************ Sermon on Luke 3:3 ************

By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman

This sermon was preached on January 5, 2014

Luke 3:1-20
Luke 3:3
"John's Good News: Repent"

What message does the Lord have for us as we stand at the start of a new year? What message does the Lord have for us as we prepare to celebrate the Lord's Supper next week?

The Lord wants us to hear the "good news" preached by John the Baptist. Which makes me ask: what did John preach? John's sermons can be summed up in one word: Repent. Repent. Repent. John sermons were highly repetitious: Repent. Repent. Repent. John was almost monotonous in his message: Repent. Repent. Repent. Yet, in verse 18 Luke describes this message of John as "good news" (Lk 3:18). Luke writes,
(Lk 3:18) And with many other words John exhorted the people and preached the good news to them.
There you have it: John's message of repentance is described as "good news."

Most of you are probably thinking to yourself, "This is good news? You gotta be kidding me." When we think of good news we think of the message of the angel to Zechariah: "Your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son" (Lk 1:13). Or, we think of the message to Mary: "You have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son" (Lk 1:31). Or, we think of the message to the shepherds: "Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord" (Lk 2:11). This is all "good news." Normally, we don't put John the Baptist and "good news" together in the same sentence. But John's message of repentance is also good news.

On this first Sunday of the new year, on this Preparatory Sunday, we want to look at why John's preaching is good news.

I Baptism
A What are we told about the preaching ministry of John the Baptist? Our text says,
(Lk 3:3) He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism ...

The first thing we can say about John's preaching is that it was about baptism. Now, let me ask what might seem like a strange question: What Bible book would you look at to find out about John's baptism? I dare say most of you would point to Matthew and Luke and what they say about the baptism of Jesus and the crowds. Some of you might point to Acts which has numerous references to John and his baptism (Acts 1:5, 22; 10:37; 11:16; 13:24; 18:25-19:4).

To find out about John's baptism we need to go much earlier in Scripture – all the way back to Leviticus 11-15 and Numbers 19. The Law of Moses prescribed many baptisms for various kinds of uncleanness and defilement:
-those who pick up the carcass of an unclean animal need to wash their clothes (Lev 11:28)
-an article of wood, cloth, hide, or sackcloth touched by an unclean animal needs to be put in water (Lev 11:32)
-clothing with mildew needs to be washed (Lev 13:54,58)
-persons with infectious skin diseases must wash their clothes, shave off their hair, and bathe with water (Lev 14:8)
-anyone touching someone who has died must be cleansed by hyssop dipped in water of purification; he must also wash his clothes and bathe with water (Lev 19:14ff)
Moreover, any Gentile who converted to Judaism was baptized to remove whatever was unclean.

John was peaching "baptism." John was saying to the people: "You are unclean like those who touch the dead. You are unclean like those who have skin diseases. You are unclean like the Gentiles. You are unclean and you need to wash."

B Why were they unclean? What was the cause? Accidental contact with the dead? Skin diseases? Clothing with mildew? Was Israel's problem poor sanitation?

The cause is sin. The people were unclean because of sin. So John shouted to the crowds, "You brood of vipers!" This is not a compliment. This is not something you want said to you or about you. This is John's way of saying, "You children of the old serpent!" John charged the people with being sons of Satan – and loving it. As children of the devil, they were exactly like their father. Jesus explains this in John 8:
(Jn 8:44) You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father's desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

On this Preparatory Sunday, I trust you realize that you and I are also unclean and need to be washed. I trust you realize that we, by nature, are also children of the devil. I trust you realize that too often we love to follow the devil's desires rather than God's. I trust you realize the sin and misery which makes us unclean in the sight of God. Like pigs who love to sit and roll in the mud, so we love to sit and roll in sin.

II Coming Wrath
A The second thing we can say about John's preaching is that he warned about the "coming wrath." According to John, the "coming wrath" is the consequence of sin and uncleanness. He shouts, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?" (Lk 3:7). Now, wrath does not possess a life of its own; it belongs to a person; it is the emotion of a person. The wrath John speaks of belongs to God. John has in mind God's anger against sin – both the sin we are born with as well as the sin we actually commit. We need to know and understand that sin is offensive to God. We need to know and understand that God cannot allow sin to go unpunished.

B John explains exactly what he means by the "coming wrath." He says,
(Lk 3:9) 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.
Living in this area we understand John's image. Sometimes a walnut, pistachio, or orange tree needs to be cut down because it is diseased and unfruitful. Sometimes an entire orchard has to go. In John's days the trees were chopped down and thrown into the fire. Today, we use chainsaws and bulldozers and the trees are tossed into a wood-chipper. But the result is the same: an unfruitful tree is destroyed.

C John, of course, was not really talking about trees; he was talking about people. He was not talking about fires and wood-chippers; he was talking about hell. Last week I read Dante's "Inferno" in preparation for this message. There is a sign over Dante's picture of hell: "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here." Hell truly is a hopeless place. Someone sent me "A Letter from Hell" – one of those email letters that get passed around the internet. I like to read part of this letter to help you see hell's misery.
A Letter From Hell
Dear Mom,
I am writing to you from the most horrible place that I have ever seen, and more horrible than you could ever imagine.
It is BLACK here, so DARK that I cannot even see all the souls I am constantly bumping into. I only know they are people like myself from the blood curdling SCREAMS. My voice is gone from my own screaming as I writhe in pain and suffering. I cannot even cry for help anymore, and it is no use anyway, there is no one here that has any compassion at all for my plight.
The PAIN and suffering in this place is absolutely unbearable. The pain is so severe, it never stops day or night. The turning of days does not appear because of the darkness. What may be nothing more than minutes or even seconds seems like many endless years. The thought of this suffering continuing without end is more than I can bear. My mind is spinning more and more with each passing moment. I feel like a madman, I cannot even think clearly under this load of confusion. I fear I am losing my mind.
The FEAR is just as bad as the pain, maybe even worse. I don’t see how my predicament could be any worse than this, but I am in constant fear that it MIGHT be at any moment.
My mouth is parched, and will only become more so. It is so dry that my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth. There is no relief, not so much as a single drop of water to cool my swollen tongue.
To add even more misery to this place of torment, I know that I deserve to be here. I am being punished justly for my deeds. The punishment, the pain, the suffering is no worse than I justly deserve, but admitting that now will never ease the anguish that burns eternally in my wretched soul. I hate myself for committing the sins to earn such a horrible fate, I hate the devil that deceived me so that I would end up in this place ...
In his preaching, John was warning his audience about this "coming wrath." The message of the Bible is that either you suffer this wrath or Jesus has suffered this in your place – because sin must be punished!

III Repentance
A The problem is being unclean. The cause is sin. The consequence is God's wrath in hell. So what is the solution we, as God's people, need to hear on this Preparatory Sunday? This is the third thing we can say about John's preaching – his solution to the problem of sin.

John's audience thought they were safe because "We have Abraham as our father" (Lk 3:8). But as more than one preacher has said, "God has no grandchildren." As much as we would love it, there is no automatic transfer of faith and salvation to others. You aren't safe from the coming wrath because of the faith of your parents or grandparents. You aren't safe from the coming wrath because of your blood-line. You aren't safe from the coming wrath because of your traditions.

B So, what is the solution to the problem of sin and wrath in the life of Christians? The solution, the only solution, is the one spelled out by John: "a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins" (Lk 3:3). Or, as Matthew's gospel states it, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near" (Mt 3:2).

In the original Greek, the word for "repentance" literally means "change of mind." Change your mind about sin – abhor sin instead of love sin. Change your mind about Satan – hate instead of love Satan. Change your mind about God and His law – love God above all and love His law.

C It is important we realize that Scripture understands a true change of mind to include three things. First, we need to admit our sin. You need to admit you are a sinner. You must be convinced you are NOT innocent. We must swallow our pride and quit numbing our guilty consciences. Unlike the Pharisee, we must stop thinking we are better than all other men (Lk 18:1-14). Like the Tax Collector we must reach the point where we cry out, "God, have mercy on me, a sinner" (Lk 18:13).

Second, we must be sorry for our sin and feel shame for our disobedience. Lots of people are sorry about being caught in their sin. Others are sorry because of sin's consequences. Judas was like that and went and hung himself. Compare him to Peter who was truly sorry for his sin of denying the Lord. True sorrow is God-centered. True sorrow grieves that it has hurt the heart of God. Like David, it cries out, "Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight" (Ps 51:4).

Third, we must turn from sin. Like Joseph in Potiphar's court, we must flee from sin and temptation. We must hate sin and run away from sin. We must hate sin enough to quit. Or, as John puts it, we need to "produce fruit in keeping with repentance" (Lk 3:8).

Did you notice how John spells out the fruit of repentance to different groups of people. To the ordinary people John said:
(Lk 3:11) "The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same."
Those who repent show concern, love, and compassion for the poor and hungry.

John also spelled out the fruit of repentance for tax collectors. These were Jews who worked for the Roman authorities. They collected more than they were required to raise and pocketed the difference. John did not tell them to quit their jobs. This only would make room for other corrupt men to take their places. He told them to remain in office but "don't collect any more than you are required to" (Lk 3:13).

And, John also spoke to Roman soldiers. These soldiers were underpaid and often coerced money from the people. John said to them, "Don't extort money and don't accuse people falsely - be content with your pay" (Lk 3:14).

D For a moment, take note of John's audience. Let me ask, to whom did John preach? To whom did John issue a call to repentance because of the coming wrath?

We already noted some general categories. John preached to the ordinary people, fellow Jews. John preached to tax collectors, lapsed or fallen Jews. John preached to pagan soldiers. All of these people were "coming out to be baptized by him" (Lk 3:7). According to John, they had been "warned ... to flee from the coming wrath" (Lk 3:7). In other words, they knew they were unclean and they saw their need for washing.

But John also preached to kings and those in high places. Our passage ends with John preaching to King Herod. Like Elijah, John was not scared to call even kings to repentance.

All of them were called by John to repent: fellow Jews, fallen Jews, pagans, and those in authority.

Meaning what? Meaning, on this Preparatory Sunday, that John is also calling you to repent, to be baptized, to be washed and cleansed. He is calling pastors and elders to repent. He is calling the governing authorities to repent. He is calling the high and mighty and the low and helpless to repent. There are no exceptions. All need to repent and believe.

E John's call to repentance is a lifetime calling. It is not something you do once or twice. It is not something you do only during Lent – as is done by many Roman Catholics. The entire Christian life is to be a life of repentance because we sin every day and need to be washed every day. Everyday of our lives we need to turn from sin and to Jesus.

IV Forgiveness of Sins
A On this Preparatory Sunday, the fourth thing we can say about John's preaching concerns the goal, the hoped for result.

Let's go back, for a moment, to the words of the angel to Zechariah. The angel told Zechariah the goal of John's ministry: "to make ready a people prepared for the Lord" (Lk 1:17; cf 1:76; 3:4).

Ready for what? Ready for Jesus and His salvation. Ready for Jesus and His forgiveness of sins. Don't forget, John was preaching a baptism of repentance "for the forgiveness of sins" (Lk 3:3).

B Forgiveness of sins. Salvation. That is the goal of John's ministry. So that sinners can be forgiven their sin. So that sinners can be saved from the coming wrath. So that sinners can be washed. There was a headline in the Visalia Times-Delta this past week: "Pardons Close out 2013."
Thumbs Up to Governor Jerry Brown who pardoned 127 people last week in time for the Christmas holidays ...
Most of the people pardoned ... were residents of California and had been convicted of drug-related offenses, but all of the offenders have had clean records for at least 10 years.
... a pardon says the deed never happened and truly wipes the slate clean.
This is indeed a wonderful gift to the offender ...
You and I are the offender. And, because of Christ, repentant sinners are pardoned sinners. Isn't that wonderful? Isn't that something to rejoice in as we prepare for the Lord's Supper?

Now we know why John's monotonous and repetitious message is "good news": because those who repent are – by grace – those who are forgiven.
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