The Gospel According to Luke – Beginning of the Gospel Proper
January 5, 2008
At the start of the Gospel proper, Luke focuses on John the Baptist: his ministry and his message. It seems Christians today often shrink the role of John the Baptist and the roles other Prophets in the history of salvation, and instead embrace a "let’s cut to the chase" mentality. The fact that John is present at the onset of all four Gospels speaks to his priority early Christians gave him. Far more than Jesus’ emcee, John is a thundering voice who preaches repentance and preparation for the one who is to come after him.
Luke’s Third Chapter records events of A.D. 29 or 30, when the word of God calls John out of his repose in the wilderness and into ministry. His "baptism of repentance which led to the forgiveness of sins," while not a Sacramental Baptism, shows how God’s salvific grace acts throughout all history and looks forward to the grounds of forgiveness through Jesus Christ (v. 3). John is the "herald’s voice in the desert, crying […]" of the necessity of preparation for reception of the Gospel:
"You brood of vipers! Who told you to flee from the wrath to come? Give some evidence that you mean to reform. Do not begin by saying to yourselves, ‘Abraham is our father.’ I tell you, God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones. Even now the ax is laid to the root of the tree. Every tree that is not fruitful will be cut down and thrown into the fire." (v. 7-9)
Condemning injustices of all kinds, John’s ministry is so electric that men of all kinds ask him whether or not he is the Christ. He clarifies that "there is one to come who is mightier than I […] He will baptize you in the Holy Spirit and in fire" (v. 16).
As the Holy Spirit descends visibly in a "form like a dove" upon Jesus at his baptism, God shows John the one who will baptize in the Holy Spirit and whose "winnowing fan is in his hand to clear the threshing floor and gather the wheat into his granary, but chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire" (v. 22). In no need of John’s Baptism, Jesus travels to the Jordan to bless the waters and open the way for future Sacramental Baptism.
In verse 23, we see that Luke’s genealogy that begins with Adam, Son of God. This contrasts Matthew’s Judaic genealogy places Abraham as Jesus’ eldest relative.
"Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, then returned from the Jordan and was conducted by the spirit into the desert for forty days, where he was tempted by the devil (4:1). Although the devil tempts Jesus three times by using Scripture Jesus is able to rebuke the devil with Scripture and does not succumb. In all three instances, the devil proposes that Jesus compromise his principles to accomplish a so-called greater good.
In 4:14, Jesus returns into Galilee to begin his active ministry by teaching in the synagogues to much praise. Yet, Luke does not mention the arrest of John as the catalyst in the start of Jesus’ active ministry as do the other Gospel writers.
In one notable instance, Jesus is teaching in the synagogue at Nazareth and reads powerfully from a scroll of Isaiah 61:11, announcing the advent of the Messianic age:
"The spirit of the Lord is upon me; therefore, He has anointed me. He has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor; to proclaim liberty to captives, recovery of sight to the blind and release of prisoners, to announce a year of favor from the Lord" (18).
Initially lauded by all in attendance, Jesus soon questions the assembly’s sincerity and speaks of the hardness of their hearts. This enrages crowd, so much so they "rose up and expelled him from the town, leading him to the brow of the hill […] and intending to hurl him over the edge" (29). Jesus, however, is able to pass through their mist and walk away. The first of many instances where Jesus’ message pushes the limits of human receptiveness, we will contrast this noticeable instance with Jesus’ teaching at Capernaum in next week’s podcast.