Saturday, 12 December 2009

Advent 3 December 13th

Luke 3:7-18 John the Baptist

Historicity is important. Are these stories in the gospels just myth or are they true accounts of real happenings? Luke is setting the stage. He identifies 7 people to date the ministry of John, and the commencement of the ministry of Jesus, aprox. AD 27-29. Pontius Pilate was governor and Herod tetrarch of Galilee (Herod Antipas, 4BC-AD39) . Tetrarchs were local rulers appointed by the Roman government to serve alongside a local Roman official, either a Procurator or Prefect. Luke refers to the high priesthood- Both Annas and Caiaphas are mentioned. Caiaphas is functioning as the formal high priest, but Annas is still around. The Roman authorities had removed Annas in AD14. (like Putin's role in Russia as president/prime minister)
God spoke to Zechariah's son John, in the desert - a place of reflection, retreat and revelation. Probably the wilderness is the area north west of the Dead sea, leading into the Jordan valley.
John's ministry covered the whole of Jordan. preaching - communicating, proclaiming. It was authoritative including baptism by immersion in water, but also overwhelmed. The baptism represented repentance/turning away for the forgiveness of sins. Water baptism also symbolically expressed cleansing.
The Hebrew origins of the word repentance suggest a turning back/returning to God, rather than an expression of sorrow. Good deeds are not a necessary component of the inward act of repentance. Forgiveness does not rest on the deeds (fruit), but on a turning toward God. This is the real gospel! Can it be applied to murderers and paedophiles?
John is fulfilling Isaiah 40:3-5 as the one who prepares a roadway through the desert, ready for the journey of the messiah to Jerusalem.
He said some harsh words to the crowd and those waiting to be baptised. He called them a brood of vipers – snakes! He questions the level of commitment of those seeking baptism. Where did they get the idea that ritual immersion would enable them to escape the day of judgment? Do you really understand what baptism is all about?
John identifies continued societal evils as evidence that the crowd's repentance is not genuine. If you want to be saved, then produce (a Hebraism) let your lives then prove your change of heart.
He spoke with images of judgment. What should we do then the crowd asked?
The man with two tunics should share. Repentance is measured by personal radical generosity, by mercy.
The tax collectors who were local duty collectors in the service of the Roman Government, often used their franchise, under the authority of the Roman government, to collect duties on the sale and transport of goods, over and above a nominal commission. What should we do they asked?
Don't collect any more than required. John answered.
Then some soldiers came, either Jewish mercenaries in Roman service, or members of Herod Antipas' guard. John told them don't extort money by violence. Don't accuse people falsely, slander, cheat. Don't seek bribes.
The people were waiting expectantly and were wondering if John might be the Christ-the Messiah.
John responded by saying I am baptizing only with water. One more powerful than I is coming who I am not worthy to untie his sandles. He will baptise with the Holy Spirit and fire.
The day of judgment is at hand. He will burn up with unquenchable fire, a fire that can't be put out, alluding to the rubbish dump outside Jerusalem that was constantly burning and often used to image the horror of judgment.
And with many other words John preached the good news.

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