Luke 3. 1-18 John the Baptist
This morning we are going to look at John the Baptist. Alex began to look at him last week and we are going to continue to look at John’s message and see how it applies in our lives in Itchen Valley in 2015.
John was the last in a long line of prophets that God had appointed to speak his words to Israel about the coming of Jesus. John’s message was simple. Prepare the way for the coming King. Prepare the way for the Messiah to come into your lives. Prepare the way for Jesus to come into your lives. That is essentially what the season of Advent is all about.
Luke tells us right at the beginning of his gospel that he has gone to a lot of trouble to gather together all the evidence about what happened when Jesus came. Luke listened to eye witnesses. He gathered together written accounts. Luke goes into a lot of detail about John the Baptist. He tells us in chapter one how an angel appeared to John’s father Zechariah and told him that his elderly wife Elizabeth would give birth to a special baby. This baby would be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth. He would grow up to be a man who would prepare the people of Israel for the coming Messiah. His name was to be John. Luke goes on to tell us about the wonderful words that John’s father Zechariah spoke when his baby was born. We know it as the Benedictus.
Now we fast forward to chapter 3, some thirty or so years later. Mark tells us in his gospel how John was frankly a rather odd man living in the desert. He wore clothes made of camels hair and had a strange diet of locusts and honey.
But Luke isn’t interested in these details. He wants to get straight to John’s message. Luke tells us in chapter 3.3 that John preached a baptism of repentance for forgiveness of sins. What’s fascinating here is that Luke then quotes a passage from the prophet Isaiah in the Old Testament. He tells us that John’s coming fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy:
‘A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
“Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.
Every valley shall be filled in,
every mountain and hill made low.
The crooked roads shall become straight,
the rough ways smooth.
And all people will see God’s salvation.”’
In the ancient world it was the practice to construct a processional way for a visiting king. Our modern version would be the queen visiting a town. We don’t build her new roads, but we do make the streets look as smart as possible and put out flowers and flags and banners. In Isaiah’s prophesy, the Lord is promising to visit his people. He is coming as their king. His promise is to send someone ahead of him to build a way for him to come. It’s going to be a straight road. All the bumps are going to be leveled out and all potholes filled in. It’s going to be a road fit for the king of kings.
Many years ago, when our children were very young, Oliver and I lived in an old farm house in the middle of a farm. To get to it from the road you had to drive up a long track. It was a dreadful track. You had to drive up at a snails pace to avoid all the huge potholes and enormous ridges.
John the Baptist was sent by God in fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy to prepare a way for the Lord to come. The problem he faced was that people’s lives were a bit like our track. Full of bumps and potholes.
How was John to prepare a way that was fit for the king of kings? John’s answer was to preach a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Crowds and crowds of people (verse 7) flocked out of the surrounding towns and countryside to hear John’s message. They were eager for the Lord to come to his people.
What about us? Are you eager for more of Jesus in your life?
We are going to look at John’s message and see how it applies to us today.
- The first thing John did was take an honest look at the state of the road. At the bumps and potholes in peoples lives. At their sin and selfishness. John approached the subject head on. His assessment of their lives was summed up in his greeting. Look at verse 7, ‘John said to the crowds coming out to be baptised by him, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?’
John didn’t mince his words!
We see from the conversations that followed in verses 10-14 that the people knew all about the bumps and potholes in their lives. They were aware of their sin and selfishness.
- Some of them had been greedy and not shared their money and possessions.
- The tax collectors had been collecting more money than they should and lining their own pockets.
- The soldiers had been moaning about their pay and telling untruths at work.
What about us? What about the potholes and bumps in your life?
- Maybe you can identify with the people who were reluctant to share their money or their possessions. Maybe you’ve decided that the best thing that you can do is hang on to what you’ve got. You’ve wondered about cutting back your giving to church or to a charity that you support. You are not trusting that the Lord is going to provide for your needs.
- Or maybe you’ve been moaning about something or somebody.
- We’re told in the angels words to Zechariah about John’s ministry, that part of John’s ministry would be to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children. This word speaks of reconciliation in families. Maybe you know deep in your heart that you are dreading getting together with some of your family this Christmas. Maybe you know you are holding on to unforgiveness in your heart because of something that has happened in the past.
You know about the bumps and potholes in your lives. We all do. What can we do about them?
2. Getting the road ready
John speaks of repentance and forgiveness. Repentance and forgiveness are our road repair tools. These are what we need to grasp hold of and use to get those potholes filled in and those bumps leveled out so we can experience more of Jesus in our lives.
Repentance is a wonderful gift of God. Romans 2.4 tells us that God’s kindness leads us to repentance.
Repentance means turning. Turning away from leading our lives just as we want in our self-centered way. Repentance means turning to walk with the Lord in his way. Somebody once described it rather cleverly as being a bit like going up in a penthouse. You go up in the penthouse and look out and instead of having our own tiny view down on the ground, in the penthouse we get God’s view. There is a helpful truth in this. In repentance we agree to turn from our own self-centred way of thinking to agree with God’s truth.
But repentance is so much more that this and John the Baptist brings it out wonderfully. True biblical repentance is not just a mind thing. It’s not just about going up in the penthouse and agreeing with God’s way of living is a good idea. Repentance is practical. It’s about hearing the gospel and putting it into practice in our lives.
The people say to John in verse 10, ‘What shall we do then?’ What shall we do to fill in the potholes and level out the bumps in our lives?
- John answers to the people who are reluctant to share their possessions and their money in verse 11, ‘Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.’ Does this apply to you? Is the Lord calling you to be more generous in giving? In sharing what you have?
- Jesus says to the soldiers who wanted to know what to do in verse 14, ‘Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely – be content with your pay.’ Is the Lord speaking to you though John’s words this morning? Is there someone who you have been moaning about and criticising that the Lord is calling you to speak well of and speak words of encouragement to?
- And for those who are frankly dreading Christmas because of things that have happened in the past. Is the Lord calling you to forgive someone and bless the person who has hurt you? Bless them in prayer and in your actions.
An essential part of the good news of the gospel is forgiveness. This was symbolised by John washing the people who came to him to be baptised in the Jordan.
The wonderful news for us is that we can receive forgiveness from God that is so much more than John’s baptism could give. When we repent and turn to Jesus we can be fully forgiven for everything, absolutely everything we’ve done wrong. Jesus paid the price for our sins when he died on the cross. Our forgiveness was immensely costly for him. It is free for us. God our father forgives us for all our sins and selfishness. When we turn to him in repentance. We are washed absolutely clean.
What’s important to grasp here is that repentance is not just a one off thing. Repentance is both the way into the kingdom (for the first time) and it is the way to experience more and more of the kingdom breaking into your life as we grow in maturity as Christian disciple.
You may be here this morning and know that there has never been a time when you have opened the door to your life and asked Jesus to come in. You are aware that the road of your life is full of potholes, but you’ve never really known what to do about them. If that’s you, Jesus is ready to come into your life if you ask him this morning. He is ready to forgive every single pothole of sin and selfishness and invite you to walk with him on a road which is straight and true. To go his way.
Many of us here this morning have opened the door to Jesus. We have invited him into our lives as our king. But we are aware of some pretty big bumps and potholes in the road of our life. Romans 2.4 says that God’s kindness leads us to repentance. The way to experience more of Jesus in our lives as our King is to accept his gift. To recognise the pothole. To repent and receive the Lord’s free forgiveness and to take action and do what the Lord is calling us to do. Whether it is being more generous, speaking words of blessing instead of moaning or forgiving someone who has hurt us.
How? How do we do it? How do we break out of patterns of insecurity that leads us to hold onto our money, or moaning and criticism or unforgiveness. How?
3.In the power of the Holy Spirit
John’s says in verse 16, ‘I baptise you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.’
When Jesus comes as King into our lives, he doesn’t come alone. He comes with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit comes to us and makes his home in us. The Holy Spirit comes with fire and with power. Jesus never asks us to do anything he doesn’t give us the power to do. Jesus never asks us to do anything he doesn’t give us the power to do. The Holy Spirit comes with fire. He comes into our lives to burn up and get rid of all the rubbish in our lives that have been making the road so bumpy. And he comes with power. The Holy Spirit gives us the power to be obedient to Jesus.
How does this work in practice?
- If we know we have a pothole of moaning or unforgiveness in our lives, the first step is to recognise it for what it is. It is sin and selfishness. Call it that. Be like John. Don’t mince your words.
- The next step is to repent and turn away from the sin and choose to follow Jesus’. This is more than mental assent.
- This is choosing to actively give up words of moaning and choose to speak words of encouragement and blessing.
- This is choosing to actively let go of unforgiveness and forgive the person who has wronged us and pray for God to bless their lives.
- If we’ve been finding our security in our possessions, it means choosing to give and to share what the Lord has given us. To be generous.
And as we make the choice and step out and do what the Lord is calling us to do, the Holy Spirit will come in and empower our choices. He will give us the strength. More than that. Another pothole will be filled in. The kingdom of God will have advanced in our lives. The road will be made clear for us to experience more and more of Jesus in our lives.