Luke 3-4

Luke 3‑4  •  17 min. read  •  grade level: 7
Luke 3
A long interval has now passed before we reach the time of this chapter. Like that of Moses in his youth, as I may call it, the course of Jesus had been interrupted through the reasonings and darkness of nature. Moses had supposed that his brethren would have understood how that God, by his hand, would deliver them but they understood not; and their unbelief separated him from them for forty years.
So Jesus, the Greater than Moses, was doing His Father’s business in the midst of Israel; but His brethren understood not,—and He had to go down to Nazareth, estranged from Israel for another season. He can but pass it, however, in the same perfectness before God. Man’s unbelief may change the scene, but nothing touched the heart of this Holy One. He went down to Nazareth to be in subjection there, still as a goodly Child increasing in wisdom as in stature, and in favor with God and man.
But here, in this chapter, we enter on other scenes and times altogether. The children have grown up, and are ripe for their showing unto Israel. And just at this solemn moment our evangelist takes a full survey of the world. It was a task which properly belonged to him under the Spirit, for the Spirit through him, as I have said, looks at man, and deals with man. He here shows us how still and at rest the whole earth was sitting, for the Gentile beast had all in order, according to its mind (Zech. 1:1111And they answered the angel of the Lord that stood among the myrtle trees, and said, We have walked to and fro through the earth, and, behold, all the earth sitteth still, and is at rest. (Zechariah 1:11)). Tiberius the Roman was emperor, his proconsuls were in their several governments, Judea itself being a member of his strength, and part of his honor. The priests, too, were in their temple. All in the earth, both as to its religion and government, was just as man would have it. But under the eye of God, all this was a wilderness; and instead, therefore, of His taking a place in it, and owning it as repose to Him, the voice, of His servant is sent forth to awaken it all, like Elijah in the evil days of Ahab, and to disturb the sleep of carnal contentment in which man and the world were folded.
God’s thoughts are indeed not as man’s thoughts. Man’s sabbath was now a wilderness to Him, and He will act on it as a wilderness. The dispensation of the law had, by this time, tested man, and found him to be hopelessly departed from righteousness; and John is now, according to this, sent forth to call on man to take the place of a convicted sinner. He points to the remedy that was in God for such a one, but he does not reveal it as already accomplished and brought in. He announced the vanity of all flesh, uncovering the very roots of it; but his hand did not carry the seed of a better harvest. He laid the sentence of death in man, but he did not bring life to him. He put him in the dust, but gave him no power to rise. The life and power were to come in by the Son afterwards. “John did no miracle.” He challenged the violent to take the kingdom by force, but he did not set before them an open door. “He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.” He stood between Israel and their God, telling Israel, on the one hand, that they were all flesh, and that flesh was as grass; pointing to Jehovah-Jesus, God of Israel, on the other, as bringing His reward with Him, and doing His work before Him.
There was a mingling of grace and righteousness in his ministry. He came “in the way of righteousness,” standing apart from and refusing contact with the world, and thus by his light rebuking the darkness. He mourned to his generation, neither eating nor drinking, because he called on men to know themselves to be sinners, and to take their place as such. But then, he came in the way of grace also, because he was the forerunner of Jesus, and went before the face of the Lord to prepare the way of salvation and the kingdom. Thus there was a mingling of grace and righteousness in his ministry, and it was clearly quite an advance upon both the law and the prophets. The law had sought to order man in the flesh according to righteousness; and the prophets had been sent, in one sense, as in aid of the law, to call the people back to obedience, so that every help and advantage might be rendered to man; and God’s abounding patience proved, in the trial of this question, whether or not man were able to restore himself, and stand in righteousness. But John’s ministry assumed the vanity of all expectations of this kind, and took up man as a convicted sinner. But then, such is the holy order in divine wisdom, it was not so high a ministry as that which has been now brought in. The apostles, after the resurrection, called on man to take by faith the place of a pardoned sinner. And thus over us the light of grace and salvation has reached its noon-day strength, and we are waiting only for the light of glory and the kingdom.
With our God, let me here say, there has been, from the beginning, a work far deeper and more excellent than that of the old creation. The old creation was, in some sense, left at man’s disposal. His allegiance or his disobedience was to determine its history. But the divine counsel from before the creation had planned and laid a work in and by the Son, which could never fail, or be contingent on any strength less than His own. And it is this mystery which the Lord has before Him when He says, “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words shall not pass away.” Creation was removable; redemption (the work of the Word) is immovable, because the living God has joined Himself with it. And thus the prophet, addressing Jesus the Son, says, “Of old hast Thou laid the foundation of the earth: and the heavens are the work of Thy hands. They shall perish, but Thou shalt endure.” And so all things that are made may be shaken (Heb. 12:2727And this word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. (Hebrews 12:27)), for God Himself is not joined to them; He is not their foundation. But the Word was with God, and was God, and became flesh, part and parcel (so to speak of this blessed mystery of everlasting goodness) of the work itself. He is the Vine, the Chief Cornerstone, the Headstone of the building. This gives redemption an unspeakably more excellent glory than creation ever had. And thus the Baptist, in the ministry which we have in this chapter of our Gospel, says, “The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand forever.” (See Isa. 40). All in this work is incorruptible. The seed of the life which it brings is incorruptible—the body with which it will clothe that life is incorruptible—the inheritance to which it introduces is incorruptible (1 Cor. 15; 1 Peter 1). God has entered through the breach which man’s sin produced in the old creation, and has joined Himself with the mighty ruin, in such a way, and for such an end, as will be to the everlasting praise of His own most blessed name, and also to the sure abiding and imperishableness of His new creation.
Psalm 90 appears to be the utterance of a soul that has learned something of this mystery. The prophet looks to God Himself as above all created strength; he then traces the vanity which has attended the old creation; and at last finds his relief from such a sight in God’s work of mercy, or the work of redemption by the Word. And this is so with us, beloved. The work of the Word, or of God manifest in flesh, is the relief of our hearts from the painful sense of the universal vanity around us. John’s ministry might lead the soul into that sense of vanity, but it remained for Another to give us this blessed and sure relief in Himself, and in His work that standeth forever.
But this only by the way, as we pass on, in connection with the ministry of the Baptist which this chapter gives us. The Lord’s genealogy is then traced up to the sources of the human family; not to David and to Abraham merely, as in Matthew, but to Adam. And this, I need not say, is quite according to the general mind of the Spirit in Luke, which I have already spoken of. And the absence of all such genealogies in John is, in the same way, entirely consistent. For genealogies recognize human or national relations; and the preserving of them, as is done in the Jewish Scriptures (see 1 Chron., and so on), shows a jealousy for the order and maintenance of the human system. That system will be sustained in the kingdom, when the hearts of the children are turned to the fathers, and the hearts of the fathers to the children (Zech. 12:10-1410And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn. 11In that day shall there be a great mourning in Jerusalem, as the mourning of Hadadrimmon in the valley of Megiddon. 12And the land shall mourn, every family apart; the family of the house of David apart, and their wives apart; the family of the house of Nathan apart, and their wives apart; 13The family of the house of Levi apart, and their wives apart; the family of Shimei apart, and their wives apart; 14All the families that remain, every family apart, and their wives apart. (Zechariah 12:10‑14)). But we are told not to mind genealogies (1 Tim. 1:44Neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith: so do. (1 Timothy 1:4); Titus 3:99But avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain. (Titus 3:9)); for the Church is not to be the minister for ordering and maintaining the human system, but is taken into heavenly relations.
Before I enter on the following chapter, I would observe that our Lord’s Sonship of God is here owned at the time of His baptism, as had been done at the announcing of His birth before, and was to be done at His transfiguration afterwards (Luke 1:3535And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. (Luke 1:35); Luke 9:3535And there came a voice out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son: hear him. (Luke 9:35)). But there is distinct value in each. The virgin’s Child, from the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, was to be called “the Son of God.” His person was then owned. Now, at His baptism, the same attestation is made a second time, with this addition, “In Thee I am well pleased.”
His ministry is now owned (for His baptism was introducing Him to His ministry), owned to be that which would awaken full divine complacency. And this is blessedly comforting to us sinners. The law was never thus approved, for the law exacted righteousness. John the Baptist was never thus approved, for he convicted man without relieving him. But now that the Son was coming forth with grace and healing for sinners, God’s mind could rest, for this was the accomplishing of the purpose of His own love; and thus it could now be said of the Son and His ministry, or of the Son at His baptism, or at His anointing which immediately followed His baptism, “Thou art My beloved Son; in Thee I am well pleased.” And by-and-by He will, for the third time, be so attested, when the glory or kingdom shines for a moment on the holy mount. Then this same attestation will come forth with this addition, “Hear Him.” But this is equally perfect in its season, for this owned Him in His kingdom—every knee must bow to Him, and the soul that will not hear Him will be cut off from among His people. See Acts 3:22-2322For Moses truly said unto the fathers, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear in all things whatsoever he shall say unto you. 23And it shall come to pass, that every soul, which will not hear that prophet, shall be destroyed from among the people. (Acts 3:22‑23). (These words, “Hear Him,” were a rebuke to Peter for setting Moses and Elias in equal company with Jesus.)
Thus on three occasions—at the announcing of His birth, at His baptism, and at His transfiguration, His Sonship of God is divinely attested; in other words, His person, His ministry, and His dominion, are all owned of the Father; the full pleasure of God resting on Him, and the full subjection of the earth demanded for Him. God is well pleased in Him, and the earth is to hear Him. And after these attestations by the voice from heaven, the resurrection in due season comes to verify and close them all by act and deed, and to declare Jesus to be the Son of God “with power” (Rom. 1:44And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead: (Romans 1:4)).
Luke 4
But Satan could not allow all this. Jesus owned as Son of God, and that, too, in connection with the human family, as Adam had been (3:22,38), Satan could not allow. He could not let this claim be revived without contesting it; for through his subtlety the first man had lost his dignity. God had created man, and in His likeness made him; but man had begotten children “in his own likeness,” defiled as he was, and not as a race worthy of being called “sons of God.” But Jesus had now appeared to reassert in man this lost dignity. The devil must, therefore, try His title to it; and with this purpose he comes now to tempt Him, saying, “If Thou be the Son of God.” This was a crisis between the anointed Man and man’s great enemy. And surely Jesus stood, stood in the loftiest attitude of a conqueror. Everything that had surrounded Adam, the first man, might well have pleaded for God against the enemy. The sweetness of the whole scene, the beauty of that garden of delights, with its rivers which parted hither and thither, the fruits and perfume, with the willing service of ten thousand tributary creatures, all had a voice for God against the accuser. But Jesus was in a wilderness which yielded nothing, but left Him “an hungered,” and the wild beasts were with Him, and all might have been pleaded by the accuser against God. All was against Jesus, as all had been for Adam; but He stood as Adam had fallen. The man of the dust failed, with all to favor him; the Man of God stood, with all against Him. And what a victory was this! What complacency in man must this have restored to the mind of God! To achieve this victory Jesus had been led up of the Spirit into this place of battle, for His commission was to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:88He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil. (1 John 3:8)). He stood now as the Champion of God’s glory and man’s blessing, in this revolted world, to try His strength with the enemy of both, to make proof of His ministry, and to the highest pitch of praise He is more than conqueror.
But He was Conqueror for us, and therefore at once comes forth with the spoils of that day, to lay them as at our feet. He had been alone in the conflict, but would not be alone in the victory. He that soweth and he that reapeth must rejoice together. It was an ancient statute of David, that he that tarried by the stuff should share with him that went down to the battle. And it was a decree worthy the grace of “the beloved.” But a better even than David, One not only of royal, but of divine, grace is here; and accordingly Jesus, the Son of God, comes forth from the wilderness to publish peace, to heal disease, to meet all the need of those who were the captives of this enemy, and to let them know that He had conquered for them.
This tells us the character of the blessing which we sinners get from the hand of the Son of God. We get it as spoils of conquest. By sin we have forfeited all creation blessing.
All such was once ours in Eden, but we lost it there; and now all blessing is the fruit of the victory of Jesus. And this gives the heart assurance while enjoying it, for we read our title to it while we take it. The Blesser has entitled Himself to bless, for He has won the blessing before He confers it. We therefore know our right to be blessed by Jesus, as surely as Adam knew his to be happy in Eden. And what doubt could he have had? It is not stolen waters that we drink, nor bread eaten in secret that we feed upon, but meat won from the very jaws of the eater, and sweetness gathered from the strong. This is the character of the blessing which the Lord is giving to us sinners. It is His own well-earned spoils. And such do we get here. Full of the Holy Spirit (vs. 1), He met the devil in conflict, to withstand and overthrow him; full of the Holy Spirit still (vs. 14), He meets sinners with blessing, to heal and to save them. And, since this day in the wilderness, He has been on Calvary with him that had the power of death, and there by death destroyed him; He has come forth in resurrection, again to part His spoils with sinners all the world over; and with certainty of heart we survey and enjoy the glorious blessings.
But where is the sinner to value the blessing and to array himself with the spoils of the conquering Son of God? That is the question, the only question, now. Man has no mind for the blessing, and cares not about a victory and its spoils, in which the god of this world has been judged. The synagogue at Nazareth now shows us what man is, as the wilderness has just shown us what Satan is. The stuff that we have tarried with is better, in our esteem, than the fruit of victory which our David brings with him. This is now seen at Nazareth. Human desire is stirred for a moment. The people wonder at the gracious words of Jesus, and they fasten their eyes on Him; but this current of human desire is met by a stronger current of human pride which sets in against it, and all this delight in the grace of Jesus goes. They hang on His lips for a moment, but the pride that suggested “Is not this the carpenter’s son?” overpowered the attraction after a very short struggle, and their goodness was found to be as the morning cloud, or early dew that passeth away.
And so it is, beloved. Enmity to God and His Anointed must win the day in the heart of man, whenever such a conflict as this is fairly raised. Where it is simply between mere human delight or admiration of Jesus, and the strength of nature, this scene in the synagogue of Nazareth tells us what the end of the struggle will be. The stuff in the heart, or in the house, is more heeded than the blessing, of God. Before now, man has sold that blessing for thirty pieces of silver, and even for a mess of pottage. And this is a solemn thought. He that trusteth his own heart is a fool (Prov. 28:2626He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool: but whoso walketh wisely, he shall be delivered. (Proverbs 28:26)), for God cannot trust it. There is nothing in man that God can trust. Some believed when they saw the miracles that Jesus did, but Jesus would not commit Himself unto them.
Nothing of the natural man will do. “Ye must be born again.” “This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.” Resolutions will go before temptations, and the bands of man be broken by Satan. Communion with God in the truth, through the Spirit, will alone stand the soul; the native strength of the stoutest will go to pieces.
But this chapter shows us also that the love of the Son of God was not to be wearied or worn out; for, leaving Nazareth, He goes down to Capernaum with the same spoils of war. His love was stronger than all repulse then, as, since then, it has proved itself stronger than death. “Love never faileth.” And the Son of God is still going through this world of sinners with these same spoils, as fresh as though they had been gathered yesterday, to know who will rejoice with Him in them.
Such is this chapter, which opens the ministry of the Son of God, according to Luke; and as in this Gospel He is specially dealing with man, we have here at once strikingly displayed to us what man is. Like the drawing by the preacher. “There was a little city, and few men within it; and there came a great king against it, and besieged it, and built great bulwarks against it: now there was found in it a poor wise man, and he by his wisdom delivered the city; yet no man remembered that same poor man.” The synagogue at Nazareth proves all this against the citizens of this world.