Fruits Of Repentance
Scripture: Luke 3:1–14
Fruits Of RepentanceLuke 3:1-14
Sunday, February 11, 2017
Pastor Randy Smith
So it was the fall of 1995. Julie and I were not dating, but we did somewhat know each other. There was interest (at least on my part toward her), so when she invited me to help with a Christian event on Halloween in downtown Chicago I agreed to assist without hesitation. Large gym. Hundreds of children and youth. Sports. Gospel presentation. Need to dress as a Bible character.
The final stipulation for me would be the most challenging. Yet for Julie, I was going to go all out. I've got to impress her, right? I went to the fabric store and made my own John the Baptist outfit. No expenses spared. The costume was incredible, even to the details of camel hair, leather belt and little locust bugs tied to my burlap coat.
I put my elaborate outfit on, drove an hour to the city, walked into this gym packed with people and to my dismay instantly realized that no one else was in a costume. That was instantly followed by a lot of strange looks I received from people I had never met in my life. No one followed the directions! Well, a couple guys were wearing bathrobes trying to be Abraham, but no one, in the bad sense, stood out as much as me.
I can still remember playing basketball with these inner-city kids and they thought I had the strangest taste in the wardrobe department. It was so bizarre they simply couldn't figure me out!
Well today, and our time is limited, we are going to learn about the real John the Baptist. People in his day thought he was a little crazy too, but as we'll see this morning, he was a powerful prophet of God, sent to prepare the way for Jesus, that brought a clear message of the Gospel that focused on that word, "repentance."
Let's first begin with an historical perspective.
In verses 1-2, Luke introduces us to the world leaders of the time. Tiberius Caesar - Second emperor of Rome following Augustus. Pontius Pilate - Governor of Judea. Herod Antipas - A shared leader (tetrarch) in Galilee along with Philip, Trachonitis and Lysanias. Annas - Former High Priest of Israel, but still retaining the title. Caiaphas - Current High Priest of Israel. One author said all these leaders interlocked like the wooden Russian dolls - one inside the other. Put the dates together and we are we are talking about AD 26 or 27.
So why does Luke mention the most significant leaders of time when John the Baptist emerges on the scene?
For starters, Luke wants us to understand that biblical Christianity is not mystical. It is fixed firmly in the context of world history. These things really happened at a point in time, they are historical and they were even recorded by the world's historians of the day as well.
But more importantly, I believe Luke is setting up a very interesting contrast. Compared to these enormous men of popularity and power, who is this insignificant man name John emerging as a lonely voice from the wilderness claiming to be a spokesman for God? Moreover, the style of ruling would be in complete contrast. On the other side, power and fear as compared to humility and love. One style would threaten with the fear of death while the other style would be willing to die.
No official commentary is given in the passage, but the modern reader is now able to evaluate history and see men on one side that are forgotten, vilified and miserable at their death. As a matter of fact, four of the men listed in verses 1-2 would have a direct role in the death of Christ. Who would have ever imagined that John the Baptist, and eventually Jesus Christ, would still become household names worldwide over 2,000 years later? Who's in control of history?
John the Baptist
In chapter 1 we were already been introduced to John the Baptist. In the last verse of the chapter we read of John, "And the child continued to grow and to become strong in spirit, and he lived in the deserts until the day of his public appearance to Israel" (Lk. 1:80). Now, roughly 30 years later, John makes his "public appearance."
The end of verse 2 says, "The word of God came to John, the son of Zacharias, in the wilderness." (Lk. 3:2). This is how God usually announced His prophets and when a prophet shows up it usually means one of two things - God is angry or God is about to do something special. John will speak on behalf of God and this solitary man is about to rock the Palestinian world.
As for John's primary role? We heard about him from his dad's prophecy in 1:76. "And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare His ways." Like the morning star which shines brightly to herald the rising sun, John will be a forerunner to prepare the way for the "Most High," the Messiah, Jesus Christ.
Luke chooses to explain this in a very interesting way in verses 4-6. He quotes directly from Isaiah 40:3-5. "As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, 'The voice of one crying in the wilderness, 'make ready the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every ravine will be filled, and every mountain and hill will be brought low; the crooked will become straight, and the rough roads smooth; and all flesh will see the salvation of God''" (Lk. 3:4-6).
It was common when a famed leader came to town that people would construct a smooth road so he could enter with all pomp and dignity. But here, Isiah's prophecy of John is much more significant. He's not talking about smoothing out bumps, removing stones or filling in potholes. He's talking about something much more dramatic like filling in the Grand Canyon and leveling Mt. Everest. Not to be taken literally, but there is some heavy symbolism here that John's work will do some drastic things in the hearts of people in preparation for the "way of the Lord," the arrival of Jesus the Messiah.
It will be a radical call for a change of heart that will go out to, verse 6, "all flesh." Regardless of your gender or age or economic status, ethnicity, education or occupation, the way to travel the road to God will be made clear and available.
That is the historical context. Let's now go to the second point and take a look at how John the Baptist will fulfill his destiny in preparing a spiritual superhighway for the true King and its application for us today.
A Theological Perspective
What was John's call to the people? In one word, it was "repentance." Let's first look at why we need to repent before we define what repentance actually is.
So if there is one thing everybody knows about John, it is the fact that he was known as "John the Baptist." Literally we could call him, "John the Immerser." Obviously what marked this man's ministry back then was his action of immersing people in the Jordan River for baptism.
In verse 7 we read that "crowds" came to him to be baptized. Good thing, right? Well, they must have been shocked by his response. Even we in a baptistic church are a bit stunned by his response. First he calls them a "brood of vipers" and then he implies that they were uninformed about "the wrath of God to come." It's like the pastor that sternly rebukes all the "Easter-only" attendees when they finally do show up for church on Resurrection Sunday. So not only does he call them, "Sons of snakes," but he also concludes they were coming for the wrong reasons.
We'll get to more of this in a minute, but for now it's important to see that baptism is not some mystical rite that saves people (like we see in the Catholic Church) or even a Christian non-negotiable add-on that welcomes anyone (like we see in the Evangelical Church). Baptism has its place, and it should be rightly administered, but what's more important to understand is that we need salvation, something that baptism in-and-of-itself cannot provide.
Salvation from what? As verse 7 indicates, we need salvation "from the wrath [of God]." God is holy and we are sinners. God in His holiness is obligated to judge sin against His perfect standard. His wrath is and will be displayed toward all violators that have been given His law and are accountable to Him as His creatures. No amount of good deeds or religion or baptism can save us. What we need is someone to take way our sin. What we need is a Savior to remove sin and save us from God's wrath.
As we have been learning, Jesus the Messiah has been given and will soon come on the scene to bring salvation (Lk. 2:11). He will live the perfect life and then take our sin upon Himself and as a man, die as our substitute. Through His death and resurrection, God will forgive all who come to Him. Jesus didn't come so people can get more religious by getting wet in the Jordan River. Jesus came to purchase with His blood a people for God washed clean now desirous to faithfully serve Him.
What is Repentance?
You see, people then and people still today believe that baptism can save you. How many people believe they are going to heaven because they are baptized? In verse 8, the Jews believed they were right with God because they were related to Abraham. My friends, spiritual rites like baptism, family lineage and a host of other things that people trust are not your savior!
Only Jesus is Savior, but in order for Jesus to be your Savior you must properly receive Him. And how do you do that? It is turning from yourself and placing your complete confidence in Him. It's not just superficial believing, but believing in such a way that you are willing to pursue Him and forsake anything that opposes His will. In verse 3 and verse 8, John referred to this as "repentance."
So how can we specifically define repentance? Here are some important thoughts:
Repentance is the desire and ability to turn from sin. We cannot have Christ and Satan. So true believers will want to please God. They will be convicted by the Word of God. They will have a general brokenness over their sin. They will desire to turn from it. They will be able to turn from it. That's repentance. It's a gift that God gives His children. It initiates salvation and then continues throughout our life of salvation.
Repentance can be marked by three changes: First there is the mind (intellectual) response. That is the mind being aware of a specific sin in our lives. Then there is the heart (affectionate) response. That is the inward contrition, hatred for the sin, desire to turn from it. Then there is the action (volitional) response. This is the actual change in our behavior and actions. We no longer do that which we once enjoyed. True repentance that is of the Lord will have all three of these responses.
What does Repentance produce?
In other words, in order for repentance to be genuine it must be bearing spiritual fruit. John spoke of that in verse 8. "Therefore bear fruits in keeping with repentance."
As I said earlier, true repentance will marked by identifiable changes in one's life. As John said here in verse 8, true repentance will be seen by spiritual fruit.
I've used this example before. A guy in the church asked if I wanted a pear tree. Almost as quick as I said, "Sure," he was planting it in my backyard. I was patient with that pear tree, but year after year it never produced any pears. It's not an attractive tree and on a couple occasions I considered cutting it down because I was really doubting if it was a pear tree.
Then one spring evening something amazing happened. I heard strange noises outside. I had to take a closer look and that tree was violently shaking and grunting and then all of a sudden a mature pear appeared on a branch. Then another. Then another. Of course it didn't happen that way!
But I am happy to say that that pear tree did finally produce pears. How do I know it was a pear tree? Because it produced pears on its branches! Not through grunting and shaking, but fruit produced through the normal, expected, gradual and continual process built into the tree's DNA.
The same applies to Christians. If we are believers, we will be producing the spiritual fruit of repentance. It will identify us. That would be attitude fruit. Things like love and joy and gratitude and kindness and self-control and peace and goodness, faithfulness and gentleness. Don't we call these the "Fruit of the Spirit" (Gal. 5:22-23)?
And the attitude fruit always results in action fruit. That's what John gets at in verses 10-14. Serve one another. Sacrifice for one another. Set a good example for one another. Encourage one another. Pray for one another. In other words, there should be a marked difference between the children of God and the children of Satan and the line of demarcation comes down to repenting of the old life to radically pursue the new life that imitates the Person and work of Jesus Christ marked by holy love
If we are believers the Holy Spirit dwells within us. Isn't it logical to assume He will make us holy? Isn't it logical to assume that we all have room to grow in godliness or I could say repent? Isn't it logical that there will be effects in our lives of the Spirit's presence or we could say spiritual fruit?
What if I have no spiritual fruit? Then you are under God's wrath and in desperate need for His salvation. Verse 9, "Indeed the axe is already laid at the root of the trees; so every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire."
So the people in this account were clearly confused. May we not be confused! What is the biblical order of salvation clearly seen in our passage? It is first understanding the Gospel that salvation comes through the work of Jesus Christ. I am a sinner under God's wrath and I need His forgiveness. Second it is receiving Jesus Christ to be my Lord and Savior and I do that by turning to Him in faith and turning away from my sins in repentance. That results in God indwelling me through the Holy Spirit and instantly producing, third, both attitude and action fruit. Then, fourth, I enter the waters of baptism (part of that fruit) as a sign, as an outward picture of what God has already done in my heart.