The Mission of God in the Gospel of Luke: Part 2 – John the Baptist Ed Gravely

February 20, 2018

Last month [here] we began talking about the mission of God in the Gospel of Luke. Luke was written to a man named Theophilus who surely wondered where the Gentiles fit into the plan of God and the story of Jesus the Messiah. Surely Luke, a gentile himself, had these same questions. Throughout his Gospel, Luke makes it abundantly clear that the good news about Jesus isn’t just for Jews. It is good news for the whole world, Jews and Gentiles. Saving all the nations is, and has always been, God’s mission.

One of the earliest stories in the Gospel of Luke are the stories about John the Baptist. The angel of the Lord appears to Zechariah in Chapter 1 to announce the miraculous birth of a baby boy named John. This baby, the angel proclaims, will be the person God plans to use to prepare his people for the coming Messiah. The angel tells Zechariah that John “. . . will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared” (Luke 1:16-17).

The words of the angel declare the foundation of John’s mission. The work God wants to do throughout the whole world, the work of the salvation of the nations, he plans to begin in Israel. John will be the one who will call Israel back to God, back to God’s promises, and back to their mission. God wants to use John to prepare his people for the arrival of God’s son.

God continues to explain John’s mission through the prophetic words of Zechariah. At John’s birth Zechariah is filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied over his new-born son. God, Zechariah declares, has promised that their salvation would come from David’s house (Luke 1:69) and that God will save his people from their enemies (1:71-75). Zechariah further prophesies that John will prepare the way for the Lord to do what he promised—salvation for his people and the forgiveness of their sins (1:76). The prophecy closes with an even bigger promise. God doesn’t just plan to do this for Israel. He plans to give light to all those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. We’ll see these words repeated and intensified in reference to Jesus in Luke 2:32: “A light of revelation to the nations.” What God plans to do through John in Israel is just the beginning.

The next time we see John the Baptist in Luke’s Gospel (or any Gospel), it is thirty years later, and John is a grown man, fulfilling his mission in Israel. Luke 3 tells us that John “went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” Luke explains that the work of John the Baptist was not just in keeping with the words of the angel and the prophecy of Zechariah. The work of John the Baptist is what Isaiah the great prophet spoke about many centuries ago:

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:

‘Prepare the way of the Lord,

make his paths straight.

Every valley shall be filled,

and every mountain and hill shall be made low,

and the crooked shall become straight,

and the rough places shall become level ways,

and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”

Notice the global imagery when Isaiah speaks of the scope of God’s proclamation about Messiah through John the Baptist—every valley, every mountain and hill, crooked places and rough places. There is a lot that could be said about Isaiah’s use of natural imagery that is beyond the scope of this blog post, but Isaiah and Luke both intend you to marvel at the scope of what God is doing. Isaiah concludes with the bold proclamation that “All flesh shall see the salvation of God.” Not just Jewish people, but all flesh. The mission of the Messiah is good news for the entire world, and the work of John is preparing the way for that mission.

That mission was a success. God in Christ reconciled the whole world to himself and offers salvation to all flesh. Anyone, Jew or gentile, who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved. And just as God proclaimed the mission of the messiah through John the Baptist, God has made us proclaimers of the good news as well. Our mission is to take the good news to all flesh. We are God’s light of revelation to the nations. God has reconciled us to himself and has now made us ministers of reconciliation. Let’s be about our mission.


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