John the Baptist
Luke 3: 1-22
Last month we began a new sermon series on the Gospel we call Luke. A fuller title is the Gospel…the Good News…of Jesus Christ, as recorded by Luke. This remarkable biography-like document speaks of the most important and influential person in all of human history.
Our goal for this series is simple: We want all of us to know Jesus. To know him better and love him more than the previous week. And that we would all do this together. Because Jesus is worth knowing, more than any other person. There is no one like him.
Today our focus is a story perhaps a year or so before Jesus appears on the scene to begin his ministry.
Our story this morning centers on a man in the NT named John.
He was a bit of a strange man dressed in a garment of camel’s hair with a leather belt. Camel hair sounds rather itchy.
And he ate locusts (think grasshoppers) and wild honey. Not a diet I have ever tried.
Plus, he lived, not in a city, but in the wilderness. He sounds like a reclusive eccentric.
But this man, John, John the Baptist, was by Jesus’ own declaration the greatest man living at that time.
So let’s start reading.
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, 2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness.
In vs. 1-2, Luke reveals how John’s ministry fit in the middle of world history.
Luke, as a good historian, makes a detailed list of the political setting in those days. He lists five Roman political leaders: Tiberius the Roman emperor, Pilate, Herod, Philip, and Lysanias. He lists two Jewish leaders: Annas and Caiaphas.
Such details add credence to the reality of the world, John and Jesus came into.
And in vs. 2, “the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness” .
400 Silent Years
The record of the OT ended in about 430 B.C. with the writing of the prophet Malachi. The last prophet of the OT era. John’s ministry begins in about 28 A.D.
So no prophetic word came from the Lord to Israel for 400+ years. That’s why these 400 years are often called “The Silent Years.” It’s sort of a Dark Ages for Israel.
What is fascinating are the very last words of the OT. The last words spoken by God to his people for 400 years.
Malachi 4:5–6 ESV “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. 6 And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”
These last words of the Old Testament, do you know who this speaks of? John the Baptist. He’s not actually Elijah who died in the 800’s B.C., but he is a type of Elijah, coming in the spirit and power of Elijah.
These words are finally coming true.
Vs. 3-6: 3 And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 4 As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet,
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall become straight,
and the rough places shall become level ways,
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”
So back here in Luke 3:3, John’s coming on the scene is an extraordinary event for Israel.
Anyone who was paying attention would now realize that God has not forgotten Israel. He had not forgotten promises he made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob 2000 years before. God was at work! What a thrilling time to be alive in Israel.
After over 400 years of Israel ignoring God…After multiple rounds of political and moral chaos…After numerous episodes of violence and oppression against the people……God has remembered Israel. He is showing compassion once again on these stubborn sheep of his.
They deserved death and abandonment, but God was faithful, and he sent John.
Then in vs. 4-6, Luke quotes from Isaiah the prophet, written 700 B.C. Through Isaiah, God told us that a prophet was coming who would prepare the way for the Messiah.
If anyone in Israel were paying attention to the Scriptures, they had to realize how significant this moment was. After nearly 450 years, God was speaking to Israel in a powerful way. And the Messiah, the Savior, was coming very soon.
2. His Message: Repentance for the Forgiveness of sins
Vs. 3, 7-14
3 And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
7 He said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. 9 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
John has some strong words of warning to the people. “You are facing God’s wrath for your rebellion against him. Flee that wrath by repenting. And we’ll know if it’s genuine repentance by its fruit.” In other words, repentance looks like something. You can tell by looking at it.
He says, “Don’t depend on your human ancestry to save you. Just because you are a descendant of Abraham won’t save you.”
Or For Example, we might say, “Just because we were born into a family with Christian parents doesn’t save us from God’s wrath.”
If you don’t repent— and we’ll know by its lack of fruit— God will bring the fire of judgment upon you.
Then Luke tells us the people’s encouraging response. In humility and genuineness, they ask, “What shall we do?”
John explains to three groups what repentance looks like.
10 And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?”
11 And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.”
Instead of being selfish and greedy, be generous.
12 Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?”
13 And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.”
To greedy, corrupt, and despised tax collectors, he doesn’t tell them to leave their occupation. John is not interested in some social revolution. He tells them to be honest, not greedy. Show integrity. This is the fruit of repentance.
14 Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.”
Then to soldiers, probably Jewish soldiers, he tells them not to use their authority and weapons to intimidate and threaten people and extort money, but to be content.
There is much to be said about this topic of repentance. We can find many Scriptures that speak of it, and we could make a 5-week sermon series out of it. I want to narrow the focus primarily toward what Luke records here from John.
So what is repentance?
It’s a nice religious-sounding word, but what is it?
First, the word simply means to change one’s mind. And since John connects repentance with sin, he means to change one’s mind about sin. To line up our minds with how God views sin. God is holy and pure, and he hates evil.
So we are to move from loving our sin to hating it.
Second, repentance has in mind future things. Future judgment. John warns them in vs. 7 and vs. 9 to flee the wrath of God which is coming.
Third, implied in all this is faith. Faith is simply trust…trusting and believing that what God says is true.
If you don’t believe God is real or that God is holy and just and punishes wrongdoing, you will never repent.
Fourth, also implied is humble self-surrender to God.
Someone who is full of pride will NEVER admit that they are wrong or that they deserve punishment for their wrongdoing. He seeks to justify and excuse himself.
So to repent takes a large dose of humility and self-surrender to admit before a holy God that he is right and we are wrong. And to surrender to his good will.
Fifth, repentance is visible. It involves some type of outward, visible action.
Vs. 8 he says to “bear fruits in keeping with repentance.”
We could say, “Repentance looks like something.”
And the people are humble enough to ask John, “What does repentance look like for us? What should we do?” John answers them in vs. 10-14.
But repentance is not just for the day of my salvation. Once we enter into that new life found in Jesus Christ, a life being “born again, we continue every day in that same spirit of repentance that saved us. This is how the Christian lives.
In my vision of John the Baptist, I can wrongly picture this wild, angry man screaming for me to repent.
But repentance is actually a beautiful thing. Repentance brings restoration with God. Peace with God.
3. His Mission: Preparing the Way for the Lord
15 As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ,
16 John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
18 So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people.
In vs. 15 the people recognized John was speaking for God. So they obviously wondered, “Are you the Messiah we’ve been waiting for for all these centuries?”
John is clear. “No, the One who is coming, this Messiah, is far, far greater than I am. Compared to him, I am so lowly that I’m not worthy to stoop down and remove his sandals.”
John made it clear he was not the Messiah. In fact, he said that he was not worthy to untie the strap of His sandals. This was a task non-Jewish slaves performed for their Jewish masters. Jewish slaves were exempt from this demeaning act. John made it clear that he was lower than a slave when compared to the Messiah.
“And the One who is coming will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
I think this means that Jesus will divide people. Some will be given the Holy Spirit, while others will face the fire of God’s judgment. The context of fire in this passage indicates it was connected to judgment (Luke 3:9). Luke continued to use fire as a metaphor for divine judgment in his Gospel (Luke 9:54; 12:49; 17:29). Therefore, some would receive the Holy Spirit when they believed in the Messiah and others would face the fire of judgment because of their unbelief. This interpretation of the Holy Spirit and fire is further confirmed in verse 17. As vs. 17 says, God will separate the wheat from the chaff like a farmer does..
Now Luke the author adds some other news. This is about Herod, the ruler over the region called Galilee.
19 But Herod the tetrarch, who had been reproved by him for Herodias, his brother’s wife, and for all the evil things that Herod had done,
20 added this to them all, that he locked up John in prison.
The people were expecting a political and military Messiah. But John never sought political revolution. He wasn’t interested in casting out one leader (like Herod) and replacing him with another.
John, to prepare for the coming of Jesus Christ, sought spiritual and moral revolution. His focus was on, as he said, “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” Even for the political leaders.
John’s mission focused on the core problem of mankind: a broken relationship with God and a need for forgiveness.
The Coming Messiah would bring that.
4. Who is this Coming Messiah?
21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened,
22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
Now we turn our attention from John to Jesus, the one that John was pointing to.
First, the heavenly ministry of Jesus Christ is confirmed. Jesus’ ministry is not some man made creation. The God in heaven has ordered it, and he has told us so. Since God has spoken from heaven, we ought to listen to what he says. We should honor his Son as we honor him.
And that the Spirit of God descended upon Jesus shows that Jesus’ ministry is heavenly, not demonic, as some of his opponents later accused him of.
Those who had repentant hearts and were baptized would have now believed that Jesus indeed was the Christ, the One John preached about.
Second, with clarity the Trinity is revealed. The Trinity is the doctrine of the Christian faith that there is One God in three persons. It’s why we baptize in the name of the Father, and Holy Spirit.
The Trinity is a fascinating mystery. It’s hard to explain and understand. We might think this is a boring and irrelevant doctrine. But this doctrine is important, first of all because it’s true, and we want to know the truth, and not be careless about the truth. Second, it’s important because in order to worship God rightly as he deserves and not in some blasphemous way, we have to know him for who he is, even if we cannot easily explain it.