January 9, 2012 Devotion Sharing (Luke 3)

Submitted by Will S. from Gracepoint Berkeley Church

REFLECTION QUESTIONS

Luke 3:1-3

  • Among the people listed here, who would have been considered to be the least important by most people living during that time period?  Whose life turned out to have the most significant impact?  Why?  What does this reveal about the value system of the world?

In verses 1-3, there are quite a number of prominent and important people.  We start off with Tiberius Caesar, the Emperor of the Roman Empire during the height of its power in history.  Pontius Pilate was the Governor of Judea, and there was Herod, the tetrarch of Galilee, Philip, the tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis and Lysanias, the tetrarch of Abilene.  There was also Annas and Caiaphas, the high priests during the time, along with Zechariah and his son John.

Among all of these people living during that time period, I believe John would have been considered the least important person.  The company he was keeping in this paragraph was pretty weighty.  Each person listed above would have been people who would have been in command of others and in real positions of power.  Annas and Caiaphas would have been people in great position of power within the religious elite.

As tetrarchs of their own specific territories, Philip, Herod and Lysanias would have had commanded troops, managed the tax budgets, and would have been control of many people’s lives.  And on the bigger scales, Pontius Pilate and obviously Caesar would have been very powerful indeed.  As the emperor of the most dominant military force in the Western world, there would have been no doubt how quickly Tiberius Caesar’s orders would have been carried out.  And as one of his governors, Pilate would have had the backing of the rest of the Empire were the need to call out for power came out.

Compared against these powerful men, John, and his father Zechariah, would have been quite low level players.  They weren’t people in charge; they weren’t the leaders with the capability of really making change happen and they certainly didn’t control anyone’s life.  According to the world’s value system, where power and control are the predominant criteria used to judge actual power, John would not have been someone we would have said was powerful.

At the end of their lives, however, it is very clear that John had the far greater impact.  As among the last of the great prophets of old, John’s role was to prepare the way for Jesus’ coming.  John preached a message of repentance–he helped prepare people’s heart for the message that Jesus would bring thereafter.  John was the great herald that was there to announce the coming of Christ into the world.  As the text states, John went into all the country around the Jordan to preach this message.  Before Jesus’ ministry began, therefore, John was there, preparing the way.  While the others died and have long since faded into anonymity, John the Baptist stands as someone who is known for being the one who prepared the way for Christ’s coming.

Luke 3:7-14

  • Why would a man of God use such a harsh expression as “brood of vipers”?  How might the people have responded to being called a “brood of vipers”?

I think a man of God would use such a harsh expression as “brood of vipers” to confront people of their sin.  Calling someone a “brood of vipers” is highly confrontational, and it demands a response.  The person being called this would likely find it very difficult not to respond.  It would not have been something they could simply ignore.  The person hearing this would want to reply back–to either deny this or to accept it.  Why would someone use that kind of harsh language?  Someone would use this kind of language to capture the attention of the listener to consider the serious of one’s condition.  Take heed, this is who you are.  And in so doing, the listener would have to respond.  Being called this would elicit a response from the person being called this.

After the initial shock wore off over the harshness of the words being used, people might have next responded by asking the question, “Is there any truth to these statements?  Was there something that was true about these words?  Is this prophet off base?  Is he just someone who’s lost it, or is he speaking some form of truth?”  If the listener responded to these questions in this way, then certainly the harshness of the statement would have been worth it.

  • What does this show about what is required for proper repentance?  How humble am I before the truth, regardless of the tone or harshness with which it is delivered?  

cf. 2 Timothy 4:3–4

3 For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.

This passage would seem to indicate that the most important requirement for repentance is humility before the truth.  There is no doubt that the tone that John would have used would have been harsh.  It is also obvious that what is being said is objectively harsh as well.  But if the people who actually heard the message went beyond the tone and the harshness of the words and if they allowed the truth of the message to really strike them, then they would have certainly been challenged to allow these truths to change their lives for the better.

As the passage in 2 Timothy clearly points out, our natural state of being is to push off these truths in order to avoid the painful truths that we’d rather not hear about ourselves.  Quite the contrary, we’d much rather hear the pleasant and positive things about ourselves.  We’d rather surround ourselves with people who give us the answers that we’d like to hear.  Even if they are myths, it’s simply so much nicer to hear these things than to hear things about ourselves, that while true, may simply be too painful to really hear.

For myself, one thing that I need to really continue to work on in my own life is to value the truth over everything else.  What I mean is this if truth really is the most important thing in my life and if the truth of who I am is that critical to me, then certainly the form of it coming to me would not matter to me as much.  And if the desire to know more of these truths about me is that strong, it will outweigh the other factors, such as the tone or harshness with which it is delivered.

  • Note the people’s response to John’s message and John’s answer to their question.  What does this passage teach about what genuine repentance looks like?

The people respond to John by asking, “What shall we do?”  John’s answer is very specific and tailored to the individual asking the question.  To the crowds, John provides one answer; to the tax collectors, another; and, finally to the soldiers, another.  All of the people who heard this message wanted to know what to do next.  They were cut by the message that was presented to them.  They clearly heard what John was saying to them; they knew that they were the brood of vipers that John was calling them out to be.  And so they wanted to change.  They wanted to turn things around and to pursue a path that would lead them away from their state of being.

This passage therefore shows that there needs to be some form of action that comes along with the feeling of genuine sorrow based on recognition of truth.  After the people hear about who they are, they are next led to think about what is said, and to think about the truth of these words.  And after agreeing, they recognize that they need to actually change; their actions need to match the words that they utter.

Luke 3:19-20

  • Consider Herod’s response to John.  Have there been instances in which I too have attempted to silence the voices of truth in my life?  What are some ways in which I do this?

Unlike the other people’s response to John, Herod’s response is to simply shut John up.  Herod has John arrested, and then later we find that Herod has John killed.  Herod thus deals with this voice of truth in his own life by literally shutting it down.  While I would not shut out these voices of truth in the same way as Herod, there are other ways that I effectively do the same thing.

When there are truths that I am hearing that I simply don’t want to hear, I see in myself several improper ways of dealing with it.  The first is to simply deny it–nope, what you say is just not true.  Another way is to put up excuses–this may be true, but it’s true because of these intervening factors.  Another way is to minimize the general applicability of this truth–while this may be true in this situation right here, this situation is highly rare and not something I would commonly do.

The bottom line is this that I am, unfortunately, quite well-versed in defending myself against these instances of truth.  I am quite able in finding ways to silence these voices of truth.  Ultimately, though, as someone committed to truth, I need to really not give into these defense mechanisms.  For my sake, I recognize that I need to not allow these defense mechanisms to power up because I am the person who benefits the most from these points of truth.  The more I allow truth to come into my life, the more that I benefit

PERSONAL PRAYER                                                          

  • Please write out a prayer of commitment or confession either based on today’s text, or upon reflection over recent events in your life.

Dear Heavenly Father,

Thank you for the clear picture of repentance and the proper reaction to truth.  Lord, please help me to value truth over everything else.  It’s so easy to simply focus on the way that the truth comes at me by overly focusing on the tone, the words that were used, and so forth to deflect from the truth.  Father, I pray that I would not do that because the more that I allow that to be the case, the more that I fail to allow truth to really have it’s proper role in my life.  I commit to allow truth to have that kind of role in my life once again.  I pray all of this in the name of Christ Jesus, amen.


Submitted by Ray C. from Gracepoint Berkeley Church

SELF STUDY FORMAT

What was John’s mission?  His mission was to be a VOICE calling people to PREPARE the way for the Lord.

What was John’s message?  Prepare the way for the Lord through REPENTANCE.  Turn around.  The way you’ve been living thus far has been the wrong way, in fact, it has been a rebellion against the King, and He is coming soon.  Repent, and do so authentically because God is not fooled by shallow repentance that has no effect on your life – the fruit validates the authenticity of your repentance.

This is very much the same mission and message that God has assigned to every Christian and to us as we engage in ministry–to proclaim this message for people to prepare the way for the true King to enter their lives.  How must they prepare their hearts to receive God?  Repentance.  It’s a hard message to sell.  In essence, we sometimes need to tell people that the way they’ve been living their lives, the value system and life purpose that the world has sold to them through the media and our culture is wrong.  We need to tell them that it is tantamount to cosmic rebellion to live as if we have no creator, as if there is no higher law over us that judges the way we live and the choices we make, is simply to be sophisticated and free from antiquated myths.  We need to tell them that to pursue a self-focused life centered around career, one’s own nuclear family, and the American dream is missing the mark for which we were created.  We need to tell them that the most important thing in life is to be right with God and that the pathway to that righteousness is the road of repentance, the process of confronting our own sins.

It’s a hard message to sell today, as it must have been back then.  When John the Baptist confronted Herod for his sin against his brother’s wife and his other sins, Herod threw him into prison because he did not want to acknowledge or deal with his sin.  But not everyone responded like Herod.  People of the crowd began asking John, “What should we do then?”  And to them, John was able to address them further with some very specific instructions that were specific and applicable to their lives.

What lessons are there for me in John the Baptist and the ways people responded to him? 

First, of the people we minister to and have been trying to draw in to hear this message, some will respond with hostility and defensiveness like Herod did.  While I need not worry about being thrown into prison in our context, I do need to expect that people will reject our message and reject us personally.  I should not be surprised or discouraged by these responses.

Second, for those who do respond to our message and to our efforts to minister to them with questions of spiritual interest, like “what must I do then,” I need to be ready to help them apply the word of God specifically and applicably to their lives.  People may not come out and say “what must I do?” but they show their spiritual interest in varying degrees, and I need to work hard to put myself into their shoes in order to find the next best step for them to get right with God.  Again, I find in this passage another reminder of one of the greatest challenges of ministry– seeing through the eyes of those whom I am ministering to and understanding their world so that we can best bridge the word of God to where they are and invite them to take the next step closer to God.  If the soldiers asked John, “what must I do?” and John said, “Just be humble and repent,”  they would have walked away not understanding any more about how they could relate more rightly with God.  Instead, John told them answers that pertained to their very profession and their daily temptations, “Don’t extort, don’t accuse falsely; be content with your pay.”  As a minister, I need to get good at bringing the word of God to understandable terms that appeals to their conscience and steps they can actually take in response.

Third, I need to know what it was that helped such a difficult message get through to the crowd that responded.  One of the big factors was John’s life.  Right on the tail of the big titles of Pontius Pilate (governor of Judea), Herod tetrarch of Galilee, Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, another tetrarch and two high priests, the gospel writer Luke says, “the word of God came to John in the desert.”  We know from the other gospels that John wore camel’s hair and ate locusts and honey.  He lived in such a way that people could not accuse his message of being inauthentic.  He lived out his life with sincerity and integrity that attracted crowds right in the midst of the big names of society.  Nothing can compare with authentic spirituality in attracting people to God, in creating spiritual interest, and in verifying the message that we preach. I need to remember this as we engage in ministry this year, that our message needs to be undergirded with the life that I am able to show the students, through my relationships, through inviting them over to our homes and opening up our lives to them.  This is how the message I heard was backed up for me, and now I have the chance to bear witness to the same message for others.  I am so glad for the reminder that sharing my life with others is one of the most important things I can do for them.

PERSONAL PRAYER 

Dear heavenly Father, I recognize that like John the Baptist, you have given us the same mission and message of calling people to repentance and prepare their hearts for You.  I confess that I need to grow this year in seeing life through the shoes of those I’m ministering to, so I really commit to pray more and to do the mental labor of connecting with them.  Please help me to be a faithful embodiment of the message we preach with my life, in my relationship with my wife, in the way I center my life around Your word and the calling You gave me.  In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

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