Freedom of Repentance {Luke 3}

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By Lisa Thayer

Luke, a physician, a Gentile, a Greek Christian, wrote his gospel with factual data about events that actually occurred.  Some have said that Luke interviewed his subjects to gain all the facts, just like physicians do in order to prescribe or diagnose a patient.

Luke wanted his readers, the Gentiles, to have all the facts and details.  So when we get to the last part of verse 2, “The word of God came to John,” we see just as with all the prophets of the Old Testament, John’s authority and power came from God.  Remember back in 1:15, it said he was filled with the Spirit in his mother’s womb.  Now John comes to preach with a word from God in the power of God’s Spirit.  In other words, even though it’s more than 2,000 years later, we should listen to John’s message because it’s God’s message.

Repentance has two sides – turning away from sins and turning towards God.  To be truly repentant, we must do both.  We can’t just say we believe and then live any way we choose. And neither can we simply live a morally correct life without a personal relationship with God, because that cannot bring forgiveness from sins. 

In calling the Jews to accept a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, John was telling them that they cannot rely on their Jewishness for salvation; they have to be changed in their hearts toward God.

Luke’s understanding of John’s baptism is that it implied that the way was open for Gentiles to repent and be forgiven.  If Jewishness does not save, then Gentilishness does not condemn; the issues is repentance toward God.  Luke is showing us that the repentance John was preaching and the salvation that Jesus will bring, is for all flesh, not just for Israel.  The mountains are lowered, the crooked ways are straightened, the rough ways are smoothed, so that all flesh, all people, might see and have access to salvation. (Isaiah 40:3-5)

Since God is not obligated to save any of us because of our heritage or efforts, there is freedom in God’s mercy on whomever He wills.  Mercy by its very nature cannot be constrained or obligated by human efforts.  As Paul says in Romans 9:15-16, “God says, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.  It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but God’s mercy.”

Paul says in Galatians 3:7, “Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham.  And verse 29 says, “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”

John’s message took root in some unexpected places – among the poor, the dishonest, and even the hated men of the army.  These people were painfully aware of their needs and they were honestly seeking to know what to do to change their lives.  Their hearts were softened and became ready to receive the message of the One to come.  (vs. 12-14).

In verses 21-22, Luke emphasizes Jesus’ human nature.  Jesus was born to humble parents, a birth unannounced except to shepherds and foreigners.  This baptism recorded here was the first public declaration of Jesus’ ministry.  Instead of going to Jerusalem and identifying with the established religious leaders, Jesus went to the river and identified with those who were repenting of sin.  When Jesus visited the temple at age 12, He understood His mission.  Talk about waiting, right Lisa?  And as Jesus prayed, God spoke and confirmed His decision to act.  Now Jesus would officially begin His ministry as God’s beloved Son.

I have to confess that I can get wrapped up in waiting.  Yet we see just how long, and I have to assume, just how patient Jesus was, to wait 18 years after we see Him in the temple.  I have to remember in my own brokenness, I have a Savor who understands my humanity.  And when I sin, He has paid the price for my disobedience. 


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