From Luke 3 we see John preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. What did that mean? It would help us to remember that the Gospel, the Bible, the church, the kingdom of God and even baptism are not 21st century ideas. Sometimes we want to hear these teachings communicated the way we’re most familiar with, the way someone taught them as we grew up hearing them. Many of these teachings have good people and good memories associated with them. This is good. It’s not a bad thing that people want to teach the Bible. Yet, teachings often need to be reevaluated and developed in order to see them as integral to the story of Jesus. Baptism is one of those teachings.
Baptism is one of those teachings that some see as optional today. Other aspects of faith are stressed so much that baptism can appear like the exchange student who finds it difficult to relate to the rest of the students in the class. Baptism, when taught from the perspective of Jesus’ story, is one of the fundamental teachings that has the potential to stabilize a culture of faith that could have serious biblical attention deficit disorder. We can start with the man who wore camel’s hair and had a leather belt around his waist.
Luke 3:2 has the word of God coming to John, son of Zechariah in the desert. The word of God (prophecy from true prophets) hadn’t been around for quite a while in Israel’s history. Many were thinking the eras of prophecy were behind them. Some were still hopeful that God would visit His people again in this way.
Israel had been overrun for centuries. Since the 700’s B.C. Israel witnessed nation after nation oppress and enslave them. There was Babylon, then the Medes and Persians, then the Greeks, and now the Romans, each having controlled Israel and her land. The prophet Daniel spoke about all of this happening to Israel. They were to be in exile because of their national rebellion against God. They forsook the covenant with God and became idolatrous. Deuteronomy 28-30 predicted this nearly 800 years before it became a reality in the days of Daniel. Yet, Daniel promised there would come a time of deliverance and exaltation, just like in the days of Egypt and Moses. God would rescue Israel and set her high above the nations. Now, in the days of John the Baptist, the time was at hand. The time for deliverance was at hand. The time for God to take over was at hand. …This is one side of John’s preaching.
The other side of John’s preaching was warning. Israel was not to rely on the fact that they were descendants of Abraham (Luke 3:8-9). Israel would have to genuinely turn to God with their heart and soul if they wanted deliverance. They would need to repent if they wanted God’s forgiveness. They’d need to return to being salt and light. So many people saw John and his practice of baptism clearly. This was the time when God would visit His people to sort things out, to judge. This is when God would clear His threshing floor and separate the wheat from the chaff (Luke 3:17). This is why myriads went out to be baptized by John.