John the Baptist: The Fiery Witness

Getting Started
Think for a minute about fire. Have you ever experienced a fire? What good things does fire do? What harmful things does it do?

The Gospel of Luke is set in the first century. The nation of Israel is living under the heavy hand of Rome and is rife with internal difficulties as well. A man appears on the scene whose life affects many people. He is a fiery man, and he speaks of fire in many different ways. This man is of such character and influence that some think he may be the Messiah. He is not. But he is a significant person in the history of Christianity. His name is John.

1. Ask everyone to read Luke 3:1-20 for themselves, and then have the group members mention things that impress them about John’s ministry.

2. As you look more closely at the first two verses, what do they contribute to the passage? Why do you think Luke includes this kind of information? History shows that Herod and some of the other people listed here were known to be morally and spiritually degenerate. What is the source of their authority as leaders? How does it compare with John’s?

3. We’re introduced to John’s work in verse three. What was it? What does it mean to repent? (To repent means to be genuinely sorry for sin and to turn from it to obey God resolutely. Sin means living independently of God, failing to trust him. It is more than just bad morals.) When people came to be baptized by John, they confessed their sin and made a “U-turn” toward God. John then baptized them. Therefore, what did John’s baptism mean? (When John baptized people, this symbolized a radical cleansing of their lives and desire to change direction and turn towards God in faith and trust.)

4. In verses 4-6, Luke quotes from the prophet Isaiah to help us understand more about John’s ministry. Look carefully at the picture Isaiah paints and dig out the facts there. What do you think this is describing? (This is a picture of a middle-eastern king and his herald. In those days, when a ruler took a journey, a servant or herald was sent ahead of him. This herald warned the people of the land to prepare the roadway through the wilderness for the arrival of the king. Holes in the road had to be filled, bumps and high places leveled, crooked sections straightened and rough spots smoothed.) How is John a herald for “King” Jesus? What did it mean for John o make crooked places straight and the rough ones smooth? What does this have to do with “repentance”?

5. The next paragraph, verses 7-9, tells us that a great number of people are coming to John for baptism. How does the text explain why John is so stern with them? What would be a contemporary way of saying, “I’m okay. I have Abraham as my father”? How does John confront this kind of complacency?

6. As you look at the dialog in verses 10-14, what do you find out about these people? What are they like in everyday life? What is John emphasizing about genuine repentance? (It has a practical, social context-repentance has to do with social justice!) What would practical repentance look like for us today?

7. According to verse 15, what is the atmosphere of the crowd and the situation? From verses 15-17, what do you learn about John?

8. What does John make clear about Christ in verses 15-17? What is surprising about this picture of the Messiah? How do you respond to this? How would the baptism by Jesus be different from the baptism by John? How would its effects be different in your everyday life? (The baptism by John was only preparatory. The baptism by Jesus is real, permanent, and has the powerful meaning that the Holy Spirit is truly there-that God is with us and in us.)

9. In verse 18 John’s preaching is called good news. How is this word of a coming judge who will baptize with fire good news? How did he respond to this and other things John said?

10. According to John’s fiery witness, who is Jesus? What do you think of the Jesus presented here, and in Luke so far?

In Closing:
John the Baptist talked about making the crooked straight and rough places smooth. What might be some “crooked” or “rough” places in your life? What would repentance mean to you in light of this study? What would it mean for you to repent in this way?

“Witnesses to Jesus” Bible Studies are available

Many thanks to those who gave valuable feedback in the writing and editing of these studies: the Iowa staff team led by Lindsay Olesberg, Beth Krysl, Judy Johnson, Fred Neubert, Shelley Soceka, Glen Ewart, Nancy Fox, Suzy Gaeddert, Scott Eddlemon, Ann Beyerlein, Bob Wolniak, Paula Esealuka, John Seiders and Donna Snow. Special thanks to Kathy Burrows (design) and Jeff Yourison (editor).-Bob Grahmann

Studies 5,7, and 8 are based on studies in the Bible & Life Study-Discussion Guide for Luke. Study 9 is based on a study in the Jesus the Lord study guide published by the Great Lakes West Region of InterVarsity.

Permission is granted to make and distribute verbatim copies of this article provided this permission notice, and the copyright notice below are preserved on all copies.

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