Connections 01.13.2019: Humility

Luke 3:15-22

John the Baptist was a celebrity. He had all the right factors to create interest and even obsession among the people who had encountered him or even just heard of him. Young. Strong. Eccentric. Intriguing. Tantalizing. If he were around today, there would be no shortage of tweets, Facebook posts, Instagram photos, and memes about John the Baptist. Some would adore him; others would ridicule him. But there is no doubt that people would be aware of him and what he was saying.

This kind of fame—no matter how long it lasts—often leads to prideful arrogance. The ego is a hungry beast, and popularity, whether it comes in the form of admiration or disdain, always feeds it. Today, we might expect John to take selfies and overlay them with his most popular quotes. To enjoy every opportunity to let fans take pictures with him on their cell phones. To allow all the reporters first-row seats during his messages and make sure he has his best side turned toward them.

But if John’s behavior in our Scripture passage is any indication, he would never meet our expectations. He took very seriously his role as a forerunner to Jesus Christ. At every opportunity, he pointed not to himself but to Jesus. If he were among us today, we might expect him to turn away from photo ops and refuse to be quoted, unless the words came from the old prophecies that foretold the coming of the Messiah.

“Sure,” he would say, “I’m helping you recognize your sins and encouraging you to turn your life around, but I’m not the main thing. In fact, one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals” (see v. 16). Today, how many people with this kind of platform would show such a level of humility?

You and I both know the answer: not many.


1. What do you think it was like for John to grow up and discover who his slightly younger cousin really was?
2. How do you think John felt when he realized that Jesus would greatly overshadow him?
3. When you picture John the Baptist as described in Matthew 3:4, what kind of guy do you imagine? Do you think you would have listened to what he had to say?
4. In John 3:30, John the Baptist says of his relationship to Jesus, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” In Matthew 11:11, Jesus tells the crowds, “Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” Why do you think it was necessary for John to humble himself in this way?
5. Why is humility such an important quality in a follower of Christ? How can we grow to have more humility without becoming prideful of how humble we are?

Reference Shelf

Part of the explanation for the puzzling diction of v. 21 is that in Luke’s day, disciples of John the Baptist still existed as a movement separate from Christianity. Acts 19:1-7 tells the story of twelve “disciples”—Luke does not specify whose disciples until the end of the story—whom Paul discovered in Ephesus. They had been baptized by John, but had never heard of Jesus or of the Spirit. Paul explained things to them, baptized them in Jesus’ name, and they received the Spirit and prophesied. This, it seems, is how Luke would prefer things, with the former disciples of John being absorbed into the Christian movement. Their continued separate status may have been an embarrassment, and they may have been competitors to the early church. So perhaps Luke removes John’s name and active participation from Jesus’ baptism in order to make the story less about Jesus submitting to John and more about God affirming Jesus.

Another reason may be that Luke wants to emphasize how Jesus is the paradigm for believers. The structure of v. 21 makes the people’s baptism parallel with Jesus’, and the fact that his baptizer is unnamed makes his baptism more parallel with the reader’s. Luke’s Jesus, following the baptism, will enter the wilderness and fast and face down the devil by quoting Scripture to him. So between that passage and this one, we have Jesus, our example, being baptized, praying, fasting, and meditating on Scripture as a means of overcoming temptation. From this point of view, Jesus is a model believer.

The voice in Luke says, “You are my son,” as Mark has it, seemingly a private revelation to Jesus—until you think about the dove visible to all the others being baptized. Luke inserts the word “bodily” to make sure we know that he means something the crowd saw. This, too, connects Jesus to Luke’s readers, who have in all likelihood been taught that they received the gift of the Spirit at their baptism (Acts 2:38) or following baptism, in the laying on of hands (Acts 9:18; 19:5-6).

Richard B. Vinson, Luke, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2008) 103-04.

Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University, has been an assistant editor of Smyth & Helwys curriculum and books since 2001. She is also the office administrator for Jay’s HOPE, a nonprofit serving families of children with cancer. Kelley enjoys spending time with her daughters, Samantha (14) and Natalie (11), and her husband John. Occasionally, she appears onstage in community theater productions and can sometimes be found playing board games with a group of rowdy friends. She loves Marvel movies and Doctor Who, and she’s still trying to write a young adult novel that her girls will enjoy.


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