“The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. John answered them all, ‘I baptise 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 baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Luke 3:15-16)
The Bible account suggests that John the Baptist’s ministry had been attended with almost incredible success, as if the whole population of the country had been roused in mass by the news of his preaching. And yet, as he said himself, his wasn’t the main event, only the prelude. “One who is more powerful” is coming. He was only “A voice calling.”
But what did he call? What did his message mean?
It was first off, a warning about an imminent danger – like a sign posted at a traffic black spot. “Danger Ahead.” And the warning was to “Flee from the wrath to come...” This is the thought that impelled John Bunyan to write the classic allegory Pilgrim’s Progress, whose hero embarks on a perilous journey away from the “City of Destruction.” Be warned.
Nowadays, it is certainly not popular to preach “hellfire and damnation,” but the desire for popularity often robs us of integrity. And the Bible declares that the warning stands. It speaks of consequence.
The logic is that if you live without God, then you will die without Him. If you reject His love, and live lovelessly, then He accepts your decision.
In a nutshell, John’s message meant that sin has consequences. And secondly, that there is a chance to put things right.
And so, “They were baptised, . . . . confessing their sins.” John offered them the chance to say sorry, to acknowledge the sin of their past life and to make a clean start.
But you have to admit to what you have done.
When did the Prodigal get the robe and the ring? When he had the courage to face up to what he had done wrong, mile by mile, inch by inch…. the sneers of the servants, the sarcasm of his brother… when he faced up to it all, and said “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you.”
When did the sinner go home ” justified”? When he said, even next to a snotty self-important Pharisee, “God be merciful to me a sinner.”
When did David hear the words, “The Lord has also put away your sin?” When he admitted -“I have sinned before the Lord.”
If you have secrets -and who doesn’t?- they lay like lead on your heart. If you want to live in peace with yourself, then open up, confess, repent.
The apostle John wrote: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:8-9)
This is what the Baptist brought: the opportunity to make a clean breast of it, and the chance to start new.
And all this was preparatory to the coming of Christ. When John said “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world,” he was pointing to the decisive action of God in the light of human failure. All have sinned! But all can be redeemed! Over all of John’s preaching there is the shadow of the Cross
The Lamb of God was the price paid, and the sacrifice made. In the lines of the old hymn:
“There was no other good enough to pay the price of sin, He only could unlock the gates of heaven and let us in.”
Third, and finally, John preached of a new power enabling us to walk in righteousness:
“‘I baptise 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 baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
It’s not enough to recognise the danger of living without God; I have to respond with confession, repentance and the public act of baptism. But there’s more. As Ezekiel prophesied, long before: “I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.” (Ezk 35:27) I’m going to enable your obedience!
God calls you to a repentance that is real
to a heart that is renewed
to a spirit refreshed and at rest…
“Repent and be baptised”
“Be filled with the Holy Spirit.”