Bad Preacher, Good Preacher: Luke 3:1-18

Focus Passage: Luke 3:1-18 (NLT)

It was now the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius, the Roman emperor. Pontius Pilate was governor over Judea; Herod Antipas was ruler over Galilee; his brother Philip was ruler over Iturea and Traconitis; Lysanias was ruler over Abilene. Annas and Caiaphas were the high priests. At this time a message from God came to John son of Zechariah, who was living in the wilderness. Then John went from place to place on both sides of the Jordan River, preaching that people should be baptized to show that they had repented of their sins and turned to God to be forgiven. Isaiah had spoken of John when he said,

“He is a voice shouting in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming!
    Clear the road for him!
The valleys will be filled,
    and the mountains and hills made level.
The curves will be straightened,
    and the rough places made smooth.
And then all people will see
    the salvation sent from God.’”

When the crowds came to John for baptism, he said, “You brood of snakes! Who warned you to flee God’s coming wrath? Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones. Even now the ax of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire.”

10 The crowds asked, “What should we do?”

11 John replied, “If you have two shirts, give one to the poor. If you have food, share it with those who are hungry.”

12 Even corrupt tax collectors came to be baptized and asked, “Teacher, what should we do?”

13 He replied, “Collect no more taxes than the government requires.”

14 “What should we do?” asked some soldiers.

John replied, “Don’t extort money or make false accusations. And be content with your pay.”

15 Everyone was expecting the Messiah to come soon, and they were eager to know whether John might be the Messiah. 16 John answered their questions by saying, “I baptize you with water; but someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I’m not even worthy to be his slave and untie the straps of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 17 He is ready to separate the chaff from the wheat with his winnowing fork. Then he will clean up the threshing area, gathering the wheat into his barn but burning the chaff with never-ending fire.” 18 John used many such warnings as he announced the Good News to the people.

Read Luke 3:1-18 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

Before Jesus stepped onto the scene, a man named John the Baptist began a ministry to help prepare people for the coming Messiah. John’s ministry was so effective, powerful, and challenging that some people even wondered if John was actually the Messiah himself.

However, when John learns of this rumor, he answered it by saying, “I baptize you with water; but someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I’m not even worthy to be his slave and untie the straps of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. He is ready to separate the chaff from the wheat with his winnowing fork. Then he will clean up the threshing area, gathering the wheat into his barn but burning the chaff with never-ending fire.” (v. 16-17)

Interestingly enough, John wraps up another challenge in his answer that he is not the Messiah. In John’s challenge we see an interesting idea: Jesus is going to come and separate people. If John’s ministry was challenging and it divided people, Jesus’ ministry would only amplify the division.

I wonder if in some ways, John’s ministry was easier to latch onto. John gave clear requirements and clear expectations, and it seemed like John challenged people before he accepted them. When Jesus came, He took an opposite approach. Instead of challenging people first, Jesus seemed to love, heal, and accept them first, before then challenging them.

Jesus’ ministry was even more dividing because it showed the people who believed in hierarchy and social status that Jesus was stepping over the line. Jesus came as a representative from God, but it seemed like He was more interested in spending time with those “at the bottom of the social ladder” than with those at the top.

While we have plenty of examples of Jesus interacting with people of all social statuses, the most dividing thing He did was accept those at the bottom in an unconditional way. John the Baptist’s ministry was very conditional: Repent, be baptized, and change the focus of your life. If you do this, then you will escape the coming judgment.

John was the New Testament’s “Fire and Brimstone” preacher. Jesus came as a loving teacher. In an odd sort of “good cop, bad cop” illustration, John takes the role of “bad preacher”, while Jesus takes the role of “good preacher”. Both ministries were effective, and perhaps John chose His role to help people gravitate more towards Jesus when Jesus ultimately steps into the ministry scene.

This thought was inspired by studying the Walking With Jesus "Reflective Bible Study" package. To discover insights like this in your own study time, click here and give Reflective Bible Study a try today!

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