************ Sermon on Luke 3:8 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on January 3, 2016
Preparatory for the Lord's Supper
Many people who travel to Wittenberg, Germany, the birthplace of the Protestant Reformation, stop off at castle church. It was to the wooden door of this church that Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses. When the door was lost in the great fire that consumed much of the church building in 1760, it was replaced with a solid-bronze door upon which are inscribed Luther's 95 theses.
The theses make for interesting reading. The theses rebuked church leaders for the sale of indulgences in order to finance the building of Saint Peter's Basilica. For instance, thesis 86 rebukes the pope -- who was very wealthy -- for not funding the Basilica with his own money.
Luther's first thesis is the most important one. It reads as follows: "When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said 'Repent," He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance." Luther correctly understood that repentance is not a one-time act -- like, for instance, the purchase of an indulgence. On this Preparatory Sunday I want you to realize that what Luther understood by repentance is the same as what John the Baptist understood by repentance: namely, repentance is not a one time act that takes place only when a sinner is converted to Christ; rather, it takes place every day of a believer's life.
I The Need for Repentance
A The sermons of John the Baptist do not make for good Christmas cards. Hallmark loves cards that focus on good news of great joy, Glory to God, peace on earth, and so on. But the message of John? The sermons of John can be summed up in one word: Repent!
John's message is not popular today. It is not politically correct to talk about repentance. John would never fill the pews of most North American churches because people today are not eager to hear such a message. Many people today mistakenly believe that God does not require repentance in order to become a Christian. Desiring to make conversion to Christ as easy as possible, many pastors go along with this and never mention sin or repentance in their sermons. For instance, Joel Osteen -- the pastor of a mega-church in Houston -- doesn't preach about sin in his sermons but instead just wants to give people a boost for the week. Osteen needs to be reminded about the message of John the Baptist. And, he needs to be reminded that the first recorded sermon of Jesus has exactly the same message as John: Repent (Mt 4:17).
B John would not be popular today. But he was very popular in his day. We are told that in response to his message "crowds [came] out to be baptized by him" (Lk 4:7). John must have had a tremendous impact on the Jewish nation. I say that because the Jewish historian Josephus says much more about John than he does about Jesus. We might be appalled by this but remember that Jesus concealed much of His ministry until right before His crucifixion and resurrection. John, however, operated very publicly; his sermons and his baptisms were done in the open for all to see and to hear.
C John was "preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins" (Lk 3:3). John was preaching this as the last and greatest prophet of the Old Testament period. Yes, John's ministry is recorded in the New Testament but his life and ministry took place as part of the old covenant era.
Why do I say this? Because we tend to think of baptism as being part of the New Testament era and circumcision as being part of the Old Testament era. But this is not accurate. The Law of Moses does not use the word baptism, but it does prescribe many baptisms for various kinds of uncleanness and defilement. For instance, an Israelite who touches the carcass of an animal that walks on paws must wash his clothes and is considered unclean until evening (Lev 11:28). Same with an Israelite who touches a lizard or a rat (Lev 11:32; cf Lev 11-15; Numbers 19). Moreover, a Gentile who converted to Judaism was baptized to remove all his defilements.
Within this context, John preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Lk 3:3). Within this context John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, "Produce fruit in keeping with repentance ..." (Lk 3:8).
What is the message that John was saying? What is the message that the crowd was hearing? John was saying, "You are unclean. You are unclean like those who touch a lizard or a rat. You are unclean like a Gentile." How unclean were the people? John went so far as to charge the people with being sons of Satan. He said to the crowds, "You brood of vipers" (Lk 3:7). He was calling them sons and daughters of the serpent.
I trust we all realize, on this Preparatory Sunday, that you and I are no better than the crowds who came to the Jordan. We, too, are unclean. We, too, have been stained and contaminated by sin. We, too -- apart from Christ -- are sons and daughters of the Devil.
D Do you hear John's warning for unclean sinners? John says, "Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?" (Lk 3:7). Hear what John is saying? Wrath is coming. The wrath of God is coming. The wrath of God is coming against the uncleanness of men. The wrath of God is coming against the sin we are born with as well as the sins we personally commit. We are talking about hell and hell fire. We are talking about a place where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. We are talking about God's dreadful and eternal judgment.
John stated that the judgment of the world is at hand, soon to happen:
(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.The bad trees are about to be cut down, says John. You are about to meet your Maker and Judge, says John.
It should not surprise you that if Joel Osteen does not preach on sin he doesn't preach on wrath and judgment either. Joel Osteen, and pastors like him, are doing their people no favors. People who aren't warned about sin and wrath don't seek cleansing. People who aren't warned about sin and wrath don't know they need to repent. People who aren't warned about sin and wrath don't realize they are a brood of vipers and in the camp of the Devil.
My brothers and sisters, are you like the crowds who came to see and hear John? Are you aware of your sin as you prepare for the Lord's Supper. Are you aware of your need for cleansing. Are you aware of the coming wrath of God. Are you aware of the need to be ready to meet your Maker and Judge. That's the question I want to ask you on this Preparatory Sunday.
II The Fruit of Repentance
A What is John's answer to being unclean? What is John's solution? How is his audience to get ready?
First of all, John condemns a wrong answer. Did you hear what he said?
(Lk 3:8) "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."
In talking about this verse Billy Graham famously said, "God has no grandchildren." This means no one is saved by the faith of their parents or grandparents. "God has no grandchildren." You aren't saved by the faith or piety of those who came before you. "God has no grandchildren." Each new generation must repent and believe for itself. Over the years I have seen how easily formalism, historical faith, and tradition can fool church members into wrongly thinking they are saved though they do not have a personal relationship with God in Christ. Year after year they attend the church's worship. Perhaps they send their children and youth to the Christian School and to Catechism. But they are simply going through the motions. None of it is real or heartfelt. It is something they do because they were brought up that way. Do not say to yourselves, "We have Abraham as our father," because God has no grandchildren.
B So what is John's right answer to being unclean? What is John's solution? How is his audience to get ready? What is the message to us on this Preparatory Sunday?
(Lk 3:3) He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.Do you hear his solution? People need to repent and be baptized. They need to turn from their sin and be washed.
John's word for repentance means a "change of heart or mind." Repentance is a change of heart brought about by God through the operation of the Spirit. That means repentance is a gift. It is an act that the Holy Spirit works in us. It does not originate from within us. It cannot originate from within us because repentance is foreign to our stubborn, rebellious hearts.
C Repentance, a change of heart, always includes four elements. First, admission of sin. We must quit pretending we are better than others. We must swallow our pride and admit we are sinners. David said, "I know my transgressions" (Ps 51:3). And, in the Lord's Prayer, the Lord Jesus taught us to pray about our sins/debts/transgressions.
Second, repentance includes sorrow for sin. The Apostle Paul talks about "godly sorrow" (2 Cor 7:10). This is not sorrow about being caught. This is not sorrow for the consequences of what was done. This is not just a feeling of regret. Judas deeply regretted that he betrayed Jesus. He felt miserable about what he had done. He was seized with remorse that he had "betrayed innocent blood" (Mt 27:4). But this is not godly sorrow. When Arnold Schwarzenegger was caught committing adultery, he expressed remorse that he hurt his wife and family but it wasn't godly sorrow. Godly sorrow is shame and remorse because we have sinned against God and hurt the heart of God. The prodigal son expressed godly sorrow when he said, "Father I have sinned against heaven" (Lk 15:21).
Third, repentance includes a prayer for forgiveness. Once you know and admit your sin, once you know you have hurt the heart of God, you want to be right with God. So, the tax collector prayed, "have mercy on me a sinner" (Lk 18:13). And, Jesus taught us to pray, "Forgive us our sins ..." (Lk 11:4).
Fourth, repentance includes a change in direction. Repentance, true repentance, means we stop the sin that grieves and hurts the heart of God. In other words, repentance means you are sorry enough to quit. It means you hate and forsake the sin because it displeases God. It means you make a clean and complete break. It means you turn from sin and to righteousness.
I hope you realize from these four elements that a one-time sinner's prayer is not true repentance. True repentance, as Luther stated in his first thesis, involves one's entire life.
D According to our text, when we truly repent we "produce fruit in keeping with repentance" (Lk 3:8). When we truly repent, we ask the same question asked by three groups of people in our Bible reading: "What should we do?"
The crowd asked this (Lk 3:10). They were concerned that they might be among the trees God was going to cut down (Lk 3:9). "What should we do then?" the crowd asked John (Lk 3:10).
(Lk 3:11) John answered, "The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same."Like the other prophets of the Old Testament, John showed compassion. Those who had more than they needed were to show compassion for the poor and hungry, the homeless and destitute, the widow and orphan.
The second group asking this question were tax collectors. They were considered the worst kind of sinners. The tax collectors coming to John were Jews appointed by Rome to collect taxes. They were paid a percentage of what they collected. To maximize their income many of them collected more than they were required to raise. No wonder these people were hated! No wonder they were regarded as traitors to their own people. These tax collectors also came to be baptized. "Teacher," they asked, "what should we do?" (Lk 3:12). John did not tell them to quit their jobs. Instead, he told them to do their job in a God-honoring way:
(Lk 3:13) "Don't collect any more than you are required to," he told them.
The third group asking this question were soldiers. Soldiers were underpaid and often forced the people to pay them protection money. "And what should we do?"
(Lk 3:14) He replied, "Don't extort money and don't accuse people falsely--be content with your pay."John tells them not to exploit those under their care.
We come back to what was said by Martin Luther: repentance is a lifetime thing and not a one-time thing.
Now it's our turn to ask this question: "What should we do?" As we prepare for the Lord's Supper, what should we do? How, then, should we live? What does the fruit of repentance look like in our life?
Let me answer by asking some questions. Is there anyone who needs your help? Are you taking advantage of your position? Is there someone you are exploiting? Let me answer by saying what John says: show compassion, do your job in a God-honoring way, don't exploit those under you care.
John did not turn anyone away. John did not turn away the people, the ordinary Jews. John did not turn away the hated tax collectors. John did not turn away Gentile soldiers. He accepted the repentance of them all. Telling us what? Telling us they all had a place in the Kingdom of God. Telling us that even the worst of sinners has a place in the Kingdom of Heaven if only they repent.
I've talked mostly about John and his baptism of repentance. But I need to end with Jesus. Because, as you all know, the true washing needed by sinners only takes place through the blood of Christ. That's what John's baptism was: a sign pointing forward to the cleaning that takes place in Christ. As surely as the water of the Jordan washes away the dirt from the body, so certainly does the blood and Spirit of Christ wash away the sins of the people coming to see John.
As you prepare for the Lord's Supper, congregation, repent of your sin, believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved from the coming wrath.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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