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The evangelical culture that promotes ‘celebrity preachers’ is profoundly dangerous – it puts the focus on the preacher and God tends to be relegated to the side-lines. That brings all kinds of temptations to the preacher who receives this attention, and also pressures to maintain popularity at all costs. John the Baptist faced such dangers in his ministry. We turn now to consider Luke 3:7-20 The testimony of John.
1. A solemn warning
Since baptism requires repentance and repentance requires a recognition of sin, John does not avoid this difficult subject. He speaks directly and with great courage (v7). He speaks of ‘the coming wrath’ – God’s wrath is his holy, settled attitude to all that offends his holiness. It is his appropriate judicial action against sin. There will be a future climax to the present reality of judgment (Romans 1:18). The only appropriate response is repentance, which is to be made visible in action – the ‘fruit in keeping with repentance’ (v8). John sweeps away false hopes such as ‘We have Abraham as our father’. It is not too late – the axe is ‘at the root of the tree’ (v9), but the blow has not yet fallen. There is hope of deliverance.
2. A vital question
John’s words have a profound impact: ‘What should we do then?’ (v10). True repentance must be demonstrated by action. A loud religious profession may be spurious (Matthew 7:21). John responds in a conscience-searching way:
v11 There must be open-hearted care for those in need.
v12 Tax-collectors – greedy traitors – are to do business honestly.
v14 Soldiers are not to abuse their power, but are to be content with their pay.
True repentance is life-changing, impacting a person’s character and all of his life.
3. A humble witness
Inevitably people ‘were all wondering…if John might be the Christ’ (v15). He resisted temptations to exalt his own position (see John 1:20) and bore a humble witness. Note:
(i). The inferiority of his person. He points to ‘one more powerful than I’ (v16), for whom he will perform the most menial service. John knows his role will shrink (John 3:30).
(ii). The inferiority of his baptism. John baptised with water, the symbol of inner cleansing, but the Messiah will bring the inner reality – ‘He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and with fire’ (v16) – the Holy Spirit acting like fire. The ‘winnowing fork’ (v17) indicates separation – the saved (‘wheat’) gathered in and the unsaved (‘chaff’) suffering the fire of judgment. The Messiah is both Saviour and Judge.
4. A high price
John’s imprisonment (v19) actually took place during Jesus’ ministry (Matthew 14:3). John shows great faithfulness and courage in confronting Herod regarding his immorality. The price of faithfulness to Jesus may be high, including the world’s hatred (1 John 3:13).