Preparing the way

Sermon Tone Analysis
View more →
Some of you have heard me tell a story before of my first year preaching, when a lady decided she needed to have a sit-down with me and tell me my sermons were accusatory. She went on to tell me that in a recent sermon, I had used the word repentance 39 times! Now, in that sermon, I was preaching from the Bible and one of my texts was from Romans2.4
Romans 2:4 ESV
Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?
So it was hard in that sermon to avoid the word repentance, but in this sermon, I don’t suggest anyone keep a tally, because you may run out of lead or ink, because this sermon will involve the repeated use of the word repentance. However, I do not want this to distress anyone, because the very real truth of the matter is that if we could learn what repentance really is, and live a life of repentance, then we would experience much grace from our God, and much relief for our weary souls. We will also find ourselves more easily overtaken with joy when we learn a life of repentance.
We will be looking at the ministry of John the Baptist for the next 2-3 weeks, and one thing that is important for us to understand about John the Baptist’s ministry is that his ministry, his calling, his charge from Almighty God, was to call people to repentance. And that repentance was symbolized by baptism.
The way of repentance
A Time for repentance
A Call to repentance
A Promise of repentance
John 3:1–22 ESV
Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 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. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he remained there with them and was baptizing.
The way of repentance
A Time for repentance
A Call to repentance
A Promise of repentance
First, let us consider the time for repentance. In this case, Luke has carefully given us a timetable. In just 2 verses, Paul names nine men. Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate, Herod, Philip, Lysanias, Annas, Caiaphas, John, and Zechariah. I hope if you have been here anytime in the past couple of months that at least two of those names are familiar to you. John and Zechariah. The last we heard about John was in chapter 1, when he, as a baby, leaped in his mother’s womb at the approach of Mary, who was pregnant with Jesus, and again, at his birth, when his father affirmed his name would be John, and gave a beautiful prophetic doxology, which is an outpouring of praise to God.
Why did Luke mention the other names? This reminds us of what a detailed historian Luke was. Because he gave these names, we have a pretty good frame of time that these events took place. IN fact, because he listed each of these figures, we can know that most likely the ministry of John began between late AD 28 and early 29. We are reminded that Israel at this time is under Roman rule. He lists some of the rulers at the time. Interestingly, he also lists two priests as being High Priest. Now, Luke certainly is aware that there is only one High Priest at a time. So did he make a mistake here? Well, no. There are many theories of what was happening here.
The Romans has deposed Annas as High Priest, but he seems to have made sure that his son-in-law Caiaphas would replace him, and it is likely that Annas was really running the show, even though Caiaphas had the title. He was likely a puppet for Annas, who held the real power. One evidence of this is in the gospels themselves. We know that when Jesus was arrested, he was first brought to Annas, not Caiaphas.
Again, the fact that Luke listed each of these Roman Rulers and also the High Priest helps us to have a pretty good idea of the time period, within about a one year margin, of when John was baptizing people. We know that God is sovereign in all of his timing, and this is especially evident in how he orchestrated world events to bring about his plan of salvation for all the elect.
Galatians 4:4 ESV
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law,
A lot of meaning is packed into that phrase, the fullness of time. Much has been written about this, but let it suffice for now to say that all the world events, every person who was part of these narratives, all the placements of the various locations, even the weather and the climate at this time, all of it was carefully worked out by God to bring about the exact plan he had. He is truly a sovereign, and powerful, and knowing God. Our God is perfect in all of His ways, and He has perfectly continued to work out his plan throughout each generation.
The way of repentance
A Time for repentance
A Call to repentance
A Promise of repentance
Let us next consider, the Call to Repentance. We know about John’s birth. Last week we saw just one incident that is recorded in the life of Jesus as a boy. For John, we do not have anything about his childhood or even his early adult years. But here we are plunged right into the thick of his ministry. We see that the word of God came to John Luke3.2
Luke 3:2 ESV
during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness.
This is very similar to what we learn about many of the Old Testament prophets, and indeed, we may technically say that John was an Old Testament prophet, although we learn about him in the gospels of the New Testament. I say this because Jesus himself acknowledged John as a prophet of great significance. No one born among women is greater than John, our Lord said. He was the Elisha to come. Jesus clearly considered John to be a prophet of note. And why do I say he was an Old Testament prophet? Because his ministry took place and was completed before the atonement of the New Covenant was complete.
John, then, we may say, was the last of the Old Testament prophets. While Matthew and Mark note John’s clothing and diet, which also associate him with the Old Testament prophets, Luke instead jumps right to the ministry of John, and the message he preached. He does, however, note that the word of God came to John in the wilderness. This reminds us that very often, when God has significant dealings with his people, it happened in the wilderness.
His preaching ministry was not in a comfortable church with a pulpit and air conditioning, his platform was rocks and the crest of small hills most likely, and his place of ministry was broad “all the region around the Jordan”. It seems he went to areas on both sides of the Jordan. This is the same Jordan river that the Israelites crossed on the miraculous day, and so through this water were brought into the promised land, and now John was calling the people to a new sort of baptism, that in this same water they may find a new way to come into God’s promise.
Here in this region he proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. For some, this may have seemed offensive. Until this time, the only baptism was for new converts to Judaism. It was one of the rites of passage for a Gentile to enter into the Jewish religion. It symbolized the Gentile being unclean and in the need of cleansing in order to be accepted. THey had to do three things. They had to confess their alignment with the laws of Israel, they had to get circumcised, and they had to get baptized.
Now John has come and he is telling Jewish people that they need to be baptized, and in a sense this is scandalous to some of them. The Jews saw baptism as fit only for Gentiles. Yet many came to John to be baptized, and let us remember that this is a baptism of repentance! Add one more repentance to the tally if you would please! Repentance! Repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And so we see that for these people there was a call to repentance.
They were called to repentance by a prophet. You see, scripture reminds us that God has spoken at various times in many ways, and through prophets being one of those ways, but now he speaks to us by His son, Jesus. For these people, it was a prophet that spoke to them and called them to repentance, and this was to prepare for Jesus, but now we have even better than John the Baptist, better than Moses, better than Abraham, better than Melchizedek, we have our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and He has proclaimed his gospel to us.
No one is prepared to receive Jesus who has not repented. It was true of those called buy John and true of us today. John’s baptism looked forward, to what Christ would soon accomplish. When Christians are baptized, we look backwards at what He has done for us. If you are not right with God, that is, if your relationship with Him is impaired by sin, which is the case for all until they repent and believe in Jesus, then you must repent to receive Him. It is that simple.
And yet, even for the one who has repented and turned to Christ, a lifelong repentance remains, so that we can be constantly coming back to Christ, and each time we repent of sin, we draw closer to Him, and each time we repent of sin, we commit to fight the sin better the next time we are tempted. And so throughout our life, we grow to be more and more like Christ, since even though we have His righteousness imputed to us, so that without fear we can face our death and judgment, yet we want to live lives pleasing to Him, not living in presumption but living as though He truly is Lord and Savior, and to whom we owe all our allegiance and worship.
So the message of repentance may then be a beautiful message to everyone. To the believer, we must repent. Each day and each time we realize we have sinned. To the one yet to repent and put your trust in Jesus, you must do so now! Today is the day of salvation. Repent, and times of refreshing will surely come to the one who repents.
Repent! It always feels great to the believer when he or she agrees with God. 1John1.8-9
1 John 1:8–9 ESV
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.
Confession and repentance are not the same, but they should always accompany one another. Confessing is agreeing with God that sin is sin. When we confess, we must also turn from that sin, and that is what repentance is. Repentance means to turn away, or to turn around. It is making a 180 turn. 170 degrees is not enough, and each time we repent, we should desire to repent completely, to completely turn aside from whatever our sin is, and go in the complete opposite direction.
When we do this, we experience victory, and stamina to make it through our next trial. James taught that in fact we should consider our trials to be joy, because when we are tested and make it through that test, we experience new graces and we realize that we have made it through something difficult, whether through a difficult time or a difficult temptation that we are successful in beating back. When we make it through to other side, we feel our faith growing stronger, our trust in God increased, and the joy of defeating evil, and so James said, count it all joy when you encounter various trials. And James did not say if you encounter them, he said when. You ought to expect that as the normal course of things, if the Lord loves you, he will let you go through these trials. Why? So your faith can increase, and you grow in grace.
And all of this is certainly entwined with our need to repent. When we repent, it is usually when we have not gotten through the trial with flying colors, but we have failed at some point. So we repent, and when we repent, when we confess to God that what He calls sin in our lives is sin, and when we turn from it and go in the opposite direction, then we grow. So whether you are fairly young in this faith, or have survived many years, keep this in mind. You may continue to grow and mature in the faith until the Lord calls you home, but only if you choose a life that repents always of every sin that you realize. Growth comes through a repentant life. So make a practice of examining yourself to see if you are in the faith, and when you detect even the smallest hint of failure to serve your Lord well, repent, and make a fresh dedication.
Of course, without the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, none of this is possible, and it was certainly the case for John, as it is the case for every preacher, that calling someone to repentance is only effective when the Holy Spirit does the work of regeneration. John could shout, and he likely did. RC Sproul took the voice of one calling in the wilderness to mean something more like the voice of one wailing in the wilderness. It was no meek speech that John gave, but a powerful, Holy Spirit empowered preaching.
The way of repentance
A Time for repentance
A Call to repentance
A Promise of repentance
John gave a call of repentance, and today, the gospel itself calls everyone to repentance. Now let us look at the promise of repentance, and is wrapped up in who John the Baptist was. He was the one Isaiah wrote of.
Luke 3:4–6 ESV
As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough places shall become level ways, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’ ”
He was a voice in the wilderness. He only saw himself as a voice, and nothing more. The gospels tell us he very clearly did not see himself as significant, especially compared to the one who was coming, Jesus. But John did have a specific task to do. He was to be a voice that called people to prepare the way of the Lord.
He was the voice who cried in the wilderness, who wailed. This was not the type of preaching that just made everyone feel good about themselves, this was real, biblical, prophetic preaching. We will look next week at part of his message. He wasn’t exactly smiling John. He warned, he called out sin, he commanded, in the name of God that people repent.
His voice was not only literally in the wilderness, but in a figurative sense as well. He was the voice calling in the wilderness of sin. His message to the people was to prepare the way of the Lord, to make his paths straight, and the way that a person could do this was to be baptized as a demonstration of repentance and for the forgiveness of sins. There is a real sense of forgiveness of sins, although John’s baptism is not Christian baptism, it was preparing people to be ready to receive Jesus.
He who was prepared by John’s baptism is ready to welcome the Lord. Who is ready for Jesus? The truly repentant. Jesus demonstrated to Simon what true repentance was. When a woman anointed him and washed the feet of Jesus with her tears, some people were appalled at this behavior. But Jesus showed that this sort of repentance is evidence of someone who has the faith to receive salvation.
Luke 7:44–50 ESV
Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
John was baptizing people who wanted to demonstrate their repentance, and this was the way to prepare the way for the Lord. The path is to be made straight, the valley filled, every mountain and hill made low, the crooked made straight and the rough spots smoothed out. How? Through the baptism of repentance. Now we can be certain that just as today, a person may be here, and act like a repentant person, may even be baptized and made a member of the church, and yet never have experienced this sort of repentance. Many are in church for the sake of appearances, or they like the community.
And so with John, we also may assume that some were not genuine. We will look at that more next week, at what it meant when John called them a brood of vipers. However, for those who came with true repentance, we are told this was a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
Kent Hughes writes that “It is important for us to see the close connection between repentance and forgiveness, because while no amount of repentance can ever merit forgiveness in the sight of God, without repentance no soul will ever be saved. Repentance is the telltale mark of the Grace of God at work in our lives. Saving faith and true repentance are always found together. Saved souls are repentant souls…The great highway John was building was one of repentance.”
We need to keep building this highway. This highway must be built by the church if we want to see the lost cross over into the church. This means we should always be examining ourselves to see if we have individual sins or corporate sins to confess before God.
The quote from Isaiah gives us the illustration not of a mere road, but a superhighway. This is how you prepare for the king. In Paris is a big road with an arch, you have certainly seen pictures of it. On this road Napoleon marched into Paris. Yet Napoleon did not last long as emperor. Our Lord and Savior Jesus will reign forever, so the highway we must prepare for him must be straight. Even valleys will be filled in, mountains and hills made low, crooked spots made straight, and the rough parts smoothed out.
This would be like telling an engineer that he must design a highway through Colorado, and down into the Grand Canyon. And by the way, Mr. Civil Engineer, this road must be perfectly straight, and must be perfectly smooth, and must have no change of elevation. So get to work on it. Very few engineers would like to head up that project, even if they were given unlimited human resources. But any sinner can prepare a way to the Lord, and this is the highway of repentance.
There are two particularly strong imperative commanding words in verse 4. Prepare and make. Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. And so we approach the end, and I am certain I have used the word repent and repentance a number of times, and yet, I will say it a few more times here in closing. Jesus died on the cross so that guilty sinners need not suffer God’s wrath because of their sin. Every person ever born since Adam, with the miraculous exception of Jesus Christ the God-Man, every person has been born with a sin nature.
Not only are we born with a sin nature, we intentionally and willingly sin agains the creator God, the Holy, Holy, Holy, eternal, all powerful, all seeing, all knowing, all righteous God. We do it because we want to! Who causes us to sin? Do not say that God has tempted you, that would be blasphemy, yet many people blame him. He created me with the desire to sin, you see. It is his fault. Ever since the first sin, people have tried to point the finger of blame back to God one way or another, but He does not make us sin.
James 1:12–15 ESV
Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.
Yes, we have desires that lure us and entice us to sin. These desires are our own. This is why Jesus made the point that once the sin had been entertained in the mind, you are already on your way to committing it.
We are all doubly in trouble then. Born with the sin nature we inherit from Adam and Eve, and also willfully sinning against God. From Adam and Eve’s first sin, God showed that blood sacrifice was needed to cover for the sin, yet throughout time, people have realized that the sacrifice of animals does not really cure the problem. A perfect, sinless person needed to come and be that sacrifice. You see, without that, our sin would have one result. Wrath. God’s wrath. And if we die in our sin with no cure for it, we will suffer eternal, conscious torment under God’s wrath.
And this is exactly what we deserve, it is the wages of our sin, the due payment. But God provided a way for guilty sinners to be forgiven, and that was the perfect sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. Not only does Christ turn away God’s wrath from us, which is called propitiation, he also carries our sin away from us, which is called expiation. (A little review for the kids in Leland’s Thursday class).
And when this happens, the relationship between us and God is restored and we can anticipate an eternal life of bliss and comfort in the presence of God. God gives to each repentant sinner who puts faith in Jesus all these benefits and many more. If you put faith in Jesus, trusting his sacrifice to be sufficient to do all of these things, you can experience this grace, the weight of the burden of your sins will be lifted off you, and you will experience a peace that exceeds what you can understand.
How do we get to Jesus, then? We must walk the road of repentance. You see, in the end, I am not afraid to use that word again and again, because that word, properly understood, is salvation to the one who believes. I may not be able to convince anyone that this is the truth, but the Holy Spirit of God can. I pray that through the message of truth from God’s Word that the Holy Spirit is drawing people to God even now. Do not resist the calling of the Holy Spirit.
You are commanded by God to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and to repent. It is very simple. Your mouth must say out loud that Jesus Christ is Lord, and you must believe truly with your heart that He was raised from the dead and you will be saved.
If you are a believer, continue to live a life of repentance. Examine yourself to see if you are in the faith. Daily resist sin, and seek God’s help to win those battles. He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear, but always provides a way out.
Live now for Jesus and his glory. Put aside the desires of your flesh and live for Him. Walk in a manner worthy of your calling. Seek first the kingdom of God. I’m not afraid to call people to repentance, because that is a key part of the gospel, and this gospel will never cause me to be ashamed.
Romans 1:16–17 ESV
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”
The righteous shall live by faith, and the way to stay on the path of faith is by living a life of repentance. May God receive glory from our living this life out, with his gracious empowerment through His Holy Spirit.
Related Media
See more
Related Sermons
See more