Luke 3:1-6 (2021) “Prepare to See Salvation”
This is the time of preparation for Christmas. The church calls it “Advent” but a lot of other people have named this time the “Holiday Rush” or even “Holiday Hell.” It just seems as if our list of preparations is more than we wish to handle.
I think we are looking at this all wrong. Luke says here, and this is actually originally from the Prophet Isaiah, that we need to prepare to “see our salvation.” Is that on your list of what to get done before Christmas Eve? Prepare heart to receive salvation from Christ? Check! I am down for that!
You know, this last week I had an interesting conversation with another pastor in regards to the pandemic. I asked him if he were prepared in his church for if the unthinkable should happen and that he would be stricken with Covid and in the hospital.
He responded: “Well, I have been building up some fat in my body that I can burn if I am laid up with Covid. I have put on an extra twenty pounds in fact.” I had to chuckle. “Pass the mash potatoes and gravy just in case! I am getting ready for Covid!” Ha ha.
How do we prepare to see salvation? Now, as we were reading this text with all of those funny names that Luke brings up, it struck me how God was preparing the world at that time for the coming of the Messiah, the coming of Jesus Christ. What should it matter that John the Baptist was on the East Side of the Jordan in the 15th year of the reign of Tiberius? Why is this even mentioned?
Caesar Tiberius Augustus followed Caesar Augustus, the emperor of Rome that knew the greatest expansion of the Roman civilization of any historical epoch. In this time, in the Holy Land true roads had been built. Aqueducts had been constructed. Viniculture had greatly increased. Theaters were built. Trade had grown three times over. Although one might complain of foreign occupation, in actuality these were boon times for Israel. The people’s standard of living was greatly enhanced. If nothing else, bathing (because of the Roman baths) became the norm for the first time! People started bathing once a day rather than once a month which is normal at least for women according to Leviticus 15. Men did not even have to bathe but once a year before entering the temple to make the annual sacrifice!
So, when Luke mentions that Jesus ministry is taking place in the context of the new Roman world, I think we should remember that God chose this time and place to make salvation come to God’s people. This was part of the preparation for the coming of Christ.
Next, we see the names of some left over Greek royals. I call them leftovers because before the Romans came, the Greeks were there. Alexander the Great had liberated the Levant from the Persians. Alexander died relatively young and had left one of his four favorite generals in charge of that whole part of the Empire. That general’s name was Seleucis. That family still had great influence and control in Roman times. Herod the Great himself was a Seleucid King. Even though he was indeed a Jew, Herod’s claim to royalty was not the line of David and Solomon, but rather that of the Seleucid Greeks. That is why he was not well received as the King of Palestine in the times of the Romans. The people did not think he had right to be called a king. He tried to win over the favor of the Jewish people by rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem to its greatest glory.
I want you to think about the fact that when Jesus himself enters the Temple during his triumphal entry, that building was virtually brand new. It probably still had the smell of freshly cut cedar and limestone.
This was all paid for with a heavy taxation on the people. Although Herod was trying to win the favor of the priests and wealthy people, the ordinary citizens were paying more than they could rightly afford for this brand new Temple to God.
Yet, the Greeks left behind more than just tyrants. They gave Israel a common language and the surrounding areas a common language. When it was time to write the New Testament, or to send letters between the new churches, that was all in Greek. It was the language of commerce back then because although the Romans had soldiers, the Greeks had the ships. The little country of Greece still today is in the world’s top ten largest merchant marine fleets! When Saint Paul, for instance, is taken back to Rome, he is on a Greek ship! Jesus would have taken a Greek ship, but he could walk on water, so no need! Ha ha. Can you see how it was important for the preparation for the coming of Christ that seafaring communication and the Greek language was there.
Lastly in the text for today we have the names of two high priests of the Temple in Jerusalem being mentioned. They are Caiaphas and Annas. They are family to each other. Annas was appointed by the Roman legate to serve as the high priest to the Jews, and Caiaphas was the Son-in-Law who was to take over one day. You will recall that Jesus when he is falsely arrested is first taken to Annas and then later to Caiaphas who questions him and then calls for his crucifixion.
Yup, God even had these creepy good-for-nothing priests there in the right time and place. If Jesus had not been crucified on the Cross, we would not have experienced His resurrection from the dead. One would have to have some very cruel and corrupt priests in order to make that happen!
In all of this, God was preparing the world for the coming of the Savior, His Son Jesus Christ. I know that when we read these names and try to figure out what it means it seems confusing, but God was preparing the Way for Jesus to come to us, to share the Gospel of everlasting life, to offer the entire world salvation. Also, we know the date when Jesus’ ministry actually begins. The 15th year of the reign of Tiberius was the year 29 AD. That is to say, Jesus was just about thirty years’ old when he was baptized by John in the Jordan, which is his anointing into ministry. Jesus himself had been prepared for the last thirty years for this moment!
But, the next part of our Scripture is Luke reciting from Isaiah 40. Was Isaiah also part of the preparation for the coming of the Christ? The story from Isaiah originally was to reference the Exiles in Babylon coming back to worship at the Temple in Jerusalem. God had sent rain to the desert so that the Children of Israel could cross straight back rather than going up and around through the North. That was a great miracle how God prepared the way for their immediate return.
Now, you will recall that last week I told you that Hebrew language really has no past tense or future tense. So, that preparation that God did in Isaiah’s time is still going on. I know that is hard to understand, but that is how the Bible works. Prophecy is about the future, the present, and the past, because God sees this all as one thing even if we do not. Cool, no? That preparation for salvation is what God is still up to with us today!
And, it is most certainly what Jesus was up to and is up to today. From John 14, we read that “I go to prepare a place for you. . . .” Not only on earth but also in heaven things are being prepared for our salvation. I am sure God already has a package of fig Newtons waiting for us in heaven!
I want to mention one particular Saint right now. He is Saint Clement who was born in the First Century, so not too long after Christ. Saint Clement argued that of all the things that the church does, the one thing that we should be doing more than anything else is prepare the world for salvation. He believed in “human perfection.” That is to say we are all supposed to be made complete once again. WE will be made once more as we had been at the time of the Creation. This is therefore what the church today needs to be primarily concerned with.
As I understand it, really most of the history of the church in the last 2,000 years since the time of Christ has been truly focused on doing just that—bringing humanity to be with God again. That means not just following a moral code such as the Ten Commandments in order to lead a good life on earth, but really preparing the heart and soul for that eventual moment of resurrection when we are truly with God again.
We have this song that we sing at Christmas time sometimes, “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlefolk,” We sing it without even thinking about the implications of the words being spoken or sung. It literally means “Hey guys, you can die happy now!” “Remember Christ our Savior. . . .” Oh, so Christmas really is about salvation, and pre-Christmas is about preparing for salvation!
You have probably read in the newspaper that the Salvation Army put out a thousand turkey dinners on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. That was super! I thank God for Lt. Shawn and Captain Amy respectively for that incredible effort. I will share with you after speaking with Captain Amy that there was some misgivings about this effort. You see, the people drove up, opened their window, and got a togo container of turkey. They did not have time to worship, or pray, or enjoy Christian fellowship as in years past because of the Covid restrictions. In a way, they went from being the “Salvation Army” to the “Turkey-to-Go Army.” All those preparations were made for this world, not the next. Their stomachs were filled, but the souls were not fed.
The preparations we make a Christmas must be for seeing the salvation of Jesus Christ. Whatever you do this time of year, keep see your salvation in Jesus. God is preparing the way right now!