Preparation For Greatness
Scripture: Luke 3:15–20
Preparation For GreatnessLuke 3:15-20
Sunday, February 25, 2018
Pastor Randy Smith
This past Monday was one of those rare occasions that all the members of our family were free at the same time. It was also one of those rare occasions that we all sat down and watched a movie. It was a Christian movie and for the most part was entertaining and encouraging to our faith. The acting was good and the message was strong. However, when the movie was over there was something in my opinion that was missing.
The Gospel was presented and the benefits for receiving Christ were noted, but there was not much emphasis on the concepts of repentance or God's wrath. The Gospel was presented as one of those, it's good and it will help you become a more loving and joyous person, but the consequences for rejecting are not that severe. Of course you'd be foolish to reject it, but you can sort of take it or leave it. There clearly wasn't a command to believe and repent because the eternality of an eternal hell is awaiting those who don't.
Now that phraseology might have offended some of you. Here we go again, the "fire and brimstone" Baptist preacher that's trying to scare everyone to Jesus! I know words like hell and wrath and repentance are not popular today, but they are the words of the Bible.
Stay with me! Do you remember our previous sermon from Luke 3? Verse 3, John was preaching "a baptism of repentance." Verse 3, John expressed that we need forgiveness from "sins." Verse 7, John referred to unrepentant religious people as "a brood of vipers." Verse 7, John called his audience to "flee from the wrath to come." Verse 8, John demanded we be able to see spiritual "fruit" in our lives, fruits marked by "repentance." Verse 9, John compared people who do not bear godly fruit to a tree that will be cut down and "thrown into the fire."
You say, that was just John the Baptist. Well today, we will see what John has to say about Jesus. Look at verse 17, "His winnowing fork is in His hand to thoroughly clear His threshing floor, and to gather the wheat into His barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire."
The only reason we are jarred by these comments is because many people, even professing Christians, have bought into a Gospel that is created by man and not the God of the Bible. The man-centered Gospel glorifies man and doesn't offend the world. The true biblical Gospel glorifies God and stirs up the world's hostility. Man hates the biblical Gospel. Wait to you see what they did to John.
I was watching David Platt last Thursday and he was making the point that our churches are proclaiming a gift-giving, grandfatherly-like, impotent, soft God and not the God that the Bible declares is a "Consuming Fire." Platt chastised churches that are not preaching the wrath of God, churches that are either ignorant or afraid to say that we need God to save us from God.
Remember the words of Christ? "Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell" (Mt. 10:28).
Because of our sin, we deserve His just wrath and judgment and there is nothing we can do of ourselves to change that. Yes, we need God to save us from God and the Bible teaches that in His love and mercy He did exactly that. He gave us Jesus Christ to pay the entire penalty for our sin. He worked a way that we might be forgiven and made His children. Platt went on to say that we afraid of so much today simply because we no longer fear God.
The Probe of John (verse 15)
Let's get into today's passage and dig a little deeper into this concept. I am calling the first point, "The Probe of John."
Look with me at verse 15. "Now while the people were in a state of expectation and all were wondering in their hearts about John, as to whether he was the Christ."
So you've got to put yourself in the context of the times. We are in Israel, first century. It's been 400 years since God had spoken to the people. If you combine that with the harsh oppression of the Romans, the expectations for the Messiah's arrival were climaxing in an emotional frenzy. Then this unique character named "John" comes on the scene - preaching God with power, baptizing repentant people and filled with the Holy Spirit from his birth. There was no doubt that John was an impressive individual. How about the words of Christ Himself? "Among those born of women there is no one greater than John" (Lk . 7:28). I'm sure it was easy to believe, verse 15 that John was the Christ, the long-awaited Messiah.
You can imagine a less humble man would desire that glory for Himself. How would John respond? Let's go to the second point.
The Presentation of The Messiah (verses 16-18)
John clearly knew his place. John was a great man, a mighty individual that was devoted to God. But he also knew he was not the Messiah. He knew his role specifically was to be a forerunner to the Messiah. While there was a temptation to accept greatness for himself, John knew his responsibility was to show the greatness of Christ.
Just yesterday I was reading an article that spoke about a former Facebook executive who in speaking to students at Stanford said, "You don't realize it, but you are being programmed." He went on to say how social media is destroying society. "The short-term [thrill]-driven feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society works. There is no civil discourse, no cooperation, misinformation and mistruth." Reward, he said, is short-term signals like a thumbs up or heart. We confuse false value with truth. If we are not very careful, we create an artificial world that revolves around self.
There is a biblical truth here for all of us. Before Christ we wanted God to make us look great. After Christ the desire is to use all we have to make God look great. That was John! Of course we can't improve on His greatness, but we desire He use us to show His greatness to the world. We call this the difference between pride (a focus on self) and humility (a focus on God). The more pride, the further we are away from God. The more humility, the closer we are to God.
The examples are all over the Bible. Consider the pride of Nebuchadnezzar and Pharaoh. How about what the apostle John said about one man? "I wrote something to the church; but Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them, does not accept what we say" (3 Jn. 1:9). Then how about the godliest individuals we know? Numbers 12:3, "Now the man Moses was very humble, more than any man who was on the face of the earth." Or the apostle Paul who wrote, "For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus' sake" (2 Cor. 4:5). Or John the Baptist himself who said, "He must increase, but I must decrease" (Jn. 3:30).
Listen to how John refutes the claim that he is the Christ. Verse 16, "John answered and said to them all, 'As for me, I baptize you with water; but One is coming who is mightier than I, and I am not fit to untie the thong of His sandals.'"
The footwear of choice was sandals. The transportation of necessity was walking. Because the area was so dry, basically desert, walking on the dirt paths and roadways would kick up all kinds of dust. It would be common to finish even a short journey and have dirt stains up to your knees. Hence it was necessary to often wash your feet.
However, the Jews considered foot-washing the most degrading responsibility. It was a responsibility assigned to the lowest of the low. Thus the shock when Jesus began to do it to the disciples just prior to the Lord's Supper. I read last week that some of the Jewish teachers were held in such high regard that their disciples voluntarily acted as their slaves and did this.
So when John says he is not worthy to even "untie the thong of [Jesus'] sandals], he is putting Jesus in a category that is unlike any human. John is making it abundantly clear that he is not Jesus and Jesus is not his disciple and he's not even worthy to call himself Jesus' disciple! Jesus is an individual that rises far above any man that has ever existed.
To add further separation, in verse 16 John reminds the crowd that he baptized with water, but the One coming after Him, verse 16, "will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire." Now, what does that mean?
Remember, last time we were in Luke 3 we were reminded of the proper place for water baptism. Baptism does not save us. Baptism is only an outward picture of what Christ has miraculously done in our hearts. Water baptism after salvation has its place. John was taking care of that. It's external and natural. But the primary and initial baptism we need is by the Holy Spirit. And that is taken care of by Christ. And that's internal and supernatural.
You see, the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity is influential in our salvation. It is He who convicts us of sin and presents Jesus to us through His Word and prepares our hearts to receive Christ and gives us the gift of faith to believe and the gift of repentance to turn away from self. It is the Holy Spirit who gives us a new heart, indwells us, produces spiritual fruit in us, illuminates our hearts to understand Scripture, seals us in Christ for all eternity and places us (baptizes us) into God church. This is the baptism with the Holy Spirit, the great promise of the New Covenant that is given to us by Christ.
So that is Christ baptizing people in the Holy Spirit. What then does it mean that He will also baptize people in fire?
Some argue that both of these baptisms are for the believer. Namely, we are baptized by the Holy Spirit to initiate our salvation and then we are continually baptized by the Holy Spirit in fire throughout our salvation.
In other words, the Holy Spirit is always with us and His work in the believer is to progressively make him or her more like Christ. And the way He does that is though what people often refer to as the "Refiner's Fire" (see Mal. 3:1-2). God is forever burning off the imperfections in our lives that Christ might shine evermore brightly through us. It's God's fire, through teaching and trials, that makes us more Christlike .
That's true, but I do not think that what John is getting at here. Here is why.
All but one time (22:55) that Luke uses the word "fire" is always refers to a consuming judgment.
I believe Malachi 4 is a crucial text. It's from the last chapter of the last book in the Old Testament. "'For behold, the day is coming, burning like a furnace [today's comment]; and all the arrogant and every evildoer will be chaff [comment we'll see shortly]; and the day that is coming will set them ablaze [today's comment],' says the LORD of hosts, 'so that it will leave them neither root nor branch [last sermon]. But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings; and you will go forth and skip about like calves from the stall" (Mal. 4:1-2).
What do we see here? Blessing from the "sun of righteousness," the Messiah to come. But He will also consume with fire ("burning like a furnace," "set them ablaze") those who reject Him and desire to persist in their evil.
Can you ask for a better illustration of this right here in 3:17? Spoken of Jesus, "His winnowing fork is in His hand to thoroughly clear His threshing floor, and to gather the wheat into His barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire."
Let me provide an explanation and then I will bring it all together. So how did they separate the good wheat from the bad chaff? They would trample the stalks on the threshing floor. Then they would take a winnowing fork and throw all the materials up in the air. The lighter chaff would blow away and the heavier grains of wheat would fall to the ground. The wheat would be gathered into the barn and the chaff would be burned.
What is John saying here in verse 17 that Jesus will do? Like wheat and chaff, there will be a separation between the believers and unbelievers. The believers (wheat) will be gathered in the Father's barn (house/heaven) and the unbelievers (chaff) will be burned with fire (damnation/hell). What's the point? Everybody will be dealt with. Nobody will be left out. It's really good or really bad.
So when John says Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire, I believe all he is saying is that those dead in their sins who come to Christ will be saved by the Holy Spirit, forgiven and loved by God, eternally in His presence baptized with the Holy Spirit as a guarantee of the Father's ownership. And those who remain dead in their sins and reject God's love offering of Christ will remain under His wrath and suffer His fiery judgment. How significant is this Mighty One coming who is called the Christ? He will baptize all people either in the Holy Spirit or in fire.
But what you are saying sounds so harsh - wrath, judgment, fire, hell, condemnation! My friends, I would never omit God's love and grace and mercy and kindness from the Gospel, but we also must not omit what we might deem the harsher components as well. It is all of God and it is all necessary .
The Gospel makes us realize that we are far worse than we ever believed, but God's love is far greater than we ever imagined. In the Gospel we realize the depths of our sin so we might better understand the greatness of God's forgiveness. We see God's holy hatred toward sin, but His incredible mercy in Christ toward the sinner. If God is God, he must inherently oppose that which opposes Him. Unless evil is dealt with, there can be no good news. The bad news is inherently part of the good news!
This is the complete Gospel as presented in the Bible. This is what John preached. Verse 18, "So with many other exhortations he preached the gospel to the people."
The Persecution of John (verses 19-20)
Let's briefly look at the final point - "The Persecution of John."
Verse 19-20, "But when Herod the tetrarch was reprimanded by him [John] because of Herodias, his brother's wife, and because of all the wicked things which Herod had done, Herod also added this to them all: he locked John up in prison."
People in this world have very little problem with a domesticated, impotent and accepting god. Any god that will bring you success or help you become a better person is celebrated or at worse, tolerated. But a God of righteousness and holiness? A God that calls people to forsake their sin? A God that sets the rules and demands that people comply? We don't want that kind of God in our lives and also do not want the people in our lives that proclaim him.
In verse 19 we see that John called his leader out on sin - specifically divorce of his wife and a new complicated remarriage and wickedness in general. Verse 20 is so interesting. It says "Herod also added this to them all." There was a laundry list of Herod sins.
So when he could take it no longer "He locked John up in prison." John, the forerunner to the Messiah and according to Christ was the greatest man up to that time that ever lived. John was God's choice and a faithful servant. Yet he was a hated man in the Herod household and eventually executed. As Jesus promised, you preach the true Gospel and you will have opposition! But the question is, whose side do you want to be on?
Up until this week, most Americans had never heard of the winter Olympic sport called "Curling." And I am convinced that most Americans, even most who attend a church, have never heard God's version of the "good news," the Gospel.
It is simply this: We have sinned against God. In His holiness He must punish sin. In His love He gave us Christ to pay our penalty.
It is your choice. Based directly on today's passage, receive Christ and get the baptism with the Holy Spirit. Reject Christ and get a baptism of fire.