If you are a Christian, then one of your deepest longings is to see others come to know Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. And yet who among us has not felt tongue-tied when an opportunity to tell someone about Christ was staring us in the face?
I still remember an incident from my college days over 30 years ago. I was in a group discussion class where our grade depended on having interesting discussions that captured the attention of the rest of the class. So we would discuss subjects such as sex, drugs, sex, racism, sex, politics, sex, etc. On every issue, I took the biblical view of things, although I didn’t openly identify myself as a Christian. A guy named Ralph always took the liberal, worldly view. He favored free sex, homosexuality, drug use, and everything else that I was against.
After one class, he came up to me and said, “I want to ask you a question: Are you for real, or are you just putting us on in there?” He caught me off guard and I didn’t know what to say, so I just said, “Yeah, that’s really the way I am.” But I never mentioned Jesus Christ as the reason for why I believed in moral behavior. Over the years as I’ve thought of my failure, I have prayed for Ralph, that God would bring along another Christian who would boldly tell him about the Savior. It was my failure in that situation that motivated me to get some training in how to share my faith.
I believe that it is very helpful for every Christian to receive training in how to share the good news about Jesus Christ. While I cannot provide such training in a single message, I do want to go over some essentials that we must cover if we want to point people to Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Our method and manner of presenting these truths will vary, but in some way people must clearly understand these issues.
John the Baptist’s life and ministry pointed people to Jesus Christ. As John 1:8 explains of John, “He was not the light, but came that he might bear witness of the light.” In our text, we see how John pointed people to Christ. It is significant that at the beginning of the passage, people are speculating about whether John himself might be the Christ. But by the end, where Luke reports Jesus’ baptism, even though John was the one doing the baptizing, he isn’t even mentioned! John has completely faded from view and, as with the disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration, we are left with Jesus alone and a voice from heaven confirming Him. Even so, if we want to be used by God to point people to the Savior, we must fade from view and leave the person with Jesus alone, along with the divine testimony, “This is My beloved Son in whom I am well-pleased.” That God the Father is well-pleased with God the Son is at the foundation of the gospel message we are to proclaim.
Luke uses this section to take John, the forerunner, off the scene and to authenticate the person of Jesus Christ, whose official ministry is inaugurated in Luke 4:14. The genealogy of Jesus (3:23-38) and His temptation (4:1-13) also serve to authenticate Him. Darrell Bock (Luke [Baker], 1:345) comments,
The emphasis here is that heaven has spoken. God has revealed his choice. Much as a political party puts its stamp on a presidential candidate, so here God has shown who will accomplish his plan….
The testimony of heaven is that Jesus is the beloved Son. When God speaks, the reader is to listen.
From John’s ministry and from the Father’s testimony, we can learn three elements that we must employ if we want to point people to Christ:
Pointing people to Christ requires confronting their sin, warning of the reality of the coming judgment, and exalting His supremacy over all.
As we have seen, John’s message is summed up as “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Luke 3:3). Repentance from sin and faith in Jesus Christ are at the heart of the gospel. A person who does not see and feel himself to be a sinner has no reason to need a Savior. If I came up to you and said, “I have great news! The governor has just offered you a pardon from prison,” you would not be very thrilled with that news, and you might even be offended. Why? You are not guilty of any crime deserving of prison. But, if you have just been convicted of a serious crime and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, my announcement would be the most welcome news you could imagine.
If you walk up to a person who is not a Christian and say, “I have great news! God loves you and Jesus Christ died for your sins,” the person will not appreciate your message and he might even get offended. He will think, “Of course God loves me! God is love and I’m a basically loveable person! But as for this sin stuff, I’m only human and I have my faults, but I’m not that bad of a person. Why do I need Jesus to die for my sins?”
How do you get a person who thinks of himself as basically good to see the utter sinfulness of his own heart so that he will see his need for the Savior? God’s method is to preach His perfect Law to the sinner so that he sees how utterly he has failed to keep that Law. “Through the Law comes the knowledge of sin” so that a man sees that he is accountable before God (Rom. 3:19, 20). Thus the Law becomes “our tutor to lead us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith” (Gal. 3:24).
We see in Luke 3:19 that John the Baptist preached the Law even to Herod Antipas. Herod had divorced his own wife and seduced Herodias, the wife of his half-brother, who was also his own niece. By so doing, he was guilty of both adultery and incest. John confronted Herod with this violation of God’s Law, along with other wicked things that he had done. We don’t know if John did this in a private interview with Herod, through a sermon when Herod was present in the audience, or if John’s public rebuke of Herod in his absence got back to him. But John boldly proclaimed that the ruler was under the same Law of God as the common person. Sadly, Herod did not respond with repentance, but rather added to his many sins by locking John up in prison and later executing him. But in spite of the consequences, John didn’t soften the message, because he knew that neither Herod nor anyone else would come to Christ unless he was first convicted of his sin.
Herod’s treatment of John should alert us to the fact that we may not be warmly welcomed when we bring up the matter of a person’s sin. But even so, we must remember that we do no one a favor by tiptoeing around the sin issue. Modern evangelicalism has fallen into the trap of marketing the gospel as the way to have a happy life, but we often minimize or sidestep the serious nature of sin. But until a person comes under the conviction of the Holy Spirit so that he sees that he is justly guilty before God, he will not appreciate God’s grace that was shown to us in the cross of Christ. Being forgiven little, he will love Christ little.
The Bible tells us that sinners are “darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality, for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness” (Eph. 4:18, 19). Obviously, we cannot break through all the defenses that sinners have erected to justify themselves as they continue their course of sin. Only God by His mighty power can break through their hardened hearts and reveal Christ to their souls. He does it primarily through His Word, both written and preached.
Thus one of the best ways you can confront a sinner with his sin is to get him to read the New Testament. He won’t be five chapters into Matthew until he reads that if he has been angry with his brother, he has broken the commandment not to murder. If he has lusted after a woman in his heart, he has broken God’s commandment against adultery. You can also give him tapes of sermons by preachers who preach God’s Law. We have an excellent video in our church library, “The Ten Cannons of God’s Law,” by Pastor Ray Comfort, that will help you understand how to use God’s Law in your witnessing to bring people to conviction of sin. But remember, you are not really pointing a person to Jesus Christ unless you help him to see that he is a guilty sinner, under the just condemnation of God’s holy Law.
John the Baptist made it clear that the coming of Jesus the Messiah would cause a division among people. Some would be wheat gathered into His barn, but others would be chaff which He would burn up with unquenchable fire (3:17). This illustration was familiar to all of John’s hearers. When a farmer harvested his crop, he would thresh the grain with a heavy sledge that separated the kernel of wheat from the outer shell or chaff. Then he would take a shovel-like winnowing fork and throw the wheat and chaff into the air when there was a breeze. The chaff would blow to the side, while the heavier wheat would fall to the ground. The chaff would be swept up for burning.
It is a picture of God’s coming judgment. There will be only two destinies. Either by God’s grace through the new birth, you become wheat and bear fruit unto eternal life; or, by remaining hardened in your sin, you live a life that is fruitless in light of God’s purposes and you will go into unquenchable fire. The Greek word for “unquenchable” is asbestos. While the flames of hell are probably figurative language, God uses the most frightening imagery possible to warn us that the torments of that place of eternal punishment are so awful that no one would dare risk going there!
Along with playing down the seriousness of sin, modern evangelicalism often sidesteps the horrors of hell. The mood of our culture is tolerance, love, and forgiveness. We don’t want to punish prisoners, but to rehabilitate them. If, after years of appeals, a murderer is actually put to death, we do it in the most painless way possible, through lethal injection. But even that form of capital punishment is opposed by many. As a result, when we talk to sinners about the gospel, we feel like we have to apologize for God and skirt around the unpleasant matter of hell. The dominant theme of our message is, “God loves you just the way you are.” But the Bible clearly warns that “he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36).
In personal witnessing, people need to know that if they do not repent and believe in Jesus Christ, they are simply storing up wrath for themselves in the day of the righteous judgment of God (Rom. 2:5). While this may be difficult news, it is ultimately good news. Note Luke 3:18: John’s warnings of judgment are described as his preaching the good news to the people. If it is true that God’s awful judgment is ahead, then even though it may not be pleasant to think about, it is eternally good news to tell people that God has provided the way of escape. We have not told them the gospel if we dodge the warning of God’s coming judgment.
Again, one of the best ways of communicating this is simply to let the person read the Bible. Jesus spoke more about hell than anyone else. Let the person read Jesus’ words, so that you get out of the way and he stands face to face with the Word of God. The idea that basically decent people will all go to heaven someday apart from repentance and faith in Christ is radically opposed to the Word of God. We must warn sinners of the coming judgment.
John the Baptist would later say about Jesus, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). John was not jealously trying to promote himself and his ministry. He wanted people to look beyond him to Jesus alone. Even though in the flesh he could have tried to capitalize on the wave of popularity over his ministry, John humbled himself and exalted Jesus Christ. We must imitate his example in our witness to the lost. To do this …
John tells people that his baptism is merely with water, but that Jesus’ baptism is far more powerful, since it will be with the Holy Spirit and fire. More of this in a moment, but for now the point is that John humbled himself and pointed people to Christ. Also, John humbled himself by acknowledging that he was not even worthy to untie the thong of Jesus’ sandals. This was viewed as such a degrading act that even Hebrew slaves were not required to do it.
If we want to point sinners to Jesus, we must humble ourselves so that they do not stumble over us. Sometimes we Christians come across to unbelievers as if we are not sinners. They usually smell the hypocrisy and turn away in disgust. We need to let lost people know that by nature, we are the same as they are. We are just beggars telling other beggars where they can find the Bread of Life.
Jesus is exalted here both by the witness of John and by the witness of God the Father at His baptism. We see that …
Jesus is supreme in the power and holiness of His person.
John confesses that Jesus is “mightier” than he is and that he is not worthy to untie Jesus’ sandal thong. It is not an easy thing for a man to admit that another man is mightier than he is. But John knew that even though Jesus was younger than he was, Jesus existed before him (John 1:30) because Jesus is God in human flesh. By His power, He holds the very universe together (Col. 1:17). The miracles He performed bear witness to His power. Liberal scholars who explain away Jesus’ miracles are not bearing witness to the Jesus of the Bible. He is Almighty God and nothing less!
By saying that he was not worthy to untie Jesus’ sandal thong, John was acknowledging the inherent holiness of Jesus’ person. John was a godly man by human standards, but in his heart he knew that he wasn’t even in the same league with Jesus. Jesus later could ask His critics, “Which of you convicts Me of sin?” (John 8:46). He repeatedly claimed that He was obedient to the Father’s will and spoke only what the Father commanded (John5:19, 30;
Jesus is supreme in the power and effects of His ministry.
When John contrasts his water baptism with Jesus’ baptism by the Holy Spirit and fire, he is saying that Jesus does inwardly what John’s ministry outwardly symbolizes. A person can go through the outward ritual of water baptism, but it is of no effect unless Jesus does a supernatural work in his heart through the baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire.
How should we interpret this baptism of the Spirit and fire? There are several views. There is only one preposition (“with,” Greek, en) governing the two words (the NIV is incorrect in repeating “with”), so that it refers to one baptism. Thus it seems to me that this baptism must apply to one group, those who respond to the gospel. The Holy Spirit regenerates these people and progressively purges them from their sins by His purifying fire. The unquenchable fire of verse 17 refers to the eternal punishment of those who reject the gospel. Alexander Maclaren (Expositions of Holy Scripture [Baker], Luke, p. 76) explains it this way, “Either we shall gladly accept the purging fire of the Spirit which burns sin out of us, or we shall have to meet the punitive fire which burns up us and our sins together. To be cleansed by the one or to be consumed by the other is the choice before each of us.”
The point is, Jesus is the Person who by His coming divides all humanity into two eternal camps. Either you repent of your sins and believe in Him, resulting in His giving you the Holy Spirit to empower you and purge sin out of your life. Or, you go on in your sins and die in them, facing the terrifying fire of eternal judgment.
Jesus is supreme in the powerful affirmation of Him by the Father and by the Holy Spirit.
The way Luke presents Jesus’ baptism minimizes John’s role (he is not even mentioned) and even downplays the baptism itself. Rather Luke emphasizes that after the baptism, while Jesus was praying, heaven was opened, the Holy Spirit descended in the form of a dove, and a voice came out of heaven affirming, “You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased.”
The fact that Jesus would even submit to baptism signifies that at the outset of His ministry, He identified Himself with the sinners He came to save. Luke emphasizes Jesus’ prayer life, which shows His dependence as the Son of Man on the Heavenly Father (there are seven references to Jesus praying in Luke: 3:21 [baptism]; 5:16 [growing fame]; 6:12 [choosing the 12]; 9:18 [just before Peter’s confession]; 9:29 [Transfiguration]; 11:1 [before Lord’s Prayer]; and, 22:41 [Gethsemane]).
The fact that heaven was opened shows that in Jesus, God was breaking into human history. The Holy Spirit’s descent as a dove probably points to the gentleness and purity of the Spirit, and also shows the Holy Trinity united in the launching of Jesus’ ministry. The affirmation of the Father from heaven relates to two Old Testament texts: Psalm 2:7, where the Father says of Messiah, “You are My Son”; and, Isaiah 42:1, “Behold, My Servant, whom I uphold; My chosen one in whom My soul delights. I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the nations.” (Note the clear reference to the Trinity in this Old Testament passage!) The Father’s being pleased with His beloved Son assures us that He is satisfied with His offering Himself on the cross for our sins. If we are in Christ, the Beloved, then we are accepted in the presence of the Holy God.
When you bear witness, always bring people back to the exalted person and work of Jesus Christ. If they bring up objections or questions, answer them briefly if you must, but steer the conversation back to Jesus Christ. If we lift Him up, He will draw men to Himself (John 12:32).
Even if you have not seen the popular movie,“Titanic” (I have not and don’t plan to), you know the basic story. The supposedly unsinkable ship hit an iceberg on her maiden voyage, sending 1,517 people to their watery graves. What you may not know is that most, if not all, could have been saved. Another ship, the Californian, had passed within sight of the Titanic and made radio contact at 11 p.m. At 11:30, the captain and wireless operator on the Californian went to bed. Ten minutes later, the Titanic hit the iceberg. Although the officer on duty on the Californian saw the distress rockets from the Titanic, he wasn’t sure what they meant and he couldn’t arouse the sleepy captain. A report testified that if the Californian had responded, many, if not all, of the lives that were lost could have been saved.
We may condemn the captain of the Californian who slept while 1,500 people perished nearby. But aren’t we often guilty of the same thing if we’re complacent while people around us perish? We need to be sensitive. I’m not suggesting that we use offensive methods. But we must not hold back from warning people about sin and judgment. We must tell them about the supremacy of Jesus Christ and how they must trust in Him alone as their Savior from the wrath to come. I pray that we all would join John the Baptist in pointing people to Christ, even if it costs us as it did cost John.
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 1998, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation