Luk 3 forms a chiastic structure:
1a) Luk 3:1-14, John began his ministry of the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins;
1b) Luk 3:15-17, He who is coming will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire;
central axis) Luk 3:18-20, John exhorted the people and rebuked their sins, even of Herod the tetrarch;
2b) Luk 3:21-22, Jesus baptized + the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in bodily form like a dove;
2a) Luk 3:23-38, Jesus began His ministry at about thirty years of age + geneaology as the Son of God.
This chiastic structure has an unusual central axis. In fact I thought at first that it could not be it, but the matching pair directly on either side of it, of the baptism with the Holy Spirit, revealed that the structure has to be formed this way. Here is the central axis:
“And with many other exhortations he preached to the people. But Herod the tetrarch, being rebuked by him concerning Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, and for all the evils which Herod had done, also added this, above all, that he shut John up in prison.” Luk 3:18-20
Why is this an unusual central axis? Because we don’t like to spend a lot of time pointing out sins when we consider the gospel of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ our Lord — it makes us uncomfortable!
As I pondered why the Spirit arranged the structure this way, when He could have instead highlighted the awesome promise of Jesus’ coming with the baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire, or He could have highlighted the comforting affirmation that the Father speaks over His beloved Son at His baptism, I realized something.
Jesus (SALVATION) did not come without a FORERUNNER. Why couldn’t God have just sent Jesus? Why did He need to send John the Baptist before Him? Because salvation does not come without a forerunner!
The forerunner did not do miracles or tell anyone how loved they are by God. This messes with our theology! The forerunner boldly called sin sin, and evil evil, and rebuked everyone who was engaged in it from high to low. Reread Luke 3! The forerunner did not pussy foot around and carefully word everything nicely so that no one’s feelings are hurt.
God is showing us that the forerunner of salvation in someone’s life, is the awareness of their sin. That is the message God gave John, of whom Jesus said there was no greater prophet in Israel. Paul also says that it was the Law which was our tutor to bring us to Christ (Gal 3:24). The Law defines righteousness and sin, good and evil.
Are you praying for unbelievers? Pray that their sin will be revealed to them in blazing stark relief, in bold black and white. That is the forerunner of salvation! Do not think, if you feel the tug to boldly speak out, that it cannot possibly be God. It can be God, and not only that, it might be the very necessary thing that will answer your prayers and pave the way for salvation in their life.
For further reading:
luke 3, the baptism of repentance (2011)