Thursday 15th February – Luke 3:1-14 ‘The herald of change’

Luke 3:1-14

One thing that was striking about the recent accession of King Charles to the throne is the role of heralds in royal pageantry.  It’s not something we see much of in day-to-day life: but the fanfares which accompanied the proclamation of Charles as king – both in September 2022, or at his coronation in May 2023 – have unwittingly acted as a reminder that every monarch usually has a herald, particularly when a new monarch assumes their authority.

This was especially important in pre-modern societies, when the lack of media meant that verbal proclamation to as many people as possible was vital in securing the attention, and therefore the obedience, of those who were to serve the new ruler.  So, it is fitting that the story of Jesus’ adult life in Luke begins with a herald, too – one who reached a huge number of people with one simple message: that the King of kings was here, and his reign was about to begin!  (And let’s note the role that the wonderful prophecy of Isaiah 40 plays, one we’ve looked at in detail in recent weeks.)

As Luke makes clear, though, this was not based on a set of human decisions or structures.  The region in which all this takes place already had plenty of rulers, whom Luke names in v1.  No doubt all were ‘heralded’: but this new proclamation was not an act of humankind.  It was ‘the word of God [which] came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness’ (v2).  God was declaring that a new King was coming; and John was his herald, fulfilling the promise of Isaiah many centuries ago: ‘prepare the way for the Lord! (v4)

But what sort of obedience was required?  Not what we would normally associate with earthly rulers: whilst protestations of loyalty had their place, they were meaningless unless backed up with a lifestyle that matched the talk.  John’s call was that every true subject of this new King would live a life of humble service and fair treatment of their fellow human beings, just as God had intended.  To share generously (v11), to charge only what was right (v13) and not to abuse their power to treat people harshly or unjustly (v14).

John also says something more controversial to his listeners, namely that simply to be born in the right nation was not enough (v8) – this new thing that God was doing was much bigger than that.  The new subjects of the King of kings would be drawn from across the world, to anyone who would lovingly and humble submit to his kingly rule: thus ‘all people will see God’s salvation.’ (v6)

In our age of growing inequality and increasing poverty, John’s message for all would-be followers of this King strikes a powerful chord today: may God grant us all grace to love our neighbours as ourselves, not just with words, but with actions and in truth.  What might that mean for you today, and in this Lenten season?