Repentance isn’t just feeling sorry for what you’ve done; you change it. And repentance addresses specific behaviors. It does no good to repent for something you don’t do, and keep doing something else you shouldn’t.
Luke: The Gospel for Everyone
Repent! Any questions? You’re free to go.
Welcome to the Summer Bible Series—we are working our way through the gospel of Luke. And today we are in Luke 3, which is the story of John the Baptist’s ministry, the baptism of Jesus and His genealogy. I’m going to quickly walk us through the whole chapter, then I want to come back to John’s message of repentance and talk about what it means for us. Then I’ll invite the worship team to come back; we’re going to take some time to recalibrate our lives back to Jesus.
Offering: Our Big Deal this year is Think 3: think 3 generations into the future. One of the most important things we can do is invest in the generations coming up behind us. And one way to do that is through our children’s ministry, Life Center Kids. Every weekend we love and teach over 600 children in Life Center Kids, from newborn through 6th grade. It requires hundreds of volunteers who are willing to Think 3 and see the value of investing in our children. Would you be willing to be one of these volunteers? We need you, especially this summer when all our volunteers, like you, are taking vacations—we have lots of extra spots to fill. If you’d like to help, you can:
Go to our website: lifecenter.net/servekids
Use our app to sign up: serve kids is on the home page.
Stop by the info center tables and fill out a contact card to serve kids.
Also, serving in LC Kids is a great way to get involved here and meet people. 1-2-3! 1-Church. 2-Rooted. 3-Team! That team may be a Life Group or a serving team.
1. John’s message: Repent!
1 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene—2 during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.
Last week we saw that Luke did not begin chapter 2 by saying, “Once upon a time,” but “In those days.” Luke wants us to know that this is not a fairy tale. This story really happened; it’s grounded in history. And nowhere is that more clear than here, where Luke names the Roman Caesar (Tiberius) and Roman governor of Judea (Pilate), regional rulers (Herod, Philip and Lysanias), and the Jewish high priests (Annas and Caiaphas). Using those names for dating, this was around 26-28 AD. The dates differ because of several variables. For example, Tiberius was co-regent with Caesar Augustus from 11-14 AD, and assumed sole power in 14. So do we count 15 years from 11 or 14? At any rate, some time between 26-28 AD, the word of God came to John in the wilderness.
3 He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 4 As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet:
“A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.
5 Every valley shall be filled in,
every mountain and hill made low.
The crooked roads shall become straight,
the rough ways smooth.
6 And all people will see God’s salvation.’ ”
Luke cites Isaiah 40:3-5 to explain John’s ministry. In those days, when a king visited, workers went before him to prepare the way. They literally smoothed the roads for him—like our street crews are busy doing here this summer! God sent John to prepare the way for Jesus, not by smoothing roads, but by changing hearts, calling people to repent.
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. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 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.”
John was a fiery preacher! How would you like it if I preached like this? “You brood of snakes! Hypocrites! Do you really think you can escape God’s judgment? You rely on your religious pedigree. “I come from a Christian family.” Do you think your pedigree will save you? Not a chance! You need to change your ways! You need to bear fruit that shows you’ve really changed. If not, God will cut you down like a barren tree and throw you in the fire! Turn or burn!”
We’re not used to confrontational preaching. We prefer preaching that makes us feel good. Good preaching should result in life change. Scottish pastor Thomas Chalmers was once congratulated on a sermon. He replied, “Yes, but what did it do?” John preached for action, for change, and got it!
10 “What should we do then?” the crowd asked.
11 John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”
12 Even tax collectors 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.”
“What should we do?” That was the question on everyone’s lips. Three groups ask John this question.
First, the crowds ask, “What should we do?” And John tells them to share with those who have little or nothing. Share your food, share your clothes—meet the basic needs of those who lack them. The Christian faith has social implications; we not only love God, we love people. And love is practical: love is doing what’s best for others no matter what it costs you. Love means we share what we have. What should we do? Share!
Second, the tax collectors asked, “What should we do?” And John told them to collect only what’s required. Tax collectors got rich by exacting more than required and pocketing the difference. What should the tax collectors do? Stop ripping people off. Be an honest tax collector! It fascinates me that John didn’t tell them to stop being tax collectors—tax collecting was a despised occupation—but to start being honest right where they were. Change starts right where we are.
Third, the soldiers asked, “What should we do?” And John tells them to be content with their pay, and don’t extort money or accuse people falsely. Soldiers could abuse their authority for personal gain. Be an honest soldier.
For each of these groups, repentance meant specific change. Repentance isn’t just feeling sorry for what you’ve done; you change it. And repentance addresses specific behaviors. It does no good to repent for something you don’t do, and keep doing something else you shouldn’t. This is deflection.
ILL: Brian Coffey tells this true story about his family.
My mother’s grandfather was a coal miner in the hills of eastern Kentucky. She called him Grandpa Joe. By all accounts he lived hard, worked hard, and drank hard most of his life. When he was sober, he was the loving and beloved patriarch of the clan; he told wonderful stories, and the grandkids loved to sit on his lap. But when Grandpa Joe was drinking, he would disappear for weeks at a time, choosing whiskey and brothels over wife and family.
Late in his life, Grandpa Joe contracted liver disease from the alcohol and black-lung disease from the coal mines. He was hospitalized, waiting for death to come. My mother, who was 19 years old at the time and a brand-new Christian, went to visit her beloved Grandpa Joe. She wanted him to know Jesus, so she sat by his bed and gently shared the gospel.
After listening politely, Grandpa Joe looked up and said, “I don’t believe I’ve ever sinned.”
My mom was shocked, because the whole family knew about his lifestyle. She said, “But Grandpa, we’ve all done bad things. Can’t you think of just one thing you’ve done that was wrong?”
He pretended to think for a minute, and then said, “I take it back. I have sinned—once. I voted Republican one time.”
Classic deflection. What would John the Baptist have said to Grandpa Joe if he asked, “What should I do?” Stop drinking and carousing—be sober and faithful. It wouldn’t have been about his voting record.
By the way, speaking of voting Republican: last week when I mentioned Cathy McMorris Rodgers, I offended a number of people. It’s an occupational hazard—I offend someone every week! In fact, my apology for offending people will offend someone—guaranteed. The reason I mentioned Cathy last week was not to endorse her political beliefs but to draw attention to her genuine faith and concern for our community. I had just had dinner with her—there were 8 of us, half Democrat, half Republican—and I came away impressed again with her character and love for God. I’m always happy to see a politician, Democrat or Republican, who loves God and cares for our community. I shared that about her because I had just told a joke about Congress, and didn’t want you to leave here thinking that I believe there are no good people in Congress. There are many, Democrat and Republican alike, who are there to serve God and people. So my apologies to those who were offended, and my thanks to those who came up to talk with me about it. I say this all the time: move toward the other. Don’t just walk away mad. Move toward the other and have a good conversation. To those of you who did that—my thanks.
Back to Luke 3. John’s preaching resulted in action. “What should we do?” Repentance is not just feeling bad for what you’ve done; it’s changing it!
15 The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. 16 John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps 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 he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” 18 And with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them.
John points to Jesus, to “one more powerful than I.” John baptized with water, but Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. John’s baptism in water symbolized a change of heart, but Jesus’ baptism in the Spirit and fire was more than a symbol; it was the power for a change of heart. The power of the Holy Spirit changes and cleanses us.
Ultimately, repentance is not just turning from your sin; it is turning to the “one more powerful than I.” It is turning to God. John was calling people to get ready for Jesus, to turn to Jesus. Hold that thought.
19 But when John rebuked Herod the tetrarch because of his marriage to Herodias, his brother’s wife, and all the other evil things he had done, 20 Herod added this to them all: He locked John up in prison.
There are a bunch of Heroes here. Herod the Great was ruler when Jesus was born. He had ten wives and lots of kids. When he died, none of his sons were considered strong enough to succeed him, so they divided his kingdom into fourths. The word “tetrarch” means “ruler of one fourth.” Several of his sons were named Herod, including this one, known as Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee. Herod Antipas had gone to Rome, seduced his brother’s wife, Herodias, and then married her. To make it even kinkier, Herodias was not only his sister-in-law, but also his niece, the daughter of his half-brother. Did you follow all that? All of this was outrageous by any standard!
John had the courage to rebuke Herod. He spoke truth to power, something that can get you in a lot of trouble. John was not only arrested, but later beheaded for this. He knew this was a possibility when he rebuked Herod. You’ve got to admire his courage. John was the opposite of politically correct! He was honest and courageous.
I want to talk more about repentance, so we’ll come back to John’s message in a few moments. But first, let’s finish the chapter.
2. Jesus’ baptism: becoming one of us.
21 When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
John is preaching a baptism of repentance and all the people are coming to him in the wilderness to be baptized. And Jesus comes too and is baptized. Why? This is a question that has puzzled Christian thinkers going all the way back to the early church. Why would Jesus, who had no sin, need to be baptized for repentance? There are many suggested answers, but perhaps the best is simply that Jesus was identifying with us.
Luke begins Jesus’ baptism by saying, “all the people” were being baptized, and Jesus was baptized too, thus identifying Jesus with all the people. That’s us. By allowing John to baptize him, Jesus identified with us. He had no sin of his own to die for, but he died for ours. He had no sin of his own to be baptized for, but he was baptized for ours.
Hebrews 2:17 For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.
Jesus became one of us—“fully human in every way”—yet without sin. He did this so he could be our High Priest and make atonement for our sins. Jesus was baptized as one of us, not for His sins, but for ours.
3. Jesus’ genealogy: the gospel for everyone.
23 Now Jesus himself was about thirty years old when he began his ministry. He was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph, …38 the son of Enosh,
the son of Seth, the son of Adam,
the son of God.
I’m going to spare you—and me—reading all 77 names in this genealogy! I draw your attention to the first and last names: Jesus and God. Or the first and last human names: Joseph and Adam. Two quick things.
First, Matthew and Luke each include a genealogy of Jesus—and they are different. Why? Many theories have been suggested, including the idea that Matthew records Joseph’s line, and Luke records Mary’s line. That may be true, but there is no way to verify it. There is an explanation; we simply don’t know for sure what it is. The one thing we shouldn’t do is jump to the conclusion that one or both of them are in error.
ILL: Tomorrow night is game 5 of the NBA Finals. It’s Threepeat: the Warriors and the Cavaliers playing for the championship for the third straight year. Who won last year? The Cavs—after being down 3-1, they became the first team ever to come from that far back and win the title.
So, let me ask you: who was the best NBA team of last season, 2016? How many say the Cleveland Cavaliers? How many say the Golden State Warriors? You’re both right. The Cavs beat the Warriors to win the title—a strong claim to be the best team. And the Warriors set numerous NBA records in the regular season: going 73-9 (best record ever), starting the season 24-0 (best start ever), most road wins (34), longest home winning streak (54) and best record against top ten teams (21-2). All a strong claim to be the best team.
My point is that when we find seeming discrepancies in the Bible, we don’t need to rush to judgment and conclude there is an error. There is usually a good explanation—sometimes we just don’t know enough to know what it is.
Second, Matthew’s genealogy starts with Abraham, the father of the Jews. Matthew is writing his gospel for a Jewish audience. Luke’s genealogy starts with Adam, the father of the human race. Luke is writing his gospel for everyone. Jesus is for everyone.
Let’s go back to John’s message: Repent! The Greek word for “repent” is metanoeo, which means “a change of mind.” Repentance is a change of mind or heart that results in a change in behavior. It starts in the mind: you realize that what you are doing is wrong; you are headed the wrong direction and need to turn around. First is the change of mind, the realization; then comes the change in behavior or direction.
ILL: In January 2013, Sabine Moreau, a 67-year-old Belgian woman, was driving to pick up a friend in Brussels, about 90 miles from her home. But based on the faulty directions she got from her GPS, she drove all the way to Croatia—nearly 1,000 miles away. The journey took the woman across five international borders. She stopped several times to get gas and take naps, but she kept pressing onward until she hit Zagreb, the capital of Croatia.
After a few days her son got worried and called the police, who located Sabine by following her bank statements. She told a Belgian reporter, “I was distracted, so I kept going. I saw all kinds of signs, first in French, then in German, and finally in Croatian, but I continued driving because I was distracted. When I passed Zagreb, I told myself I should turn around.”
After 1000 miles and 5 international borders, she finally realized, “I’m going the wrong direction!” I know what you’re all thinking. “I’d never be that stupid.” Really? How long have you put up with something that you should have changed long ago? How long have you wandered in the wrong direction? It starts with a change of mind or heart. “I’m going the wrong way.”
But then there is a change of behavior: you have to turn around. It would have done Sabine no good to change her mind, but not change her direction. She’d still be in Croatia—or maybe in the middle of Russia by now! Repentance is not just feeling sorry for what you’ve done; it’s changing and doing something different.
Repentance is not only turning from sin; it is turning to God. It is not only realizing that I’m headed the wrong direction; it is turning and going the right direction. I was going this way—away from God. Now I turn and go this direction—toward God.
All of us are on our own were headed away from God.
Isaiah 53:6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way.
We were all going astray, going our own way. This is why the gospel starts with a call to repent.
Acts 2:37–38 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”
38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
After Peter preached the gospel, the people cried, “What shall we do?” Does this sound familiar? It’s the same response John got. “What shall we do?” And Peter, like John, said, “Repent!” Repent and be baptized. The first move we make is to turn back to God. Stop going away from him and start moving toward him! If you’ve never done this, we’ll give you a chance in just a moment. Your first move to a new life is to repent: to turn to God and move toward him.
But repentance is not just something we do to start the Christian life. It’s something we keep doing every day. Repentance is daily recalibrating our lives back to God.
ILL: It’s like driving a car. You make constant small recalibrations and occasional large ones. If you stop adjusting, you end up in the ditch.
In the same way, repentance is a lifestyle. I’m constantly adjusting back to Jesus. Sometimes it’s a small adjustment; sometimes big. But I’m keeping my eyes on him and constantly adjusting back to Jesus. Some people think that repentance requires constant focus on my sin. No—it’s just the opposite. It’s constantly refocusing on Jesus. It’s about our relationship with him.
ILL: Here’s an idea from Tim Keller.
We often hear people say: “Well, I’m not very religious, but I’m a good person and that is what is most important.” But is that true?
Imagine a woman, a poor widow with an only son. She teaches him how she wants him to live, to always tell the truth, to work hard and to help the poor. She makes very little money, but with her meager savings she is able to put him through college.
Imagine that when he graduates, he hardly even speaks to her again. He occasionally sends a Christmas card, but he doesn’t visit her, he won’t even answer her phone calls or letters. But he lives just like she taught him—honestly, industriously, and charitably.
Would you say this was acceptable? Of course not. We wouldn’t say by living a “good life” but neglecting a relationship with the one to whom he owed everything he was doing something commendable.
Of course not. What’s keeping you from being close to God? I owe him everything. I want to be constantly adjusting back to Jesus.
This is why our spiritual practices are so important—they are regular recalibrations to Jesus.
Church is a weekly recalibration. We come together to worship, to learn from God’s word, to pray, to love each other. It’s all designed to refocus us on Jesus, to remind us what’s important.
Worship is an important recalibration. Worship is focusing your attention and affection on God. Worship by definition is turning to God—it’s repentance. That’s why we spend so much time in worship.
Our time with God (PBJ) is a daily recalibration. Each day I take some time to turn toward God, and give him my attention. I let him speak to me; I let his word change me.
Prayer—and in particular, confession in prayer—is a recalibration, a turning to God. “God, where are you working in my life? Where do you want to change me?” When God puts his finger on something, and you own it, it’s the first step to change.
Repentance isn’t just something you do when you become a Christian; it’s something we do every day. We are constantly recalibrating back to Jesus.
That’s what we’re going to do now. Our worship team is coming back and will lead us in a couple songs. While we sing, I want you to repent. It may be you’re turning to Jesus for the first time. Or maybe you’re already a Christian and you’re adjusting back to Jesus. Maybe it something big you need to turn from—a sin that dragging you down and just killing you. Or maybe it’s a small turn—a micro adjustment of the wheel. But either way, you’re turning to Jesus. Sometimes we need to move—and if that’s you, feel free to come up while we sing and stand before the Lord and repent. Or, you can stand before the Lord and repent right where you are. You’ll know what you need to do. The main thing is that this is a chance to recalibrate—to turn toward Jesus. It’s something we all need to do—over and over. Let’s do it now. I’ll come back and close us in prayer.
Don’t leave now—in fact, if you’re thinking about leaving now, you really need to recalibrate!