Sunday, October 11, 2009

[Matt's Messages] "Preparing the Way for Jesus"

“Preparing the Way for Jesus”
Certain of Jesus: The Gospel of Luke
October 11, 2009
Luke 3:1-20

After a great visit from the Durocher Family last week, we are returning to our study of the Gospel of Luke, the series I’ve entitled, “Certain of Jesus.” Luke told us in the first paragraph of the book that he’s written it to assure us of the certainty of Who Jesus is and what Jesus has done. And so, we are studying it together to grow in that certainty.

We’ve reach chapter 3. This is where the story really gets rolling.

We’ve gotten past the “Back-Story of Jesus” where his conception and that of his relative John’s were predicted, and past his humble and yet glorious birth, and past the few yet significant details about his very special childhood.

Now, the story really gets going. In fact, Luke just about begins again in chapter 3 with a new introduction. The prologue is over; the story has begun.

And it begins, again, with John, the son of Zechariah. We call him, “The Baptist.”

In chapter 1, we left John in the desert, growing strong into adulthood and waiting until the time for his public appearance in Israel (1:80).

It’s now time. Just as his father, Zechariah, had predicted John’s job was to prepare the way for Jesus. Zechariah had said, “You, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins...” (1:76-77).

And that’s exactly what he did.

Luke 3. Verse 1.

“In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar–when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene–during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert.”

Let’s stop there for second.

Notice how Dr. Luke is doing his historian-thing again. This time, Luke sets his story in the context of not just one ruler so that you know when this all happened, but in no fewer than seven historical figures: Tiberius, Pilate, Herod (this is Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great who we talked about in chapter 1), his brother Philip, Lysanians, and Annas and Caiaphas.

Again, these are historical people. They really lived. They really had positions of authority during this time period. The date is about 29 AD.

Luke is careful to make sure that we know that this stuff is not a fairy tale or a myth. This really happened in space/time history.

I think that’s more and important in our day when the historicity of the gospel accounts is so much under attack. This really happened.

Now, what happened? V.2, “...the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert.”

John was called to be a prophet. God’s word came to him in some special way–and he had to proclaim it. What was this word? V.3

“He went into all the country around the Jordan [that’s a river in Palestine], preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”

This is why we call him, “John the Baptist.”

He had unique ministry. Under the inspiration of God, John was preaching that people–good Jews even!–ought to get baptized to symbolize their repentance to prepare for the forgiveness of sins. Water as a symbol of cleansing.

This was a preparatory baptism, a preparatory repentance, preparing for forgiveness.

How do we know that? Luke fills us in on what this meant in verse 4. John’s baptism of repentance was preparing the way for the Lord. V.4

“As is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet: ‘A voice of one calling in the desert, '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 mankind will see God's salvation.'’” Isaiah 40:3-5.

Luke sees that John fulfills Isaiah’s prophecy.

He is “The Voice.” It’s his job to call out in the desert “Prepare the Way for the Lord.”

That was John’s message. Point #1 of 3 this morning.


This repentance, this baptism that John was preaching was preparatory. It was getting hearts ready, getting people ready for the coming king.

I love the picture in verse 5.

“Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth.”

What is Isaiah talking about?

He’s talking about building a highway.

How many have taken the new 322 highway from Port Matilda to State College?

How about the new I 99 from Altoona to State College? Pretty cool, huh?

It seemed like those construction projects would never be done, didn’t it?

What did they have to do to build those roads?

They had to move the mountains didn’t they? And it was a bigger project than they predicted, wasn’t it? Because they found that acid rock.

They had to cut through the mountains and move a lot of dirt to make those highways.

That’s the picture in Isaiah 40 and in verse 5 of Luke 3.

They are making a highway. Who is going to roll in on the highway?

The KING! The Lord.

“Make straight paths for the Lord.”

The King is coming.

Make a royal highway for him!

Prepare for the King!

That’s John’s message. Prepare for the King!

Now, what does that look like? John says that it looks like repentance.

And if you come to him for baptizing, repentance is what you are saying by getting baptized by John, “I repent.”

The mountains and the hills and the valleys that need leveling are sins that must be turned away from. This is a highway into the hearts of God’s people.

A baptism of repentance to prepare the way for the Lord.

Before the King comes, His people must get ready, and the way to get ready is to repent.

And crowds of people started coming out to the desert to get baptized!

Can you imagine the sight?

The Bible says that John was a strange man with strange clothes and strange diet in a strange location.

And people come flocking out to see this strange man and submit to his message and his baptism.

Clearly, something is happening.

John is preaching repentance. Is anyone listening?

Are we listening? When the subject is repentance, are we tuning or tuning out?

Is repentance just for non-Christians or is it for everyone?

Is repenting just something you do once and then you’re done?

John was trying to get people ready for the coming of the Messiah, the King.

But he wasn’t convinced that everyone who was coming to be baptized was the Real Deal. V.7

“John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?”

I don’t think that John would have won any popularity contests!

What a response! Here come all of these people out to hear him and be baptized, and this is how he treats them?

He sees that many are not genuine. They are a bunch of snakes. They feel the heat of the fire coming, and they snake out looking for somewhere safe.

But they are not real. Real repentance can be verified. V.8

“Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.’”

John was quite a preacher, wasn’t he? Vivid! Stones and axes and fruit.

Some of the people coming out didn’t think they needed repentance. Because they were Jewish! They were Hebrew. They were children of Abraham.

“Abraham is my father! I don’t need this ‘baptism of repentance’ thing.”

John says, “Oh yes, you do!”

Being a child of Abraham is nothing. God can raise up a child of Abraham wherever he wants. It’s not race, it’s grace!

And we to hear today, too.

God has no grandchildren, only children.

You don’t get into the Kingdom by belonging to a godly family.

The Durochers who were here last week, they have a great family. All happy and holy–loving the Lord. But just because you are a Durocher doesn’t make you a Christian.

Everyone has to repent for themself.

It doesn’t matter if you’ve been a part of this church for 80 years, if you are not repentant yourself, you are outside of grace.

Everyone has to repent for themself.

And it’s important. John says, “The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”

This is a “repent or else” message. It IS “turn or burn.”

Those are the only two choices. It is that important.

Judgment is coming. It is imminent.

Notice John’s message.


And if you don’t have it, you’ll be chopped down and burnt up.

What is John saying?

John is saying that true repentance includes a change in behavior.

Repentance is a heart-thing, right? It starts in the heart.

But it doesn’t stop in the heart, does it?

No, it always works itself out in a change in behavior.

Produce Fruit in Keeping with Repentance.

The root is our hearts. That’s where repentance happens.

But if it is true repentance, our root will produce fruit that shows it.

The crowd wants examples. V.10

“‘What should we do then?’ the crowd asked. John answered, ‘The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same.’”

Want to know what repentance looks like? It looks like sharing. It looks like generosity. It looks like taking care of others. V.12

“Tax collectors also came to be baptized. ‘Teacher,’ they asked, ‘what should we do?’ ‘Don't collect any more than you are required to,’ he told them.”

Whenever you see the word “tax-collector,” you should think, “Boo, Hiss!” and maybe spit. These guys were hated in Israel for not just collecting money for the Romans but forcing people to pay big amounts on top of the Roman tax–just because they could.

John says, if your baptism of repentance is real, then you’ll cut that out. You’ll only take what you should.

Another hated group was the soldiers. V.14

“Then some soldiers asked him, ‘And what should we do?’ He replied, ‘Don't extort money [don’t shake people down] and don't accuse people falsely–be content with your pay.’”

Produce Fruit in Keeping with Repentance.

Change your behavior if you really mean it.

Now, I want you to notice what John does not say.

What John does say seems pretty basic. “Give to others. Don’t steal. Be content. Don’t lie.”

What doesn’t he say?

He doesn’t say, “Go through all of these motions. Take on these rituals.” Sure, baptism, but not if you don’t mean it. And not a lot of other rituals–no extra sacrifices, no new religious rigamarole. Let’s get religious! No.

And he doesn’t tell them to get all emotional, either. Sometimes, we think that repentance is a feeling that we need to work up or have come over us. No, there is no navel-gazing here, no working up your feelings.

Repentance is a radical change of heart that leads to a radical change of life.

And that radical change is to live holy and loving lives.

You say that you are repentant? John says, “Okay. Show me.”

Here’s the question:

Is there fruit in keeping with repentance in your life and mine?

Now, I would urge everyone here that professes to believe in Jesus to get baptized.

Everyone who believes in Jesus should either get baptized or be planning to get baptized. That’s a matter of obedience.

But the real and deeper question is whether or not our baptisms point to real repentance or not.

Has there really been a change in our lives?

Is there fruit in keeping with repentance in your life and mine?

Or is it just “talk?”

Now, John wasn’t calling the Jews to claim perfection. He was calling them to change their ways.

And God is calling us to the same thing.

Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.

I’m working on a paper right now for one of my classes on my information addiction.

Did you know that I’m an information junkie?

I am.

I love to know things. Sometimes, I feel like I HAVE TO KNOW THINGS!

This last week, I was worrying about a financial transaction–whether some money that I had asked to be deposited had been deposited in time so that I didn’t get another “speeding ticket” like I mentioned this last Summer.

And so, I checked my balance online–online banking, right? Great idea.

I checked my balance–30 or 40 times a day for a couple of days.

My wife pointed out very lovingly (by laughing at me) this was not a healthy use of my time. In fact, it was sinful. And she was right.

And I needed to repent.

What would fruit in keeping with repentance look like for me in this situation?

It would mean only checking once or twice a day, right?

And what else? Using that redeemed time to love my family and my church, right?

The Lord wants you and me to be repentant, to turn from sin.

That’s one of the things that our baptisms symbolize–though they symbolize more than that now that Jesus has come.

But he wants us to turn, to repent.

Where is the Lord looking for repentance in your life right now?

Is it an addiction of some kind like my information addiction? Maybe an addiction to food or gossip or something else.

Is it a relationship or a behavior or an attitude?

It isn’t enough to feel bad about it.

God is calling for us to change.

Not to become perfect all at once–but to turn away from our sin and produce fruit in keeping with repentance.

Maybe it has to do with money for you. Did you notice how all three examples of repentance that John gave were about stewardship and generosity?

What is your checkbook saying right now about your repentance, about where your heart it?

Repent! God will give you the grace. Repent.

I have a third point this morning, but I want pause right here for a second and pray for us that we would produce this kind of fruit in keeping with repentance.


Now, John was stirring things up. He didn’t care a bit about what people thought of him. And people kept coming and coming and coming.

And some people were changing. It seemed like the King was arriving! There was something big happening. It was making the officials uncomfortable.

And people started to get excited and expectant that maybe the Messiah was here! V.15

“The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Christ.”

Is this it? We are preparing the way for the Lord!

John says, “No. I’m not the Christ.” He’s someone much greater than I am. V.16

“John answered them all, ‘I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.’”

Number 3. This is John’ message.


Oh, no, friends. I’m not the Christ! He’s still coming. And boy is He powerful!

I’m not worthy to untie his shoelaces.

You think I’m something?

I just baptize in water. He baptizes in God the Holy Spirit and with fire!

Now, I’m not sure what that fire refers to. I think it might be the fire of Pentecost on the heads of the disciples. Or maybe the purifying fire that refines us who are believers.

But my main thought is that it is the fire the separates the believer from the unbeliever in final judgment. V.17

“[The Messiah’s] winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

The picture here is that the Powerful Messiah, the Christ, holds a winnowing fork, a great big wooden fork that you pick up the grain with and toss it in the air to thresh.

The heavy stuff which is good lands down on the floor and is kept and useful.

The light stuff, the chaff blows away and then is only good for a fire.

The Messiah is powerful and brings judgment.

And there is no escaping Him! Remember verse 9 and His ax at the root of the tree.

Ponder the Power of the Coming Messiah!

I am not the Christ. He is still coming.

And you’d better repent while you still can!

That’s John’s message.

Some people received it. Others did not.

Herod Antipas did not. V.18

“And with many other words John exhorted the people and preached the good news to them. But when John rebuked Herod the tetrarch because of Herodias, his brother's wife, and all the other evil things he had done, Herod added this to them all: He locked John up in prison.”

Herod had stolen his brother’s wife.

And John preached against it. He didn’t care who Herod was.

And Herod locked him up and eventually killed him.

But that didn’t stop him or his message.

#1. Prepare for the King! The King is coming. Make a highway. Do whatever it takes, move whatever it takes to get ready for His coming.

#2. Produce fruit in Keeping with Repentance. Stop. Turn. Change. Do something differently. Walk out your talk.

#3. Ponder the Power of the Christ! He is coming! And is Great! And He is powerful. He is going to bring judgment. Repent while you can.

That’s John’s message.

What do you think is going to happen next?

In the next verse, which we’ll read in two weeks, Jesus steps out onto stage.

And He gets baptized.

But His baptism is not a baptism of repentance. It’s a baptism of identification–with us.

While our baptism says that we’re sorry for our sins, Jesus’s said, “I’ll take your sins on me. I’ll be one of you.”

And that’s how baptism becomes “a baptism for the forgiveness of sins.”

Jesus dies for those sins.

He pays for those sins.

He pours out His blood for those sins.

Repentance opens the doors of our hearts for the Lord to come in.

But it was His work on the Cross that cleanses us.

That’s what we now celebrate at this table.

If you are a faith-follower of Jesus Christ, that is producing fruit in keeping with repentance, then you are invited to eat and drink this meal with us today.

If you are not yet a faith-follower of Jesus Christ, then please do not eat and drink with us yet. But instead use this time to ponder the power of Christ.

Do you believe in this history?

Do you believe that Jesus was the promised Messiah?

Do you believe that there is a judgment coming?

Wheat and chaff separated?
Chaff burned with an unquenchable fire?

An ax laid at the root of the trees? And every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire?

If you are not yet trusting in Jesus Christ alone for the forgiveness of your sin and the hope of eternal life, I urge you turn today and trust in Him.

Repent and believe in Jesus.

Tell Jesus that you want to turn and trust in Him.

He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire!

This is the good news.

If you do believe the good news, don’t stop repenting.

The Christian life is a race of repentance.

The Lord is probably putting His finger on some sin in your life. Some area that hasn’t been conquered yet.

Tell Him that you want to change and you are ready to be radical about it.

He will help you.

He wants your transformation more than you do.

Use this time to talk to the Lord about what you need to repent of and how you can about doing it.

Thank Him for being broken for your sin and pouring out his blood for your sin.

And tell Him how you want to change because of it.

Tell Him that you want a highway in your heart that the King smoothly ride right on so that all mankind will see God’s salvation.