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The Prophet Preparing the Way (Part 2)

The Gospel of Luke  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  36:41
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The Prophet Preparing the Way (Part 2) - Luke 3:15-20

PRAY
Intro: John the Baptist was a unique character.
Luke 3:15–20 ESV
As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ, John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people. But Herod the tetrarch, who had been reproved by him for Herodias, his brother’s wife, and for all the evil things that Herod had done, added this to them all, that he locked up John in prison.

John Points to Jesus (vv. 15-18)

Apparently Messianic expectations among the people were high. So with John demonstrating such power through his preaching, people begin to wonder if he might not be the Christ.
While the Apostle John’s gospel has John the baptist saying directly, “I am not the Christ” (Jn 1:20), Luke communicates this same truth by quoting John as he deflects the question and explains how he cannot be the Messiah because the Messiah will be greater and will have a superior baptism.
John makes two points with people asking whether he is the Messiah: I am inferior to Someone who is to come and my baptism is likewise inferior. Or… The Messiah is indeed coming soon, but he is much greater than I, and his baptism is significantly better (in terms of its powerful and lasting efficacy).
A Mightier One is Coming...
John the Baptist does not mention Jesus directly, because he does not yet know that it is Jesus who is the Messiah. This is made known to him when he baptizes Jesus: vv.21b-22.
Luke 3:21–22 ESV
Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
The gospel of John also explains this dynamic more specifically (of John recognizing that Jesus is the Messiah at that baptism occurrence):
John 1:29–34 ESV
The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”
So John explains (back in Luke 3): a Mightier one is coming… and this one is more worthy than any prophet or any other person:
Who is More Worthy...
He expresses this with a powerful image depicting himself as one who is comparatively even below the status of a slave who would loose the sandal clasp of his master. He is so superior to me that I’m not even worthy to be compared to the lowest slave to this master.
One does not get the sense at all that John is simply putting on here and just being self-deprecating. This is genuine humility.
Illust? - Being around someone who is far better than you at something…
A mightier one is coming, who is far more worthy than I, and…
And Whose Baptism Is Far Greater
It is greater in at least two significant ways:
Spiritual - The Messiah’s baptism is greater because it is a baptism of the Holy Spirit that transforms and gives spiritual life to those who believe - and in this sense then what John refers to is metaphorical bc it is not about Jesus literally baptizing people but about the decisive power and authority to grant transformational spiritual life.
Illust - The difference between the two is like the difference between the play-acting we do as children and the real deal—the real events and persons. (I’m Batman. Being Married.)
John’s baptism was meant to be an external demonstration of repentance, of people acknowledging their need for forgiveness from sin. This baptism from the Messiah would bring about a real internal spiritual change (by the power of the Holy Spirit), resulting in salvation and forgiveness of sin.
Conclusive - John further explains in v. 17, with a note of warning again to his hearers, that the Coming One’s greater baptism with the Holy Spirit and with fire is decisive/definitive. Anyone who does not clearly belong to him, who is not wheat but chaff, is to be ultimately separated out as such and burned with unquenchable fire. [explain treading out the grain and separating the chaff from the wheat]
- Another way to view the reference to fire is that even the repentant will undergo a purifying fire. - I believe the emphasis John makes here is the horrible nature of the final judgment, that not receiving the baptism of the Holy Spirit will result in judgment.
This baptism of the Spirit, to mark out Jesus’ true followers unto himself, would take place at Pentecost (Acts 2), and for all subsequent believers at the time of their faith in Christ.
This is good news! - “So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people.” (v. 18)
John Preached Good News
You might think to yourself, John sure had a weird way of preaching good news. But in his role as the one preparing the way, he boldly announced that the Messiah was coming… and also that people therefore needed to be ready. To be made ready to receive the offer of salvation in Jesus, people needed to clearly understand their sin and need of repentance (with a sharp warning of God’s wrath, his just judgment against sin).
Luke: An Introduction and Commentary 2. The Ministry of John the Baptist (3:1–20)

Judgment is not at first sight very good news; but it is an integral part of the gospel. Unless we can be sure that in the end evil will be decisively overthrown there is no ultimate good news.

There’s good news and and good news. (What at first sounds like bad news concerning the condemnation for our sin… is in fact also good news about the character and sovereignty and love of the good God who made us and himself then intervenes to rescue us. The Gospel really is ALL good news!

The High Cost of John’s Faithfulness (vv. 19-20)

Luke has placed this short unit about John’s imprisonment earlier in his Gospel than the later position in Mark 6:17-18 and Matt. 14:3-4. […] This arrangement serves to focus on the Coming One more explicitly by staying on Jesus’ ministry once it is introduced. (Bock, 327)
Luke is [of course] not writing chronologically, for John continued at work during the early part of Jesus’ ministry. He is simply finishing his story of John, after which he concentrates on the ministry of Jesus. (Leon Morris, ​Luke: An Introduction and Commentary 2. The Ministry of John the Baptist (3:1–20))
For more details on the circumstances surrounding John’s death, let’s look at the passage in Matt. 14.
Matthew 14:3–12 ESV
For Herod had seized John and bound him and put him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because John had been saying to him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.” And though he wanted to put him to death, he feared the people, because they held him to be a prophet. But when Herod’s birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced before the company and pleased Herod, so that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she might ask. Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter.” And the king was sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he commanded it to be given. He sent and had John beheaded in the prison, and his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother. And his disciples came and took the body and buried it, and they went and told Jesus.
And for that he remained in prison for what we believe was the better part of two years, and then was beheaded. - John’s unjust treatment and death pre-figures Christ’s death at the hands of Jewish authorities.

His entire ministry lasted no more than three years—about one year out of prison and two years in prison.

Copying John’s Character, Courage, and Communication

John the Baptist knew true humility.
The reason is simple. He knew God, and he knew his place in relationship to God.
Pride is genuinely a tricky thing for us to keep in check. Pride is overly concerned with what others think of me, of where do I fit into the hierarchy of importance and influence. Prided wants to know if my potential is being recognized, etc. Pride is hurt, or offended and angered, when people we love aren’t recognized the way we think they ought to be. Pride can sometimes create severe blindspots to our own weaknesses… sometimes make us think so highly of the people we love in ways that don’t match reality. - To make it all more challenging, we often don’t seem to realize that we’re falling prey to pride.
Humility aims for the glory of God in all things—God in his rightful place and we in ours. Humility comes when we see ourselves as joyful and eager servants of God, having a desire also to see others grow and succeed for his glory. Humility desires to elevate other people instead of ourselves. What’s really interesting about that is that Jesus says that in God’s kingdom it is in fact those who behave in such a way (preferring others above ourselves) whom God recognizes as greatest.
If you in fact want GOD to be saying, well done, my child… I’m so proud of you. Then you must stop clinging to your position and grappling for people to appreciate your worth. You have to quit thinking that your opinion should be more highly valued (stop arguing). What you’re after is to know God and to be used by him (to be an instrument of his grace to others), especially when that means elevating and promoting others above yourself. That’s servant leadership. It pleases God and unleashes your true potential to be used for His kingdom, for His glory.
John had an unwavering boldness that can only come from an unshakable confidence in God.
John knew the power of his message didn’t come from him but from the God from whom the message comes. John knew that the way the message was received wasn’t up to him, but he did know his God, and that he had been commanded to preach repentance.
Our fear is often due to the pride we just spoke of.
When we lack boldness, we either don’t have enough confidence in God or we aren’t taking his command seriously. Given who God is and what Christ has done for us and in us, neither makes any sense whatsoever. - We need to prepare ourselves mentally for any given day by rehearsing those truths and by praying for boldness—confidence in God and obedience to his command… at all cost.
John pointed people to Christ with conviction and clarity.
There is something to be learned from even this pre-cross communication of the good news, the gospel. The following thoughts by Steve Cole are at least some of them:
1. Pointing people to Christ requires confronting their sin.
2. Pointing people to Christ requires warning of the reality of the coming judgment.
3. Pointing people to Christ requires exalting His supremacy over all.
We must humble ourselves. We must exalt Christ as supreme.
The good news that John shared was that the Messiah was coming. The good news that we have, and have the privilege of sharing (and responsibility to share), is that Jesus has come!
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