Sermon: A Case Study in Repentance (Luke 3:7-20)

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A Case Study in Repentance

Last week we looked at the ministry and message of John the Baptist.  We learned that his main message was one of repentance.  His message was to warn the people of their dire need to be saved and to turn from their sin and turn to God.  As I mentioned last week, when you tell a sinner they’re a sinner things usually don’t go very well.  We live in a world where most will not admit they are a sinner in need of salvation.  Most shift the blame from themselves to someone else.  It’s the idea that we can see with clarity someone else’s sin but our own is usually denied.

For the admission of guilt to happen God must do a work.  For a fallen human to be saddened over their sin requires God’s intervention.

I admire John because he was a real prophet.  He was a real preacher.  He was more concerned with what God thought than what people thought.  I appreciate his convictions and his commitment to the truth.  We truly need more people like John the Baptist.

Luke opens up the window into John’s preaching and allows us the privilege to see him in action, to almost hear him preach and to listen in as he speaks with his hearers about application points.  He shares with his listeners what true repentance looks like by means of application.

We should begin with a biblical definition of repentance…

When I use the word repentance, what I mean is this:

Repentance is a change of mind regarding sin and God, an inward turning from sin to God, which is known by its fruit which is obedience to God.

In other words, prior to repentance, we love sin and our thinking is all about following what we love.  Before conversion, we’re slaves to sin.  We obey sin.  After God does a work of regeneration then repentance follows, we still follow what we love but we now follow Christ because we love Him more than we love sin.

Don’t confuse repentance with forgiveness.  Don’t confuse repentance with being sorry.

When true repentance takes place, our thinking changes because what we love changes.  This leads to obedience.  Following Christ becomes our desire and our behavior follows.

We have to be very careful here, because Satan loves to tell us lies concerning repentance.

Here are a few Satanic Scenarios concerning false repentance…

He wants us to reform our behavior but not our hearts.

He wants us to think that the emotional experience of coming to Christ is repentance.

He wants us to think that saying certain words and seeking forgiveness from God is repentance.

He wants us to repent because we got caught in sin not because we hate sin.

He wants us to repent for temporal gain not for the glory of God.

He wants us to repent of lesser sins and avoid repenting of greater sins.

Satan wants us to repent of sin while leaving the door open for the opportunity to sin.

He wants us to repent of some sin but not of all sin.

Repentance is a gift of God-

Acts 11:18 (ESV)

When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.”

Repentance is the duty of man-

Acts 17:30-31 (ESV)

The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent,  [31] because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

How do we know repentance has been granted to us?  Because we begin to see sin as wicked and we begin to run toward Christ in obedience.  In other words, we obey our new Master Jesus Christ.  (Much of this introduction came from “The Unrepenting Repenter” by Jim Eliff)

Luke 3:7-20 (ESV)

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?  [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.”

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

[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 with 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.”

[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.

1. Motivation to Repent (3:7-9)

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?  [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.”

A. God’s Wrath Against Sin is Coming

As God begins to do His work within our heart, we begin to understand that we are sinners and that if something isn’t done we will experience God’s just wrath against us as His enemy.  This is scary.  This is good motivation.  It’s like we begin to use divine logic…God judges all sin…I am a sinner…Therefore, God will judge me.

God was beginning to work along the backs of the Jordan River as a called preacher told the people the truth.

Notice how important this message is for all people.  John is preaching to his listeners and giving them a very practical and crucial message.

In verse 8, he commands everyone who has been hearing him and has been baptized to bear fruit in keeping with their repentance.  Then notice in verse 9 he says that everyone who does not bear fruit will be like a tree that doesn’t bear fruit and is cut down and thrown into the fire.  This is symbolic of those people who are not bearing fruit and are also thrown into everlasting fire.

His message is a message that is difficult to preach but must be preached because all people must hear it.  Are you bearing fruit?  If you are then you can have assurance of your salvation.  If you are not bearing fruit then you should be concerned that perhaps your salvation is not genuine.  In other words, there is no such thing as a Christian that does not bear fruit.  This fruit bearing is the mark of a true Christian not simply a person claiming to be.

This is a difficult concept.  We know that salvation does not come as a result of doing good works, it’s a free gift.  However, if good works are not being produced in one’s life then that person has no reason to be confident that they are truly converted.

B. God’s Wrath Against Sin is Coming Quick

[9] Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees.

The second motivation is that God’s wrath is coming quick.  In other words, this fruit-bearing needs to happen fast.  There is no time to put it off.  There is no time to wait.  There is no attitude that says I’ll do it tomorrow.  If this is a new concept or one you’ve not considered much please consider it now.  Are you bearing fruit? Are you bearing fruit as if your eternity depends on it?

2. What Repentance Looks Like (3:10-14)

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

Notice, after John’s preaching, they met in small groups and talked about the sermon.  They were cut to the heart and asked the exact question that should be asked, What then shall we do? What does this fruit-bearing look like?  Do you see how this concept John was preaching was God’s way of making the paths straight for King Jesus?  The Holy Spirit was working on the hearts and when Jesus shows up their hearts are softened and ready to hear and obey Him.

A. Care for the Helpless

[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.

We are to love our neighbor as our self.  When our neighbor is in a situation of helplessness, we are to show them kindness.  Whenever someone is in a helpless situation we are to meet their basic needs for food and clothing.

We have to be cautious in the sense of scams and in the sense of laziness.  What the Bible means when it uses the term helpless or the term in need is usually widows, orphans, elderly, and for a time, those who are in an unexpected situation.  A house fire, an injury which prevents them from working.  If someone sits on their rear end all day and comes to you for aid, I believe the worst thing you can do is give them money or even food.  Perhaps if their belly growls a little they might lay down the video game controller and go get a job.  Godliness is shown by our care for those who cannot care for themselves.

B. Be Honest in Every Situation

Collect no more than you are authorized to do.

Here, John is specifically addressing Tax collectors who were in it for dishonest gain.  They were to collect X amount of taxes and anything over and above this they could keep.  John is commanding them to begin dealing justly with everyone.  Do not cheat people any longer, was his command.  Repentance for a Tax Collector was to leave the sin of cheating people for personal gain to being honest with people.

C. Never Manipulate the Situation for Personal Gain

Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.

Soldiers were also known to strong arm the citizens for personal gain.  For them, it was about the same; do not manipulate the situation for personal gain.  This reminds me of a gangster movie when you either paid up or your arm was broken.

John’s command to them was don’t cheat or extort money from the citizens any longer.  Instead, be content with your wages.

John, no doubt, had addressed many people with their questions.  Luke shows us specifically two groups who were characterized as sinners.  Tax Collectors and Roman Soldiers were, in the people’s eyes, the worst of the worst.  The reason Luke reports John’s words to them is because we are to see what repentance truly is and that it’s a complete life shift.

They were known sinners.  They were famous for specific sins and those were the exact sins that they were to turn from.  Now they were to renounce and turn away from what had characterized them and completely change from being thieves and extortionists to being someone people could actually trust.

3. The Greatness of Christ (3:15-17)

[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 with 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.”

By way of comparison and contrast, John the Baptist begins to show his followers the reality of the One who was coming.

John’s ministry was so great that many were mistaking him for the Messiah.  Upon hearing those words, John immediately corrected their misunderstanding.  He was in no way going to accept their praise because he was only the one who was announcing the coming Messiah, not the Messiah himself.

I only am baptizing or immersing you with water as a testimony to your repentance.  When Jesus arrives, He is so great, that He will not use water to baptize but He will immerse you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.  Most theologians believe the fire is referring to the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit resembled tongues of fire.

John shares with his followers that the Messiah is so great that he was not even worthy to perform the common duty of a slave.  the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.

4. The Vileness of Unrepentance

[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.

In verse 18 Luke uses the term Good News to describe John’s preaching.  Could it be that when sin is pointed out to folks that it’s not a bad thing but actually the beginning of the Good News?  Could it be that the old saying about before you get someone saved you need to get them lost? Could it be that John’s preaching prepared the way for King Jesus because he woke up the people to the reality of their sin?  I believe this was exactly John’s role and he accomplished it wonderfully to the glory of God.

There’s another old saying and that is, The safest place is to be is in the center of God’s will. Perhaps this is true in the spiritual sense, but it is not true in the physical sense.  Everyday believers who are doing the will of the Lord pay the ultimate price.  When we send missionaries to closed countries, don’t think for a second that their lives are not in danger.  John was in the center of God’s will and he was arrested by Herod.

Why did Herod want John locked up?  He wanted his mouth closed.  John told the truth about sin no matter if you were a king or a commoner.

Many people heard the truth about their sin and were cut to the heart and repentance was the result.  Herod, on the other hand was not cut to the heart.  He did not feel remorse over his sin but in fact, wanted it covered up.

Luke tells us that Herod had a long list of public sins:

He slept with his brother’s wife

He had done other evil acts

He locked up John the Baptist.

Luke 9:9 (ESV)

[9] Herod said, “John I beheaded, but who is this about whom I hear such things?” And he sought to see him.

So, this great man of God spent the last days of his life in Herod’s prison awaiting execution.

I really believe that Luke’s point in all this is to contrast the people’s response to Herod’s.  All heard about their sin, the people responded one way and Herod another.  There really are only two responses when we’re confronted with our sin.  Repent and believe or reject in unbelief.

God was so gracious to have John share with the people the implications of their sin.  He’s so gracious to us when we also are told that…

Romans 3:23 (ESV)

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

Acts 17:30-31 (ESV)

The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent,  [31] because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

Turn away from your sin and turn to God in obedience and live.

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