Of Swords & Plowshares … Micah 4:1f

Micah 4:1 And it will come about in the last days
That the mountain of the house of the Lord
Will be established [a]as the chief of the mountains.
It will be raised above the hills,
And the peoples will stream to it.

Many nations will come and say,
“Come and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord
And to the house of the God of Jacob,
That He may teach us about His ways
And that we may walk in His paths.”
For from Zion will go forth the law,
Even the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.

And He will judge between many peoples

And render decisions for mighty, [b]distant nations.
Then they will hammer their swords into plowshares
And their spears into pruning hooks;
Nation will not lift up sword against nation,
And never again will they [c]train for war.

So, we enter again into this text in Micah 4 and Isaiah 2. Part of what we have been laboring to demonstrate is that with the first advent of Christ the things spoken of here have come to pass. With the advent of Christ, we arrived in Micah and Isaiah’s latter days.

We have labored to demonstrate that the Lord Christ is the Mountain of the house of the Lord that the Prophet’s speak. We have sought to show that the Kingdom of Christ is indeed now and has been since the coming of Jehovah’s Mountain Kingdom the chief of all Mountains.

We have leveraged history to illustrate how it is that with the first Advent of Christ the nations streamed into the Kingdom of Christ. Likewise, we have introduced the Emporer Justinian and his consort Theodora as well as Alfred the Great and then later English common law to put meat on the truth that it has been the case that the nations have desired to be taught God’s law that they may walk in God’s paths.

We have done this because we are convinced that the Church is asleep on the already-ness of the Kingdom. The modern Church, too often, acts like it is living in the times of Micah and Isaiah — as if we only have this to look forward toward. The Church is stuck in the “not yet.” The modern Church has an OT eschatological vision. While it is true that we expect a further blossoming of these Messianic promises, (The Kingdom being seen chief among all competitors, the Nations streaming in, the petition to be taught God’s law, the presence of peace) we have neglected to emphasize the immediacy and presence of these truths as already true.

True it is, that the full existential / experiential impact of the “not yet” still lies beyond us in the future for our children and grandchildren to know and experience, yet it is the driving home of the “now”/ the “already” of these truths that Micah and Isaiah could only anticipate — as preached to the saints now living — that serves the ends of breaking the enslaving bonds upon the people of God’s thinking that the “this present evil age” status quo seeks so earnestly to keep them in thralldom to.

The “coming age” that Micah, Isaiah, and the prophets spoke of has come!

And this Definitively so!

Now its realization continues to be worked out progressively. BUT, you see, if there is NO definitive reality of these things as grasped firmly by faith in the here and now, there cannot and will not be the progressive out-working of these truths. The intensification of these truths over time depend on the reality of these truths being true NOW.

If the embrace of these anticipated prophetic realities is neglected the Church will remain enslaved mentally in the sin and death of “this present wicked age” as it lies in Adam.  But the fact remains, definitively, that all the saints are presently “in Christ”, NOT “in Adam,” and what is true for Christ is true for His people who are united to Him.

(Note — Gratitude to Kim Burgess for a conversation that crystallized the above 6 paragraphs. The language is mostly mine but I could not have gotten there without my conversation with Kim.)

This morning we turn to the issue of war and peace and how with the arrival of Christ, swords have been hammered into plowshares and spears for pruning hooks, which is to say that Christ brought peace.

This promise of peace as connected with the Messiah is found everywhere in the Scriptures. But before we turn to those passages do keep in mind that the Hebrew “shalom” (peace) is a word that is of much richer and fuller significance than the English word “peace.” Whereas we sometimes limit the idea of peace to the absence of conflict, shalom includes far more. It comprises notions of wholeness, completeness, soundness, as well as the presence of righteousness, justice, and prosperity.

It is that kind of Peace that is sung in Handel’s Messiah, every year from Isaiah 9:6

For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us;  And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.

Zechariah also envisioned the Messianic ear as an era of Peace,

10I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim And the horse from Jerusalem; And the bow of war will be cut off. And He will speak peace to the nations; And His dominion will be from sea to sea, And from the River to the ends of the earth.

Upon the Birth of Christ, we hear the singing of the Angelic hosts

Luke 2:14“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests!”

Jesus said to His troubled disciples on the cusp of His Exodus,

27 Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you;

Paul in Ephesians 2 could speak of Christ as Himself being our peace and as His finished work on the Cross establishing peace. We learn that Christ preached peace to those gentiles who were far away, covenantally speaking, and peace to those Jews who were near covenantallty speaking.

Peace thus becomes a major theme throughout Scripture. Micah and Isaiah join that chorus to speak of the latter days… what we call the first advent … would find one consequence as the bringing in of peace.

Of course as we begin to examine this peace we say as we have noted before that nation cannot have peace with nation until nations have peace with Christ. Nations which are at war with Christ will war with one another. This is so because nations (and men) who are at war with Christ inevitably take themselves as God. As gods tend to demand that everyone bow to them, the consequence is that varying nations who have taken themselves as god will insist that all other nations who have taken themselves as god bow to their godhood. If everyone is a deity who expects all to bow, conflict is going to arise, conflict of interest will be the norm, and so peace will not be present.

Men who are at war with God will invariably have no peace within themselves, nor as among others.

But the latter days have arrived and Christ has come. And the consequence of that is to have witnessed how it is that nations who have come under the authority of the Gospel have themselves exchanged war for peace so that so far as it depended upon Christian people, they were at peace with all men.

That this text was understood has having a fulfilled import to it is something that the early Church Fathers taught. Here are only three,

Tertullian (155 – 240)

“Even from this, you may know that Christ was promised, not as one mighty in war, but as a peace-bringer. Either deny that these things were prophesied, since they are plain to see; or, since they are written, deny that they are fulfilled. But if thou mayest deny neither, thou must own that they are fulfilled in Him, of whom they are prophesied.”

Athansius (296-373) could write,

“Of old Greeks and Barbarians, being idolaters, warred with one another, and were fierce toward those akin. For through their implacable warfare no one might pass land or sea, unarmed. Their whole life was passed in arms; the sword was to them for staff and stay. They worshiped idols, sacrificed to demons, and yet from their reverence for idols they could gain no help to correct their minds. But when they passed into the school of Christ, then, of a truth, pricked in mind, they wondrously laid aside their savage slaughters, and now think no more of things of war; for now all peace and friendship are alone their mind’s delight. who then did this, who blended in peace those who hated one another, save the Beloved Son of the Father, the common Saviour of all, Christ Jesus, who, through His love, endured all things for our salvation?

Chrysostom (349 – 407) could chime in saying,

“Before the Coming of Christ, all men armed themselves and no one was exempt from this service, and cities fought with cities, and everywhere were men trained to war. But now most of the world is in peace; all engage in mechanical art or agriculture or commerce, and few are employed in military service for all. And of this too the occasion would cease, if we acted as we ought and did not need to be reminded by afflictions.” : “After the Sun of righteousness dawned, so far are all cities and nations from living in such perils, that they know not even how to take in hand any affairs of war. – Or if there be still any war, it is far off at the extremity of the Roman Empire, not in each city and country, as heretofore. For then, in any one nation, there were countless seditions and multiform wars. But now the whole earth which the sun surveys from the Tigris to the British isles, and therewith Lybia too and Egypt and Palestine, yea, all beneath the Roman rule, – ye know how all enjoy complete security, and learn of war only by hearsay.”

See, the point here, is that many of the Church Fathers could speak of this prophecy being fulfilled. Of course, not perfectly or completely, but fulfilled in principle so that the impact of Messianic age was being seen. Those early Church Fathers in their evangelism could urge against the Jews — those whom they were often engaged with — that the fulfillment of these Old Testament prophecies had come to pass.

But instead what we get today is that these prophecies are only future as tied to the 2nd advent of Christ, which means in turn, that we can not expect this peace to be characteristic of this world until Christ returns, which serves a pessimistic eschatology. Or failing that, what we get is that these prophesies are only fulfilled spiritually…. whatever that means.

But the prophecy is fulfilled, in that the Gospel is a Gospel of peace and makes peace for those who come under its sway and authority. And being fulfilled we anticipate it going from fulfillment unto fulfillment.

Yes, we who are familiar with the 20th century find this preaching hard sledding. We have seen untold bloodshed this century. But remember our illustration on the way that the Kingdom comes in.

Ill. — Tide coming in and out. / Not steady linear progress.

So, we can say that this is fulfilled when men, as far as they united to Christ, are at peace both in themselves and with one another.  The Gospel brings peace. The Gospel stills the selfish passions that make for war. The Gospel quells disputes arising from pride.  Where overcome with the Gospel there we find a banishing of contentions, a removing of errors, and a soothing and repressing of pagan anger, both in individuals, and nations.

Again, I appeal to History,

There is the account of John Williams missionary to the South Island seas in the early 19th century.  Williams work for Christ went forward. Eventually, God was pleased to convert a Samoan chief named Malietoa. Prior to Malietoa’s conversion, he was a feared warrior. Upon embracing Christ Malietoa used his warrior ability to be a force for peace among the tribes.

There is the Don Richardson account in the 20th century among the Sawi tribe in Papua New Guinea. God was pleased to use Richardson and his wife to see conversion among the Sawi tribe and the consequence was Peace among formerly cannibalistic tribes. Indeed the book that Richardson wrote, which I highly recommend, is titled “Peace Child.” The book tells the story of how the Father’s giving of the Son brought reconciliation and Peace to warring tribes throughout the world. This message was highly effective given that the Sawi and area tribes retained a “Peace child” concept in their culture, as a means to make and ensure peace among warring tribes.

Because of Christianity, even the pursuit of war was about bringing peace. Augustine taught that for a war to be a “Just war” the war must be waged under the authority of the prince, and it must have as its object the punishment of injustice and the restoration of peace. Where there was gross injustice there could be no peace. Christianity created a doctrine of war that was about the restoration of peace.

Obviously, then, the kind of peace that is characteristic of the Messianic age is not the peace of the pacifists and the anabaptists. The Messiah does not seek peace at any cost. The cost of peace in the Messianic age is kissing the Son, lest He be angry, resulting in perishing.  Men and Nations who will not have the Messiah’s peace will know that the Prince of Peace is also a warrior Prince.

The Messiah’s peace is a peace that will wage war for peace against those who would wage war against the Messiah’s peace.

Because this is true, we have to say, that the anabaptist and the pacifist are working against the Peace of the Messiah when they prattle on about peace at any cost.


New Sermon — 25 December 2016

Christ is the Prince of Peace.

Last week we sought to build the case that the consequence of the arrival of Christ with the first advent was the ushering in of a Peace.  It really has been the case that swords have been beaten into plowshares and spears turned into pruning hooks.

We have noted that Peace has been characteristic where the Gospel has been successfully planted. Christ remains, in the words of Isaiah 9, “the Prince of Peace.”

Yet we must briefly deal with these words of Christ and ask whether or not in them we find contradiction.

 Matthew 10:34 Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. 35 For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. 36 And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.

This gives us insight into the kind of Peace that Scripture has in mind when it speaks of Christ as the one who brings peace. It is most certainly a peace that intends to triumph through conflict.

Usually, the kind of Peace that you hear “Christians” talk about is the kind of peace that means that Christians surrender their convictions in order to have the cessation of hostility. This is not the kind of Peace that Christianity offers when it talks about swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks. The kind of Peace that Christianity is talking about is a Peace that arrives via total conquest against those enemies which rise up against Christ as the Prince of peace.

The reason that Christ, who is the Prince of Peace can talk about bringing a sword is that Peace is not gained except through vanguishing all Kingdoms which would rise up against Christ and His Kingdom. This is why Christ can talk about friction within a household. Until the whole household surrenders to Christ there will be variance in that household.

Ill. — Illustration — War against Japan

During the war against Japan, most Americans undoubtedly wanted peace. Peace was the thought that comforted mothers whose sons were in danger on distant battlefields; peace was the word which sustained wives, lonely and anxious without their husbands; peace was the goal that motivated servicemen who knew the boredom, the loneliness, and the danger of war. Had they been asked to define peace, they would doubtless have described it as the termination of hostilities in the defeat of the enemy by the allies. Not under any circumstances would victory by Japan have been termed peace. To the American people, peace meant only one thing– American victory.

The Christian believes they are at war. They desire “peace” with all their hearts. But to us, peace is that great hope for the time when the Kingdom of Christ totally overwhelms all enemies and climaxes in conquest of the world by Christ. By definition , “peace” is Christian world conquest.

As we saw last week where Christ has conquered there you find peace. Where those who yet resist Christ remain there you will find it to be true that there is no Peace, as Christ words from Matthew 10 indicate.

So Christianity brings Peace but it is Peace on its terms and its terms mean that people bow to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

And as we discussed that is what you find in this passage when it talks about the Nations desiring to learn God’s ways so as to walk in His paths. This is what the passage means when it talks about God’s Mountain being larger than every other Mountain.

This is the kind of peace that we, as Christ’s vassal-subjects are committed to. We are not committed to some peace that would leave those who hate Christ and His Kingdom in the ascendancy. We are for the kind of peace that has removed all pretenders to the throne, via conversion.

So Christ has come and brought peace to those who have bowed the knee to Him as the Prince of Peace. Where those remain who are in revolt against the authority of Christ there the absence of Peace is characteristic.

Because we are committed to the Peace of God, as God’s people, we are a people who take up our Cross and follow Christ. One of the ironies of the Christian life is that because we pursue the Peace of Christ as we have spoken of we are a people most pilloried and so must cling to the Cross.

Remember Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. Bunyan’s Character’s “Christian” and “Faithful” enter into Vanity Fair, which is for Bunyan a metaphor for the wickednes of this world as it lies outside of Christ. “Christian” and “Faithful” refuse to enter into the lusts, adulteries, and vanities of the antichrist culture whereupon (paraphrasing Bunyan now)

“a crowd gathers to taunt and revile them, “some calling upon others to smite them,” which leads to a great hubbub and the arrest of the Pilgrims for disturbing the peace. After being questioned, they are severely beaten and locked up in an iron cage to be made a spectacle to the multitude, being for some time “the objects of any man’s sport, or malice, or revenge.”

By being lovers of Peace “Christian” and “Faithful” are accused of disturbing the Peace and so it must be until Christ’s enemies are converted and so defeated.

One of the ironies of the Christian life is that Christians who are so committed to the Peace of Christ will, like Bunyan’ “Faithful” and
“Christian” routinely be accused of being disturbers of the Peace.

We see that in our culture today. Christians are the homophobes. Christians are the sexists. Christians are the racists. Christians are the ones who are disturbers of the Peace.

And yet, we as Christians remain confident that as Christ has triumphed those who are enemies of God will be converted so that the Peace of God that is present among those who know Christ will cover the globe as the waters cover the sea.

Before we move on to round off we must note here that as Children of God and so lovers of Peace that for the modern state War is the health of the state. We note this because the modern state, in order to feather its nest, wants Christians to hate those who they propagandize us to hate. The modern state would have us replace the Pax Christi (Peace of Christ) with the Pax Lamech, Pax Nimrod, Pax Pharaoh, Pax Babylonia, Pax Romana, and Pax Americana.

As Christians, our enemies are not necessarily who the State tells us. Our enemies are those who are haters of Christ and His Kingdom.  As Christian we must keep in mind that The Chief End of Man is the Glory of God, not the Glory of the “Fatherland.”

II.) What is the basis of this Peace promised?

So, here is this promise of Peace among the Nations and we must pause to ask ourselves, “On what basis is this peace achieved.”

And the answer to that is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ holds that God is at warfare with man because of man’s rebellion against God. Because of man’s defiance of God, there is and can be no peace between God and man. God is implacably opposed to rebel man.

For those outside of Christ, God hates. That hatred is reciprocal as those outside of Christ are at war with God.

Peace can only be sued for on God’s terms and God’s terms are the demand that those who want to be free of God’s hostility towards them and have forgiveness for their rebelliousness against God is the finished work of Jesus Christ.

Christ came to be the peace child between God and man. By His work on the Cross Christ quenched the anger of God and so, as a substitute, became the appeasement of God as sent by God for those who would sue for peace.

God could not offer peace to rebellious man except on His terms. And His law terms required that His violated law be satisfied and so Christ came in His first advent to be God’s sacrifice for the sins of His people.

And so God Himself makes the peace. We do not have peace because of our repentance though certainly, repentance is a necessary consequence of our having peace with God. We do not gain peace by our obedience to God’s law though obedience is a necessary consequence of having peace with God. The only sufficient and necessary means to having Peace with God … the only way we can be delivered from God’s active warfare against us … the only way that a nation will ever beat swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks is by placing themselves under the protection of the Lord Christ who gave Himself up as the substitute for warmongering rebels like us.

Then having Peace with God we can wage peace for God with our fellow man.

But having this kind of peace will be incredibly threatening to those who are outside of this peace. Those outside of this peace still desire to be their own God and so will be at war both with THE God and those who champion His peace.

But we fear not, for Christ has overcome the world.





Reformation Day 2016 Homily

I Cor. 10:31 — So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all to the glory of God.

Colossians 3:17
And whatever you do, in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.
1 Peter 4:11
If anyone speaks, he should speak as one conveying the words of God. If anyone serves, he should serve with the strength God supplies, so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen.


With these passages we are taught that there is a distinctively Christian way to lean into life … to do all that we do from the most mundane matters to the most exalted. For the Christian nothing is done from a neutral position. For the Christian all is done to glorify God.

This mindset was captured in the Reformation byword of Sola de Gloria. To the glory of God alone.

The Reformed desired to re-order all of life in ways consistent with God’s Word for the purpose of glorifying God alone in ALL they did.

Increasingly that mindset … the mindset of doing all we do for the glory of God is absent in our thinking. The very few that remain that seek to employ that in their thinking and writing are met with the catcalls of their “brethren” saying that Christianity has nothing to do with those areas that they are thinking about how one might live for the glory of God.

There was a time for example when it was routinely understood among Reformed folk that Christianity had a doctrine that had implications for our social order.

It was not thought that Christianity was to be applied only to the matter of salvation of souls. It was understood widely that Christianity created a whole unique social order.

And so with this cry of Sola Dei Gloria Reformed Christianity reshaped the West. This is so true that

World renowned German Historian Leopold Van Ranke could write,

“John Calvin was virtually the founder of America.”

“He that will not honor the memory and respect the influence of Calvin knows but little of the origin of American liberty”

George Bancroft — Historian
History of the United States of America — Vol. 1 — pg. 464

These men were not speaking of the fact that Reformed Christianity had particular doctrines of Grace that were unique. They were speaking of the Doctrines of the Reformation that created a unique social order and way of living as a people.

So, in seeking to do whatever they did to the glory of God they approached a social order that maintained distinctions and which denied egalitarianism. They saw passages such as “Honor thy Mother and Father,” as passages that taught social hierarchy.

Westminster Confession

Q. 124. Who are meant by father and mother in the fifth commandment?
A. By father and mother, in the fifth commandment, are meant, not only natural parents,[649] but all superiors in age[650] and gifts;[651] and especially such as, by God’s ordinance, are over us in place of authority, whether in family,[652] church,[653] or commonwealth.[654]

Calvin echoed this,

“All are not created on equal terms … This God has testified, not only in the case of single individuals; He has also given a specimen of it in the whole posterity of Abraham, to make it plain that the future condition of each nation was entirely at His disposal.” – John Calvin

And so wanting to do all they did to the Glory of God and believing in social hierarchy the Reformation created a social order that was opposed to both a static hierarchy and the kind of egalitarianism that the much of the visible Church promotes today.

But it did not stop here. All along the social order the Reformation did all it did for the glory of God.

As another example … The idea of covenantal solidarity that we find communicated in Reformed understandings of Baptism found its way into our Constitution when the Founders wrote they were seeking to,

“secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity,”

This is a very Reformed and covenantal way of thinking.

And so the Church has become silent and in becoming silent a vacuum has been created so that other worldviews have achieved a cultural hegemony that would never have been possible in cultures that were epistemologically and self consciously Reformational.

Where the Reformation once called for social heirarchy, the Church has now retreated and  so soul killing egalitarianism is all the rage. Where Reformation thinking called for a social order with Limited Governments, the modern Church has retreated and so no tocsin is sounded warning about the rise of Tyrants and Usurpers. Where the Reformation talked about the effects of man’s original sin, the modern Church has retreated and no word is spoken of how original sin manifests itself in our political, educational, aesthetic or economic programs.

In the name of saving souls the Church has become silent about doing all that is done Sola Dei Gloria. As a consequence, we have lost our social order and it is now informed and shaped by pagan religions with the effect that the Church can in no way compete with an alien messaging that is being drummed into people 24-7. Further, because Christianity has surrendered the social order people are now shaped by that social order and bring that shaping into the Church with them with the result that Christianity ends up being reinterpreted in a pagan direction.

We should not be surprised that the Church, with a Reformational message, is largely seen, by a now alien culture, as being hateful, mean, and not nice. We should not be surprised that the Church that does not carry a Reformation message are seen as the haunts of the Simpson’s Rev. Lovejoys of the world.

And God’s people love it so.

What other examples besides the few we already communicated demonstrate this Reformation desire to do all that was done to the glory of God get in and create our social order?

We could talk of checks and balances in Government. We could speak of limited and diffuse Government. We could speak of ordered liberty. We could speak of the Protestant work ethic. We could speak of the idea of male and female roles. We could speak of how the Reformation affected views of Art in the West. We could speak of the formation of a vast network of volunteer societies that sought to ameliorate the hardships of the indigent and the poor. We could speak of adoption agencies and orphanages. We could speak of the pressing need for schools and education so as to teach children to think God’s thoughts after Him. We could speak of the valuing of human life that informed our Doctors and nurses for generations. We could speak of the Trustee family and how it informed generations of family life in the West.

Some of this existed before the rise of the Reformation but all of it was reinvigorated by the Reformation and all of it and a host of other unmentioned issues worked to form a Reformed culture that existed in order to do all that was done to the glory of God.

But now we are told, even by many of the Church, that all this must be shoved aside. It is whispered that all of this is the result of cultural bigotry…. white privilege … institutional racism even. Many in the Church are insisting that this concern about the Reformation in terms of how it leaves a decided stamp on cultures and social orders is something that the Church need not be concerned with.

But as for me and my house, it remains sola deo gloria whether we eat or drink … in word or deed, in every area of life.

Luke 9:28f — Transfiguration

First Sunday of Epiphany — Baptism of Christ
Second Sunday of Epiphany — Cana of Galilee Wedding
Third and Fourth Sunday of Epiphany — Reading of scroll in Nazareth
Last Sunday of Epiphany — Transfiguration

All of this is communicating that the long anticipated Messiah that the covenant Fathers spoke of has arrived. The epiphany in Christ’s Baptism is that He is identified as the covenant head for His people. His actions will be their actions. His baptism their baptism. The epiphany of the Miracle at the wedding of Cana is found in the fact that the water of the Old Covenant has now blushed into Wine of the New Covenant as the Lord Christ is identified as the Messiah long promised so that it is announced that, in Christ, the best has been saved to end. In the Reading of the Scroll of Nazareth the epiphany being communicated is that the age to come promised in the old covenant is Present in the person of the Lord Christ. He is the one who will bring good news to the poor, set the captive free, give recovery to the blind because He Himself is the promised age to come.  Also, the epiphany aspect hinted at in the Scroll reading is that the ministry of the Messiah is going to extend to Gentiles as Christ is rejected by His own people.

In the words of both John the Baptist and the Lord Christ the Kingdom of God is at hand.

All of this is what is called Redemptive History. It is real History but it is the History of God’s redemptive work.

Epiphany is intended to give us basic Christianity 101. Ideally, mature Christians would have these basics down so that they could communicate how it is that Christ is the nadir point and fulfillment of God’s promises.

Why is a Epiphany sermon series like this important for your faith?


Let us first note the movement of the Church calendar. During the time of Advent we reach the zenith with the Incarnation of Christ. During the time of Epiphany we reach the zenith with the Transfiguration of Christ. During the time of Lent we reach the zenith with the Crucifixion. From there we move to the Exaltation of Christ as found in the Resurrection season of Christ. The Church Calendar gives us the life of Christ and teaches us Redemptive History as we consider the Lord Christ.

1.) It requires you to see that the Kingdom of God is present.

— Remember the “Now — Not Yet” Hermeneutic that we emphasize here. What we’ve been looking at the past few weeks, during the Epiphany season, is the Now-ness of the Kingdom. This is important to realize because the majority of the Christians you meet have imbibed (often quite without know it) that the Kingdom of God is only Future. They look forward to some future day when Jesus returns and sets up His rule and Kingdom in Jerusalem. The Kingdom of God is totally future to them.  In this series we’ve been trying to teach, consistent with the Scripture accounts, that the Kingdom of God has arrived in Christ.

This already present Kingdom, to be sure, has a “yet to come” dynamic but if we don’t understand the already presence of the Kingdom we miss out on the confidence and optimism that is the birthright of every Christian. We live, in what some would style as ‘dark times,’ but as Christians we know objectively that God’s Kingdom has come and we live in terms of that present Kingdom.

With the completed work of the Lord Christ, God’s eschatological future Kingdom begins and is already present. In Christ, the Father has subjected the inhabited World to the rule of Christ. In Christ there is a new Creation and as God’s people walk in terms of that freely given new Creation this present evil age begins to be increasingly diminished and rolled back.

Ill — Sickness vs. Penicillin — Christ is the Penicillin

2.) It allows you to focus on Christ who is the Kingdom as opposed to focus on Israel today as somehow being wrapped up with Kingdom events as if Israel is more important than the King.

3.) It aids you in reading the Scripture in terms of the Scripture and not in terms of the Newspaper. I hope we have demonstrated here that when we read the Scripture we ask ourselves how does a knowledge of the unfolding and organic growth of the rest of the Scripture impact upon the blooming of the Kingdom in the Gospel Accounts. The Gospels are much like the point in the novel that is the crescendo to all that has been developed to date.

4.) Along the way we’ve tried to include the idea that as a people who have been swept up into this Kingdom of God we have the privilege and responsibility to live in terms of the present-ness of the Kingdom. For example, having been made citizens in the Kingdom of a King who is merciful and gentle we seek to demonstrate those virtues in our own lives. As another example, having been made citizens in the Kingdom of a King who is just we champion His Law word as the universal standard for Justice for all men. Being citizens in the Kingdom of God we resist evil because evil is inconsistent with this already present Kingdom.

Inherent in the story of the Transfiguration is the promise of a kind of life beyond what is apparent to earthly eyes most of the time. Hebrews 12 speaks of this other realm when it talks about being surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses.  The Transfiguration reminds us again that there is a realm … a life beyond this life. Unlike the Academic Atheist who I once encountered in conversation, the Transfiguration reminds the Modern that it is not the case that when one dies there is just unconsciousness.

If nothing else, (and there is much more) the Transfiguration reminds that “Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die” is not a true synopsis of life.

Let’s examine some of the symbolism and motifs (themes) that are attached to this passage and see what we can draw out from these as we read the rest of Scripture.

Exodus 24:15f

Exodus 24:15 Then Moses went up to the mount, and the cloud covered the mountain,16 And the glory of the Lord abode upon mount Sinai, and the cloud covered [o]it six days: and the seventh day he called unto Moses out of the midst of the cloud.

 There is likely a connection here then between the Mosaic witnessing of the glory of God and the disciples witnessing the brightness of God’s glory here in Christ. If that is the case then this is one of those testimonies of Scripture where another Divine character quality of the Father is seen in the Son so that what is being subtly communicated is the Divine Nature of the Lord Christ.

This is underscored when Luke writes,

“they saw His glory, and the two men that stood with him.”

This is not merely the refracted character of God’s glory, this is a case where the Son is full of the same glory as the Father.

That the disciples are witnessing the Glorified and Divine Christ, in a kind of “time before the time manifestation”, is confirmed by John’s record in his Apocalypse (Revelation) where John describes the ascended Christ.

Revelation 1:14 His head and hairs were white as white wool, and as snow, and his eyes were as a flame of fire,

Compare that with what is recorded here

Luke — the fashion of his countenance was altered, and his raiment became white and dazzling.

Mark 9:3 And his raiment did [c]shine, and was very white as snow, so white as no fuller can make upon the earth.

The Whiteness here communicates the intense glory radiating from the Son. Snow was as close as they could come to this intense spectacle of God’s person. That the divinity of Christ is being pressed here is underscored by Daniel’s description of the “Ancient of Days in Daniel 7

Daniel 7:9 I beheld till the [r]thrones were set up, and the [s]Ancient of days did sit, whose garment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like the pure wool: his throne was like the fiery flame, and his wheels, as burning fire.

So, on the Mount of Transfiguration the post-Ascension divinity of Christ is put on display and what is communicated for those playing close attention when we read what leads up to this event, where Christ speaks of His death (vs. 22), is that He who is God  glorified is going to lay down His life for His people.

The paradox of the Kingdom is that it comes in with both glory and humility at the same time. During Epiphany we find the Lord Christ everywhere assaulting the Kingdom of Satan. We even see the proclamation here of His divinity and yet all this is wrapped in the enigma of His coming Humiliation — His death and burial.

Luke says they: “Spoke of His Exodus which He should accomplish at Jerusalem”.

Of course the Exodus phraseology takes us back to the the departure of Israel from Egypt. When you combine the idea of Exodus mentioned here to the Lord Christ’s speaking of His coming death (22) one can’t help but see that Christ, in His Exodus will the be the Passover Lamb of God whereby God’s people are not visited with God’s wrath against His enemies. All of this bespeaks the great themes of God’s justice and mercy and God’s means of salvation. It speaks of a substitute in our place and instead of us. It speaks of delivery from what we deserve. It speaks of reconciling God to man and man to God by man presenting a sacrifice, as provided by God, in order to satisfy God’s just demands by propitiating (appeasing) God with something more than animal blood.

Likewise in this Exodus of Christ we are reminded that we are delivered as in Christ. His blood is spilled so that we might Exodus into the promised New Creation that is provided in and by Christ. Christ’s Exodus thus is our Exodus. By His stripes we are healed.

This also speaks of the necessity of Christ and His Exodus being our Exodus. Christ is both the necessary and sufficient condition in order to be right with God. If we will not have His ransom price paid as our ransom price we will remain in this present evil age and under the authority of “the God of this world.” If we will not have His deliverance and protection proved by His shed blood we are on a trajectory that will find us joined with the foulest and cruelest imps and demons for all eternity.

Moving on, this Transfiguration also serves then as analogy for the “Now … Not Yet” of the Kingdom of which we have been speaking. It has arrived in glory and yet it, more often than not, comes to us wrapped in humility. Paul was the great champion of the Kingdom … a champion beaten with rods and whips as well as stoned and shipwrecked while bearing a thorn in the flesh. Peter does many great miracles in the context of Kingdom work and yet Stephen and James are recorded as martyred in the Scripture. We share in the glory of Christ and yet we do so around the Word broken and the humble elements of Bread and wine and Water. The Kingdom is present … the Mt. of Transfiguration tells us that. The Kingdom is yet to come … the fact that we are not yet transfigured tells us that.

Do not miss the significance that this is all taking place on a Mountain,

As we have seen before Mountains are often associated with the place where concourse with God is held.

The entry for “Mountain” in Dictionary of Biblical Imagery reads:

“Almost from the beginning of the Bible, mountains are sites of transcendent spiritual experiences, encounters with God or appearances by God. Ezekiel 28:13-15 places the *Garden of Eden on a mountain. *Abraham shows his willingness to sacrifice Isaac and then encounters God on a mountain (Gen 22:1-14). God appears to Moses and speaks from the *burning bush on “Horeb the mountain of God” (Ex 3:1-2 NRSV), and he encounters Elijah on the same site (1 Kings 19:8-18). Most impressive of all is the experience of the Israelites at Mt. *Sinai (Ex 19), which *Moses ascends in a *cloud to meet God.

A similar picture emerges from the NT, where Jesus is associated with mountains. Jesus resorted to mountains to be alone (Jn 6:15), to *pray (Mt 14:23; Lk 6:12) and to teach his listeners (Mt 5:1; Mk 3:13). It was on a mountain that Jesus refuted Satan’s temptation (Mt 4:8; Lk 4:5). He was also transfigured on a mountain (Mt 17:1-8; Mk 9:2-8; Lk 9:28-36), and he ascended into heaven from the Mount of Olives (Acts 1:10-12).[4]

Jesus also designated a mountain in Galilee from which he gave the Great Commission to the eleven (Matthew 28:16). Jesus is both the tabernacle of God among men (John 1:14) and a temple (John 2:19-22) who builds the new temple (Ephesians 2:19-22 [his body, the church]). Hebrews 12:18-24 contrasts Mount Sinai and Mount Zion in the context of the transition from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant. God’s people have gone from one mountain to another. Surely these mountains are symbols of the Old Covenant and the New Covenant and have their foundation in the first mountain-temple, the Garden of Eden.”

We could do much the same with the Biblical Motif of Clouds

Exodus 40:34-38 — Then the cloud covered the Tabernacle of the Congregation, and the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle. 35 So Moses could not enter into the Tabernacle of the Congregation, because the cloud abode thereon, and the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle. 36 Now when the cloud ascended up from the Tabernacle, the children of Israel went forward in all their journeys. 37 But if the cloud ascended not, then they journeyed not till the day that it ascended. 38 For [a]the cloud of the Lord was upon the Tabernacle by day, and fire was in it by night in the sight of all the house of Israel, throughout all their journeys.

Staying with the Cloud motif

After the exodus from Egypt, when the Israelites wander in the wilderness for forty years, their journey is marked by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night (Ex 13:21, 22; 14:19, 20, 24, see later reflections in Neh 9:12, 19; Ps 78:14; 99:7; 105:39; and 1 Cor 10:1–2). Exodus 16:10 associates the cloud in the wilderness with the “ glory of the Lord.” The cloud and the fire represents God’ s presence with them

See, the Lord rides on a swift cloud and is coming to Egypt. The idols of Egypt tremble before him, and the hearts of the Egyptians melt within them. (Isaiah 19:1-2)

Jesus, like God in the OT , rides on a cloud (Acts 1:9). One of the most pervasive images of Christ’ s return is as one who rides his cloud chariot into battle (Mt 24:30; Mk 13:26; 14:62; Lk 21:27; Rev 1:7; cf. [cf. cf.. compare] Dan 7:13).

That takes care of some of the Imagery here. Now let’s turn our attention to the persons present.

Both Moses and Elijah, two figures whose passing’s were mysterious, were believed by many Jews to be God’s precursors of the end times. That this is at least some of the point in the text is seen in vs. 11-12

The reason for this end time expectation of these two was the mysterious end of each

Elijah — Chariot into Heaven (II Kings. 2:9-12)
Moses — Buried by God Himself (Ex. 34:4-7)

As such these two men were thought to be available for God to send back to prepare for the end. Their presence here reminds us that the Messianic end times was nigh. They also represent the idea of “the law and the prophets.” In Moses and Elijah God’s covenant people are present.  Luke’s account tells us that they speak of Christ’s Exodus … meaning his Death. This would have been a matter close to the interests of the OT Saints. The Messiah is their Champion as well as ours. His Exodus is there Exodus as well.

God Speaks — Tracks with Isaanic Servant passages

Messianic Sonship OT

Behold, [a]my servant: [b]I will stay upon him: mine elect, in whom my soul[c]delighteth: I have put my Spirit upon him: he shall bring forth [d]judgment to the Gentiles. He shall not [e]cry, nor lift up, nor cause his voice to be heard in the street. A [f]bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking [g]flax shall he not quench: he shall bring forth judgment in [h]truth. He shall not fail nor be discouraged till he have [i]set judgment in the earth: and the [j]isles shall wait for his Law.

Christ is the Isaanic Servant in whom God delight and in delighting in Him He God’s beloved Son.


Peter — James — John

That Peter at least notes that the end is at hand he blurts out this bit about building Tabernacles or booths. We think Peter odd for saying that but Peter, though fearful (wouldn’t you be afraid if you were on the cusp of the end of the world?) connects some OT dots.

Zechariah 4:16 But it shall come to pass that everyone that is left of all the nations, which came against Jerusalem, shall go up from year to year to worship the King the Lord of hosts, and to keep the feast of Tabernacles.

So, this God-commanded festival kept by Jews for centuries, was considered a possible time for God’s taking control of God’s creation and beginning the age of shalom. Peter’s comments then were not “off the wall” but consistent with Jewish understanding.


Perhaps we would be well reminded that the Mt. of Transfiguration becomes an objective marker of the Truth of God’s Salvation narrative. Our belief in the presence of the Kingdom is not pinned upon our own personal experience, nor upon how we are feeling at any given moment, nor upon our sense of  utter dependence. Those are all subjective markers. Our belief in the presence of God’s Kingdom is based upon these Objective realities. It was for Peter.

16 [t]For we followed not deceivable fables, when we opened unto you the power, and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but with our eyes we saw his majesty: 17 For he received of God the Father honor and glory, when there came such a voice to him from that excellent Glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. 18 And this voice we heard when it came from heaven being with him in the holy mount.

Second we can be reminded that God’s glory comes in God’s time and according to God’s movement. There is nothing so foolish as to think that we can seize God’s glory somehow. God’s glory comes to us in God’s time and if Scripture is any indication the glory of God is never far removed, in this life, with a theology of the Cross. Everyone wants the glory … nobody wants the humiliation. Everyone wants to go to heaven. Nobody wants to die.

Third, we are reminded of how the presence of the Kingdom is wrapped up in the death of Christ. Our hope for the Kingdom is anchored in the fact that we are united to Christ in His death, resurrection and ascension. The victory of Christ is our victory. But this victory is not only a spiritual victory (though it is that) without any corporeal repercussions. The Kingdom has come. Christ has conquered and so we move in that victory understanding that the Gates of Hell can not resist the assault of the Church upon the defense mechanisms of Satan.

Pulpit Notes –Luke 3:7-18

John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’
The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”

10 “What should we do then?” the crowd asked.

11 John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”

12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”

13 “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them.

14 Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”

He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”

15 The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. 16 John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” 18 And with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them.

Point 1: Eschatological warning (verses 7-9).

What John the Baptist is proclaiming here is pretty obvious, “Judgment is near, and that judgment will not be determined on the basis of religious, cultural, or ethnic identity but rather on the what people have done with the coming Messiah that John is Heralding and then if their lives produce fruit in keeping with repentance.”

We might no understand how significant this would have been to these 1st centuries listeners. In the OT it was clear that covenant was made to Abraham and his offspring. However the Jews had forgotten the part where the OT also communicated the need to have circumcised hearts in order to be a true Jew. They liked to remember Dt. 10:15.

Dt. 10: 15 … the Lord set his affection on your ancestors and loved them, and he chose you, their descendants, above all the nations—as it is today.

But they had forgotten 10:16,

16 Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer.

John the Baptist is reminding them of 10:16

When John the Baptist speaks,

“For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. ”

We can see how his knowledge of the OT is influencing him,

In Isa. 51, Abraham is compared to the rock from which God’s people are hewn. (Is. 51:1b-2).

Look at the rock from which you were chiseled,
at the quarry from which you were dug!
Look at Abraham, your father,
and Sarah, who gave you birth.

So, John the Baptist comes pronouncing prophetic warning and woe, and as we’ve seen one matter he attacks is the Jewish mindset that believes it is special unto God just because it is Jewish. John ends all that nonsense by pulling the props from just that mindset. The Father does not love people solely upon the basis of their ethnicity or race. When the Father loves someone He loves them upon the basis of their identity in Christ.
Now, none of this is to say that having Abraham as their Father was unimportant or insignificant completely. St. Paul himself can later say in speaking of the descendants of Abraham, “Theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises.” Paul speaks  of the great advantage of being Jewish in Romans 3. But what Israel had done is they had absolutized their biological ethnicity marker and said that nothing else mattered. John the Baptist informs this that such thinking is the thinking of a fool. It matters not what your lineage is if you do not look to the greater one that John is Heralding and if you do not bring forth fruit in keeping with repentance.
Being part of the covenant community is a great privilege but if you absolutize that membership in such a way that all one is resting in is biological connectedness you are lost. Indeed, I would say this is one of the dangers of Reformed Theology when misunderstood. We, like the Jews of old, can place such an emphasis on being baptized, belonging to the visible Church, being a member of the covenant community, and having a godly heritage that we begin to forget the centrality of Christ and that Christianity demands a lifestyle of fruit consistent with repentance.
This tendency to absolutize ethnicity as a marker of God’s automatic favor is not unique to Jews. People groups have done it repeatedly. As just one example in recent history is the Black Liberation Theologian James Cone who has written,
“Therefore, God’s Word of recon­ciliation means that we can only be justified by becoming black. Reconciliation makes us all black. Through this radical change, we become identified totally with the suffering of the black masses. It is this fact that makes all white churches anti-Christian in their essence. To be Christian is to be one of those whom God has chosen. God has chosen black people!”
“Black Theology and Black Power” by James H. Cone (1969) — pg. 151
This kind of specious thinking goes on among White people as well,
Bertrand Comparet, writing in the American Institute of Theology’s “Bible Correspondence Course,” observes:
“Of course, one of the purposes [in Christ’s coming] was to pay the penalty of the sins of every person who believes and accepts Him as his personal Savior. But this is not all: another purpose of His first coming was to redeem His people ISRAEL which we know are not and never were composed of Jews; but today they are known as the Anglo-Saxon, Scandinavian, and Germanic nations.”
This is a strange quote because it seems to draw a distinction between Christ coming to offer salvation to all while only redeeming white people. Regardless, of its strangeness it is suggesting that ethnic markers limit who can be redeemed.
We see in both these quotes is the same thing here that John the Baptist was warning against in his preaching to the Jews in Luke 3. We see here an absolutizing of an ethnic markers so that nothing else matters besides ethnicity.
That is something we must warn against and be on guard against. Our hope, in terms of our salvation, must not rest in ethnic markers, though we can and should thank God for those markers and understand what a great blessing they are. Our hope is anchored in being properly related to the Lord Christ who saves men from every tribe, tongue, and nation, in their tribes, tongues, and nations.

Well, what else might we note about vs. 7-9?

Brood of Vipers

1.) We should find it interesting that those who John the Baptist points at as opposing the work required to prepare the way of the Lord and to make straight paths for him are those styled as serpents. Right from the beginning of the ministry of the Lord Christ the seed of the Serpent is put in opposition to the seed of the woman. We see from this that the Spiritual warfare long spoken of in the OT between the serpent and his people and God’s people remains the center of conflict.

2.) Strong language

Brood of vipers
Ax laid to the root

Now remember this language was being used with those attached to the covenant community. It is not language pointed at those outside the covenant community.

Luke 3:9 —  In the OT Israel is frequently compared to a fruitless vine (Ps. 80:8, Isa. 5:2, Jer. 2:21, Ez. 15:6, 17:6, 19:10 Hos. 10:1) Images of fire and judgment may again evoke Mal. 3-4, but the use of the ax in the act of destruction point specifically to Isa. 10:33-34, where the judgment of the Assyrians is announced. The judgment of Israel’s enemies will fall upon those within God’s people who refuse to repent.

The ax imagery prefigures Jesus’ parable in Luke 13:6–9 about the unproductive fig tree that is given a good dose of fertilizer and another year to live. But if it doesn’t bear fruit after one more year, then what? The ax. 

Point 2: Ethical exhortation (verses 10-14).

Now those hearing understand the warning and so ask, “What then shall we do?”

It is the same question the crowds listening to Peter on Pentecost ask (Acts 2:37) and, as in Acts, Luke uses it to provide the preacher an opportunity to get to the heart of his sermon.  In Acts, Peter invites the crowd to repent, be baptized in the name of Jesus, and receive the Holy Spirit.

In these verses, John gives concrete ethical instruction to those gathered, but keep in mind that John is one who is pointing to the necessity of the Lord Christ, just as Peter pointed to the necessity of the Lord Christ.

John responds to each reiteration of this question by offering specific action that equates to “fruits worthy of repentance.”  To the crowds as a whole, John says: If you have more than you need, whether in terms of food or clothing, you must share.  To the tax collectors, who were  guilty of charging more for taxation on the top of regional and Roman taxes in order to line their pockets, John says: Stop stealing from your neighbors.  And to the soldiers John says:  No more using your power to take advantage of simple citizens.

No hoarding, no stealing, no extortion.

John’s counsel then seems fairly ordinary, even mundane.

It is interesting here that in each response John the Baptist gives is related to material wealth.

In  the first case the words came to those who had much to remember those who were in need. In the second two cases the words came to those who took advantage of people by stealing or extorting from them. John’s counsel was to do justice.

When he advises to remember the poor we hear the OT law that provided for the poor in the gleaning laws. When John advises to not steal or extort we hear God’s 8th command. What John tells them was in keeping with God’s law.

Point 3: Messianic expectation (verse 15-17).

Regarding messianic expectation: one who is greater and who baptizes not with water but with the Holy Spirit and fire is coming, and his coming will initiate the eschatological judgment.  In both of these regards, John stands as the latest — and, according to the New Testament authors, last — in a long line of Israel’s prophets.

This last Old Testament Prophet speaks of the coming Messiah and His role, and in doing so John turns to winnowing.

Winnowing was a necessary part of the grain harvesting process in the ancient world.  It was done to thoroughly separate the wheat (seed) from the chaff (the stalk, husk, any part of the plant that is not seed). Winnowing is a process that takes place after all the wheat has been scattered out over the threshing floor and beaten to make the seed break loose from the stalk. After the beating or ‘threshing’ has taken place, then the workmen take large forks (similar to pitchforks), they scoop up piles of threshed wheat and toss them into the air (like tossing or flipping pancakes), they do this repetitively until they have winnowed the entire threshing floor.

What was the purpose of all their hard work? After the wheat has been threshed much of the seed still clings to the stalk. The winnowing process is the final stage of separating the wheat from the stalk. After the winnowing, the seed will be laying directly on top of the threshing floor, but the chaff, …its all ‘UP’ on top of the seed, until either the wind blows it away or the workmen carry it away to be burned.

Now there is something we should not miss here. Both the chaff and the grain are in the same threshing community 0ne could say. But they have need to be separated. All of this is metaphor for the Church which has in it both tares and wheat. There is only one community but in that community there are those who have only an outward attachment while others have both a outward and inward attachment. The winnowing process that John the Baptist says that Christ is going to do will separate the wheat from the chaff.

John’s announcement then reminds us that God’s salvation is often through Judgment. The winnowing process is salvation to the wheat while at the same time being judgment to the chaff.


As in the first Advent which brought this eschatological judgment into time so with the final advent will this eschatological judgment be completed. Christ will come with a winnowing fork and will separate forever the wheat from the chaff. This will be a time of great rejoicing as God’s people are relieved from those who oppress them.


Luke 3:16 — The Baptism ‘with the Holy Spirit and fire’ should be regarded as one baptism, as both terms are governed by one preposition and the address is directed to one group. In the OT the Spirit is associated with judgment (Is. 4:4, 40:24, 41:16, Jer. 4:11-16, 23:19, 30:23, Ezek. 13:11-3).

Luke 3:16 continued — The combination of the symbols of spirit and fire with the imagery of water is found in Is. 30:27-28, where one also finds the expectation of the discriminating judgment of God.  (Luke 3:17) The presence of eschatological fire that will burn up the chaff in the context of the judgment of Israel bring to mind Mal. 4:1a: “See, the day is coming burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and evil doers will be stubble.”

3:17 — The presence of this echo behind 3:17 is plausible in light of the portrayal of John the Baptist which is couched in the language reminiscent of the Elijah figure of Mal.3-4 in Luke. 3:7-17 and elsewhere in Luke. Nevertheless, the comparison of the judgment of the wicked to chaff burning in fire is not unique to Malachi. (cf. Ps. 83:13-14; Is. 29:5-6, Obad. 18). The reference to unquenchable fire finds its parallels in other passages where the punishment of the wicked is describe: ‘for their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh” (Isa. 66:24b, cf.34:8-10, Jer. 17:27).

Luke 3:1-6 — John the Baptist Quotes Isaiah

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene— during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet:

“A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
    make straight paths for him.
Every valley shall be filled in,
    every mountain and hill made low.
The crooked roads shall become straight,
    the rough ways smooth.
And all people will see God’s salvation.’”

As we come to this account in Luke’s Gospel we note that Dr. Luke is framing for us John the Baptist’s ministry by the usage of the historical political context (Luke 3:1-2a) along with the context of fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy (Luke 3:4-5). Of the Gospel writers only the historian Luke gives to us the leaders in power at the time. This allows us to have a pretty good idea of the dating of Christ’s birth.

Luke giving us the political leadership landscape is not his only unique mark as a chronicler of the account of Christ.  Luke also, alone, uniquely emphasizes the the impact which John’s arrival on the scene has upon a renewed realization of the promise found in Isaiah 40:3-5.
In Isaiah, which is the beginning fulfillment of seeing Israel’s promised deliverance by God was seen in their deliverance from their exile under Cyrus the great. That former deliverance is now being hearkened back to as a shadow deliverance type of a greater deliverance anti-type that is being announced to them now.  As Isaiah was then a “a voice calling in the desert,” so the anti-type deliverance has another prophetic voice calling out in the desert.

Luke, through John the Baptist, informs us that God comes near, and as such all creation is to prepare for His arrival. It is as if creation is being told to turn itself into a red carpet for the arrival of God.

And it not just the creation that must ready itself for the coming of God. John the Baptist also demands a readying on the part of his audience that includes repentance (Luke 3:7f) This cry for a contrite heart also has echoes in Isaiah … this time from chapter 57

For this is what the high and exalted One says—
    he who lives forever, whose name is holy:
“I live in a high and holy place,
    but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit,
to revive the spirit of the lowly
    and to revive the heart of the contrite.

So Luke has John on the scene as the great herald of God’s coming near. This coming requires creation to be turned into a royal road for His arrival, as well as demanding that men are humbled in the presence of God, turning again to the doing of justice towards one another. God comes and all creation must be readied.

Of course this reminds us again that the New Testament grows out of the soil of the Old Testament. What is happening here in Luke 3 is conditioned and informed by what happened centuries earlier with a shadow and lesser deliverance. We need to keep this relationship between Old Testament and New Testament in mind when we read prophetic Scripture.

I.) The Importance of the Wilderness Motif in Christianity

This great and coming arrival of God is announced, in all places, a desert.

Now, a desert is hardly the place to make this kind of announcement. This kind of announcement belongs in the context of these high and mighty political personages that are mentioned here by John. Instead what we get is a desert God making the announcement of His arrival out of the mouth of His desert prophet.

Don’t miss the intended stark contrast here. Luke is contrasting here the Potentates of this world with the desert God and His spokesman. The coming of God is announced in a wilderness setting as set against all the splendor of worldly pomp and power represented by the emperor Tiberius, the governor Pilate, and the “ruler” Herod. Luke likewise gives us the names of the ruling religious establishment, (Annas and Caiphas).  What Luke has done here is to situate the announcement of the coming of God in the context of the rule of man.

Great are the houses of Tiberius, Pilate, and Herod. Great is the pomp of Annas and Caiphas. The aspirations of each of these men are well known. Luke situates the coming of God’s Messiah in such a way that what is communicated to the alert reader is that God once again intends to use the seemingly trivial, obscure, and unanticipated to answer the problems of a world that the regal political and religious establishment structures of the day can not answer.

God comes near but when He comes near He announces it in and through a lonely desert prophet.
God comes near but when He comes near He does so through a unknown and virgin maiden descendant of David
God comes near but when He comes near He does so through a people who were considered “the least of all peoples.”
God comes near but when He comes near He makes lowly Shepherds His announces
God comes near but when He comes near He is ignored by those who should know better
God comes near but when He comes near He comes near pinned to a Cross

In History God often worked His redemptive plan in the places we might consider the most unlikely of places among the most unlikely of men and women. Scripture seems to indicate that this is done so, so that God might not be shorted on the Glory that is His to be had. Any deliverance that is to be had, any salvation that is to be known, any Exodus that is to be granted are to be clearly seen as being done by the finger of God quite distinct from any human agency. God does all the delivering. God does all the saving. God gets all the glory.

We would do well to remember this on this Advent Sunday. Men still believe that all the action is where all the pomp and splendor is but God still speaks … God still comes to us … in and by the comparatively simple proclamation of the Word and dispensing of the Sacrament.

Continuing with this idea of the Desert Motif in Scripture let us consider the Redemptive-Historical way in which the Scripture develops and unwinds Wilderness – Desert symbolism.

In Genesis Adam is cast out of the Garden Temple Sanctuary and in being driven east of Eden Adam is driven into the wilderness of this fallen world. Adam has to contend with a ground that produces “thorns and thistles,” the very vegetation of the Desert that Adam would now occupy. As you move from Genesis to Revelation one way of reading the Scripture as a whole is seeing that God’s intent was, through the redeeming work of the Lord Christ, to recreate the fallen world again into a Garden Temple sanctuary.

Man lost Eden … Man is cast into the Desert … Man will reoccupy Eden by the coming of He who is God’s Recreation.

Moses as God’s man is planted in the Wilderness of Midian for 40 years before he is raised up to confront Pharaoh. Joseph spend time in the wilderness rot of a prison before God lifts him up. Elijah spends time in Desert conditions before he confronts Ahab. Paul spends time in the Arabia before the flowering of his ministry.

We again see the Desert –  Wilderness motif in the Hebrew’s wanderings in Exodus. Here we have a literal desert complete with lack of water, poisonous serpents, and short food supply. God brings His people through the desert preparing them for the land flowing with milk and honey that He will lead them into.

Now remember we are looking at this because John the Baptist is a “voice crying in the Wilderness.” We are looking at how the Wilderness motif is used in Scripture. God raises up His people and trains them in the Wilderness before they are led into the promised land.

The idea of Wilderness – Desert is often employed in the OT books of the prophets. What we see there is that God intends to make the Desert bloom with the coming of the Messiah

[When] the Spirit is poured upon us from on high, And the wilderness becomes a fruitful field, And the fruitful field is counted as a forest (Isaiah 32:15).

For waters shall burst forth in the wilderness, And streams in the desert (Isaiah 35:6).

I will open rivers in desolate heights, And fountains in the midst of the valleys; I will make the wilderness a pool of water, And the dry land springs of water (Isaiah 41:18).

The Lord will comfort Zion, He will comfort all her waste places; He will make her wilderness like Eden, And her desert like the garden of the Lord; Joy and gladness will be found in it, Thanksgiving and the voice of melody (Isaiah 51:3).

All of this in Isaiah is connected to the passage from Isaiah quoted by Dr. Luke. John the Baptist is the voice crying in the Wilderness and in demanding that the wilderness of creation be made readied for God coming near we find the intent of God to make the desert flower.

It makes sense that John the Baptist would be the voice crying in the wilderness presaging the Lord Christ who would make all things new. The movement is from desert to garden. John the Baptist played the dirge, the Son of man came eating and drinking. John the Baptist pointed out the Barrenness of God’s people. The Lord Christ came to give life and life abundantly.

Our Lord Christ is driven into the Wilderness just prior to the official beginning of His ministry … one day for every year Israel spent in the Wilderness. There is a kind of recapitulation going on here. The Lord Christ is the faithful Son who triumphs in the Wilderness by the Word of God succeeding where Israel, as God’s son failed in the Wilderness by giving into sin. The Lord Christ succeeds and overcomes in the Wilderness and begins a ministry that casts out barrenness and brings the life of the garden to all He heals and delivers.

This relationship between desert and garden is punctuated on the Cross where Christ suffers in the most extremes of deserts. As the writer of Hebrews puts it “Christ suffers outside the camp,” providing for us an allusion to the sin bearing scapegoat who was taken into the desert and released.

During His wilderness on the Cross, Christ has upon Him a crown of thorns … those very same thorns that Adam was cursed with, in being cast out of Eden. It is as if, with the crowing of Christ with a crown of thorns, He is crowned with Adam’s sin.

So, when you combine the wilderness of the Temptation where Christ was obedient through the Word of God (where God’s people had previously failed) with the Wilderness of the Cross where Christ is crowned with man’s sin, you have a picture of Christ’s obedience in our place and for us along with a picture of Christ’s suffering the penalty for our disobedience. Christ has done for us in the Wilderness what we could never do. By His wilderness obedience and penalty we are healed.

But … the wilderness of the Cross is relieved by the resurrection that happens in … you guessed it,  a Garden.

In the text this morning Luke shows how the desert pattern begins yet again with John the Baptist in the wilderness. John is like Elijah, as Mark 1:2-3 and Luke 1:16-17 note (Mal 3:1). When God comes near this time God makes salvation manifest for all to see. There is nowhere else to look for God’s saving work except to the Lord Christ for it is in the Lord Christ that God is coming near.

Here, in Luke’s Gospel, John the Baptist is announcing, as the voice of the Desert Prophet that God is coming. In the other Gospel’s we get this more explicitly as they have John announcing that “the Kingdom of God is at hand.” This idea of God coming indicates that God is coming in a unique way in which He has not come before.

For the promised kingdom to be “at hand” means that it was not yet present when John speaks. So John is not speaking of the kingdom of God in its broadest sense of God’s rule from the beginning of the creation. Rather, he is discussing the promised, long-awaited rule of God in which the promised Messiah and God’s Spirit become evident in a fresh and startling way. John is saying that finally God is fulfilling the long-awaited hope of Old Testament promise wherein all the barren places are turned into a garden.

This is what happened with Christ’s first advent. Christ, who was and is, God’s recreation has come and should one desire to have abundant life one must flee to He who is God’s recreation.

It is true, as we have mentioned often, there is a “not yetness,” to the nowness of the life which Christ brings. The fullness of the fullness that is yet to come is not yet here. But if men are to find any joy in a world made sad by their attempt to de-god God … any relief from the weight of sin and guilt … any hope of the end of alienation from God, others, and self, then man must find that joy, relief, hope and life by looking to and trusting in the Lord Christ who is to fallen man his pardon from God’s wrath.

II.) The Importance of Historicity to Christianity

We have been over this ground before so we won’t spend a great deal of time here.

The point is, is that Christianity is a faith that can not be true unless the historicity of it is true. It is a faith that depends upon the validity of space and time History. Here we see just such an example. Luke the Historian, places John the Baptist in a very concrete historical context. There you have have the pronouncement of God coming near in the time of Tiberius, Pilate, Herod, Caiphas, and Annas. The legitimacy of this proclamation of John the Baptist is dependent upon the Historicity of all that is swirling around it. God came near at this time and point in History.

The Scripture repeatedly turns us to the Historical for verification.  The Creeds follow that lead when we recite that Christ was crucified under Pontius Pilate. There it is … real life history.

We can not affirm Christianity if we discount its record of the Historical. Luke was a careful Historian. If you read his Luke-Acts book you see that he carefully examined all that he wrote. He was writing a history and he wanted it to be taken as History. Paul likewise speaks of Historical evidence when he mentions in I Cor. 15 that there were over 500 witnesses to the historical event we call the resurrection.

Now I mention all this because if this space in time Historical narrative did not really happen. If God did not really come near during the reigns of Tiberius, Pilate, and Herod, then how can I trust anything the rest of Scripture tells me? If God was not really born of a virgin, if the Lord Christ did not cast out Demons, raise the dead, heal the palsied and lame, if He Himself was not raised and ascended  … and all this as real life historical events then Christianity collapses completely.  Christianity requires the Historical and reciprocally History is defined by Christianity.

If you deny the historical of Christianity and replace it with the “spiritual meaning of the historical event” then you have nothing but your own imagination and no matter how much it might be denied such a person has themselves for their God. If the historicity of Christianity wherein the supernatural happens in space and time history is not real history then it is the cruelest of all hoaxes.