At this time of year (mid-January), Luke 3 is a more familiar chapter to us. In this "series C" year of our Bible readings, we've read from it a couple of times in worship–once in Advent, and then again soon after Christmas. We've heard about John the Baptizer, how he was the forerunner of Jesus, preparing the way for him. We've heard about the evil done to John by Herod Antipas, who locked John up in prison because he didn't want to hear and obey the word of God that John was speaking to him.
And we've heard about the baptism of Jesus, though Luke gives us less detail about the event itself than Matthew does (Matthew 3:13-17). We know that Jesus was baptized "to fulfill all righteousness" (Matt3:15), that is, to be baptized and identify Himself with us sinners, and to allow His righteousness to be given to us in our own baptism.
Luke also gives us the sign that the Trinity is involved in Jesus' baptism, as the Father speaks and the Spirit descends on Jesus in bodily form, like a dove. This is why we often see a dove in pictures that represent Christian baptism, which is a baptism of water and the Spirit (John 3:3-5).
The one section we haven't read in worship is the genealogy that Luke shares (Luke 3:23-38). We note a couple of things about that section as well as some things about the more recently-read verses of chapter 3 (1-22) that perhaps didn't get as much of a focus in worship:
- 3:1 Luke again shows he is grounded in real history; the events he's describing were taking place in real places with real people. Archeology and historical sources outside the Bible help confirm these places, people, and dates that Luke is sharing.
- 3:4-6 Though Luke isn't written primarily for a Jewish audience, he repeatedly makes the point that Jesus is actually fulfilling the promises of God found in the Old Testament. Here is a direct quote from Isaiah 40:3-5.
- 3:15-18 Notice that John is clear about his identity and his role. As a prophet—a messenger of God—he is not the Anointed One, but he is preparing people for and pointing people to the One who is, the one who we will come to learn is Jesus of Nazareth (see also a related passage John 1:29-33).
- 3:23-38 There are two genealogies of Jesus in the New Testament. The other one is found in Matthew 1:1-17. Though we might expect that they would be the same, even one quick reading will show that they differ in significant ways. Some would call that a contradiction, but reading more carefully reveals that the differences are just that: differences, not contradictions.
- Luke starts with Jesus and works backwards in time ("the son of...the son of..."); Matthew works forward in time ("the father of...the father of....").
- Luke traces the lineage through David and Abraham, but goes all the way back to the first man, Adam, and then even further than that, back to the first source of all life, God (Luke 3:38). Matthew's oldest generation is Abraham, showing how Jesus' lineage is specifically Jewish in nature, starting from Abraham and also going through David. So we see that the Jewish lineage is the same in both but Luke's focus is wider in scope than just the nation of Israel.
- There are differences in names between the two. While there are differing opinions, the best explanation is that Luke gives a biological list through Joseph, while Matthew gives more of a legal listing. Matthew's seems to be arranged not only chronologically but also theologically, whereas Luke's is more simply biological and chronological.
- That said, there is theological purpose in Luke. Notice that this genealogy comes directly after the Father's words to Jesus, "You are My Son". (And remember that chapters and verses aren't part of the original text. So the connections between sections as they appear in our Bibles are stronger than the layout and formatting may make it seem.) So the genealogy is there to show that not only is Jesus the divine Son of God, but also in an earthly way it can be said that He is a son of God. This is also why Luke uses this specific "direction".