“Prepare Yourself for the Messiah” Luke 3:1-20

Weddings have become big business in America. On average, American couples spent $25,000 on weddings. The wedding industry is booming and there is no shortage of advice. From shows like, Say Yes to the Dress, Bridezillas, My Fair Wedding, A Wedding Story, Amazing Wedding Cakes or Wedded to Perfection, there is a plethora of information about how to prepare for the big day. There are also a large variety of wedding magazine to choose from: Premier Bride, Wedding Style, Brides, Town & Country Weddings, or The Knot Magazine. It has become a booming industry to help people prepare for the big day. Weddings should be a big deal. It is very important day. It is very important day to prepare for it is a day that will alter your future. It is a day that unites two people into one flesh. I think more emphasis should be placed on the marriage over the wedding, but that is another conversation. But I think we can all agree that the bride should prepare to meet the bridegroom. All of us must prepare to meet the Bridegroom, the Lord Jesus. There is a day approaching when we will discover if we are prepared for Our Marriage, the marriage supper with the Lamb. Matthew 25:1-13:

25 “At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish and five were wise. 3 The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. 4 The wise, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps.5 The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.

6 “At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’

7 “Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’

9 “‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’

10 “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.

11 “Later the others also came. ‘Sir! Sir!’ they said. ‘Open the door for us!’

12 “But he replied, ‘I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.’

13 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.

We must prepare ourselves for the Bridegroom, the Messiah. I want show you three truths from this morning text that I believe will help us prepare for the Messiah.

By Inwardly Repenting of Sin (v.1-6)

Luke announces John as a prophet from the Old Testament tradition. After placing him in a historical context, roughly 29 AD, He said, “the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert.” Luke does not use the normal logos for the word of God. He uses the word rhema which is typically used to a specific word for a specific ministry. John had a very unique calling from God. Luke (along with the Mark and Matthew) make note the John came in the desert or wilderness. This is important as it connects John to the prophecy of Isaiah 40. The book of Isaiah can be separated in two sections; Chapters 1-39 which are more prophecies of judgment against Israel in the coming exile to Babylon and Chapters 40-66 which are prophecies of salvation from exile. Luke connects John’s ministry to that of the salvation that God will break to Israel while they are in the desert of exile. Verse 4 says, “As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, “A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. And all mankind will see God’s salvation.”

Luke wants the readers to see that God’s Word is still active. As God spoke Zechariah in the temple, he will continue to speak through his servant John. The mention of John’s location in the desert connects John to Isaiah 40 and shows that his ministry will be a crucial step in God’s plan of salvation. Isaiah 40 speaks about how God will bring a second exodus for his people modeling the first exodus. Most Jews believed that just as God led his people out of slavery in Egypt, he was going to lead his people out of bondage to Babylon. Luke is saying here that the salvation promised in Isaiah was not fulfilled in the return from the exile in Babylon, but will be fulfilled in the Anointed Lord, Jesus Christ. So, John’s specific calling to be the one the helps to prepare people for a complete and total salvation or a new exodus not from bondage to a foreign nation, but from sin and death. So how was this going to happen? What was John’s message? Verse 3 says, “He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”

John challenged people to prepare the way for the Lord by inwardly repenting of their sins. The concept of repentance is not only important to the ministry of John the Baptist, but it also important throughout Luke’s gospel.[1]The Old Testament idea for repentance is turning or to return. It is often viewed as one changing their point of view or perspective. John was challenging people to change their way of thinking. They needed to live differently and the way to live differently is to think differently. People needed to understand that they lived under responsibility before God. God was coming to bring salvation, but he was also coming in judgment. The salvation that God brings will remove every obstruction that stands in His way. It will be like a highway cleared through a mountain. His salvation will explode mountains and hills to dust so we may see his salvation. Similarly, listen to Isaiah 57:14, “And it shall be said, “Build up, build up, prepare the way, remove every obstruction from my people's way.” God will fill every valley, straighten every road, and smooth out the rough places so that all mankind can see His Salvation. But for one to experience that salvation, they must repent. They must change their mind in their relationship with God.

Beloved, we cannot experience salvation unless we repent of our sins. When we are confronted with our own sinfulness, we arrive at the proverbial fork in the road. We either are going to run from our sin or we are going to run from God; we will either hide our sin or hide in the shadow of the cross? My former pastor use to say, “the difference with a Christian and a Non-Christian is that when a Non-Christian is confronted with their sin they will side with themselves against God while the Christian will side with God against himself and his sin.” So beloved how do you respond when you are confronted in your sins? Do you try to justify yourself or do you understand that you are desperate for grace?

We know that John was coming with the Spirit of the Lord for he did everything against the dominate culture. Listen to verse 7, “John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?” This is not typically how speakers are trained. Ruler #1 – Do not insult your audience. Isn’t that exactly what John did? You children of snakes. How far do you think John would have gotten in our American culture? The message of sin and our need for repentance is never popular in fleshly hearts. In our flesh we want to justify ourselves and minimize our need to change. Are we any different than John’s audience?

John assumes that certain people are going to attempt to justify themselves with God. Verse 8b, “And do not begin to say to yourselves (do not begin to justify your place with God), ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 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 Jews took comfort in their heritage. They believed that because of their privileged place in God’s plan (and it was and is a privileged place) that they were exempt from this baptism of repentance. But John’s message was a continuation of the Old Testament Covenant. People were coming to be baptized into the promise of the coming Messiah. Remember at the start of John’s ministry, Jesus had not yet begun his public ministry. Jews were being baptized into the same hope of the coming of the Messiah. The baptism of John paved the way for the later baptism of Jesus. We will look at this more in a moment, but listen to Acts 19:4, “4 John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” 5 On hearing this, they were baptized into[b] the name of the Lord Jesus.” So the Jews were being baptism into the same promise, but this baptism was more related to the proximity to the time when the promise was to be fulfilled. The time is now. John implies this with statement like “the coming wrath” and “the ax is already at the root of the trees.” The time of salvation and judgment is now.

Many Jews believed that their spiritual heritage was going to spare them from this judgment, but spiritual heritage does not justify us before God. We all are held individually accountable before God. We all must individual repent. Notice what John says, he says that God can raise up children for Abraham from stones. He can take that which is without life: stones and give them spiritual life so that they can be children of Abraham by faith. That is exactly what has happened to us!! He took our dead hearts and made them alive in Christ by faith so we are called children of Abraham. Romans 4:16-17:

16 Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all. 17 As it is written: “I have made you a father of many nations.”[c]He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed—the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.

Our salvation is an act of God. Before we can come to life, we must first realize that we are dead. John insulted the sin in his audience not to condemn them, but to expose their need for grace. Beloved, prepare the way for the Messiah by inwardly repenting of your sins.

By Outwardly Producing Good Fruit (v.7-14)

Verse 7, “7 John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” The inward repentant heart will always produce good fruit. This is very common New Testament truth. You can judge a tree by its fruit. Good fruit equals a good tree. Bad fruit equals a bad tree. Apple trees do not produce orange. Orange trees do not produce apples. A heart that has truly repented will produce good fruit. Before we look at what good fruit is, we must first look at John’s motivation to produce this fruit.

Verse 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.” And again in verse 17, “His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” The Lord Jesus comes in judgment and in salvation. This world stands condemned because of their sin. Every human being desires to be cut down and thrown in the fire. This is why we must repent and confess our sins to God. And this is why Jesus came. He came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. John’s motivation is very simple: Everyone who does not repent and bear good fruit will burn with an unquenchable fire. So John urges his readers, as I urge you: repent and bear good fruit.

You may be thinking like John’s hearers, verse 10:

“What should we do then?” the crowd asked.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.”12 Tax collectors also came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?” 13 “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them. 14 Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?” He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”

Three different groups are mentioned: the crowds (v.7), tax collectors (v.12) and soldiers (v. 14). You will notice that with all three groups John tells them to look away from themselves to serve others. To the crowds John says to share their clothing and their food with those who do not have any either. A mark of a repentant, believing heart is those who are generous to the poor with their possessions and their food. We do not look to hold what we have, but we give to those who are in need.

Tax collectors also came to be baptized, “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?” Notice that they came with respect by calling John teacher. Tax collectors were not well liked in the community. They were responsible to collect taxes for the Roman government, but also were given the freedom to collect taxes to cover their own expenses. Many tax collectors took advantage of their fellow citizens by charging more than what was necessary to line their own pockets. John does not tell them to change jobs just do it with honor. Stop thinking about yourself and feeding your greed, but only collect what is required. Again you see that repentance has a “loving your neighbor” goal.

Soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?” He replied don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.” The word extort their literally means to shake figs which is where we get our terminology for shaking someone down. These soldiers must not shake people down for more money. Soldiers also would extort money by the use of fraud. John says stop abusing your position as a soldier and be content with your pay. Again, we see repentance has a benefit in blessing others.

Bearing fruit that is keeping with repentance means that we are generous with resources and our time for the sake of others. Notice how in all three of these cases repentance has something to do with money. Did you know that the average Christian gives less today than they did during the great depression? The average church member gives less than 2% of their income to the Lord. The New Testament never mentioned giving a 10% of your income for they assumed that was only the starting point. 2 Corinthians 9:6-7 “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. 7 Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” Can I challenge you that if you are not currently giving your tithe to start? How your handle your checkbook is one indicator of whether you have truly repented? No man can serve two masters. You cannot serve both God and money.” It is hard to let go of money, but should repentance be easy? It is very easy to say we have repented, but the ax is ready at the root of the trees and every tree that does not talk about good fruit will be cut down …wait…every tree that does not produce good fruit.

Have you repented? Are you producing fruit in keeping with repentance?

By Upwardly Pointing to Jesus (v.15-20)

John’s ministry created some buzz among the people. Verse 15 says, “The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Christ.” The people looked at John’s ministry and were amazed. It would have been easy for John to receive the credit for his ministry, but instead he upwardly pointed to the Lord Jesus. Listen to his response in verse 16:

John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the throngs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

John did what we should all do. When people come to us and our impressed with our lives, we should point to Jesus, the one who is more powerful than us. It is very easy to believe in your own hype and press releases. I have always loved John’s heart for the goal of his life was to make much of the Lord Jesus. He is so great and so powerful I am not even worthy to untie his sandals.

What makes Jesus so great? Three things, first Jesus baptizes with the Holy Spirit. While John’s baptism only pointed to the coming of the Messiah, the baptism of Jesus actually fulfills the promise by taking our heart of stone and giving us a heart of flesh. His baptism is greater because He sends the Holy Spirit into our hearts. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! (2 Cor. 5:17)” Secondly, Jesus is the Savior. Only Jesus saves. “His winnowing fork is in HIS hand to clear HIS threshing floor and to gather the wheat into HIS barn.” The only way to be gathered into his barn is to be baptized by the Holy Spirit or to be born again. We must be saved. We are saved when we repent and believe. Romans 10:9-10 9 That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. When we repent of our sins and trust in Jesus Christ alone for our salvation, He saves us and gives us a new nature; a nature that desires to please the Lord. This is why we must bear fruit that is keeping with our repentance. Our lives must match up with our new nature.

Thirdly, Jesus is the judge. Listen to Acts 17:30-31 30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.” When we are judged by God, we will be judged by the man Christ Jesus. In that day, our sin will be fully exposed and we will be compared to Jesus Christ and his holiness and we will not measure up.

Now look at Luke 3:18, “And with many other words John exhorted the people and preached the good news to them.” This is good news. But God has provided a way to save us!! We cannot stand in his judgment so God sent the man, Christ Jesus, to be judged on our behalf. Therefore, if anyone turns from their sin and believes in Jesus Christ, they will be saved. Jesus is more powerful than John because only Jesus overcame death in his resurrection from the dead. His resurrection is offered to us when we repent. John’s audience thought this was good news; do you? For not everyone believes the message of Christ is good news.

Verse 19, “But when John rebuked Herod the tetrarch because of Herodias, his brother’s wife and all the other evil things he had done, Herod added this to them all: He locked John up in prison.” Herod was a wicked man. John confronted him in his sin and he sided with his sin against God. Herod did not repent, but continue to do evil by locking John in prison. The unrepentant heart will always try to silence the Word of the Lord, because it wants to remain in their sin.

This is why I am consistently challenging people to make the church more of a priority. We do not want to silence the Word of the Lord, but rather we want to hear it, even if it speaks against us. For as Christians, we must always choose the side of the Lord. This is why historically Baptist churches have always made the Word the center of their services. We want to hear the Word of the Lord.

Where are you this morning? Are you more like Herod? Do you get angry when people point out your sins and try to silence the Lord’s voice? Or are you like the tax collectors and the soldiers that realized their sin was great before God? Their sins were many, but they were forgiven through their repentance and faith. Prepare yourself for the Messiah, repent of your sins, bear good fruit and give all the glory to the Lord Jesus. Let’s pray.

[1] BECNT. Bock. 287