Luke 3:1-22 – Preparing the Way for the Lord

Luke 3:1-22 – Preparing the Way for the Lord


Sunday, August 15, 2021  Brad Barrett

Luke 3:1-22  Preparing the Way for the Lord

Our story this morning centers on  a man in the NT named John.

He was a bit of a strange man dressed in a garment of camel’s hair with a leather belt.  Camel hair sounds rather itchy.

And he ate locusts (think grasshoppers) and wild honey.  Not a diet I have ever tried. 

Plus, he lived, not in a city, but in a wilderness.  He sounds like a reclusive eccentric. 

But this man, John, John the Baptist, was by Jesus’ own declaration the greatest man living at that time.

Last week we began a new sermon series on the Gospel we call Luke.  A fuller title is the Gospel…the Good News…of Jesus Christ, as recorded by Luke.  This remarkable biography-like document speaks of the most important and influential person in all of human history.

In this series, we will average about two weeks for every chapter.  Our plan is to read every single verse in Luke.

Our goal for this series is simple:  We want all of us to know Jesus.  To know him better and love him more than the previous week.  And that we would all do this together.  Because Jesus is worth knowing, more than any other person.  There is no one like him. 

Today our focus is a story perhaps a year or so before Jesus appears on the scene to begin his ministry. 


So let’s start reading.

Take your Scripture journals out this morning.  Turn to page 24.  Take notes in your journals, if that helps you to learn and remember. 

Last week we read just four verses.  Luke :1-4.

This morning we are going to do something unusual.  We are going to skip the rest of chapters 1 & 2.

The focus in chapters 1 and 2 is on the days leading up to and including the births of the prophet John the Baptist and the Lord Jesus.  We are going to come back to that in December since it fits the Advent and Christmas season so well.

Vs. 3:1-6

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.’ ”

Vs. 1-2

In vs. 1-2,  Luke reveals how John’s ministry fit in the middle of world history.

Luke, as a good historian, makes a detailed list of the political setting in those days,  He lists five Roman political leaders:  Tiberius the Roman emperor, Pilate, Herod, Philip, and Lysanias.  He lists two Jewish leaders:  Annas and Caiaphas. 

Such details add credence to the reality of the world John and Jesus came into.

And in vs. 2, John’s ministry is “the word of God,” tying it to heaven.

So just in these 2 verses, John’s and ultimately Jesus’ ministry is anchored to both earth and to heaven. 

400 Silent Years

But let’s pause.  How did we get here to this point in time with John here at the beginning of the NT?

The record of the OT ended in about 430 B.C. with the writing of the prophet Malachi.  The last prophet of the OT era.    John’s ministry begins in about 28 A.D.

So what happened in the those 400+ years between the book of Malachi and John?  What happened to Israel?

Let’s back up to the prophet of Malachi.

In Malachi’s day, Israel was in exile.  God in his judgment against Israel’s sin kicked them out of the Promised Land.

Nations of Assyria, Babylonia, and Persia ruled over them.

Then after Malachi, 400 years passed, and the people of Israel continued in exile, some living in Palestine, but many still living scattered over the world.  In the 300’s B.C., the Persians were conquered by Alexander the Great., so he ruled over Palestine.   Then he died and his empire was split up amongst his four generals.

All this was followed by more upheaval and suffering to the people of Israel. 

Also during these 400 years, synagogues were strengthened as places of worship in addition to the temple.

The religious sects of the Pharisees and Sadducees rose up.

But no prophetic word came from the Lord to Israel for 400 years.  That’s why these 400 years are often called “The Silent Years.”  It’s sort of a Dark Ages for Israel.

What is fascinating are the very last words of the OT.  The last words spoken by God to his people for 400 years.

Malachi 4:5–6 ESV “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. 6 And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”

These last words of the Old Testament…do you know who this speaks of?  John the Baptist.  He’s not actually Elijah who died in the 800’s B.C., but he is a type of Elijah, coming in the spirit and power of Elijah. 

These words are finally coming true. 

Now back to Luke.

Vs. 3-6

So back here in Luke 3:3, John’s coming on the scene is an extraordinary event for Israel.

Anyone who was paying attention would now realize that God has not forgotten Israel.  He had not forgotten promises he made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob 2000 years before.  God was at work!  What a thrilling time to be alive in Israel.

After over 400 years of Israel ignoring God…After multiple rounds of political and moral upheaval…After numerous episodes of violence and oppression against the people……God has remembered Israel.  He is showing compassion once again on these stubborn sheep of his.

They deserved death and abandonment, but God was faithful, and he sent John.

John had a specific and clear message in vs. 3:   Repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins.   We’ll talk more of this in a few minutes. 

Then in vs. 4-6, Luke quotes from Isaiah the prophet, written 700 B.C.  Through Isaiah, God told us that a prophet was coming who would prepare the way for the Messiah. 

If anyone in Israel were paying attention to the Scriptures, they had to realize how significant this moment was.  After nearly 450 years, God was speaking to Israel in a powerful way.  And the Messiah, the Savior, was coming very soon.

Vs. 7-14

7 He said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?

8 Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.

9 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

John has some strong words of warning to the people.  “You are facing God’s wrath for your rebellion against him.  Flee that wrath by repenting.  And we’ll know if it’s genuine repentance by its fruit.”  In other words, repentance looks like something.  You can tell by looking at it.

He says, “Don’t depend on your human ancestry to save you.   Just because you are a descendant of Abraham won’t save you.”

Or we might say, “Just because we were born into a family with Christian parents doesn’t save us from God’s wrath.”

If you don’t repent— and we’ll know by its lack of fruit— God will bring the fire of judgment upon you.

Then Luke tells us the people’s encouraging response.  In humility and genuineness, they ask, “What shall we do?”

John explains to three groups what repentance looks like.

10 And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?”

11 And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.”

Instead of being selfish and greedy, be generous.

12 Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?”

13 And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.”

To greedy, corrupt, and despised tax collectors, he doesn’t tell them to leave their occupation.  John is not interested in some social revolution.  He tells them to be honest, not greedy.  Show integrity.  This is the fruit of repentance. 

14 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.”

Then to soldiers, probably Jewish soldiers, he tells them not to use their authority and weapons to intimidate and threaten people and extort money, but to be content.

There is much to be said about this topic of repentance.  We can find many Scriptures that speak of it, and we could make a 5-week sermon series out of it.  I want to narrow the focus primarily toward what Luke records here from John.

So what is repentance?

It’s a nice religious-sounding word, but what is it?

First, the word simply means to change one’s mind.  And since John connects repentance with sin, he means to change one’s mind about sin.  To line up our minds with how God views sin.  God is holy and pure, and he hates evil. 

So we are to move from loving our sin to hating it. 

Second, repentance has in mind future things.  Future judgment.  John warns them in vs. 7 and vs. 9 to flee the wrath of God which is coming.

Third, implied in all this is faith.  Faith is simply trust…trusting and believing that what God says is true.

If you don’t believe God is real or that God is holy and just and punishes wrongdoing, you will never repent. 

Fourth, also implied is humble self-surrender to God.

Someone who is full of pride will NEVER admit that they are wrong or that they deserve punishment for their wrongdoing.  He seeks to justify and excuse himself.

So to repent takes a large dose of humility and self-surrender to admit before a holy God that he is right and we are wrong.  And to surrender to his good will. 

Fifth, repentance is visible.  It involves some type of outward, visible action.

Vs. 8 he says to “bear fruits in keeping with repentance.

We could say, “Repentance looks like something.”

And the people are humble enough to ask John, “What does repentance look like for us?  What should we do?”  John answers them in vs. 10-14. 

This last point, one that is emphasized in our text this morning, is so important.   In vs. 10-14 John tells two of the groups to show integrity with money.

Let’s say I have stolen from you seven times, but I come to you with words of repentance.  “I am so sorry.  I was wrong.   I don’t want to do it again.  Will you forgive me?”

How do you know if I am truly repentant about my sins against you?

You know if action accompanies my words.

  • I will pay you back what I stole plus 20%.
  • And I have talked to one of the pastors to help me.
  • And I have joined a 12-step group called “Stealers Anonymous.”

Then you would know that my words of repentance are genuine.

So we understand repentance in some ways on a human level.  But the repentance John speaks of is on a heavenly level, focused our relationship with God.  Forgiveness of our sins.  Fleeing from God’s wrath.

Repentance is the key to restoration with God. 

Last week I shared my story of encountering Jesus when I was 19 years old.  I was proud and self-reliant, and I fought against God.  But God worked in me to humble me, convict me of my sin, to open my eyes to the coming judgment of God, and repent.  I called on the name of Jesus one August night to forgive me of my sins and to save me from the coming wrath. 

And I knew my life would never be the same again.  I couldn’t go back to my former independent ways of ignoring God.  I was like the people in vs. 10-14 who asked, “What then should we do?”

Some things changed quickly:

  • I quit partying, at risk of losing my friends who all partied.
  • I started reading a Bible that I had rarely opened.
  • I searched for a church to belong to
  • My foul mouth began to become sweeter

Those actions by themselves mean little.  After all, they are just the FRUIT of the heart, not the ROOT or the SEED.

But the genuineness of my repentant prayer to God to save me was revealed by the fruit, like John described.

My repentance was necessary for me to approach God for forgiveness and salvation. 

But repentance is not just for the day of my salvation.  Once we enter into that new life found in Jesus Christ….a life being “born again”…we continue every day in that same spirit of repentance that saved us.  This is how the Christian lives.

Think of these 5 points about we just looked at in our definition of repentance.  All those are beautiful descriptions of the peace-filled, joy-filled Christian life.

In my vision of John the Baptist, I can wrongly picture this wild, angry man screaming for me to repent.

But repentance is actually a beautiful thing.  Repentance brings restoration with God.  Peace with him.

Vs. 15-18

15 As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ,

16 John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

18 So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people.

In vs. 15 the people recognized John was speaking for God.  So they obviously wondered, “Are you the Messiah we’ve been waiting for for all these centuries?”

John is clear.  “No, the One who is coming, this Messiah, is far, far greater than I am.  Compared to him, I am so lowly that I’m not worthy to stoop down and remove his sandals.” 

“And the One who is coming will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire.”  I think this means that Jesus will divide people.  Some will be given the Holy Spirit, while others will face the fire of God’s judgment.  As vs. 17 says, God will separate the wheat from the chaff like a farmer does..

Vs. 19-20

Now Luke the author adds some other news.  This is about Herod, the ruler over the region called Galilee.

19 But Herod the tetrarch, who had been reproved by him for Herodias, his brother’s wife, and for all the evil things that Herod had done,

20 added this to them all, that he locked up John in prison.

The people were expecting a political and military Messiah.  But John never sought political revolution.  He wasn’t interested in casting out one leader (like Herod) and replacing him with another.

John, to prepare for the coming of Jesus Christ, sought spiritual and moral revolution.  His focus was on, as he said, “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”  Even for the political leaders. 

John’s message focused on the core problem of mankind:  a broken relationship with God and a need for forgiveness.

The Coming Messiah would bring that. 

Vs. 3:21-22

Now we turn our attention from John to Jesus, the one that John was pointing to.

21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened,

22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

Two things here:


First, the heavenly ministry of Jesus Christ is confirmed.  Jesus’ ministry is not some manmade concoction.  The God in heaven has ordered it, and he has told us so.  Since God has spoken from heaven, we ought to listen to what he says.  We should honor his Son as we honor him.  And that the Spirit of God descended upon Jesus shows that Jesus’ ministry is heavenly, not demonic, as some of his opponents later accused him of.

Those who had repentant hearts and were baptized would have now believed that Jesus indeed was the Christ, the One John preached about. 

And even a skeptic standing there would have to be amazed and wonder. 

As an aside, next week, Matt will look at Jesus’ genealogy.  This will tie Jesus’ humanity—his human ancestry—with his deity that we just looked at in this baptism scene. 

Slide   Now back to Jesus’ baptism scene.

Second,  with clarity the Trinity is revealed.  The Trinity is the doctrine of the Christian faith that there is One God in three persons.  It’s why we baptize in the name of the Father, and Holy Spirit.

Slide   Some have tried to summarize the Doctrine like this:

God is one

God is three

The three are distinct

The three are coequal

The Trinity is a fascinating mystery.  It’s hard to explain and understand.  We might think this is a boring and irrelevant doctrine.  But this doctrine is important, first of all because it’s true, and we want to know truth, and not be careless about the truth. 

Second, it’s important because in order to worship God rightly as he deserves and not in some blasphemous way, we have to know him for who he is, even if we cannot easily explain it.


That’s our text for this morning.  As I mentioned last week, whenever we read the Scriptures, we first look for the meaning of the text.  And then we should always ask, “How does this apply to our lives today.”

So far this morning we’ve emphasized the meaning.

So I want to ask….What do we do now?  What is some significance and application for us today from Luke’s message??

My first application is a repeat from last week, because it’s so important. 

  1. Read your Bible and journal. 

Let’s all as an entire church take this Scripture journal and read Luke every day.  We’ve already given almost 250 of these to you.  Another box of 50 of these should arrive by Tuesday.  And we’ll order more if we need them.

Imagine, what could happen to every life at Stonebrook and for Stonebrook as a whole if each of us had an encounter with Jesus, the Savior of the world, as we read, ponder, and pray through Luke’s Gospel.

Read and journal alone, with your household, as a Bible study or CG. 

Our goal is simple:  To know Jesus better and to trust him more. 

If you missed my sermon last Sunday, please listen to it.  Go to  The Resources tab. 

  • Have a heart of repentance every day

This was John’s message to prepare hearts for Jesus.  Then Jesus himself spoke the same message, as did the Apostles in years after. So John’s message, spoken 20 centuries ago, is just as relevant today.

So first, have you ever repented to God for the forgiveness of your sins?

This is the only means God has given us to escape his wrath (like John talked about) and receive eternal life.

That moment for me was during my sophomore year at Iowa State.  It was, without question, the best day of my life.  Why wouldn’t it be?  I passed from death to life in an instant because of the saving blood and resurrection of Jesus.

Second, once we have entered into new life with God through his Son, we continue with that same spirit of repentance. 

To have our eyes wide open every day to the darkness of sin but the light and life of the cleansing power of Jesus for our souls.

So we press on to know Jesus

How do we walk daily with a heart of repentance?

There is no formula here, but here is a pattern of living:

  • Stay in the Scriptures and prayer daily.  Draw near to Jesus.  Look to know him.
  • Stay in fellowship with God’s people.  Isolation leads to deception.  We need one another to keep our hearts soft toward the Lord.
  • Pray, Lord, is there anything displeasing to you in my life?  Anything harmful to me, to people I love, to my walk with you?
  • When the Lord convicts you of sin, respond quickly.  Surrender to him.  He is safe.  Don’t pull away from God but draw near.  Remember what Jesus did for you.  Be humble.  Confess sin to both God and man.
  • Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.  Take action.  Let your heart be evident in your deeds. 
  • Finally, remember that repentance is a beautiful thing.  It means having a soft heart toward the Lord.  It is life giving, for God longs to be gracious to us. 


Let me wrap up with this.

From Luke 3, I think, “What a time to have been alive!” 

After 450 years when it seems God has understandably abandon his people, he returns to the scene in the most powerful way.

He sends a prophet named John into the world.  This prophet announces some stunning news:  the Messiah is coming.  The Savior of the world.  The Forgiver of sins. 

I hope we can get our minds around this historical moment in Luke. 

God’s plan, set in motion before time even began, is stunning.  Mankind…starting with me and with you…has hated and despised him as shown by our sin.  God is just to bring his wrathful judgment on us.

But John’s message still speaks to us, for the Messiah has come,

And mercy triumphs over justice in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

As the Apostle Paul said so magnificently,

Ephesians 2:4–5 ESV  But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved…