When John the Baptist appeared by the Jordan River, he was the fulfillment of several Old Testament promises. John’s emphasis was not on how he was the fulfillment of promises, but the need for a positive response to his message.
Luke notes three categories of people who normally wouldn’t be considered interested in religious issues.
(1) The Crowd – The “crowd” may have just been a gathering of people. They possibly were what was called “the people of the land.”
“The people of the land” were considered distant from God by the religious establishment. It was believed that they offered nothing to God because of the way they lived.
(2) Tax Collectors – These were Jews who collected toll taxes on goods for the Roman government. They became wealthy because they charged people more than necessary, pocketing the excess funds.
Tax collectors and shepherds were believed to be dishonest by nature and their testimony was not acceptable in court.
(3) Soldiers – Israel was an occupied nation and the soldiers belonged to the Roman Empire.
Many of the Roman soldiers in Israel were mercenaries from Syria. Of those gathered for John’s baptism, the soldiers may have been the most suspect.
What Shall We Do?
Each of the three groups of unusual suspects asked John, “What shall we do?” He had a message for them.
— To the crowd he said, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise” (Luke 3.10).
John could have quoted from Leviticus and said, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord” (Leviticus 19.18). Instead, he got very specific about what to do.
He told poor people to share with those who were poorer than they were.
— To the tax collectors he replied, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you” (Luke 3.13).
John didn’t tell the tax collectors to quit their jobs, but to perform their duties in an honest fashion.
— He admonished the soldiers, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages” (Luke 3.14).
John accepted the question of the mercenaries from Syria and commanded them to adopt proper conduct.
Good News for Everyone
Paul wrote, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1.16).
The power of the good news of Jesus Christ is on display as God sets people free from their old attachments and grants them new life through friendship with Christ.
There are few experiences more exhilarating than to see a person receive new life from God.
The Spirit-and-Fire Baptism
People asked John if he were the Messiah. John replied with these words:
“I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Luke 3.16).
John identified himself as lower than a Jewish slave in comparison to Jesus. He said he wasn’t worthy to do what was not required of slaves, to remove the sandals of a master.
John’s baptism was a repentance-baptism in water. It was a sign that people had left the old and were aligned with God’s program.
Jesus’ Spirit-baptism was another fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy.
— Ezekiel 36.26 – “A new heart I will give you, and a new Spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”
— Ezekiel 37.14 – “I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live.”
The effective power of the good news of Jesus Christ is the Spirit. When people turn from their past and embrace God’s activity, the Spirit brings them to life.
The “fire” aspect of Jesus’ baptism involves judgment and cleansing. The Spirit reveals our need for Jesus (judgment) and transforms our inner self (cleansing).
Dear God, we thank you for your plan that frees us from sin and enables us to experience friendship with you. We praise you for the multitudes of people whose lives have been transformed by the good news message of Jesus. Help us to be aligned with all you are doing.
Rudy Ross and I discuss this passage on YouTube. It can be viewed on the Bob Spradling YouTube channel.