International Sunday School LessonStudy Notes
Lesson Text: Luke 3:7-18Lesson Title: Putting Commitment into Action
You may have heard the old saying, “This is where the rubber meets the road.” The implications of that statement is that there comes a time when you must apply what you have been taught or practice what you have professed. It carries with it an emphasis on reality. After centuries of prophecy concerning the coming Messiah and the fulfillment of those prophecies in the birth of Jesus Christ, it is now time for the Saviour of the world to be presented. God sent John the Baptist into the wilderness of Judea to preach repentance in fulfillment of Isaiah 40:1-5 and prepare the way for the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ. Once John started preaching, the “rubber met the road!”
Thirty years has passed since Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem. It is now time for the work of redemption on earth to begin. The stage is set, the people are in place, the political figures are in power, and now comes John the Baptist with a message of repentance that will shake his listening audience to the core. You may question John the Baptist’s wardrobe and diet (Matthew 3:4) but you can’t question his commitment. There is more to this servant of God than appearance, appetite, and actions. He is fearless in his denunciation of the spiritual state of his listeners and faithful to the truth of the doctrine of repentance. John the Baptist is “commitment personified.”
The person and ministry of John the Baptist was a real as you and your ministry. The people to whom he preached were as real as our neighbors and those people in our Sunday School classes and churches. Like all the prophets of the Old Testament, John’s authority and power came from the Lord. He was a man filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb (Luke 1:15). Although we live over 2,000 years later, we should learn from this committed servant of God to be faithful to God’s message and never be ashamed to proclaim truth.
John’s Commitment to Preaching Repentance (Luke 3:7-14)
John’s preaching is described in Luke 3:3 as “…the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.” Luke 1:16, 17 explains the meaning of “the baptism of repentance” in the use of the word “turn.” Notice the repetition of the word “turn.” John’s preaching will “turn” many of the Israelites to the Lord their God. This is the meaning of repentance: a turning of the direction of our life and the affections of our heart. John promises the people "forgiveness of sins" in response to their repentance, their turning to God, but he calls them to demonstrate the seriousness of their turning by accepting water baptism in the Jordan.
John’s message of repentance and baptism was very offensive to his Jewish kinsmen. It meant that unless these religious Jews were willing to repent and be baptized, they would not be saved. In other words, they could not rely on being a Jew for salvation. The same is true for Jews and Gentiles. There is no salvation in your race or religion. It is only those who have had a change of heart that will see the kingdom of God.
True repentance recognizes the “wrath of God” (Luke 3:7). John was committed to preaching the truth about everlasting, divine wrath. The “wrath” (Luke 3:7) is referring to is not a spur of the moment emotion of anger from God, but rather a settled, determined indignation on God’s part because of His hatred of sin. How close were John’s listeners to God’s “wrath?” John says the “axe is laid unto the root of the trees” (Luke 3:9) meaning they were eternally close! The judgment of God was imminent upon these people and their nation. Only repentance could save them.
John challenged the people to “bring forth fruits worthy of repentance…” (Luke 3:8). The “fruit” would be evidence of their sincerity in believing the truth concerning Jesus Christ as the only way of salvation. It wasn’t going to do John’s listeners any good to just be baptized (Luke 3:7). They must repent of their sin of unbelief. John didn’t want them to think they could come to him like snakes out of a fire and all they had to do was slither into the Jordan River and all was well. And don’t fool yourself into thinking that you can be raised in a Christian church, receive infant baptism, learn the catechism, be confirmed, and that will save your soul. It doesn’t (John 3:3, 7; Ephesians 2:8, 9; Romans 10:9). Repeating a prayer with a television evangelist or getting caught up in some emotional experience does not constitute biblical salvation. You cannot “flee the wrath to come” (Luke 3:7) by joining a church or being baptized.
John also warned his listeners not to say, “We have Abraham to our father…” (Luke 3:8). He didn’t want them to think they had nothing to fear from the wrath to come because they were children of Abraham. Salvation is not genetic! It doesn’t get passed down because you’re Jewish or because you’re whoever you are. John’s listeners were basing their eternal hope on their genes. They were Abraham's offspring. They were the people of the promised blessing. But that didn’t save them. Many people today believe they are saved because they of their religious heritage. I’m Baptist. I’m Lutheran. I’m Catholic. I’m a conservative. John says, “Don’t go there.” There is no salvation in that stuff!
“Every tree therefore which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire” (Luke 3:9). Messiah’s coming would bring salvation and hope but it would also bring judgment upon the unrepentant. The evidence of genuine repentance is in the “fruit” of righteous deeds. Romans 2:5-8 says God is going to judge our works or “fruits.” We aren't saved by our works but they are the evidence that we have been saved by grace (Ephesians 2:10).
Three groups responded to John’s warning with a question, “What shall we do then?” (Luke 3:10). What could they do to show evidence of real repentance? John’s specified appropriate actions for each group of hearers. First, to the “people” or multitude (Luke 3:10), John said, “He that hath two coasts, let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do likewise.” Generosity is certainly a mark of an individual who is right with God. The “coats” (Luke 3:11) referred to by John was a “tunic” or an undergarment. Since a person only wore one of those garments, if they had two, that meant they had one to spare. The point is if you have anything you don’t necessarily need, share it with someone who has nothing. How does this relate to repentance? The evidence of repentance is that the individual who would share what he has is demonstrating a love for his neighbor and a selfless nature. Second, the “publicans” or tax collectors (Luke 3:12) were told to “exact no more than that which is appointed you” (Luke 3:13). This represents honesty. It was common knowledge that tax collectors, like Zaccheus, took more from the tax payer than was required. So, if a “publican” wanted to prove he had genuinely repented, he must be honest. Third, the “soldiers” (Luke 3:14) were to “do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages.” They were not to take money from people by force. They were not to misuse their authority. They were also not to “accuse any falsely.” You have no claim on New Testament Christianity if you live a life of dishonesty and fraud. Finally, they were to be “content with their wages” (Luke 3:14). Discontent over wages can make honest men corrupt. This represents integrity. All of these righteous virtues show honesty, integrity, and a changed life.
John’s Commitment to Presenting Christ (Luke 3:15-18)
According to Luke 3:15, the people “were in expectation” which led them to “muse” or wonder whether John could be “the Christ” or the Messiah. John clearly indicated here, and in John 1:19-29, that he was not their Messiah, but only His forerunner. He did that by distinguishing the difference between his own baptism and the Messiah’s baptism. John said, “I indeed baptize you with water; but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose woes I am not worthy to unloose: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire” (Luke 3:15). John’s point was that he could baptize the people in the Jordan but Jesus Christ could baptize them in the Holy Spirit. John could do a human thing but Jesus could do a divine thing!
Only God can “baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire” (Luke 3:16). John is emphasizing the deity of Christ with that statement. John’s listeners understood prophecy enough to know that when Messiah come the Holy Spirit would also come (Isaiah 42:1; 61:1; Joel 2:28, 29). So, what John is saying to them is this, the Messiah is way beyond me because He gives the Holy Spirit. I can't do that. Ultimately the fulfillment of the baptizing work of the Holy Spirit was seen on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4). The baptizing “with fire” may refer to the purifying aspect of the baptism of the Spirit (Acts 2:3), or it may refer to the purifying work of judgment that the Messiah will accomplish (Malachi 3:2-3). The latter seems more probable in view of the work of judgment described in Luke 3:17.
Luke 3:17 describes the truth of Luke 3:16. The “baptism of fire” is like the winnowing process. What Messiah is going to do can be illustrated by an agricultural illustration familiar to the Jewish people because grain was grown in Israel. When the grain was gathered it was brought to a flat hard floor for winnowing, or the removal of the chaff from the wheat. A flat shovel was thrust under a pile of grain and then thrown in the air. The breeze would blow the lighter chaff, or straw, away from the grain and the grain being heavy would fall down. At the end of that process when all the grain had been picked up and thrown into the air, it would then be piled in the middle and the chaff would be lying on the outside edges and the separation was complete. When the separation was done, the wheat would be taken to the barn, and the chaff would be burned with fire (Psalm 1:4; Jeremiah 15:5-7). “He will thoroughly purge his floor” (Luke 3:17) means there will be no traces left, everything will be dealt with. You either fall in the pile of grain or you are in the pile of chaff. Saved or lost!
Luke ends this section of John’s ministry by telling us that John preached “many other things unto the people” (Luke 3:18). John did powerful and straightforward preaching. His preaching was so different from the felt needs preaching of today that it is sometimes difficult to compare the two. He was committed to truth and to preaching the truth no matter who listened in his audience. Such commitment should challenge Christians today to be faithful in teaching and living the truth.
There are so many people today who call themselves Christians who have no understanding of the nature or need of repentance. John understood that a failure to repent led to selfishness and false security. We need to be committed today to teaching and preaching the biblical message of repentance. Repentance means you come to a biblical understanding of your own personal sin. You recognize divine wrath. You reject religion and ancestry. You demonstrate a changed life in the fruit of true repentance. And you receive the true Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ.
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