Luke 3:16
Those who are far up the social. heights are usually under a strong temptation to climb to the very summit. We do not know how strong the temptation may have been to John to assume or to attempt the part of the Messiah. Popularity is very exciting and ensnaring; it leads men to prefer claims and to adopt measures which, on lower ground and in calmer mood, they would not have entertained for a moment. But John's mind never lost its balance in the tumult of great professional success. Unlike most men, he seems to have stood prosperity better than adversity (see Matthew 11:2, 3). He does not appear to have wavered for a moment in his fidelity to the Lord whose way he came to prepare; he always retained a true estimate of himself, his work, and his Master. In this respect he was as wise as he was true, and we cannot do better than emulate his wisdom.

I. A TRUE ESTIMATE OF OURSELVES. John knew that in personal worth and dignity he was not for a moment to be compared with Jesus. That great Prophet whom he was preceding was "One mightier than himself," One for whom he was not worthy to discharge the meanest office which the slave renders his master. In cherishing this thought he was both fight and wise. There is the truest wisdom in humility. To mistake ourselves, to think ourselves greater or worthier than we are, is to do ourselves the greatest injury and wrong.

1. It is to offend God and to draw down some sign of his serious displeasure (James 4:6).

2. It is to incur the disapproval and hostility of our fellow-men; for there is nothing that our neighbors more thoroughly dislike our part than an exaggerated notion of our own importance.

3. It is in itself an evil and perilous condition, in which we are open to the worst attacks of our spiritual enemies. On the other hand, humility is acceptable to God, approved of man, and safe.

II. A TRUE ESTIMATE OF OUR POSITION and of the work we have to do in the world. John clearly recognized, and very distinctly declared, that his mission in the world was one altogether and immeasurably inferior to that of Christ; to those who would not have been surprised to learn that he claimed to be the Messiah he made it known that he was doing that which was slight and small in comparison with the work of Christ. It is indeed a good and a wise thing for us to aspire to do all that God gives us the capacity and the opportunity to do. But let us take great care that we do not, from pride or vain-glory, go beyond that boundary-line. If we do we shall make a serious and possibly even a calamitous mistake. Many that have done excellent service and have had great joy in the doing it when they have worked within the range of their powers, have done grievous mischief and have suffered sad trouble when they have attempted that which was beyond them. Nothing but injury to others, damage to the cause of God, and sorrow for ourselves can arise from an over-estimate of the position we are able to fill.

III. A TRUE ESTIMATE OF OUR LORD. That Mighty One who was coming should do the very greatest things. He would:

1. Act with direct Divine energy upon the souls of men - "baptize with the Holy Ghost."

2. Utter truth which should have great testing and cleansing power; his fan would "throughly purge his floor" homily on Luke 2:34).

3. Make a final distinction between the true and the false: "He will gather the wheat into his garner," etc. No man who cares for his own spiritual and eternal interests can afford to disregard the words or the work of this great Prophet that was to come, that has come, that "is now exalted a Prince and Savior," giving redemption and eternal life to all who seek his grace and live in his service. - C.







I indeed baptize you with water.
1. John's baptism was a carrying on of the office of the law. Neither repentance avails without grace, nor grace without repentance; for repentance must first condemn sin, that grace may blot it out. So then John, becoming a type of the law, baptized to repentance, Christ to grace.

2. John's baptism was higher than Jewish rites, but imperfect. Moses baptized, but with water, and before this, in the cloud and in the sea; but this was typically, as St. Paul also pronounces the sea a type of the water, the cloud a type of the Spirit, the manna a type of the bread of life, the drink a type-of the heavenly draught. John also baptized, and he no longer Judaically, for he baptized not with water only, but to repentance; but not as yet altogether spiritually, for it is not added "with the Spirit." The perfection of Christ's Baptism, which John's lacked, is that it is with the Spirit.

3. John's baptism was preparatory and initiatory to the gospel. He baptized not with the Spirit, but with water; because, unable to remit sins, he washed the bodies of the baptized with water, but not their hearts with forgiveness. Why then did he baptize, since by baptism he did not free from sin, except that maintaining the order of his precursorial office, he, who by his birth had gone before His birth, should by baptizing also go before the Baptism of the Lord? And he who by preaching had been made the precursor of Christ, should by baptizing also be His precursor through the image of His Sacrament.

(E. B. Pusey, D. D.)

The symbol must be interpreted by the circle of ideas in which John moved, and which he variously expressed. Its suggestive cause is as hard to determine as it is unimportant. The rite may have formal affinities with the lustrations of the Essenes or the ablutions of proselytes; but it has a material significance of its own. John placed it in a relation with confession of sin and repentance, that made it the symbol of certain spiritual realities — evil recognized and repudiated; good perceived and chosen. In this connection its use may have been suggested by such words as, "Wash you, make you clean," or, "In that day there shall be a fountain opened," &c. (Zechariah 13:1). But his baptism was the symbol of another and no less significant fact; the baptized were not simply the penitent, but the expectant, men consecrated to a great hope. And so John was but true to the best genius of his people when he made his baptism represent, not simply an individual change, but a social fact — entrance into a society prepared for the kingdom which was at hand. The " baptism unto repentance " was also a baptism unto hope: as the first, it was the sign of a renounced past; as the second, it was the symbol of a new future. The Baptist's idea of this new future was embodied in the phrase, "the kingdom of heaven." He could indifferently say, " The kingdom of heaven is at hand," and, "After me cometh One mightier than I." He loved indeed to contrast his own meanness and the King's greatness. He was not worthy to bear His sandals, to loose His shoe's latchet. He was but the friend of the Bridegroom; the Bridegroom was to come. He only baptized with water, the mighty One who was coming would "baptize with the Holy Ghost and with fire."

(A. M. Fairbairn, D. D.)

I believe the first test of a truly great man is his humility. I do not mean by humility doubt of his own power, or hesitation of speaking his opinions; but a right understanding of the relation between what he can do and say, and the rest of the world's sayings and doings. All great men act only know their business, but usually know that they know it; and are not only right in their main opinions, but they usually know that they are right in them, only they do not think much of themselves on that account. Arnolfo knows he can build a good dome at Florence; Albert Durer writes calmly to one who has found fault with his work, "It cannot be better done"; Sir Isaac Newton knows that he has worked out a problem or two that would have puzzled anybody else; only they do not expect their fellow-men, therefore, to fall down and worship them. They have a curious under-sense of powerlessness, feeling that the greatness is not in them, but through them; that they could not do or be anything else than God made them — and they see something Divine and God-made in every other man they meet, and are endlessly, foolishly, incredibly merciful.

(John Ruskin.)

A just and reasonable modesty does not only recommend eloquence, but sets off every great talent which a man can be possessed of. It heightens all the virtues which it accompanies. Like the shades in paintings it raises and rounds every figure, and makes the colours more beautiful, though not so glaring as they would be without.

(Addison.)

A river of baptism ought to be a river of death. You are baptized in the Jordan. How? Need we then care how? As antiquarians we would like to know how John the baptizer dealt with those who came to him: we would like to know whether they were dipped in the stream, or whether water was poured upon them from the stream. But now, ask your own conscientious affections whether the answer to this question, spiritually, is worth one sixpence to us, or, at any rate, of special importance? It is not. As antiquarians, it is very interesting to us, and we feel sure that if we knew the outward literal truth, we should get some suggestion from it. But we know at least this: the people that John baptized, and that disciples of Jesus baptized, were adults. That is clear enough. Well, then, if at that time adults were baptized, surely circumstances may occur again in which any rational person will allow that adults may again be baptized. The truth is, that it was not man that invented infant-baptism, but through the Lord God's providence at, as we think, the suggestion of His Spirit, that it arose. When people had been baptized, and children were born to them, that they never would let grow up into the heathen state in which they themselves had been when they were baptized, how natural that they should, by a water-rite, adapted from the rite with which they were familiar, hallow these children to the Lord God! What are we baptized for, by the Holy Spirit, into a new life, but that our old life may perish? "I wish my old life," a man may say," to be taken from me by the Jordan and carried down to the Dead Sea as soon as possible. Oh, let me be utterly rid of it; let my God save me by the death of the old man and the resurrection of the new." All that is outward is of value only for its significance and its suggestiveness.

(T. T. Lynch.)

One mightier than I cometh.
And what is the man who, having no expectations, is always casting back his thoughts into a retrospect? Almost universally a melancholy man. And what is the man who sees nothing but the present? A drudge in his work, and a sensualist in his pleasures. But what is the man who throws himself into that which is beyond him? At least, an energetic man, and, if he be a Christian, a happy one. Have you never observed that every one's character is determined by what he is living up to? Why is the Mahommedan an idle and self-indulgent man? Because he lives up to a corporeal, and indolent, and sensuous heaven. Why is the Brahmin a man of apathy? Because, after all his transmigrations, he has nothing to expect — according to his creed — but annihilation, absolute annihilation. Why does the believer grow holy and loving, but because he is always realizing in his mind the heaven of holiness and love to which he is going? Certainly, expectation is a duty. But God has done with this faculty of expectation, what He has done with all the natural powers and habits of the human mind — He has sanctified it, and elevated it. And this is the way God has done it — He has thrown into it first, truth, then affection, and then great delight, so He has made it hope. What is it? Expectation with desire. It is quite certain that God intended that man should be ruled by hope. "The seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent's head." Observe, at once, the mind was sent off into the future for its comfort. It was the same with Abraham — he had nothing, he was to have everything. The Jews lived by their prophecies. Nor less, but rather more, it is the key of the New Testament. What the Messiah of Bethlehem was under the former dispensation, Christ made the Holy Ghost to His disciples. Wait, wait till you receive the promises. And now what is the aim, the consolation, the theme, the life of the whole Church, but the coming back of her dear Lord? But what I wish you to notice in this long line of expectation is, that the next thing in the succession is always greater and better than that which preceded it. David's reign was one appointed in the prospective; but David's reign was only the shadow of the higher empire of Christ. Zion's power and beauty were predicted; but chiefly as the type of the Church of the gospel. The gospel itself was infinitely greater than all its foreshowing; Jesus was a greater prophet than Moses. And we have Christ's own warrant to say that the Holy Ghost was a larger gift to the Church than even His own personal presence — more pervasive, more effective. And then higher and higher still, in ranges where the mind loses itself in floods of glory, the swelling tide rolls on and never stops. If you could read it so, brethren, whenever anything happy comes to you — an answered prayer, a gift of God — you may always hear it — saying, "I am only a pledge of something else; there is something better than I am behind." "One mightier than I cometh." Why it should have pleased God to place everything in such a scale of ever-ascending grandeur and goodness, we can only faintly glimpse. But, assuredly, it is always exalting Him in His unapproachable height, while it is always humbling us in our sense of ignorance and preparation.

(J. Vaughan, M. A.)

The latchet of whose shoes.
I. NO FORM OF HOLY SERVICE IS TO BE LIGHTLY SET BY.

1. Little works for Christ, little shoe-bearings and latchet-loosings, often have more of the child's spirit in them than greater works. Outside, in the streets, a man's companion will do him a kindness, and the action performed is friendly; but for filial acts you must look inside the house. There the child does not lend money to its father, or negotiate business, yet in his little acts there is more sonship. Who is it that comes to meet father when the day is over? and what is the action which often indicates childhood's love? See the little child come tottering forward with father's slippers, and run away with his boots as he puts them off. The service is little, but it is loving and filial, and has more of filial affection in it than the servants bringing in the meal, or preparing the bed, or any other more essential service. It gives the little one great pleasure, and expresses his love. So also in little acts for Jesus.

2. In little acts for Christ it is always to be remembered that the little things are as necessary to be done as the greater acts. If Christ's feet be not washed, if His sandals be not unloosed, He may suffer and His feet may be lamed, so that a journey may be shortened, and many villages may miss the blessing of His presence. So with other minor things. We remember the old story of the losing of the battle through the missing of a single nail in a horse-shoe, and peradventure up to this moment the Church may have lost her battle for Christ, because some minor work which ought to have been done for Jesus has been neglected. Many a cart comes to grief through inattention to the linch-pin. A very small matter turns an arrow aside from the target. Human destiny often turns upon a hinge so small as to be invisible. Never say within yourself, " This is trivial." Nothing is trivial for the Lord. Never say, " But this surely might be omitted without much loss." How knowest thou? If it be thy duty, He who allotted thee thy task knew what He did. Do not thou in any measure neglect any portion of His orders, for in all His commands there is consummate wisdom, and on thy part it will be wisdom to obey them, even to the jots and tittles.

3. Little things for Christ are often the best tests of the truth of our religion. Obedience in little things has much to do with the character of a servant. In small things lie the crucibles and the touchstones. The Goldsmiths' Hall mark is a small affair, but you know true silver by Mark 2:4. Mark also with regard to little works, that very often there is about them a degree of personal fellowship with Christ which is not seen in greater work. The smallest act of service done for Christ has an importance all its own.

5. God accepts our worship in little things. He cares no less for the turtledove offering than for the sacrifice of bullocks and rams.

II. OUR OWN UNWORTHINESS. We are sure to feel this when we come practically into contact with any real Christian service. Let a man begin earnestly to work for the Lord Jesus, and he will soon find out that he is unworthy of the meanest place in the employ of one so gracious.

1. When we recollect what we used to be.

2. When we recollect what we are.

3. Have we not to confess, in looking upon what we have done for Christ, that we have far too much eye to self in our conduct?

4. Because, when we have gone to the lowest, Jesus always goes lower down than we have done.

III. THIS OUGHT TO STIMULATE, NOT DISCOURAGE US. Since I do so badly when I do my best, I will always do my utmost. Since it comes to so little when the most is done, I will at least do the most.

(C. H. Spurgeon.)

The sandals were of hard leather, and were fastened on with straps; the leather of which was doubtless then, as now, the skin of the camel or hyena.

(E. Stapfer, D. D.)

He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire.
When John the Baptist was going round Judaea, shaking the hearts of the people with a call to repent, they said, "Surely this must be the Messiah for whom we have waited so long." "No," said the strong-spoken man, "I am not; the Christ but One mightier than I cometh; He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire." This last expression might have conveyed some idea of material burning to any people but Jews; but in their minds it would awaken other thoughts. It would recall the scene when their father Abraham asked Him who promised that he should inherit the land, "Lord, whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it?" The answer came thus: he was standing under the open sky at night, watching by chosen sacrifices, when, "Behold a smoking furnace," &c. (Genesis 15:17). It would recall the fire which Moses saw in the bush; the fire which came in the day of Israel's deliverance, as a light on their way; the fire which descended on the Tabernacle; which shone in the Shekinah; which touched the lips of Isaiah; which flamed in the visions of Ezekiel; and which was again promised to Zion, not only in her public, but in her family, shrines, when "the Lord will create upon every dwelling-place of Mount Zion, and upon all her assemblies, a cloud and smoke by day, and the shining of a flaming fire by night." In the promise of a baptism of fire they would at once recognize the approach of new manifestations of the power and presence of God; for that was ever the purport of this appearance in "the days of the right hand of the Most High."

(W. Arthur, M. A.)

I. NATURE OF THE BAPTISM PROMISED. John's baptism was introductory and transitional; Christ's was to be spiritual, quickening, and searching. Apparent mixture of metaphors. "Baptism means cleansing, and fire means warmth. How can warmth cleanse? No heart is pure that is not passionate, no virtue safe that is not enthusiastic. And such an enthusiastic virtue (and much more) Christ came to introduce." The baptism of the Holy Ghost and of fire comes upon all — either for sanctification or destruction, according to the way in which it is received.

II. THE NEED OF SUCH A BAPTISM.

1. It was needed in the time of John. What was wanted was a moral power that should at once

(1)Enlighten;

(2)Convince;

(3)Convert;

(4)Inspire with well-founded hope.

2. Such a baptism is needed now.

(1)In the Church;

(2)In the world.

III. THE ONLY SOURCE WHENCE SUCH A BAPTISM COULD COME.

1. From heaven.

2. Through Christ.

IV. THE BAPTISM BESTOWED. On the day of Pentecost there was the baptism of the Holy Ghost. The world received a new life. There was also the baptism of fire in the destruction of Jerusalem, and the overthrow of Rome. Every genuine revival a baptism of the Holy Ghost. Every time of sore national distress or humiliation a baptism of fire.

V. A PERSONAL QUESTION. Have we been baptized by the Spirit? Such a baptism is —

1. Needful.

2. Possible. Test: Are we bringing forth the fruits of the Spirit? (Galatians 5:22-23.)

VI. A PRESSING DUTY. To pray for the baptism of the Spirit, on ourselves, on the whole Church of God, and on the world.

VII. A WORD OF WARNING. There will be a baptism of fire for individuals and nations that despise the warnings of the Spirit.

(E. W. Wilson.)

Baptism of the Spirit.

(1)Of truth, to enlighten us;

(2)of power, to renew;

(3)of grace, to comfort;

(4)of love, to unite.

(W. H. Van Doren, D. D.)

For us to be baptized with the Holy Ghost is to be baptized with fire. The existence within us of false tendency and proclivity makes it a flame. Once let it fall on us, and straightway there is turmoil; straightway some hot work begins. Here is a man wholly at ease and quiet in a pleasant paradise — though it be a fool's paradise of self-content and free self-gratification; but a breath from on high stirs in him at last, a breath of higher impulse and inspiration; and now a struggle sets in, in which the soul sways to and fro, and burnings of remorse and repentance are suffered, with daily self-reprovings and self-crucifixions. The man is no longer at peace with himself, but in a great heat of controversy; no longer a tranquil universe, but a troubled conjunction of antagonisms. His life becomes, as the Scripture represents it, "a battle," "a warfare." A fire of discontent is kindled within him; there rages in him the flame of a conflict between the Spirit and the flesh. When Christ began of old to baptize with the Holy Ghost, it was a baptism of fire. And even so is it still. The stirring within man of the better self, of the Spirit from above, is invariably more or less with "confused noise and garments rolled in blood." Our God, when He touches us, is a "consuming fire." Not out of Christ, as we have it explained sometimes, but in Christ; for from the God in Christ proceeds the Spirit; and where the Spirit breathes in human breasts there is burning.

(S. A. Tipple.)

Baxendale's Anecdotes.
Louis XIV. had granted a pardon to a nobleman who had committed some very great crime. M. Voisin, the Chancellor, ran to him in his closet, and exclaimed, "Sire, you cannot pardon a person in the situation of M — ." "I have promised him," replied" the King, who was ever impatient of contradiction; "go and fetch the great seal." "But, sire — ." "Pray, sir, do as I order you." The Chancellor returns with the seals; Louis applies them himself to the instrument containing the pardon, and gives them again to the Chancellor. "They are polluted now, sire," exclaims the intrepid and excellent magistrate, pushing them from him on the table; "I cannot take them again." "What an impracticable man!" cries the monarch, and throws the pardon into the fire. "I will now, sire, take them again," said the Chancellor; " the fire, you know, purifies everything."

(Baxendale's Anecdotes.)

The inferiority of the baptism of John to Christian baptism is declared by the holy Baptist himself. This difference (water...Holy Ghost) he alleges as the proof of his own inferiority to his Lord, and as resulting from it. This difference our Lord also inculcated (Acts 1:11), when He instituted His own baptism. The baptism of John was preparatory, the Baptism of Christ perfective; the baptism of John invited to repentance, the Baptism of Christ gave grace upon repentance; the baptism of John stood on the confines of the promised land, was allowed to see it, led men to the borders of it, guided them to it, but itself brought them not into it; higher than the law, as he whose baptism it was, was greater than any born of the sons of men, yet less also than the least in the kingdom of heaven; greater than the baptisms of the law, as being nearer to the Redeemer, but yet restrained within the precursorial office, still a shadow of the good things to come, not the reality itself, though brought so near to the Sun of Righteousness as all but to be kindled with His beams, as all but to convey that which could only be conveyed by Him in whom alone, as being God as well as man, we could be reborn as sons of God; who alone shed His precious blood for the sins of the whole world, and in baptism washes and cleanser His Church with it.

(E. B. Pusey, D. D.)

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