as also the visit of the Magi and the flight into Egypt, mentioned by St. Matthew. He passes over the only recorded incident of his early days - the one event which constituted the dividing line between his childhood and youth, when, at his second appearance in the temple, he disputed with the doctors, and in connection with which we have his first recorded utterances, "How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business?" St. Mark also omits the lineage of our Lord, by which St. Matthew connects him with the seed of Abraham according to the flesh, and likewise that other genealogy, which St. Luke traces still higher up, connecting him with Adam and so with humanity itself, including Gentile as well as Jew. In the whole four Gospels there is only one single verse descriptive of our Lord's childhood, which reads as follows: - "The child grew and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom [or rather, 'waxed strong, becoming filled with wisdom']: and the grace of God was upon him;" while one other verse contains the record of his youth, "Jesus increased [rather, 'advanced'] in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man." All we know for certain of our Lord's life, up to the time of his manifestation to Israel, may be summed up in the few following facts: - Dutifulness to his earthly parents in childhood; diligence in business as a carpenter, like his fellow-men, in youth and early manhood; devotion to his heavenly Father all through his childhood, youth, and man-hood - from his earliest to his latest breath. St. Mark overleaps all the preceding period, and makes our Lord's entrance on ministerial life the starting-point of his Gospel. It is as though, impatient of delay, he hastened onward to the mighty issue, and acted on the well-known principle -

"But to the grand event he speeds his course,
And bears his readers with resistless force
Into the midst of things."

4. Practical observations.

(1) Long, labourious preparation is needed for the life-work, when that work is to be a noble one, and that life a real success. It was thus with Moses; it was thus with Jesus; it was so with Luther and Other reformers; it has been so all down the centuries with the men who have blessed the world and benefited their race.

(2) The example of our Lord dignifies honest industry and ennobles daily toil.

(3) A spurious sentimentalism, like the apocryphal Gospels, is apt to busy itself more with the childhood and youth than with the manhood and ministry of the Saviour.

II. THE GOSPEL.

1. Meaning of the term. The original word rendered "gospel," or "good news," meant in Homeric times a reward given to the bearer of good news, or a sacrifice offered on account of good news; but in gospel days it signified the good news itself.

2. Its embodiment. This good news centres in a Saviour whose proper name is "Jesus" - indicating the nature of his work, "for he will save his people from their sins;" his official title is "Christ" - the Messiah, or Anointed One, promised to the fathers, and thus solemnly inaugurated in the high functions, prophetical, priestly, and kingly, which he was called to discharge; while his designation of "Son of God" implies his two - fold qualification, namely, dignity of nature and possession of power for the accomplishment of the great redemption, God's remedy for sin. The good news is inseparable from the person of the Saviour - at once human and Divine, from the works he did, from the truths he taught, and from the sufferings he endured; and thus it is embodied in him.

3. Its extent. Its range is most extensive, including salvation for the lost, life for the dead, grace for the guilty, pardon for the penitent, bread of life for the hungry, and living water for the thirsty soul. Good news! no wonder the evangelist is in a hurry to make known such good news.

4. Its essence. The essence of the gospel may be expressed in a few sentences; its sum and substance may be compressed into the compass of a few short statements of Scripture; yea, the whole is contained in that single Scripture, "It is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners;" or in that other Scripture, "The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin;" or in that third Scripture, "The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."

5. Its epithets. The epithets applied to it are instructive, as indicating some of its many features. It is "the gospel of peace," for its contents proclaim "peace on earth and good will towards men," as well as "glory to God in the highest." It is called "the gospel of salvation," because it saves as well as sanctifies. It is styled "the glorious gospel," from its glorious influences - enlightening the understanding, purifying the heart, renewing the will, regenerating the soul, sanctifying the whole man - body, soul, and spirit; while at the same time it elevates the mind to God and heaven and eternal things. It is "the everlasting gospel," for it is still the same, though change and alteration are the very essence of this world; it remains the same amid all the ups and downs of time; and its blessed results are durable as eternity itself. It is "the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God," for he is the Alpha and Omega of it; he is the Source from which all its benefits and blessings flow; he is the Guide to the ways and means by which we become partakers of the same. Whether, therefore, we consider it as the gospel of God, or the gospel of his grace, or the gospel of peace, or the gospel of salvation, or the glorious gospel, or the everlasting gospel, or the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, it justifies its claim to be the "godspell," or glad message, or good news, which the name implies.

6. Its effects. Good news, then, is the subject to which the evangelist, at the very outset, calls our attention. Good news! Oh, how the heart beats in the prospect of good news! How the pulse throbs in expectation of good news! How many a heart beats wildly when the postman's knock comes to the door! How many a bright eye becomes still brighter when the precious little letter, which brings good news from friends abroad or friends at home, is put into the hand! Now, the best news that ever fell on the ear, or met the eye, or gladdened the heart, of mortal man, is this gospel of the Son of God. It has quickened many a dead soul; it has gladdened many a sad heart; it has filled many a drooping spirit with joy unspeakable; it has led many a pilgrim of earth onward and upward to the glories of heaven.

III. UNION OF THE OLD AND NEW TESTAMENT SCRIPTURES. In vers. 2, 3, the evangelist binds together as in one volume, and unites with better than clasps of gold, the Old Testament and the New. He brings into closest connection the canon of the former with that of the latter. They are, indeed, the twin lips of one and the same Divine oracle. Accordingly, he bridges over the chasm of four hundred years between the last prophet of the Old Testament and the first prophet, or rather precursor of the Saviour, in the New. The ministry of John and the mission of the Saviour had been expressly foretold by the prophets Isaiah and Malachi - the prediction of the former was primary, that of the latter secondary and subordinate. Consequently, treating Malachi's as prefatory and introductory, announcing the messenger and his function, he fixes attention mainly on that of Isaiah, as containing the message itself, and the actual ministry with which the forerunner was charged. The name of Malachi is therefore omitted, for the correct reading, as given by the critical editors is, no doubt, "in Isaiah the prophet."

IV. THE VOICE THE PROPHET HEARD. The prophet Isaiah, as we may picture his position, is looking away, with straining eyes, into the distant future of his people; he is listening, with outstretched neck and ears eagerly attentive, for any intimation of their redemption; but in vain. No vision is granted, no promise vouchsafed. He does not, however, despair; he keeps looking and listening and longing for something to strengthen his faith or encourage his hope. All is hushed around, and again he listens with bated breath; but hark! at length he hears a sound. It is a voice away in a distant desert land; it is waking the echoes of the wilderness. "It is the voice of one crying." It is just a voice, and seemingly nothing more - not unlike that bird of which the poet writes -

"Shall I call thee bird,
Or but a wandering voice?...
Thrice welcome, darling of the spring!
Even yet thou art to me
No bird; but an invisible thing,
A voice, a mystery." We must not confound John with the voice, as those who translate the expression of the prophet, "a voice crying;" but understand the voice as his chief characteristic or main peculiarity, as in secular authors we read of the strength of Hercules, the virtue of Scipio, the wisdom of Laelius, or as when Cicero in a disparaging sense affirms that, on the removal of Catiline, he had nothing to fear from the drowsiness of Lentulus, or the corpulence of Cassins, or the mad rashness of Cethegus.

V. DISTRICT OF JOHN'S MINISTRY. Kings, when setting out to visit the remote provinces of their kingdoms, were usually preceded by heralds to announce their approach and pioneers to prepare the way - removing obstacles, clearing away impediments, and so making rough places smooth; bridging streams, filling up valleys, levelling hills, and so causing a straight, direct road to take the place of a circuitous and devious route. Some preparation like this was made for Alexander the Great when he marched to the Indus, and more so still for Semiramis in her progress through Media and Persia. Likewise in Vespasian's march to Galilee a detachment was appointed "to make the road even and straight, and, if it were anywhere rough and hard to be passed over, to plane it, and to cut down the woods that hindered their march." The necessity for such preparatory measures would be increased in a desert district without roads, or with roads so bad as to be almost impassable. When Jehovah restored the Hebrew exiles from Babylon to their own land, the region through which they had to pass was dreary and desolate, and in some places pathless. To the preparation of a way through the difficulties of such a district for the returning Hebrew exiles, with the great king at their head, the words of the prophet primarily referred. This, like other great events in the cycle of Jewish history, was, no doubt, typical of that moral waste in which the people were when Jehovah came again for their redemption in the person of Messiah. Very appropriately, therefore, did John choose for the scene of his ministry the wilderness of Judaea. This comprehended the eastern slope of the hills from Jerusalem and Hebron, down the Jordan valley to the western shore of the Dead Sea and the banks of Jordan - a wild region, in many places rough, rugged, and rocky, with sparse, if any, population, some spots of pasture-ground, and few or no trees. Here it was that the Baptist made his appearance (ἐγένετο) - "comes forth" (παραγίνεται, St. Matthew). A difficult work awaits him in preparing Messiah's way: humble and contrite ones are to be elevated; proud and lofty spirits to be brought low; the crooked ways of crafty men to be made straight; rough, untutored natures to be softened; and moral obstacles of every kind to be removed, in order that, the way being thus prepared, the march of Prince Messiah might be unhindered.

VI. DISTINGUISHING RITE OF THE BAPTIST'S MINISTRY.

1. Proselyte baptism. In connection with the ceremonial law of the Jews, there were "divers washings." Such baptisms or ablutions were practiced by them from the earliest period of their polity. Originally appointed by Divine authority, they were incorporated as part and parcel of the national religion. Their design was an important one, for they were intended to serve as symbols of that purity which was required in all true worshippers of Jehovah. On the eve of the giving of the Law to Israel, and of that people's gracious admission into covenant with God, a great national assembly took place - the various Hebrew tribes spreading over the desert and round the base of Sinai, the Lord directed Moses, saying, "Go unto the people, and sanctify them to-day and to-morrow, and let them wash their clothes, and be ready against the third day: for the third day the Lord will come down in the sight of all the people upon Mount Sinai;" while, in consequence of and in obedience to this direction, "Moses went down from the mount unto the people, and sanctified the people; and they washed their clothes." Further, when strangers from among the surrounding nations embraced the Jews' religion, they were washed as well as circumcised; and that washing was called "baptizing unto Moses," or proselyte baptism. This rite, notwithstanding the assertion of some to the contrary, appears to have existed before our Saviour's time, and to be evidently implied in several passages of the New Testament. It was, moreover, a rite which sprang naturally out of the opinion commonly current among the Jews that all mankind were in an unclean condition, and so incapable of admission into the covenant of Israel, unless and until they were baptized or washed, in token of being purified from their state of moral uncleanness.

2. Position of John's baptism. But what, it is necessary to inquire, was the position occupied by the baptism of John? What was its relation to other similar ablutions? In reply we answer that the baptism of John was neither proselyte baptism on the one hand, nor Christian baptism on the other. It was not proselyte baptism, for that was administered only to proselytes, that is to say, converts to the Jewish faith, whereas John baptized Jews; and this alone will account for the misgiving and alarm which the baptism of John caused to the Jewish authorities. Hence the question of the Pharisees, as recorded in John 1:25, "Why baptizest thou then, if thou be not that Christ, nor Elias, neither that prophet?" The prophet referred to, it may be remarked in passing, was probably Jeremiah, whose revivescence as a forerunner of Messiah the Jews expected, believing, according to an old legend, that he would restore, or reveal the hiding-place of, the ark of the covenant, the tabernacle, and the altar of incense, which he had hid in Pisgah, at whatever time God should gather his people together. The Pharisees could have readily understood the baptism of Gentile proselytes into the Jewish faith, and such baptism by John could have produced no uneasiness and caused no alarm. Instead of occasioning pain, it would have given them pleasure, as the admission of converts into the Jewish Church by such baptism would have contributed to their own ecclesiastical importance, and tended to augment the numerical power of their party. But the disquieting circumstance about it was that it was Jews whom John baptized; and what were they to make of that? What were these zealots for Judaism to think of the administration to Jews of a rite which had only been administered to Gentile proselytes; and the administration of which was either the formal introduction into a new faith or the first inauguration of a new dispensation? It was this that aroused their fears and excited their apprehensions. They saw clearly that John's baptism was the dawn of a new dispensation - a dispensation destined, as they rightly suspected, to subvert in a certain sense, or at least supersede, the old. In their alarm they accordingly ask, "If thou art not that Christ himself, who, we are taught to believe, will inaugurate a new dispensation; nor Elias, his forerunner; nor that prophet, be it Jeremiah or some other of the old prophets who shall reappear on earth at Messiah's advent; - why baptizest thou then, seeing it is not Gentile converts to Judaism, but Jews themselves, that are admitted to your baptism?" John's baptism, then, was not proselyte baptism. Neither was it Christian baptism, as we learn from Acts 19 at the beginning, where certain disciples at Ephesus, who had been baptized into John's baptism, were rebaptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. "Unto what then were ye baptized?" asks Paul. "And they said, Unto John's baptism. Then said Paul, John verity baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus." With this agrees the sentiment of an ancient Greek Father, the purport of which is that John's baptism was more than Jewish baptism, for it involved repentance as well as water baptism; it was less than Christian, for it was not with the Spirit, as Christ's was.

VII. DOCTRINE PREACHED BY THE BAPTIST. The doctrine he preached was the doctrine of repentance for the remission of sins. He called their sins to mind, summoning them to confession and contrition; while this proper sense of, and sorrow for, sin showed them their need of a Saviour and prepared them for his salvation. In token of repentance commenced and to be continued, and of the power of him whose reign was now beginning, to cleanse the truly penitent from all sin, he baptized them with water unto repentance. Thus, while John proclaimed the advent of the new dispensation, he prepared for it and prefaced it by a most appropriate and significant rite. On this Theophylact comments as follows: - "But whither did this preaching of repentance lead? To the forgiveness of sins, that is, to the baptism of Christ which had the forgiveness of sins."

VIII. DRESS OF THE BAPTIST. Everything was in perfect keeping with the strange surroundings of the Baptist. His dress, his diet, and his discourse were all in harmony with the desert where he ministered. His dress was neither gorgeous nor gay like that of a king's herald; it was of the coarsest and roughest kind. His garment was made of cloth of rudest texture, woven out of camel's hair; he was girded not with the rich linen or highly ornamented girdle of the Oriental, but with a cincture of untanned hide, like the prophets' raiment of early times; just such as Elijah wore, and such as Zechariah speaks of when he refers to the rough garment as the proper prophetic costume, and as such assumed by false prophets in order to deceive.

IX. DIET OF THE BAPTIST. His diet was as plain as his dress. His food was not sumptuous, but of the simplest sort; scarce sufficient to keep soul and body together - the honey of the wild bee, which he found in the fissure of the rock or clefts of trees, and the locusts of the wilderness. The honey was not that which exuded from trees, but the veritable product of wild bees; nor were the locusts the sweet pods of the locust tree, but the real locusts still used for food by the Bedouin of the desert. "He also," says Thomson in 'The Land and the Book,' "dwelt in the desert where such food was and is still used; and therefore the text states the simple truth. His ordinary 'meat' was dried locusts - probably fried in butter and mixed with honey, as is still frequently done. The honey, too, was the article made by bees.... Wild honey is still gathered in large quantities from trees in the wilderness, and from rocks in the wadies, just where the Baptist sojourned, and where he came preaching the doctrine of repentance."

X. DISCOURSE OF THE BAPTIST TO THE COMING CROWDS.

1. Audience addressed. The persons who went out to John's ministry are described by St. Luke as crowds or multitudes (ὄχλοι); but they are distinguished by St. Matthew as comprehending two component parts, or two contending sects, namely, Pharisees and Sadducees, that together made up the main body of the nation. To the Gentiles, for whom St. Luke wrote, the distinction would have little meaning and no interest; to the Hebrew Christians, for whom St. Matthew wrote, it would convey the fact that the crowds that flocked to the Baptist's ministry were made up of the two religious sects of Judaism promiscuously. In his audience were Judaeans and Jerusalemites - people from the country and the capital; and dwellers in all the region round about the Jordan (περίχωρος), Samaritans, Galileans, Peraeans, and Gaulonites.

2. His discourse denunciatory. His discourse breathed the spirit of a reformer and evinced the power of a reformer. He denounced most scathingly the ritualistic Pharisee and the rationalistic Sadducee - traditionist and scripturist alike; high and low, rich and poor. He spared the shortcomings of no class, the iniquities of no rank, and the sins of no individual. The plea of ancient privilege and of pious ancestors he treated with scorn, telling such as resorted to those refuges that God could, and would if necessary, raise up children to Abraham out of the stones that lay scattered through the valley, or the shingle that strewed the strand of the Jordan, or those huge boulders - those memorial stones which Joshua had set up near the bank of that historic river. This expression, by the way, though apparently harsh, may allude to Isaiah 51:1, 2, "Look unto the rock whence ye are hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence ye are digged. Lock unto Abraham your father, and unto Sarah that bare you."

3. His discourse menacing. He threatened the vengeance of heaven on all who refused to repent and return to God. The woodman's axe was already brandished to fell the trees that continued barren. The axe was brought into unpleasant proximity to such trees - not to the branches merely, but was laid to the very root; in fact, lies at it (κεῖται). The fatal blow was ready to be struck at any moment. In view of anger so imminent, he urges all to flee from the wrath to come - to repent, and not only profess, but prove, their repentance real by fruits answerable to such profession; "If then (οϋν) you are as anxious as you seem to escape that storm of future wrath, bring forth fruit suitable to genuine penitence."

4. His discourse effective. The various classes that had resorted to his ministry were roused to a sense of danger. The terror of the alarmed multitudes took shape in the question, "What, then, shall we do?" Just as on the day of Pentecost, the men of Israel, pricked to the heart, addressed themselves to Peter and the rest of the apostles, asking, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" And just as the Philippian jailor, in his wild alarm, trembling and falling down before Paul and Silas, cried out, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?"

5. Directions to different classes. The reply in this case inculcated a lesson of charity and sympathy - the person who had two tunics or under garments (χιτῶνες), besides his outer garment (ἱμάτιον), was to impart to the poor starveling who had not even one. So with food of all forms and every kind (βρώματα) as well as raiment. Such were the directions addressed to the multitudes (ὄχλοι) while the difference between these directions and those addressed to the two following classes deserves notice. To the former (the multitudes) he said, "Do good;" to the latter (publicans and soldiers)he said, "Abstain from evil;" to the one the direction is positive, to the other negative. To the former he said, "Learn to do well;" and the latter, "Cease to do evil." The publicans again, who were looked on as trading on their country's degradation, he forbade to continue their unjust exactions and dishonest dealings; while the soldiers on their march (στρατευόμενοι), whether those of Antipas marching against his father-in-law Aretas, or otherwise, he commanded, in reply to their numerous and earnest inquiries (ἐπηρώτων imperf.), to forbear extortions either by threats or false accusations - neither to concuss the poor by the former, nor force money out of the pockets of the rich by the latter: also to be content with their wages (ὀψωνίοις; literally, boiled fish, rations, soldiers pay).

XI. FORMAL, ANNOUNCEMENT OF MESSIAH By this time the crowds assembled round the Baptist were on the tiptoe of expectation. At this period expectations of some great deliverer were rife both in Gentile lands and among Jewish people. It is not strange, then, that the multitudes who had listened to the instructions of the Baptist reasoned within themselves whether haply John himself were the Christ. He had already, it may be presumed, given a definite answer to the priests and Levites deputed by the Sanhedrin to ascertain his claims. But now he feels called on to make a more public announcement.

1. Transition. All along he never once lost sight of his office as harbinger or herald (κηρύσσων) calling attention to the coming One. Yet gradually the office of herald was merging in that of the evangelist; hence the employment of εὐηγγελίζετο in the parallel passage of Luke, at the eighteenth verse. Ever more and more John seeks to turn attention from himself to Jesus, to whom he acknowledges himself as inferior in rank as in office. The meanest slave that brought his master's sandals, or stooped down in lowliness to undo the latchet that bound them, stood to the mightiest earthly master in a higher relation than John to Jesus; while the work of the latter was proportionately superior.

2. Superiority. The one administered the symbol, the other the thing signified; the one baptized with water, the other with the Spirit; the one was a light as of a lamp (λύχνος) kindled by, and reflecting, a borrowed light, the other was that central source of light (φῶς); the one was the morning star, soon to wane, and wishing to wane, before the other, who was the sun himself going forth in his strength.

"Where is the love the Baptist taught,
The soul unswerving and the fearless tongue?
The much-enduring wisdom, sought
By lonely prayer the haunted rocks among?
Who counts it gain His light should wane,
So the whole world to Jesus throng!" J.J.G.







Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests.
The way in which these two names occur in the New Testament has given some trouble to commentators. They are found in St. Luke's Gospel, mentioned both together at the commencement of the preaching of John the Baptist, and are there called "the high priests." St. Matthew, in the narrative of our Lord's trial, speaks only of Caiaphas, and calls him "the high priest." But St. John, who also mentions Caiaphas as "the high priest," tells us that Jesus, after His arrest, was first brought to Annas, as if he were of chief importance, and then was sent by him to Caiaphas, Lastly, in the Acts, we have Annas called the high priest, and the name of Caiaphas mentioned at the same time, but no title is given to the latter. But we know from Josephus that Annas (Ananus), who was father-in-law to Caiaphas, was made high priest by Quirinus (Cyrenius), A.D. 7, and continued in that office for seven years, when he was deprived of it by Valerius Gratus, and was never chosen to be high priest afterwards. It is clear, however, that from the earliest times down to a date after the composition of the Acts of the Apostles, there were often circumstances under which two men were called high priests at the same time. That one who had once been high priest, but had ceased to be in office, would still be called high priest, is evident from that principle which is laid down in several places in the Talmud, that "you may elevate in the matter of a sacred thing, or office, but you cannot bring down." As with us, "once a bishop, always a bishop." We see, therefore, that when Annas had been high priest, it was not only likely that he would continue to be so called, but that, according to Jewish usage, he could be called nothing else. The age of Annas, and the influential position naturally occupied by one who had been acting high priest himself, whose son had twice held the same office, and who was father-in-law to the present high priest, are sufficient to warrant the action of the crowd in taking Christ to Annas first; while in the passage of the Acts, the mention of Annas at the head of the list, with the title of high priest, was nothing more than was due to his years and to the relationship in which he stood to Caiaphas, while the omission of the high priest's title after the name of Caiaphas is no more a proof that he was not also high priest than the language of St. Mark's Gospel, where it is said, "Go your way, tell His disciples, and Peter," is evidence that Peter was not one of the disciples.

(J. Rawson Lumby, D. D.)

The Word of God came unto John.
The events of the first verse, as compared with the events recorded in the second, are of the most trifling importance. In the first instance there is a list of govern. mental personalities and districts, and in the second verse there is the solemn fact that the word of God came unto the forerunner of our Lord. This juxtaposition of events is remarkably suggestive as bearing upon what is current in our own day. The world has a large list of its own appointments, regulations, and authorities, which reads most imposingly: on the other hand there are single sentences bearing upon spiritual life and work which totally eclipse the pomp of royal nomenclature and dominion. Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate, Herod, Philip, and Lysanias, are names which will perish from the roll of the highest factors of human history and service; but the name of John will be remembered and reverenced as the highest name known amongst men before the building up of the distinctive kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ. The word of God came unto John. This is a most remarkable expression, showing that John did not run before he was sent, and showing also that God knows where to find men when He wants them for any work in the world. John in the wilderness is nobody, but the word of God entering into this same John kindles him into a light that is seen afar. The true minister of God is charged with the word of Heaven. That which he speaks he speaks not of himself, he simply pronounces and proclaims with earnestness and persistency the truth which has been breathed into his own heart by the Spirit of God. The sword in the scabbard is a useless weapon, but when grasped by the hand of the trained soldier carries with it alike death and victory. It is, indeed, possible to have received the word of God as a commandment to go forth, and yet to have stifled the great conviction. There are men who are silent to-day in the Church, who, if faithful to their convictions, would be heard in loud protest against evil, and vehement proclamations as the apostles of Christian truth. -Grieve not the Spirit! Quench not the Spirit! We do not begin by quenching the Spirit; the deadly work begins by grieving the sacred presence. It is to be noted that John was in the wilderness when the word of God came unto him. Time spent in solitude is not misspent if the ear be bent towards God, and our love be listening for the coming of His word.

(J. Parker, D. D.)

Few Bible characters are so strangely fascinating to the devout reader as that of John the Baptist. In the wilderness God came to him; in the wilderness he was equipped for public service; from the wilderness he began his missionary work. This fact suggests three ideas of practical importance.

I. THE NATURE OF WILDERNESS LIFE.

1. Solitude.

2. Abstemiousness.

3. Privation.

II. THE LESSONS OF WILDERNESS LIFE. What John was taught in the wilderness gave him his regal manhood, viz., the high moral lessons of —

1. Self-denial.

2. Humility.

3. Courage for what is true and holy.

"Separate from the world, his breast

Did deeply take and strongly keep

The print of heaven."

III. THE REASON OF GOD'S VISITATION IN THE WILDERNESS. The "word" was a call to active endeavour in the busy world. The wilderness had done its work, that is, had made John a fit person in the sight of God to be called to the important work of heralding the ministry of Christ. That same "word of God " is constantly coming to us all in all the great and little wildernesses of life. In all ages notable instances of such visitations have been recorded. Moses, Luther, Wordsworth, amongst the hills and vales of his native Westmoreland; Carlyle, who, in the wilderness of Craigenputtock, heard and obeyed a call to preach in his books repentance as the first and last need of his age. If we would be true to our higher nature we must cultivate the love of solitude.

"Morn is the time to act, noon to endure,

But O! if thou wouldst keep thy spirit pure,

Turn from the beaten path by worldlings trod,

Go forth at eventide in heart to walk with God."

And if to solitude there be added suffering in our wilderness, let us despise it not. Though often dreary, it has its charms, its blessings. God may be found there.

(J. McGavin Sloan.)

Wide as was the moral and spiritual difference between the two great prophets of the Jordan wilderness, and the wild ascetics of later times, it is for this very reason important to bear in mind the outward likeness which sets off this inward contrast. Travellers know well the startling appearance of the savage figures who, whether as Bedouins or Dervishes, still haunt the solitary places of the East, with a cloak — the usual striped Bedouin blanket — woven of camel's hair thrown over the shoulders, and tied in front on the breast; naked except at the waist, round which is a girdle of skin, the hair flowing loose about the head. This was precisely the description of Elijah, whose last appearance had been on this very wilderness, before he finally vanished from the eyes of his disciple. This, too, was the aspect of his great representative, when he came, in the same place, dwelling, like the sons of the prophets, in a leafy covert, woven of the branches of the Jordan forest, preaching, in raiment of camel's hair, with a leathern girdle round his loins, eating the locusts of the desert, and the wild honey or manna which dripped from the tamarisks of the desert region, or which distilled from the palm-groves of Jericho. To the same wilderness, probably that on the eastern side, Jesus is described as "led up" by the Spirit — up into the desert-hills whence Moses had seen the view of all the kingdom of Palestine — "with the wild beasts" which lurked in the bed of the Jordan, or in the caves of the hills, "where John was baptising, beyond Jordan."

(Dean Stanley.)

A soul lost in the greatness of eternal truths, like that of John, may well have risen to an indifference to the comforts, or even ordinary wants of the body, otherwise almost impossible. We have no record of his daily life, but that of one who, in saintliness of spirit, trod in his steps, is still preserved. Saint Antony, in the deserts of Egypt, was wont to pass whole nights in prayer, and that not once, but often, to the astonishment of men. He ate once a day, after the setting of the sun; his food was bread with salt, his drink nothing but water. Flesh and wine he never tasted. When he slept, he was content with a rush mat, but mostly he lay on the bare ground. He would not anoint himself with oil, saying that it was more fit for young men to be earnest in subduing the body, than to seek things which softened it. Forgetting the past, he, daily, as if beginning afresh, took more pains to improve, saying over to himself, continually, the apostle's words — "Forgetting what is behind, stretching forth to what is before"; and mindful, too, of Elijah's saying, "the Lord liveth, before whom I stand" — he said, himself, that the ascetic ought ever to be learning his own life from that of the great Elias, as from a mirror. The picture may not suit in some particulars, but as a glimpse of the mortified life of the desert, in its best aspect, it may serve to realize that of John, in the loneliness of the rough wilderness of Judaea.

(Dr. C. Geikie.)

Here St. John the Baptist spent long years of solitary musing on the things of God, till his soul kindled into irresistible ardour, which drove him forth among men to plead with them to prepare for the coming of the Messiah. During the hot months it is a land of scorpions, lizards, and snakes, Be that his experience readily supplied him with a comparison for his wicked contemporaries, whom he denounced as "a generation of vipers." Wild bees make their combs in the hollows of the limestone rocks; the aromatic thymes, mints, and other labiate plants, sprinkled over the face of the wilderness, furnishing them with honey, which is more plentiful in the wilderness of Judaea than in any other part of Palestine. They thus provided for him a main article of his diet, while in one wady or another, or in soma cleft, there was always water enough to quench his thirst. Locusts, the other article of his food, are never wanting in this region, and, indeed, are to this day eaten by the Arabs in the south-east of Judaea, the very district where John lived; by those of the Jordan valley, and by some tribes in Gilead. They stew them with butter, and travellers say — for I myself have never tasted them — that they are very like shrimps in flavour.

(Dr. C. Geikie.)

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