Grace Community Church
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Have you ever asked yourself how you identify the mark of a great pastor or preacher? What are the hallmarks of a great ministry? By worldly standards, we would imagine an accomplished speaker, eloquent in his words, quick in wit, but able to speak with just the right poise to excite, enlighten, and enthuse his hearers. Someone who draws a crowd as they fawn over his eloquence and craft. They have a well-orchestrated team of handlers who take care of everything for him in just the right way that all he has to worry about is addressing the masses. They are the object of Hollywood success in a preacher’s attire.
If you use that standard, then you set the standard at some Word of Faith preachers like Benny Hinn, who makes over 20 million a year, Joyce Meyer with a salary nearing 1 million, or Joel Osteen, who lives in a 12 million dollar home. They may have the look of success but they are false teachers and, by Kingdom standards, far from success. Some of the greatest preachers in history lived under immense pressure, meager living, and suffered for their work.
Charles Spurgeon is known as the ‘Prince of Preachers.’ He preached messages that drew crowds, but he drew them to repentance. His messages are powerful and timeless. I have volumes of his work in my study. Yet he suffered tremendously from several physical ailments and depression. Johnathan Edwards preached messages that fanned the flames of great revivals but constantly suffered physically and mentally. Martin Luther leads the great reformation but was constantly stricken with depression. The Apostle Paul constantly suffered from an unknown ailment he referred to as his ‘thorn of the flesh.” (2 Cor 12:7). Elijah, Jeremiah, Moses all dealt with tremendous persecution and the strains of life. I can tell you personally, that when you preach the gospel you suffer for it. The physical attacks, spiritual attacks, and personal attacks are the standard of the trade.
Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve looked at the ministry of John the Baptist. Luke provides some information, but we turn our attention also to the other gospel writers for a more complete picture. John comes out of the wilderness (Luke 3:2), wearing a camel hair coat, and eating locusts (Matt 3:4), and he’s preaching a message of baptism and repentance to the Jewish people (Luke 3:3). His message is fiery and sharp. He’s not trying to win the approval of men, he’s standing in opposition to the corrupt people of government, society, and religion. (Luke 3:10-14). Now Luke, after telling us who John was and the content of his preaching ministry gives us a capstone to John’s ministry. I think Luke does this because if we saw the end result of John’s ministry we would probably see him as a failure when in reality nothing could be further from the truth.
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.” 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. Luke 3:15–20 ESV
1. John Preached the Message of the True Gospel
By all worldly standards, John’s ministry was a failure. He started in isolation, coming out of the wilderness, it was short-lived at less than 1 year by some estimations, it was highly criticized by people of influence, and it ended painfully with his persecution and death. No church today would ever hire him; afraid he would be a dumpster fire to their system of worship and religion. But that was John. In fact, Jesus said there was no greater prophet ever than John (Luke 7:28).
John’s ministry was so powerful that the people thought he was the messiah; the Christ. But look at John’s response to those who were trying to be ‘messiah groupies.’
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.” Luke 3:16–17 ESV
John is saying, “You haven’t seen anything yet.” This isn’t a popularity contest. This isn’t a religious show. This is a matter of people’s eternity. I’m not even worthy to untie his sandals. In Palestine, teachers were held in such high regard that their students would fawn over them and doing everything for them, like taking off their shoes. John the baptist is setting the standard for every preacher after him. J.C. Ryle wrote that a faithful preacher will never allow anything credited to him or his office. That’ no easy task for men who are naturally gifted as high impact leaders. So preachers who are there to put on a show and entertain the crowd will find serving the gospel difficult and will easily compromise the message.
The Gospel of John 1:19-21 records that when the Jewish leaders came around to find out about him, John was certain about his role. He says clearly to them he is not the Christ, but the voice in the desert crying prepare the way of the Lord. This is a reference to the advance crew of a king, who would get the people ready for his arrival. John tells the people, get ready for I’m just the little guy.,
Then consider something even more amazing: this worthy Christ has become our servant! Remember how Jesus unlaced his disciples’ sandals to wash their feet (John 13:1–20). This was such a menial task that Peter told Jesus not to touch him. But Jesus insisted. It was a stunning reversal. Jesus is so worthy that he would have done his disciples an honor by asking them to wash his feet. Instead, he washed their feet. He did this to prepare for offering them the supreme service, the most degrading duty of all: dying for their sins on the cross. See how worthy Jesus is, see how unworthy you are, and see how gracious God is to save you into his service. (R. Kent Hughes)
2. John Preached the Message of Relationship
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.” 18 So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people. Luke 3:16–18 ESV
What John says next is really profound. The work that John was doing in baptizing people with water was the preparatory work of people’s hearts. His message was for repentance and the outward expression of the inward repentance was baptism. If you remember, this was an extremely rare and humiliating event for Jews. But this baptism wasn’t the regenerating baptism. The real baptism would come through the Holy Spirit and fire. What does this mean?
The New Testament also uses fire in reference to divine judgment (Matt. 7:19; 13:40, 42, 50; 18:8; 25:41; Luke 9:54; 12:49; 17:29; John 15:6; 2 Thess. 1:7; Heb. 10:27; 2 Peter 3:7; Jude 7; Rev. 14:10; 19:20; 20:10, 14–15; 21:8). But also it can signify renewal. The fire of Jesus was for the purification of our sins. The judgment we receive is the substitutionary judgment of Jesus for all who receive it. Those who do not accept this work will be baptized by the fires of judgment at the end of the days. But the work of Jesus with the Holy Spirit is a work of regeneration first.
The Baptism of the Holy Spirit is an immersion of your life. He leads us to truth and convicts us of our sin (John 16:13). The purpose of that conviction is a continual work of sanctification and to lead us away from sin. It’s not for show or for odd behavior, but to point us and others toward Christ. Jesus tells us in John 15 and Paul tells us in Galatians 5 that the Spirit-filled believer will be fruitful and exactly what the fruit of the Spirit looks like.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentlenesses, self-control; against such things, there is no law. Galatians 5:22–23 ESV
Now, what is all of this? It's all about relationships. Your relationship with God is not solely about heaven or hell. Sure that’s a big part of it, but the relationship we have with Jesus through the Holy Spirit today is for a continual and ongoing work of transformation. God does not have an itchy trigger finger ready to pull on His judgment. He is longsuffering (Psalm 86:15) and the coming of the Holy Spirit was for the purpose of leading all men to redemption through the substitutionary death and resurrection of Jesus.
17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. John 3:17 ESV
There will be a time in the future when the patience of God will expire and that’s what John meant when he said,
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.”Luke 3:17 ESV
The image of a winnowing fork is a harvesting instrument on a threshing floor. The thresher would throw the wheat into the air and the grain would fall to the ground but the chaff will be collected and burned away. One way to view this is that the chaff represents the people who refuse Christ’s work on the cross for the forgiveness of their sins. But I want you to see also that the work of the Holy Spirit is a refining work for your life (1 Cor 3:14-15).
17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV
Do you notice that Luke says all of this is good news (John 3:18). This is good news. Yes there is coming a time of judgment and it will be severe and there will be those who are caught off-guard by the sudden and severe judgment. But it is not necessary and not the will of God for this to happen. We have a savior. God’s made a way. This is the message of John. Repent and be baptized.
3. John Preached a Message That Brought Him Persecution
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. Luke 3:19–20 ESV
So we come to these concluding remarks by Luke regarding John the Baptist and Herod Antipas. John’s ministry was characterized by a sharp confrontation of sin. Now Herod was an Edomite, not a Jew. John didn't limit his preaching to the Jews because the gospel of forgiveness was never limited to any people. The bottom line is you cannot have forgiveness until you have a realization of sin. The Roman world was a highly secularized society and sexual immorality abounded inside the pagan temple and in the lives of citizens. Herod was no different. So what was the issue with Herod’s marriage?
First, Herod was divorced and God’s law is clear about the issue of divorce and remarrying. Secondly, Herod married his brother, Phillip’s wife, Herodias. Stick with me on this. Herod Antipas was the son of Herod the Great. Josephus tells us that Herod the Great had 10 wives and children with all these wives. Among Herod, the Great’s sons were Antipas and Antipas had two half brothers named Philip. One Phillip became tetrarch over part of Herod the Great’s dynasty and the other Philip was a citizen in Rome. The story goes that while Antipas was visiting his brother Philip in Rome he persuaded Herodias to marry him. If that wasn’t bad enough, Herodias was the daughter of another son of Herod the Great. So Antipas has married his sister-in-law and Niece. It’s incest. So John rebukes Herod for his sin.
A Couple of Interesting post-scripts to all of this: It would be Antipas who was to hear Jesus’ case when Jesus was sent to him by Pilate (Matthew 23:6-12). Herod actually has a fascination with John and when he heard about Jesus thought that Jesus was actually John who was raised from the dead (Matt 14:2; Luke 9:7). Also, when Philip dies, Herod Agrippa is given the throne. He will hear the testimony of Paul in Acts 12. It’s a tangled nepotist web of immorality.
Now Herod has John arrested because John preaches publically about Herod’s immoral marriage. It seems that it was Herodias who was more angered by John’s message and she sought to have him put to death. Mark 6:17-29 & Matthew 14:6-12 gives us some interesting details about this. But essentially, the scorn of Herodias would stop at nothing to see to it that John was killed. On Herod’s birthday, he is having a big party. These parties are more like stag parties of guys drinking heavily, lots of eating, and girls. Herodias sends her own daughter in to seduce Antipas. Josephus tells us her name was Salome and she goes in to dance for Herod (it would be something sexually explicit). Because of her dance, Herod offers her anything and, by the prompting of Herodias, demands John’s head brought to her on a patter.
John’s message was to turn hearts toward God. Prepare them to receive the forgiveness of Christ. As I said, you will not fully know God’s forgiveness without a realization of sin. When you come to that point, your crooked heart has a straight path to receive God’s grace. The message of the church is the same. The moment we compromise that message, we begin leading people astray.
We are all missionaries with the message of hope. It is the message of the gospel that we are to share with the world, but we must realize that some of the world is not going to welcome that message. Many would rather die in their sin than give up their sin, but our job remains the same. The mission of the secularist is the silence godliness. Herod had all the earthly power he needed and he died and went to hell. John had all the power he need from God and when he died he went to heaven.