Thursday, May 17, 2012

Luke 3 - Every valley filled, every mountain made low, all flesh sees the salvation of the Lord

Luke 3:5-6 (ESV)
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,
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.

Luke is a book that describes the good news of the gospel as a radical change that will affect everyone, everywhere. This is not just a story about personal renewal or self-help. Luke describes the coming of Jesus as a world-altering event by which all things change from their current unjust order toward rightness and justice and true peace.

Mountains are brought down. Valleys are raised. Paths are straightened. Rulers are removed. The humble are raised up. The good news is for the poor, the outsider, and the weak.

In John the Baptist, we see the continued theme of justice for the poor and oppressed illustrated vividly in his words, his actions, and their consequences.

In verse 20, he is locked in prison by King Herod for speaking out against his immorality, as well as for his teachings about God's judgment against "chaff" that God will "burn in unquenchable fire" (v17). The text doesn't tell us why, but apparently King Herod took this personally.

John the Baptist spoke Truth to power, and experience the consequences. He lives among an occupied and oppressed people, just as Jesus does.
Luke 3:10-14 (ESV)
And the crowds asked him, "What then shall we do?"
And he answered them, "Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise."
Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, "Teacher, what shall we do?"
And he said to them, "Collect no more than you are authorized to do."
Soldiers also asked him, "And we, what shall we do?" And he said to them, "Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages."

In v11 John the Baptist describes repentance, or turning away from the way of the world toward God's new order, by telling those who have an abundance to give away what they have to those who have less. This is the order of God's new world on earth.

Verses 12-14 are surprising. It is significant that this outspoken prophet of truth, unafraid to speak against the king's wrongdoing, does not suggest that all tax collectors and soldiers must quit their jobs. These people work for a violent, oppressive, occupying empire. John's counsel to them is to not be personally oppressive, to not act according to the spirit of the empire in their personal actions. He does not necessarily say that they must quit.

Tax collectors were despised by the general population, they were Jewish people working for the empire, and had a reputation for taking more than what was owed. Tax collectors worked for an empire that greedily took from the poor more than they could afford. Soldiers were accused of using force and coveting others' property. These same soldiers worked for the Roman empire that coveted the land of other nations, taking it by force. Both Tax collectors and soldiers were personally tempted with the sins of the empire in the very realm in which they participated in that empire's oppression.

Who is more aware of the corruption in a police force, the corrupt police officer, or the police officer who refuses to act unjustly? I wonder if a soldier that refuses to personally extort will be more aware of the empire's extortion? Will a tax collector that refuses to steal become more aware of an empire's theft? Once choosing to live uprightly, these tax collectors and soldiers probably could not remain working for a corrupt empire for long. They would leave, or the empire would change. Systems are made of people, and if those people all refuse to be corrupt, the system can no longer work by corruption.


The work of the Holy Spirit is once again declared in Luke's third chapter. Foreshadowing the tongues of fire on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2 (Luke's second book), John the Baptist prophesies that Jesus will baptize people with the Holy Spirit and with Fire. It was the Holy Spirit that caused John the Baptist's father, Zechariah, to prophesy about his son in Luke 1:67-79. Old man Simeon knew he would live to see the Messiah because it was revealed to him by the Holy Spirit (Luke 2:26).

Just as in the first two chapters (1:32, 35; 2:49), Luke reminds us again that Jesus is the Son of God in verse 22 when God's voice is heard from heaven declaring his pleasure over his Son.

Still, Jesus is firmly rooted in his humanity in Luke's choice of genealogy at the end of this chapter. Matthew's genealogy explicitly paints an image of a religiously and ethnically Jewish Messiah by drawing attention to Jewish history and religion in Jesus' past and begins with Abraham, the father of the Jewish people. In Luke, the author begins with Jesus, and moves backward in time to Adam, father of all humanity.

Luke's Jesus is undoubtedly fully human, and a gift to all humanity. No religious, class, or ethnic origin disqualifies us from the good news of Jesus.


vv1-2 - Time is measured in political history.

v22 – The Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - is present in this passage.

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