Edgar Degas The Conversation woman dressed in red talking with man over papers

Reflecting on Luke 3:1-20

So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.

Luke 3:18

The exhortations John the Baptist has been making to the people who are “coming out to be baptized” are things like “His (the one coming after John) winnowing fork is in his hand … the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire”! and “You children of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath??” and “Stop being extortioners!!” and “Stop defrauding the rate-payers!!”

So, a couple of big questions for us are probably: what do we understand John’s good news to have been? And how does that relate to what we think of as “the gospel” in our own time?

And if John were around to “proclaim the good news” these days, what exhortations might he deliver, do we think?

These seem like central questions for seeing the connection between this account of John’s ministry and our own day. We’re studying John 3:1-20 – emphasizing verses 2-6 and 5-18 – this week. Some notes on the text are here. Here are a couple of additional questions we might want to think about, or discuss in class:

What does it mean to “prepare the way” for the Messiah? How does repentance – in Greek, the word translated “repentance” is pretty literally “changing the mind” – seem to be part of that?

What needs to change, from what we can read in this text?

[More personal] What still needs to change, in our world – from what we can read in this text?

Do we suppose John’s “good news” is better news for some than for others? Better for whom? Who are the others? Why do we think that?

[More personal] Do we identify more with the ones for whom it’s good news, or with the others? Why is that, do we think?

[A lot more personal] Would we ourselves have “gone out to be baptized,” do we think? Why do we think that?

What about now? Can we think of anything that would be similar to John’s ministry? Similar in what way or ways, different in what way or ways? Implications of all that, for us?

Overall, we probably need to take seriously the emphasis of the text on the connection between “repentance” and “preparing the way,” and on the ways “repentance” is also connected to the proclamation of good news. And where we see ourselves positioned, in relation to all of that. Especially, as this is Advent, and we ourselves are meant to be preparing …

Image: “The Conversation,” Edgar Degas, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

5 responses to “Reflecting on Luke 3:1-20”

  1. Not meaning to interject into your study, but I did a little research a few weeks ago. Curiously (and previously unknown to me), repent is both a verb and an adjective. As a verb it means to have great remorse (and presumably—as a verb—do something about it). As an adjective, it means to creep along in a prostrated position. I find this quite interesting (perhaps even a little funny) in light of John calling the religious elite a “brood of vipers.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow! That is a cool addition to the topic!! And it’s not a coincidence, either, about the vipers – the etymology of “reptile” (I just looked this up) is associated with that “repent”-crawling/lying-as an adjective thing!! Thanks for this, Tim – kind of an early Christmas present 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Years ago, reading N.T. Wright’s What St. Paul REALLY Said, I learned to think of “good news” as political in that Isaiah and Roman conquest sense. St. Paul likens himself to both Israel’s prophet whose feet bring good news and announces it from the mountaintops on the one hand claiming “Your God reigns” or “YHWH is LORD” and on the other likening himself to a Roman herald coming in after the army has just obliterated the opposition to announce the new world order that “Caesar is Lord” – only now with the twist that “Jesus is LORD.”

    This herald/gospel package is what a forerunner is all about. You prepare the way for God or Caesar (or his image) to come and rule. The Roman heralds’ message would be something like, “Hear ye! Hear ye! I bring good news! The war is over. There is now peace in the land. Caesar is Lord!” And then he would erect or unveil a statue of Caesar in the town square, the image of the emperor, to function as a clear reminder/message to the newly conquered subjects that Caesar is in charge.

    Wright says this is basically what God does in the Genesis creation. He creates the world in peace and sets up his image bearer (in this case, a living/breathing image bearer with is own spirit alive inside) to rule over the newly conquered world.

    This pits God’s gospel and image against Caesar’s.

    To repent in that picture is to acquiesce to the rule of the new lord. You’ve been fighting against him, now it’s time to stop fighting, turn your heart/mind/life around and honor the king. Some subjects will see this as good news; others will see it as bad. Those who repent will see it as good news.

    I see John in complete harmony with this view of St. Paul. John announcing this to repent-resistant Israel (religious leaders and soldiers especially) suggests these people (based on their position in the old world order) are not truly welcoming of God – not like the brochures say.

    I suppose that would be my contribution to the discussion. Largely lifted from Wright, and specifically detailing Paul, but nonetheless easily transferable, I think.

    Merry Christmas… btw.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi, Agent X, and thanks for this really interesting commentary, and its arresting images. I think that point about “their position in the old world order” is crucial. I personally doubt I would be too thrilled if the ROMANS showed up on the doorstep and said “Good news! We’re in charge now!”

      But it would probably depend on what had been going on before … even the Romans might be a change for the better, if we had been suffering a lot. This also makes a lot of sense out of what we see in the gospels all the time, that “the least” are the most enthusiastic about Jesus’ message.

      Political, indeed.


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