Getting to know someone is not always easy. One of the most profound questions we will ever be asked is, “Who are you?” It is a simple question, yet it calls forth a lot more than a three-word answer. It is one of those questions in every culture and every place that people ask. In the Cayman Islands people ask you, “Who ya fa?” or “Who are you for?” which means, “Who are your people?” or “Where are you from?”
We have lots of ways of saying who we are or where we’re from. My mother blazed the importance of this question on my pre-teen mind. Whenever I was around my father’s side of the family, I would often shy away from people. But my mother would always say, “Boy, those are your daddy’s people. You need to know your people.”
Who your people are has a lot to do with how you answer “Who are you?” That’s no less true of the Lord Jesus Christ. The question that runs through this Gospel is, “Who is Jesus?” Who are his people? Where is he from? And that question has a lot to do with authenticating that Jesus is the Christ.
We live in the real world. We know that a question like “Who are your people?” can be difficult to answer. There is another saying I sometimes heard from my mother: “Mama’s baby; Papa’s maybe.” Sometimes there may be some controversy around the parentage of the child, as was the case with Jesus. Mary was pregnant while only betrothed to Joseph, who had not known her. Because of this scandal, Joseph even considered putting her away quietly (see Matt 1:19) or calling off the engagement. Oftentimes in these kinds of circumstances gossip swirls and questions are raised about the baby. Luke 3 answers three questions: What do the people say? What does the Father say? What does the test say?
When it comes to Jesus we don’t need Jerry Springer to prove paternity. We only need Luke 3. In this chapter we have the testimony of the people, the testimony of the Father, and the test itself: the genealogy of our Lord.
John’s Public Context (Luke 3:1-2)
Verses 1-2 provide the public context. John begins his public ministry in the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar. The Caesars were the rulers of the Roman world. Beneath Caesar was a governor named Pilate. And beneath Pilate were three tetrarchs who ruled various regions. Phillip ruled Iturea and Trochonitis, Lysanias ruled Abilene, and Herod ruled Galilee, Jesus’s hometown area.
Not only does Luke introduce us to the political hierarchy of the Lord’s day, he also tells us about the religious hierarchy in verse 2. This all happened “during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas.”
Luke gives us the entire civil and religious order of Jewish society under Roman occupation. We are left to think these are the movers and shakers of Jesus’s day, the powerbrokers. So the most striking point of verse 2 is that “God’s word came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness” (emphasis added). It is interesting to follow where God’s word goes. The word or revelation of God keeps going to the little people. It doesn’t to the Caesars or even to the priests in their robes. It goes to shepherds in the fields keeping watch over their flock by night. It goes to a little virgin girl. It goes to old men and old women well past the age of bearing children. It goes to Zechariah’s son, John, who doesn’t love the world or follow the ways of the world; he lives in the wilderness.
Two things clue us in to John’s prophetic status. First is the phrase “God’s word came to John.” That phrase is a formula from the Old Testament frequently used of prophets. Second is the reference to John being “in the wilderness.” God often sends his servants into the wilderness to prepare them for the work of the ministry.
In Luke’s Gospel little people are the heroes. That’s a wonderful thing in a world and a Christian church where people are intoxicated with the powerful. We love the elites, the rich and the famous. This is why Christians sometimes get so excited when some rapper or entertainer becomes a Christian. We should rejoice with heaven at the repentance of every single sinner. But I suspect some Christians are happy because the person is rich and famous. We think somehow the credibility of the gospel is enhanced because the wealthy and the powerful believe.
God’s ways are not our ways. His thoughts are not like our thoughts. Sitting higher and thinking higher, God looks lower to the little people. I believe verses 1-2 are a Gospel version of what we read in 1 Corinthians 1:26-29. Paul says God didn’t choose the powerful, wise, and strong but the weak, foolish, and despised things to confound the world. That’s what God is like.