1 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, 2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3 And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 4 As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet,
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
5  Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall become straight,
and the rough places shall become level ways,
6  and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’ ”

Luke 3:1-6

I triple dog dare you…

Luke reminds us in the first verse that this narrative is rooted in history. This gospel is not a fairy tale that begins “long long ago in a galaxy far, far away.” Luke seemingly dares his reader to dig into the pages of history to try and prove him to be false, like a holy dare. In addition to the historical setting, Luke unashamedly asserts that God is interested, directing, and engaging His creatures. “The word of God came to John” like the prophets of old. Zechariah’s son is a unique prophet whose mission is foretold by Isaiah. In his continued tone of a holy dare, Luke invites the reader to go and search Isaiah 40 to compare the old prophecy to the events that unfolded in Judea during the time of Pontius Pilate’s governance.

The Baptist was a new Old Testament prophet…

John’s proclamation connected the act of baptism and repentance, so let’s begin by asking and answering the question, “What is baptism”? Baptism is the act of immersing a person into the water. That is why John the Baptist is often at the Jordan River in the gospel accounts. In carrying out the command of Jehovah, this prophet would dunk his receptive audience into the water one person at a time. Modern Baptist ministers have sometimes taken a detour off the road of truth into the land of Makebelieve by anachronistically seeing their Christian denomination beginning with this baptizer.

John was not the beginning of the New Testament church of Christ. After all, it is named Christ’s Church and not John’s Church. Peter and Paul both declared Jesus to be the church’s cornerstone. Neither apostle mentions John at all in their words concerning the church of Christ. Why isn’t John the Baptist included in the apostolic discussion of Christ’s church? John was the Messianic forerunner and the last Old Testament prophet before the new covenant established in Christ’s blood (Heb 9:16).

“The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached…”

Luke 16:16, ESV

I don’t need a bath…

It may surprise you to learn that baptism was already a Jewish practice. This Jewish practice was an initiation ritual performed on Gentile converts to Judaism. However, John was not baptizing Gentiles. This Baptist was preparing Jews to receive their Messiah. That was a radical reimagination of the initiation ritual of baptism. What were these children of Abraham initiated into? They were already Jews and therefore not initiated into Judaism. Why would the children of Abraham need a cleansing? They were of the physical circumcision, but John preached to their need for a circumcision of the heart (Rom 2:29).

Forgiveness of sins is the issue that John means to impress upon his hearers. We are all sinners in danger of God’s wrath. Jew and Gentile alike are guilty. Paul drives this truth home in his letter to the Romans as he wrote, “both Jews and Greeks, are under sin” and then strung together an extensive list of quotes from the Old Testament to prove the point emphatically. John would not allow his audience to imagine themselves as being God’s children because of their lineage. “Repent” is his sermon, and baptism is his sacrament.

29  Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
bring an offering and come before him!
Worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness;
30  tremble before him, all the earth;
yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved.
31  Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice,
and let them say among the nations, “The Lord reigns!”
32  Let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
let the field exult, and everything in it!
33  Then shall the trees of the forest sing for joy
before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth.
34  Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever!

1 Chronicles 16:29-34, ESV