Luke 3, 1-6
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert. He went throughout (the) whole region of the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah: "A voice of one crying out in the desert: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'"
"In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas" (cf. verse 1-2a)
At the beginning of today's Gospel, the historical background is described: It was in the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius; Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea; Herod, Philip and Lysanias were tetrarchs; high priests were Annas and Caiaphas. Luke thus places the important event of God's incarnation in Jesus Christ, which was proclaimed in advance by the appearance of John, in a contemporary historical framework. The incarnation of God does not happen outside of history, but within the very concrete history and politics of the time.
This is a very important statement: the divine event of salvation takes place in our historical world. If today one wants to push the religious out of history, out of politics or wherever, then today's Gospel makes it clear that this is ultimately not possible. The events of salvation take place in history, which is presented here in a three-tiered list: on the world level the emperor is mentioned, on the national level the governor Pontius Pilate and the tetrarchs, and on the level of spiritual leadership the high priests Annas and Caiaphas. This three-level indication aims to bring into the light the universal significance of the Christ event - i.e., the incarnation, suffering and glorification of Christ in this world. In a sense, sacred history is being written here.
This list is also reminiscent of the Old Testament callings, which were also mostly dated according to the reigning years of the kings. God always spoke through the prophets in very concrete history. And so, it is here too. With the calling of John, an introduction to the whole Gospel is given, because now something new really begins, namely what the whole Old Testament proclaimed in advance.
"He went throughout (the) whole region of the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins." (cf. verse 3)
The whole effectiveness of the Baptist is only properly understood in the light of Isaiah's prophecy. For here everything is fulfilled that Isaiah foretold about John, this forerunner, the voice in the wilderness: "A voice cries out: In the desert prepare the way of the LORD! Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God! Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill shall be made low; The rugged land shall be made a plain, the rough country, a broad valley. Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all mankind shall see it together; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken." (Is 40, 3-5)
Jesus himself says about John: He is more than a prophet. He is not just one of the many prophets, but the herald of the approaching King, who calls for repentance, but at the same time proclaims the good news of the coming Messianic salvation.
John works in the whole area around the Jordan, i.e., from the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea. It must happen at the Jordan, because he needs water to baptise. The most important function of the Baptist is the proclamation. This identifies him as a prophet sent by God. The word of the Lord goes out to him. He is sent to proclaim the Word of God. Baptism, which he additionally offers to the people as a sign, is an act that God has ordered. It is something unique and new, because it expresses more than the baptism that was already offered to people before by various people as a sign of repentance: In John, this pouring over of water is not only a sign of purification, but also already a sign of the promised outpouring of the Spirit. In the New Testament, water is always used as a symbol of the Holy Spirit. "The waters that flow from within him." He meant the Holy Spirit; it says in one passage in John.
What has been said becomes particularly visible in Jesus' baptism: when Jesus is baptised by John, the Holy Spirit descends on him in visible form. The prophet Ezekiel also already juxtaposes the communication of the Spirit and the forgiveness of sins and looks ahead to what John then expresses in the sign. Thus, the pouring over of water in John is a promise of the coming outpouring of the Holy Spirit, but at the same time also a sign of the coming forgiveness of sins. John is meant to lead to repentance and confession of sins. People are to become aware of their sins. They are to realise that they need a Saviour and that the law cannot redeem them. Only then can they expect the Saviour accordingly, who has come to free them from their sins. In this sense, John is to bring to the Lord a purified people who are open to the Lord. But John's baptism does not yet bring about salvation, but prepares for salvation.
"As it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah: "A voice of one crying out in the desert: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'" (cf. verse 4-6)
At this point there is a direct reference to the prophet Isaiah. John's mission is to be understood against this background. These verses show quite clearly that John, as the voice of the caller in the desert, wants to prepare the way for God's salvation. He is not calling for an imitation of his own desert life. He is not calling them out of their profession and demanding that they go into the wilderness like him, but he is preparing them for the salvation to come and he is demanding repentance on the spot. And in next Sunday's Gospel he will tell the individuals how repentance is to take place in their respective professions and lives. John thus points to the One who is coming. The real bringer of salvation is the Saviour Jesus. "But there is one among you whom you do not recognize" (John 1,26), John says at another point.
John proclaims the universal promise of salvation, not just for the Jews, but for the whole world, for "all people will see the salvation that comes from God." The Greek literally says: "Every flesh shall see the salvation of God."
- Every flesh! This is universal promise of salvation. The prophets spoke only to Israel. John is now inaugurating something completely new for the whole world, for all people. Therefore, John is more than a preacher of repentance for the people of Israel. John is for the whole world the one who points to the Saviour of the world. His message is universal and has meaning for all times, for all people, everywhere on earth. Today, let us examine our lives on the basis of the Gospel: What does John say? What is important? What is important for me? ∎