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TEXT: Luke 3:1-20
SUBJECT: Luke #7: The Forerunner
Today, with the blessing of God, we'll move on in our study of Luke's Gospel. The man wrote his book-he tells us-to increase the knowledge and to confirm the faith of his friend, "The Most Excellent Theophilus".
Theophilus was a high official in the Roman government, and a man of learning and piety. Yet, though he was already a fine Christian, he needed to
"Grow in the grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ".
What was true of him, is also true of you and me. Maybe we've been Christians for several years and read the Bible many times. Yet, there is no excuse for cutting back on our study and thought. Peter tells us to "Gird up the loins of your mind".
There is no better way of increasing your knowledge of Christ than to read the Bible, especially the Gospels. But remember, "head knowledge" isn't enough. We've got to not only know the Bible, but to believe it and act upon it! That's the goal of our study, to make us know the Savior better than we do and to trust Him more than we have.
The last time we saw the Lord Jesus Christ, He was a boy, living in Nazareth, with His mother and her husband, Joseph the carpenter. But between Chapters 2 and 3, we have a space of about eighteen years.
What the Lord did during that time would be interesting to know, but we don't need to know it. For if we did, God would have told us. What the Mormons say about the Lord visiting America, and so on, is not in the Bible and is just plain stupid. We are to read the lines of the Bible-and not between the lines!
THE TIME AND PLACE
Luke begins the chapter with a lot of details. The events took place "The region around the Jordan".
"In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, Philip tetrarch of Iturea and the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanius tetrarch of Abilene".
We wonder why Luke gave so many details. Some have found "hidden meanings" in them, the names, the places, and so on. But this is not true. The Bible is not to be read like tealeaves or Tarot Cards; it's a book and is to be read like a book!
Luke put the names and places in his story so that we would know it's true-not just morally true, but factual.. Fables, fairy tales, and fantasies are always fuzzy about where and when they took place. There's a reason for that: It doesn't matter! They're written to amuse or to teach moral lessons. But the Gospels are not! They're written to tell us what happened!
There's no better way of insuring that that to put in otherwise "unnecessary" details.
Historians differ a little bit on the precise date, but they all say it was some time in the late `20s A.D.
Now that we've covered the when and where of the story, let's move on to the what. What happened in the fifteenth years of Tiberius Caesar?
John the Baptist left the wilderness where he had been living for some time and came to the Jordan River.
Why did he do that? It was to preach. On what? The last part of v.3 gives a summary. John preached, "A baptism of repentance for the remission of sin".
False teachers have always used the verse to "prove" baptismal regeneration or salvation by water (either a few drops on the forehead, or many gallons, engulfing the body). The grammar of the verse allows that, but the context wholly forbids it. If John's baptism saved sinners, then John must have been the wickedest preacher who ever lived (except for maybe Jonah). Men came to him for baptism, and he turned then away! If baptism were saving in its effect, then John damned men whom he could have saved.
Thus, what John preached was repentance, leading to the forgiveness of sin, and baptism signifying the change of heart. This is not another Baptist reading his doctrine into the text, but, it was a Reformed Paedobaptist who helped me most on the verse.
The Dutch commentator, Norval Geldenhuys wrote,
"This means that he called the people to repentance and then baptized those who confessed their sins and gave indication that they desired to lead a different and better life, in the assurance that God grants pardon to those who sincerely repent".
John did not wash away sins in the Jordan River. Pastors don't do it in a baptistery or a font either!
His message, then, is repent, that is change your mind. Turn from your old ways in sorrow and turn to God with an eagerness to know Him and to do His will.
JOHN'S CALLING AND GOAL
All the godly rabbis preached repentance (of some sort) and washed men in ceremonial baths. But John's work was radically different than theirs. It was so different, that some mistook him for the Messiah.
Why did he act this way and preach with such confidence and passion? The short answer is: Because God told him to!
John did not leave the wilderness and start his ministry on a personal whim, but after "The Word of the Lord came to him".
John was on a mission from God. And it wasn't an off-hand thing that the Lord just came up with. No, John's work was prophesied many years before, in Isaiah 40. Luke quotes the passage at length,
"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 hell Brought low; The crooked places shall be made Straight And the rough ways smooth; And all flesh shall see the salvation Of God".
John is the King's civil engineer. He's building a road in the hearts of men to bring in the Lord Jesus Christ.
To receive the King, you must know two things: you're a sinner and that you can be clean. And that is exactly what John the Baptist showed them. If it's a "baptism of repentance", then they must be dirty, no good sinners. And if it's a "baptism of repentance", then the Lord can wash them whither than snow.
Some pastors preach sin without hope (that leads to despair); others preach hope without sin (that leads to shallowness). But John was too firm and loving to preach one or the other. He preached both.
Walking the aisle does not save! And neither does pounding people with the Law week after week.
John is a model preacher, preaching both "The goodness and the severity of God".
This kind of preaching is sure to draw a crowd. Before long, John is mobbed by people eager to hear him. Like any good preacher, he offers them a warm greeting, "O brood of vipers".
If you read books on preaching, you'll see that many of them tell men to begin their sermons with a joke, a funny story, or some other icebreaker. The goal, of course, is to put your people at ease.
Apparently, John didn't read any of these books! Instead of putting the people at ease, he set them on edge. His words are confrontational.
But this is not because he's an obnoxious man who never learned his manners. No, John is way too serious to waste time with name-calling. To call the people "A generation of vipers" is to make a theological point-and one they all "got".
Just after the Fall of Man, God declared war on Satan, who at the time occupied the body of a snake. By calling them "vipers", therefore, John was telling them that-without faith in Christ-they are children of the devil and at war with God-a war they cannot possibly win.
This offended them deeply, of course, and they were about to claim a holier heritage, but John cut them off,
"And do not begin to say within yourselves, `We have Abraham as our father', for God' is able of these stones to raise up children to Abraham".
Everyone is hurt or angry at John, but some of them turn their pain to good use. If they're really under the wrath of God, what must they do to get out from under it? John tells them they must repent.
But he doesn't leave it there. General repentance is the easiest thing in the world. But John makes it particular. Repenting of sins I'm not guilty of is a snap, but don't touch my beloved sin! Yet, unless it is repented of, there is no repentance at all, and no forgiveness either. Luke gives two examples:
First, the publicans or tax collectors.
"Teacher, what shall we do? Collect no more than what is appointed you".
Had he told the publicans to quit chasing women or getting drunk, it would have done them no good. Because adultery and drunkenness were not their pet sins. It was the love of money that put their souls in danger. Until they repented of that, they would not be pardoned.
Next, the soldiers come to him.
"And what shall we do? Do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely, and be content with your wages".
The men were Roman soldiers serving in a foreign country and receiving low wages. Thus, they were tempted to gripe about their pay and to supplement it by extorting money from unarmed and untrained civilians.
If Claudius wanted a new toga, he'd rob a widow for the money; if he wanted better wine, he sold "protection" to the local synagogue.
The soldiers, then, had to repent of their own sins-and not of sin in general or the sins of somebody else.
In John's message, there is a sense of urgency. Yes, he told men they must repent, but more than that, he told them they must repent now!
Because Messiah is at hand!
"Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore, every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire".
The Lord is described as a farmer. He's walking through His orchard and finding the trees that are bearing no fruit. What's He doing with them? You'd wish He was giving them one more chance, but He isn't doing that! No, He's cutting them down-not pruning them, but chopping them at the roots, digging them up, and throwing them into the fire.
Later, the figure is changed a bit. He's still a farmer, but one who's threshing the wheat. The wheat He's pitching into one pile but the chaff, he's pitching into another. When he's done, He'll gather the wheat into His barn, but He'll burn the chaff.
Two images with one meaning: Jesus Christ is not only a Savior, but He's also a Judge. In His First Coming, He judged sinners-gathering the broken-hearted to Himself and rejecting the self-righteous.
What He began in the First Coming, He will complete in the Second. There is a Day of Judgment to come. We don't know when-and we must not speculate. Knowing that it is coming is enough. On that day, the final separation will occur.
The Bible describes it in different ways, but all to the same effect:
"Wheat gathered into His garner, but the chaff burned with unquenchable fire."
"Sheep on His right hand, but goats on His left hand".
"Enter into the joy of your Lord" for some; "Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire" for others.
Where will you be that day? In the barn or in the fire? On His right hand or on His left? With the Lord and His people or with the devil and His angels?
The question may be unfair. But this one isn't: Where are you right now? Are you forgiven or unforgiven? Are you justified or condemned? Are you in the church or in the world?
Do you think you have time to waste? A man once felt that way, "Soul, take your rest, you have goods laid up for many years."
But to that very man, God said, "You fool! Don't you know this very night, your life will be required of you?"
The warnings of God are urgent, "Today, if you will hear His voice, harden not your hearts".
So are the promises of God, "Behold, now is the accepted time; now is the day of salvation".
The people have heard before-a lot of it. But they'd never heard anyone like John before. And so they ask him if he was the Messiah.
He told them he was not. But that the Lord was coming. He would be so great that John wasn't "Worthy to loose His sandal strap".
John is the greatest prophet in the history of the world, but compared to the Lord Jesus Christ, he's not even the lowest servant in the house.
John proves the Lord's greatness by comparing the Lord's baptism with his own. "I baptize with water".
That was a good thing then-and now. But the Lord? He will "Baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire".
Christians differ on the meaning of our Lord's baptism. But I'll tell you what I think (and I think I have good reasons for what I say). Baptism with the Holy Spirit is not conversion, but something much bigger: Pentecost. All John can do is put a man in water, but the Lord will "Pour out His Spirit on all flesh".
He did that, about four years later, on the Day of Pentecost.
As for baptizing with fire? That means the Judgment to come. John could tell a man he was going to hell, but only Christ sends a man there.
This is the work of John the Baptist. Luke tells us where it got him: to prison. The fearless preacher not only called "little men" sinners, but he also accused "big men". He rebuked King Herod for stealing his brother's wife, and the king threw him in jail. And later, of course, he cut off John's head.
John's faithful witness got him in trouble. Men say they love the truth, but they don't. No, men know the truth, but don't want to hear it, but do everything they can to suppress it. Herod had his parties, we have our TVs-anything to stifle the conscience and to keep us from thinking too deeply.
Not all witnessing will get you in trouble. But faithful witnessing sure will. If all you say is "Jesus works for me", then most people will smile. But if you tell them they're sinners, they'll get mad. If you tell them they must repent of their own favorite sins, they'll get madder. And if you tell them that only Christ can save them, they'll get even madder! You'll be called a bigot and narrow-minded-and maybe things a whole lot worse. But the honor of God and the salvation of other people demand you tell them the truth. Not in a cruel and hateful way, of course; certainly not with pride and smugness. But the truth you must tell them. John lived and died for the truth. The Lord calls us to do the same.
Telling the truth will get you in hot water. But that's not all it will get you.
"All who live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution." "If we suffer with Him, we will also reign with Him".
THE MEANING AND APPLICATIONS
The meaning of our text is obvious and so are the applications. The story means: John prepared the way of the Lord.
The applications are:
1. We ought to admire the great wisdom of God.
Had the Lord come before John, He would have been far less effective. But God sent John first and this maximized the ministry of our Lord. This means you can trust God to work things out best. You mustn't become impatient with God or try to force His hand. He knows what He's doing. It's your job to do everything you can, and then to trust Him and.wait.
2. If John prepared the Lord's way back then, we should do the same today.
Our calling is not identical to John's, of course. He had a unique role in the history of salvation. Yet we are called to be witnesses, aren't we?
As witnesses, we owe it to God and the lost to prepare the unsaved for the coming of Christ into their lives. We do that by faithful witnessing, godly lives, and earnest prayers.
John had a great ministry-to introduce the Messiah to Israel. But so do we. We can introduce the Lord Jesus to our friends and neighbors, and by supporting missions, to the world.
May the prophecy be fulfilled, and "All flesh see the salvation of God".
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