Luke begins chapter one of his gospel by telling of the prophesied forerunner to the Messiah. Zacharias and Elizabeth give birth to the forerunner, and they name him John, as the angel Gabriel instructs. John is the forerunner as the prophet Micah describes.
After one year of ministry, Jesus confirms John is the forerunner. Quoting Micah 3:1, Jesus says, This is the one about whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send My messenger ahead of You, who will prepare Your way before You.’ (Luke 7:27)
A forerunner goes before a more important person. An example of a forerunner is a trumpet-blower who announces the arrival of a king. John has a calling on his life to make ready for the King of kings. John is chosen by God to blow the trumpet for people to make ready for Jesus.
God’s word came to John
Luke is an excellent historian. He gives defining detail of when John begins ministry; it is in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar. The people listed provide interesting details, but they are not important to the passage.
What is important is the phrase the word of God came to John. John is a prophet of God. John does not speak of his own will and desires. God fills John with His Holy Spirit while John is in the womb.
Application: Believe John speaks with the authority of God
John is going to make startling statements. He doesn’t mince words, and he is very direct. We need to believe John speaks with the authority of God. John’s words are God’s words. John speaks for God.
Much of John’s preaching is lost in today’s culture. We must be sure to listen carefully to what John says. He speaks with the authority of the Creator of the universe. John’s words are just as valid today as they were 2000 years ago.
Take heed to John, because he speaks with the authority of God.
God will glorify Himself
John’s ministry is to preach a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. John’s ministry of baptism earns him the name, John the Baptist.
The baptism of John is a symbolic washing. The Jews understand what it means to wash in a religious way. The Law of Moses instructs priests and people to wash utensils, garments, and their bodies as a way to make themselves holy and set-apart for God. The outward cleansing is symbolic of an inward purification.
To repent is to have a change of mind. We repent when we realize we are wrong and need to change to get right. Wrong thinking results in wrong speech and actions.
We need to repent when we are in disobedience to God’s ways. We must change our minds immediately. Biblical repentance is changing to be right with God. We are wrong and God is right.
John is helping people to repent. His baptism symbolizes a setting aside of their old ways for a new life of serving God.
Luke is a historian and a theologian. He likely learns much of his theology from the many years spent with the Apostle Paul. Writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Luke tells us that the ministry of John is prophesied by Isaiah.
Luke quotes Isaiah 40:3-5. John is the voice crying in the wilderness. It is the voice of the forerunner to the Messiah, telling people to make ready the way of the Lord.
The forerunner is making way and telling people to eliminate obstacles which may prevent them from seeing the glory of God in all His splendor and majesty. Repent. Put aside sin. Be washed. Make yourself clean because you don’t want to miss His arrival.
Isaiah uses the metaphor of a construction project. Mountains are taken away. Rough terrain is made smooth. Valleys are raised. The crooked is made straight. Everything is prepared so the red carpet can be rolled out, and the King of kings may enter. The construction takes place in the heart!
Every man, woman, and child will see the glory of the Lord pass before their eyes. Imagine seeing God’s glory! It is like nothing we have ever seen. Gazing on creation is beautiful, but imagine looking upon the Creator of the Milky Way, Grand Canyon, and the bird of paradise.
Moses hid in the cleft of a rock while the glory of God passes in front of him. We are not to hide, but be present. God’s glory will be visible for every eye to behold.
When Moses is in the cleft of the rock, God describes to him what he might see if he could see. But, on that glorious day when God’s glory is revealed to all flesh, every eye will see the radiance of the one who sits on the throne of heaven.
John is calling people to be ready to behold the compassion and grace of God. They can look and see His abounding lovingkindness and truth. The beauty of His forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin is on display. People see the One who judges evil and punishes the guilty. (Exodus 34:6-7)
The glorious sight we see is the cross of Christ.
Application: Believe God will glorify Himself
The surest thing in the universe is that God will glorify Himself. It is His nature. God will not tolerate disobedience to His sovereign authority. The universe is not good as long as disobedience exists.
God will rid the creation of the sin of disobedience and in doing so, He will glorify Himself. God will accomplish His glory by doing two things.
First, God offers forgiveness of sins. He is abounding in lovingkindness. He will cleanse those who have sinned by making way for them to receive forgiveness. God is glorified as the Savior who makes people holy and righteous.
Second, for those who refuse to receive God’s offer of forgiveness, God will glorify Himself by being a lawful Judge. He shows He is Just by not allowing the guilty to go free. There cannot be disobedience in the Universe.
God’s glory is that He forgives, and He judges the guilty. God will glorify Himself.
God is bringing judgment against sin
John asks the crowds, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?”
John does not mince words. He calls them snakes. There is nothing complimentary about his preaching. Is John unkind? The word of God came to John. Is God unkind?
God is very kind. If God were unkind, He would not send a prophet to tell people they must flee His wrath.
Part of preparing the way for the Messiah is to warn people of God’s impending judgment against sin. God will pour out His wrath like never before.
People fail to take sin seriously. In the time of Noah, people scoffed at God’s judgment. In Sodom and Gomorrah, they scoff again. Israel pays no attention to Isaiah when he warns them of the coming Babylonian captivity.
Application: believe God will judge sin
Today, people make fun of God, His laws, and His judgment.
This world thinks sinning against God is no big deal. People laugh at hell. John says the correct response is to flee God’s wrath.
How many stories have we heard about people who are told about an impending natural disaster, and they fail to flee the area? They don’t believe it affects them, so they stay home and do nothing. Disaster strikes and their lives are taken. If we have faith in God’s word, we will flee the wrath to come. We believe it is coming.
Do we believe in the judgment of sin? Are we fleeing the wrath, or do we think we can ride out the storm? Hopefully, we all recognize that God hates sin.
God is providing a way to be saved from His wrath
John the Baptist tells people that there is a way to flee the wrath to come. God’s glory is that He judges sin and that He provides a way of salvation.
To be saved, people must bear fruits in keeping with repentance.
It might seem that John is preaching a gospel of works. John is not telling people of a different gospel. Remember, the word of God came to John. God doesn’t have John the Baptist preach one gospel in preparing the way for Jesus, and then have Jesus preach another gospel.
There is only one gospel from the beginning of the Bible to the end. There is an Old Testament and a New Testament, but there is only one gospel.
The Apostle Paul tells King Agrippa that he has been preaching to the Gentiles, “that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance (Acts 26:20).”
We are saved by faith. Repentance and faith are two sides of the same coin. In the process of salvation, repentance is necessary. We must admit that sinning is wrong. We must repent of our sin. True repentance results in the fruit of a changed life. The word fruit is plural, which implies that repentance impacts all areas of life.
John warns the Israelites not to say, ‘We have Abraham for our father.’ Don’t rely upon your bloodline for salvation. Just because you are born as a descendant of Abraham doesn’t mean you receive the salvation blessings of Abraham. We only need to look at Ishmael and Esau to know that it is true.
Those that fail to heed the warning to repent will suffer eternal consequences. John tells people that they are like trees. At the root of their tree is an ax that is ready to chop the tree down and throw it into a fire. Bearing the fruit of repentance is supremely necessary.
Application: Believe God provides a way to be saved from wrath
Salvation is an individual choice. Having a family that attends church doesn’t qualify anyone to be saved. As Keith Green says, “Going to McDonald's doesn’t make you a hamburger.” Going to church doesn’t make anyone a Christian.
Do you want to flee the wrath to come? Believe God provides a way to be saved from His wrath.
We know you will believe it because there will be evidence. Repentance is not lip service but bears the fruits of repentance. John gives examples of what genuine repentance will look like in the life of a believer.
God expects evidence of repentance
Everyone is asking John, what shall we do? John gives concrete examples. The man who has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and he who has food is to do likewise. Show the fruit of generosity.
If you are a tax collector, don’t collect more than what your job requires. In other words, don’t be a cheat. Show the fruit of justice.
If you are a soldier, don’t use your authority to take money by force. Don’t be an extortionist. Deal justly with people. Be content with your wages; don’t try to get money corruptly from people. Show the fruit of humility.
The fruits of repentance show in how we treat one another.
Application: Demonstrate genuine faith with love.
John the Baptist is not saying anything new. All of John’s examples speak of loving our neighbor. The Law of Moses is about loving our neighbor. The Law of Christ is about loving our neighbor.
When the Apostle John writes to the church that we ought to love our brother and sister in Christ, he says, He says, “Beloved, I am not writing a new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning (1 John 2:7).”
The examples John the Baptist uses are found in the New Testament. We are told to put off the old and put on the new. We are called to conform to the image of Jesus. The fruits of our repentance are seen in the way we love other people.
Genuine faith is a faith that loves others. James writes that genuine faith will not see a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and say to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled.” Saving faith will give them what is necessary. He says faith without works is dead faith. I will show you my faith by my works. (James 2:14-18)
James could have just as easily said, “if someone says he has repentance but he has no works? Can that repentance save him?”
Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire
There is an air of expectation in Judea. People are looking for the Christ. Perhaps they heard about Simeon, Anna, or the shepherds in Bethlehem. People are looking for the Christ, and they are wondering if John is Him. But we know from Luke that John the Baptist is not the Messiah, but His forerunner.
They have good reason to think John is the Christ. He is a prophet with a large following, and He is a good man.
Jesus will say of John,
“I say to you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John …” (Luke 7:28)
John the Baptist is great, but he is not the Christ. John tells people that he is not. He says he only baptizes with water, telling people to repent. But, there is one coming who is far greater than he. He is so great that John is not worthy to untie His sandals. John doesn’t feel worthy of doing a menial servant task for Jesus.
John speaks of Jesus and says that He will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. Don’t be confused about the word fire as though it is a good thing. People often mistake the word fire for what happens at Pentecost. The Holy Spirit appears as though it looks like tongues of fire, but it is not fire. In the context of the passage, John speaks of the fire of hell.
Jesus is greater than John because of His authority. John gives an illustration. Jesus is like a farmer who reaps a harvest with a winnowing fork. The fork separates the good wheat from the chaff. The wheat goes into His barn. The chaff is burned with unquenchable fire.
What John is saying is that the reason Jesus is greater than He is that Jesus has the authority to grant the Holy Spirit, and save people. And, Jesus has the authority to condemn people to the fires of hell. In the context of this passage, the wheat is those who bear the good fruits of repentance. The chaff is those who do not. The axe is ready to cut them down.
Application: Believe Jesus is the “winnowing fork” of eternity
Jesus is the Messiah. Believe Jesus is the winnowing fork of eternity. When we die, we will stand before the throne of Jesus. He is the Judge of all people. Everyone will go to one of two places. People will be gathered into His barn, which is heaven, or they will be cast into the unquenchable fire of hell. The wheat and the chaff.
The Bible leaves no third choice. There is one Judge and one way to be saved. There is no other way.
The word of God came to John the Baptist. Do you hear his words? God is calling all people everywhere to repent of their sin and to bear fruits worthy of repentance. Those who respond to the word of God will live eternally.
God’s salvation encounters resistance
John is on a mission of exhortation. To exhort is to insist or strongly urge. God’s word is not a suggestion; it is an exhortation. God does not send a prophet to make suggestions that we may listen to or dismiss if we don’t like them.
People don’t like exhortations. They don’t think John the Baptist should be in their personal business. John the Baptist’s calling is from God. He speaks as a prophet to all people. John doesn’t care if you are a pauper or a king; John fears God rather than men. He will tell people the truth of how God things.
Herod doesn’t want to hear that he is wicked. He likely thinks John is a cute little sideshow in the wilderness until things start getting personal. Herod doesn’t like John’s exhortations, so he casts John into prison. In doing so, he adds one more wicked thing onto a long list of wickedness.
Application: Expect resistance when exhorting people to repent.
We are to be like, John the Baptist, the Apostle Paul, and Jesus. When we share the gospel, we need to let people know they must repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance (Acts 26:20).
The reason people resist the gospel is that they don’t think they need to change. Nothing is further than the truth. Genuine faith is accompanied by the fruits of repentance. Everything was fine with John until he points out sin.
People have no problem when you tell them to believe in Jesus. It’s when they learn they must change their lifestyle that they will resist. Even as believers, we offer resistance when people tell us we need to repent. The flesh resists the exhortation to repent.
The Apostle Paul gives a shortlist of people who will not go to heaven.
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-10)
Isaiah, John the Baptist, the Apostles, and people through the history of the church encounter resistance to repentance. We also will encounter resistance to repentance.
God loves us and wants the best for us. Continuing in sin wreaks havoc on our relationships and yields destruction. Nothing good ever comes from being in sin. God wants us to find unspeakable joy. Therefore, He is offering a way for us to find that joy, and it is by repenting from our sin and putting our faith in Christ. Bear fruits in keeping with repentance.
 (a sermon from this passage in Isaiah may be found here: https://redbarnchurch.com/Archives/comfort-o-comfort-my-people/)