Preparing the Way: salvation

4 as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah: “A voice of one crying out in the desert: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. 5 Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth, 6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”

Luke casts the call of John the Baptist in the form of an Old Testament prophetic call (Luke 3:2) and extends the quotation from Isaiah found in Mark 1:3 (Isaiah 40:3) by the addition of Isaiah 40:4-5 in Luke 3:5-6. In doing so, Luke presents the theme of the universality of salvation, which he has announced earlier in the words of Simeon (2:30-32). Moreover, in describing the expectation of the people (3:15), Luke is characterizing the time of John’s preaching in the same way as he had earlier described the situation of other devout Israelites in the infancy narrative (2:25-26, 37-38). Later, in 3:7-18 Luke presents the preaching of John the Baptist who urges the crowds to reform in view of the coming wrath (Luke 3:7, 9: eschatological preaching), and who offers the crowds certain standards for reforming social conduct (Luke 3:10-14: ethical preaching), and who announces to the crowds the coming of one mightier than he (Luke 3:15-18: messianic preaching). Continue reading

Preparing the Way: repent

…the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert

Luke’s phrase in 3:2, “the word of God came,” is reminds us of Luke’s core and central focus on God. The phrase clearly identifies the source of divine inspiration behind John’s work but also puts us on notice that Luke’s emphasis on God as the story’s primary actor will be carried forward and enlarged. Other evidences of this most intrinsic element show up in this section—for example, the citation of Scripture by the narrator (3:4–6) who thus presents God’s own perspective on John’s ministry, by Jesus (4:4, 8, 12) who is engaged in a process of discerning the way of God, and by the devil (4:10–11) who tries to garner the authoritative voice of God for his own agenda of frustrating God’s purpose; the activity of the Holy Spirit, God’s empowering and guiding agent (3:16, 22; 4:1); the voice of God, heard by Jesus and Luke’s audience, breaking into the narrative in a way that echoes his voice to Israel in the past (3:22); the genealogy of Jesus (3:23–28), showing Jesus’ relation to Israel’s past, recalling significant aspects of the story of God’s interaction with his people, and testifying to the relation of Jesus to God as his Son; and above all the account of Jesus’ test in the wilderness (4:1–13), pitting the aim of God and the design of the devil against each other. Continue reading

Preparing the Way: history

1 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was 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 desert.

The chronological data of these verses reflects the conventions of Greco-Roman historiography as well as a pattern found in some Jewish prophetic books (Jer 1:1-3; Ezek 1:1-3; Hos 1:1; Isa 1:1). Luke seeks to place his “orderly account” (Lk 1:1) within the context of “world” history. In addition, this writing, addressed to “Most Excellent Theophilus” (Lk 1:3), places the events within the context of the rulers and times (and some historiographic forms) that Theophilus would know. It is likely that he was some type of Roman official. Continue reading

Preparing the Way: context

1 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was 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 desert. 3 He went throughout (the) whole region of the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4 as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah: “A voice of one crying out in the desert: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. 5 Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth, 6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’” Continue reading

Behind the Veil: admonishment

34 “Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, and that day catch you by surprise 35 like a trap. For that day will assault everyone who lives on the face of the earth. 36 Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man.”

A Final Admonishment. After describing the days of the coming of the Son of Man, Jesus warns his followers that proper conduct is always expected – not just carousing and drunkenness (and such things) but even preoccupation with the anxieties represented by the “thorns” in the parable of the sower (8:14). These pressures of daily life lull people into false security. The exhortation to watch and pray foreshadows the same appeal during Jesus’ agony in the garden (22:46). Continue reading

Behind the Veil: signs

25 “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on earth nations will be in dismay, perplexed by the roaring of the sea and the waves. 26 People will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 But when these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.”

Only Luke uses the word “signs” in this section. The same word was used earlier in the question “Teacher, when will this happen? And what sign will there be when all these things are about to happen?” (Luke 21:7) and “…There will be powerful earthquakes, famines, and plagues from place to place; and awesome sights and mighty signs will come from the sky”(v.11). Perhaps one remembers that Jesus’ opponents “to test him, asked him for a sign from heaven” (11:16). A little later Jesus responds to this request: “This generation is an evil generation; it seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it, except the sign of Jonah. Just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so will the Son of Man be to this generation.” (11:29-30) Continue reading

Behind the Veil: more context

25 “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on earth nations will be in dismay, perplexed by the roaring of the sea and the waves. 26 People will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 But when these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand……”34 “Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, and that day catch you by surprise 35 like a trap. For that day will assault everyone who lives on the face of the earth. 36 Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man.”

Context in Scripture. This reading is taken from Luke’s gospel just following Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Jesus’ confrontation with the authorities in the Temple (which began back at 19:47, the cleansing of the Temple) now shifts to the future tense. This extended section (19:47–21:38) concerns

  • the coming persecutions and the destruction of the Temple (21:5–19),
  • the destruction of Jerusalem (21:20–24), and
  • the coming of the Son of Man (21:25–36) – our Sunday gospel.

Continue reading

Behind the Veil: context

25 “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on earth nations will be in dismay, perplexed by the roaring of the sea and the waves. 26 People will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 But when these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.”[ 29 He taught them a lesson. “Consider the fig tree and all the other trees. 30 When their buds burst open, you see for yourselves and know that summer is now near; 31 in the same way, when you see these things happening, know that the kingdom of God is near. 32 Amen, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.] 34 “Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, and that day catch you by surprise 35 like a trap. For that day will assault everyone who lives on the face of the earth. 36 Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man.” (Luke 21:25–36;  Sunday’s Gospel: Luke 21:25-28, 34-36)
Continue reading

Passing Away: Watch!

Jesus-Apostles-vine-branch2Keeping Watch. 32 “But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come. 34 It is like a man traveling abroad. He leaves home and places his servants in charge, each with his work, and orders the gatekeeper to be on the watch. 35 Watch, therefore; you do not know when the lord of the house is coming, whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning. 36 May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping. 37 What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!’” Continue reading

Passing Away: certain sign

Jesus-Apostles-vine-branch2The Certain Sign. 28 “Learn a lesson from the fig tree. When its branch becomes tender and sprouts leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 In the same way, when you see these things happening, know that he is near, at the gates. 30 Amen, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

The image of the fig tree in blossom is a sure and certain sign of summer. Jesus is using a short proverb to assure the readings that his promises are true. So, when they see these things happening they will know. But what are “these things?” Is the reader supposed to remember the fig tree with leaves and no fruit, which Jesus cursed (11:12–14, 20–22)? If so, then alleged “signs” must be carefully scrutinized. Who is “near”? God? A Son of Man other than Jesus? Jesus as Son of Man? What are “these things”? Continue reading