Summary: This is John’s message of repentance
Who Will Swing the Axe?
Rev. John W. Gerald
I. The Time of John’s Ministry
Luke 3:1 Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judaea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, ...
2 Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests, the word of God came unto John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness.
Since much discourse arises about the authenticity of Scripture, it is possible to ascertain by these markers, that such a person as John existed, and preached at this certain time in history. A person who does not want to believe the Scriptures will not believe even in the face of over-whelming evidence. A person convinced against his will, will have the same opinion still!
II. The Place of John’s Ministry
Luke 3:3 And he came into all the country about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins;
John traversed the Jordan valley in his ministry. His message was "repentance." He baptized thousands, even nations, unto repentance. Those who believed his message were baptized of him in Jordan.
III. John’s Message
Luke 3:4 As it is written in the book of the words of Esaias the prophet, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.
This almost wild, hairy man, clothed in a girdle of camel’s hair, shouting in the wilderness drew the attention of many passers-by, and his unusual message captured their attention. His reputation spread far and wide, thus attracting even more people. They even began to think that he must be the Messiah. Both John and his unusual message were prophesied by Isaiah. He was born under unusual circumstances, being the child of elderly parents. He was a cousin of Jesus, though they may not have known each other.
Luke 3:7 Then said he to the multitude that came forth to be baptized of him, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
8 Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance, and begin not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, That God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.
John’s message was direct and plain. He pulled no punches. He came directly to the point. He charged them with their sins. There was no "Political correctness" about it. John did not want to be guessing about the effect of his ministry. He wanted to see proofs. If a person truly repented, he would "bring forth fruits worthy of repentance." No excuses would do. No one would be saved just because he was Abraham’s descendant. It is this kind of direct, plain preaching that will get results today, but today’s preachers try very hard to avoid offenses. John was not afraid to speak the truth. That was what got him arrested, because he told Herod that it was unlawful for him to have his brother, Philip’s, wife. He also warned him about his other sins, for Herod was a very wicked man.
IV. Who Will Swing the Axe, and What Does it Mean?
Luke 3:9 And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: every tree therefore which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
John had spoken about the fruits of repentance. Now it seems that any fruitless tree was in danger of being hewn down. The axe is a symbol of God’s judgment against a fruitless tree. Jesus also warns us about fruitlessness. Is the axe of His judgment ready to take out the fruitless trees today?
Matthew 21:19 And when he saw a fig tree in the way, he came to it, and found nothing thereon, but leaves only, and said unto it, Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever. And presently the fig tree withered away.
There is a point at which our LORD will decide whether or not we will be a fruit-bearing branch. If he determines that we will remain fruitless, he will cast us off. We are saved to serve.
Luke 13:6 He spake also this parable; A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came and sought fruit thereon, and found none.
7 Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground?
The fruitless tree should be removed to make room for a fruit-bearing one. Why let the fruitless tree encumber the ground? Who will take out the dead wood? Jesus said: "My Father is the husbandman."
John 15:2 Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.