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All Flesh Shall See

August 13 2023

Book: Luke

Scripture: Luke 3:1-20

This is not the main point of today’s sermon – but one of the things I want to convince you of today is that what we are doing right now is the most important thing happening in our world. Churches faithfully preaching and hearing the Word of God. There is nothing more important you could be doing right now. There is nothing more worthy of your time. There is nothing more crucial to the transformation of lives and communities.

Luke wants to convince us that is true, among other things.

1 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene,

2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness.

There are at least two reasons why Luke gives us the names of all these important men. One is to establish the context – what we are about to read is real, historical narrative. This actually happened. This story has a date. It has a place. It was a real event.

But second – Luke wants us to know that the most important thing happening in the world at that time had nothing to do with the Romans or the Jewish leaders or the priests. The most significant thing happening in the world at that time was the word of God coming to John in the wilderness.

3 And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

4 As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet,

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:

‘Prepare the way of the Lord,

    make his paths straight.

 5 Every valley shall be filled,

    and every mountain and hill shall be made low,

and the crooked shall become straight,

    and the rough places shall become level ways,

 6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”

John was the prophet of prophets. He preached warning of judgment and the need for repentance, just like the Old Testament prophets. But there was a significant difference. Almost no one listened to the prophets of Old Testament until it was too late.

John’s ministry was different. Crowds of people listened and responded to his ministry. And it had to be the work of God because listen to how John preached.

7 He said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?

How’s that for a sermon introduction? “What are you snakes doing here?” That’s what he said to his audience!

8 Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.

9 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

There is nothing careful or winsome about this sermon, is there? John was not a “seeker sensitive” preacher. “Do you think you’re safe from God because you’re Jewish? Think again. Repent or burn.”

10 And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?”

Notice that people are actually responding to this message! It brings conviction and a desire for change. Maybe we don’t need smoke machines and light shows to get people to respond to our preaching. Maybe we need to talk more about sin and judgment.

“What should we do?”, they ask. In other words, how do we bear fruit in keeping with repentance? We don’t want to be cut down and thrown into the fire!

John’s preaching led them to a moment of crisis.

11 And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.”

Repent or burn! What should we do? His answer: care for the poor. That’s how John replies.

12 Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?”

13 And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.”

This is important. Tax collectors were hated by everyone, because everyone knew they taking extra tax money for themselves and they were protected by the Romans.

And this is where we begin to see John’s purpose. John was sent to disrupt the social order. It’s right there in the prophecy from Isaiah, back in verse 5. Every valley will be filled. Every mountain will be laid low. The crooked path made straight. The rough made level.

John’s purpose was to prepare the world for Jesus by disrupting the social order. Even the soldiers came to hear John!

14 Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.”

It sounds like a simple idea to us – care for your neighbors. Don’t take advantage of people. Don’t abuse your power. But in the context of ancient empires, this teaching was revolutionary.

It shows us the heart of God. The most important thing happening in the Roman empire had nothing to do with emperors, or governors, or tetrarchs. It was the ministry of a man wearing camel hair telling people to repent and care about the poor.

John applied the word of God in such a way that the social order was disrupted – not by the government, but by repentant sinners – choosing to love their neighbor.

15 As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ,

16 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.

17 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.”

He’s talking about Jesus, of course. But notice how John describes Jesus.

John emphasizes the judgment of the Messiah! But a careful reading of verse 17 shows us that His judgment has already been made. All that is left is the gathering – wheat into the barn and chaff into the fire. Jesus came to clear the room.

And that’s how Jesus would describe his own ministry later in Luke 12:

49 “I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled!

50 I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished!

51 Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.

52 For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three.

53 They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

This is a somewhat disturbing and cryptic message from Jesus. He mentions fire in verse 49, baptism in verse 50. He promises to completely disrupt the social order – even dividing families!

All of this confirms what John said about Jesus in Luke 3. Jesus had a mission far greater than John’s with much greater consequences.

This is a good time for us to go ahead and finish our text. We will come back and tie all this together.

John was not a threat to the Roman governors, because his preaching promoted law and order. He was not a threat to the Jewish priests, because his preaching promoted things they claimed to care about.

But John’s ministry was a threat to someone.

18 So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people.

19 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,

20 added this to them all, that he locked up John in prison.

John’s preaching about judgment and repentance was a threat to Herod because John publicly rebuked Herod for incest and adultery. Herod responded by putting John in prison and later beheading John at his wife’s request.

This was the final purpose of John – to expose a false king – a king of unrighteousness… and by exposing Herod, John prepared the way for the true King, the King of righteousness.

Now – where do we see the heart of God in this story? We see it in God’s concern for the poor. But we also see, already, our need for grace and God’s provision of grace.

It would be easy to read the story and focus on the fruit of repentance demanded by John. But what was God’s purpose in John’s ministry? His purpose was to disrupt the social order to prepare the world for the One who would disrupt people’s hearts.

John leveled the field. He showed us that no one deserves to escape the wrath of God – not even the best among us, not even the preacher!

John is probably the second most righteous person in the story, second only to Jesus – but even John knew that he was not worthy to untie the sandals of Jesus.

The people we think are important… the people we think deserve our praise… the people we think are the best among us… when we stand in judgment before God Almighty, none of us deserves His favor. All of us fall short of the glory of God.

And what is it that separates the saved from the unsaved, according to John? He clearly tells us in verse 16. It is nothing we do. John recognized that his own ministry was insufficient. Like the law described in Galatians, John’s message exposed sin, but it could not change hearts.

We need the work of Jesus to baptize us with the Holy Spirit. But first, Jesus Himself had to endure the baptism of God’s wrath for our sin.

John told the crowds that people with two cloaks should share with him who has none. And perhaps some of them did it. But that’s not what saves us.

What saves us is Jesus Christ, who took off His cloak of righteousness and gave it to His people who had nothing to offer God.

Remember that Luke wrote this Gospel for the outsider… for the doubter. And maybe that’s you. Do you see the heart of God here? His concern for people being exploited by the rich and the powerful? But do you see that even the prophet doesn’t consider himself worthy?

Are you beginning to see that only Jesus is worthy? That the proud among us need to be humbled? That we are unclean and lost and facing great danger apart from Christ?

Even Herod was given an opportunity to repent. Instead, he protected his sin and killed the messenger. If we’re honest, this is what the whole world would do. It’s what we did.

As we study Luke, we are going to watch Jesus expose people’s sin, call them to repentance, and then we’re going to watch the people crucify Him.

That’s what it means to be lost. But as Isaiah said, all flesh will see the salvation of God.