Monday, November 13, 2006

The Teachings of John

January 21. 2007
Luke 3.7-22

As noted last week, John's ministry stands in contrast to the Jewish priestly aristocracy. Looking this week at his teachings, this contrast will become more apparent.

John's message is one of repentance and forgiveness of sins, brought about in baptism (Luke 3.3, 8). He brings a very strong warning, addressed in Luke to the multitudes (3.7-9, 16-17). In Matthew, it is addressed to the Pharisees and Sadducees (3.7-12), the two parties which constituted the priesthood (see, for example, Acts 23.1-10). If Luke is presenting to Theophilus the high priest the story of Jesus, he may have decided to keep his comments regarding John's audience more general than Matthew. After all, the multitudes were surely present at John's setting (Luke 3.10). But John, a pest to the Jewish aristocracy (recall that Herod had him imprisoned and eventually killed because of his warnings regarding Herod's marital life: Luke 3.18-20), would have been well-known and remembered by Theophilus' high priestly family. In fact, Theophilus may have even been among those who visited John at the Jordan. (Note that in Matthew 3, the Pharisees and Sadducees come to be baptized by John.) So, Luke did not need to mention who was present during John's rebuke for Theophilus' to have understood that John was attacking the priestly aristocracy.

In Luke's story, tax collectors and social outcasts come to believe and receive mercy from John and Jesus (3.12; 5.29-32; 7.29; 13.10-17; 15.1-10; 18.9-14; 19.1-10), whereas the Pharisees, lawyers, and the rich aristocracy find condemnation (7.30; 10.25-37; 18.9-14, 18-30). Tax collectors and the outcasts are called children of Abraham (13.16; 19.9), whereas the Pharisees and Jewish elite are condemned for boasting on such grounds (3.8; see also John 8.33, 39). It is the social dregs that respond positively to John's message.

Those who respond to John come to him asking, "What then shall we do?" (Luke 3.10-14). Jesus encounters the same kind of response (10.25; 18.18; as do his followers [Acts 2.37; 16.30; 22.10]). Most often, the answer involves repentance. Throughout Luke's Gospel, Jesus condemns the wealthy and comforts the poor. John does the same. Those who come to him are admonished to repent by taking care of those in need. The poor had been oppressed by the wealthy (see, for example, Zacchaeus' comment in 19.8), the Jewish leaders playing the role of the wealthy. So, John condemns the Jewish ruling class (the priesthood, though not specifically named in Luke's Gospel) and seeks to comfort the needy and the dregs.

Read Luke 3.7-22. Imagine what John might preach in our setting. How might you live out John's admonitions? Consider the church's role in taking care of the poor and the social outcasts.


One detail worth noting:

Jesus' preaching was quite similar to John's. Noted last week were Jesus' "brood of vipers" comments in Matthew's Gospel which mirror John's warnings, as found in Luke 3.7ff.. Jesus also followed John's example in teaching the necessity of repentance for forgiveness of sins (Luke 5.20-24, 32; 7.47-49; 10.13; 11.32; 13.3, 5; 15.7, 10). In turn, his followers were instructed to do the same (Luke 24.47), and obeyed (Acts 5.3; 10.43; 13.38).


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