Yesterday we looked at Mary. Today we look at John the Baptist’s understanding of the mission of God. The principle text, of course, is Luke 3:1-18. How did J-B understand the mission of God?
How often do we think of John the Baptist? Really. Now the big one: Do we embrace John’s perception of the mission of God that was entering the world, was at work in John, and was about to skip a pace or two and end up in the lap of Jesus?
1. Entrance into and commitment to the mission of God, according to J-B, meant Israel needed to undergo a baptism (understood as purification) and repentance from its sins (3:3) — and this would lead to forgiveness. John summons the nation; individuals “enlist” in his vision by undergoing baptism.
2. The mission of God fulfills Isa 40:3-5 and this means John is the Voice who cries out that everything should get ready for the coming of God to Zion who comes to save (which evokes the name “Jesus” — savior). John, who had identity issues, saw himself as the “Voice.” (Jesus, by the way, saw John as “Elijah.”)
3. Israelites “enlist” in this saving presence of God by a repentance-that-leads-to-fruits:
a. This is for all; Israelite or not (3:8).
b. Those who don’t respond are judged (3:9).
c. Repentance involves, or should I say means?:
economic distribution for those with more than enough (3:10-11),
fair economic dealings for those who have financial power (3:12-13), and
a respect for the dignity of others by those with the power to conscript (3:14).
[Note: John sounds like Mary.]
4. The mission of God is embodied in the One Who is All-Powerful, the Messiah (3:16) and John is the pointer to the Messiah. The Voice is the Pointer.
Luke 3:1 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene— 2 during the high–priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3 He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 4 As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet:
“A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.
Luke 3:5 Every valley shall be filled in,
every mountain and hill made low.
The crooked roads shall become straight,
the rough ways smooth.
Luke 3:6 And all people will see God’s salvation.’”a
Luke 3:7 John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 9 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”
Luke 3:10 “What should we do then?” the crowd asked.
Luke 3:11 John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”
Luke 3:12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”
Luke 3:13 “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them.
Luke 3:14 Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”
He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”
Luke 3:15 The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. 16 John answered them all, “I baptize you withb water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you withb the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” 18 And with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them.