Sunday

16 December 2012

“So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people” (v.18)


Background

This passage follows on from last Sunday's Gospel reading in which the ministry of John, the son of Zechariah, was introduced as "proclaiming a baptism of repentance" (Luke 3:3).

In this passage, Luke gives us the content of John's preaching in three sections.

  • There is a stark warning of forthcoming judgement. The imagery of trees chopped down and burned (verse 9) would have been familiar to those schooled in the prophets (eg Isaiah 10 or Malachi 4). The message for Israel is that they cannot hide behind racial or religious identity; the chosen people's identity is utterly dependent on God. The idea that lifeless stones might replace the chosen people graphically makes that point (verse 8).
  • John spells out what "fruits worthy of repentance" (v. 8) might mean to different groups of people. The inclusion of soldiers (verse 14) probably indicates members of local militia, possibly those loyal to the Herods. Like the tax collectors, they were collaborators with the Romans. The message to both is simple - they are not to abuse their position. And the same, startlingly, is applied to the people generally - in a time when some are without clothing it is exploitative to have more than one needs.
  • The final section sees John dampening the excitement. It is impossible to assess how common the expectation of Messianic ruler was during the Roman occupation. But it is clear there was some hope that the prophecy of Nathan to David (2 Samuel 7) would be fulfilled with the restoration of an independent monarchy in Jerusalem. John is adamant that he is not the one in whom that hope will be realised. There is another coming who is so great that John is not fit to be his servant (verse 16). It is he who will exercise the promised judgement. Because of this, for all its graphic imagery of condemnation and destruction, Luke can assert that the preaching of John is "good news".


To Ponder

  • How easy is it to understand harsh words that challenge us to change our behaviour as "good news"?
  • In what ways might your actions or lifestyle might be exploitative?
  • Are you aware of the temptation to hide behind a religious identity as if that were more important than faithful actions? What could you do to counter this?


Bible notes author: The Revd Dr Jonathan Hustler

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