Point People to Jesus

Footsteps of Jesus  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  42:02
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We live in an age where anyone can become famous overnight. Do you know what it means to go viral? It is an internet term meaning that a photo, video, or some other online content spreads across the globe at an incredibly rapid pace. You could upload content to any social media platform tonight and wake up to being internet famous. This has happened to numerous people all over the world. This is what many young people are hoping would happen to them. Something that goes viral could be anything. It could be a silly photo, a video, or a podcast, anything. When you go viral online, you gain an instant following and everybody is waiting to see what you will do next. There are people all over the world who have turned this into a business. Today they are known as influencers. These are the people who have celebrity status for creating online content. That status comes with complications. That status demands that we ask what we are doing with that status.
There was a man in 1st century Israel who went viral. His name was John. If you recall from Christmastime, John (known as John the Baptist) was the son of Zacharias, the priest who didn’t believe God could produce a child for such an old couple. He is called John the Baptist not because he was a member of the Baptist denomination, but because he was a baptizer. Baptism was a major part of his ministry. He is also known as the forerunner of Jesus, the man sent to prepare the way for Jesus to begin his ministry. We find parts of his story in all four gospels. Matthew and Mark both describe John as one who wore garments of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist. His diet was locusts and honey. We instantly don’t get a positive picture of him. He’s living out in the wilderness near the Jordan river. So we get this picture that John is a grungy-looking dude who wears a weird outfit and eats weird stuff. His appearance may not be appealing, but his message is. The core of his message is given in Matthew 3:2
Matthew 3:2 NASB95
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
This message began to draw people from all over the region and they began responding to this message. As they responded to his message, he administered baptism. This drew the attention of many, including members of the Pharisees and Sadducees. These were two of the most religious groups in the country. The Pharisees and Sadducees were Scripture interpreters, they were lawmakers, they were religious scholars. If we place ourselves in their shoes for just a moment, and reports of this strange man preaching repentance of sin and baptizing people in the Jordan river come to you, it would be worth checking out. After all, if you were a Rabbi back then, you became one by training under another Rabbi. One of the questions they would be asking is, “who is your teacher?” So they sent members of their group to investigate.
When they arrive, John sees them coming and says,
Matthew 3:7–10 CSB
When he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Therefore produce fruit consistent with repentance. And don’t presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that God is able to raise up children for Abraham from these stones. The ax is already at the root of the trees. Therefore, every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
Strong words! John is calling these guys out! The Pharisees and Sadducees were outwardly righteous. They were religious on the surface, but they were still wicked on the inside. They taught one thing, but did another. Later, Jesus will accuse them of making a big deal out of smaller details in the Law while ignoring the greater aspects of the Law.
As we examine John’s responses to these religious leaders, I want you to see a few things.

Your entrance to heaven has nothing to do with your heritage.

He told them not to presume to say to themselves that they have Abraham as their father. Without saying it here, the implication is, “so what?” If God needed children, he could raise them up from these stones. What we have to understand is that everybody tied their national and religious identity back to the father of both: Abraham. This is good and appropriate, as it is where they came from. The issue is not that they had a measure of pride in their heritage, it was that they looked to it for security without thinking about personal commitment to their beliefs. There were many whose belief in God came solely from their heritage. They wrongfully assumed that just because one was born a Jew nationally, one was also a Jew religiously. To have one was to have the other. John was trying to teach them this was not true. Every Jew from Isaac to today must make a conscious decision to believe in God and what he has revealed through the scriptures. The same holds true today.
One of the many blessings on America is our Christian heritage passed down to us by our forefathers. But it is erroneous to assume that one who is born American is also Christian. This is becoming more realized every day, but there are still many who have wrongfully assumed that because they were born in America to Christian parents that they are also Christian. A cultural Christianity is of no value. It is incorrect to assume that your family heritage can do anything for you on judgment day. When you stand before God one day your entrance into heaven will not be based on who your family is. Every person must make a conscious decision on who Jesus Christ is. The faith of your family cannot do this for you, yet this is what many are leaning on. Your entire family might be Christian, but it does not mean you are. At some point, the faith of our family must be made our own. We take ownership of our faith when we make a personal decision to believe Jesus. The men coming to John’s baptism were resting on national heritage and external behaviors, but they lacked a change of heart.
John’s baptism was not saving anybody. It was expressing the repentance already proclaimed. The message John was preaching was not, “Be baptized for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” It was, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The baptism John performed was not to cleanse, but an outward expression of the cleansing already taking place as one confessed and repented of his sin. The key word here is repent.

Repentance is the root of an authentic relationship with Jesus.

The word repent means to change one’s mind. In the context of the gospel message, repentance is the act of changing one’s mind toward the matter of sin. The Bible lays out for us what sin is and how sin is an offense to God. Since God is holy, he cannot allow sin into his presence. Therefore, sin must be overcome. His solution is Jesus. When we come to know who Jesus is and what his sacrifice means for us, we must agree that we have not met his standard of perfection and deserve the punishment for it. But we also acknowledge his sacrifice pays the penalty for our crimes and satisfies the wrath of God. In this we also learn that God’s desire for us is not to live the same way we had been living as lawbreakers, but to submit ourselves to a new way of life where we follow his example by obeying his commands through the power of the Holy Spirit who now lives in us, granting us the ability to overcome our natural instinct to break the law with a new instinct to obey his law. Repentance is the cessation of the things that I know offend God and the embrace of the things I know please him.
How do we know we are saved? John helps us in Luke’s account of his ministry in Luke chapter 3.
Luke 3:7–14 NASB95
So he began saying to the crowds who were going out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? “Therefore bear fruits in keeping with repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father,’ for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham. “Indeed the axe is already laid at the root of the trees; so every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” And the crowds were questioning him, saying, “Then what shall we do?” And he would answer and say to them, “The man who has two tunics is to share with him who has none; and he who has food is to do likewise.” And some tax collectors also came to be baptized, and they said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Collect no more than what you have been ordered to.” Some soldiers were questioning him, saying, “And what about us, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not take money from anyone by force, or accuse anyone falsely, and be content with your wages.”
We see here three scenarios. In each, the audience is asking John, “What shall we do?” The man who has two tunics gives one to the one who has none. One who has food does the same. The tax collector doesn’t rob the taxed. Tax collectors were known for cheating people and collecting more than they needed to line their own pockets. Soldiers knew they could abuse their authority and take things that didn’t belong to them. John was calling them to quit and begin acting justly.
Notice the question is not, “How do I repent?” It is “What do I do in light of the repentance I am already expressing?” Repentance is a change of mind about sin that produces a change in behavior. Where there was greed, there is now charity. Where there is selfishness, there is now selflessness. Where there was abuse of power there is now self-control. Where there was a heart bent toward self, there is now a heart bent toward others. It is not the actions in themselves that bring repentance, but rather the actions are a byproduct of the change of heart.
Do you want to know if you have eternal life? Do you want to know if you are saved? Do you see the production of fruit in keeping with repentance? Do others see it in your life? Do people notice a change in you? We may lie to ourselves all day long, but if Jesus has changed you from the inside out, other people will notice. These may be good indicators that you truly understand what it means to follow Jesus. Belief in Jesus is more than a statement of faith, but a belief that produces new behaviors in line with what he teaches.

Our message must always point back to Jesus

John had achieved celebrity status. This weird dude eating bugs and honey was getting attention. These Pharisees and Sadducees started asking him who he was.
John 1:19–27 CSB
This was John’s testimony when the Jews from Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him, “Who are you?” He didn’t deny it but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” “What then?” they asked him. “Are you Elijah?” “I am not,” he said. “Are you the Prophet?” “No,” he answered. “Who are you, then?” they asked. “We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What can you tell us about yourself?” He said, “I am a voice of one crying out in the wilderness: Make straight the way of the Lord—just as Isaiah the prophet said.” Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. So they asked him, “Why then do you baptize if you aren’t the Messiah, or Elijah, or the Prophet?” “I baptize with water,” John answered them. “Someone stands among you, but you don’t know him. He is the one coming after me, whose sandal strap I’m not worthy to untie.”
Even though John called these men a brood of vipers, they questioned him. They needed answers. He confessed he was not the Christ. He was not Elijah or one of the prophets. Rather, his answer was a quotation from Isaiah 40:3. The verse originally called the people of Israel to make themselves ready for the coming of the Lord. John is saying to this group of religious leaders, “What Isaiah was saying back then is true today. I’m literally a voice crying in the wilderness preparing the way of the Lord. In fact, he’s coming and he’s already here.” Do you notice that detail in verse 26? They questioned him as to why he was baptizing, but he said one stands among them who is more important, who is of higher rank, because he existed before him. Jesus was there! John wasn’t baptizing people in the Jordan river to gain a following for himself. He was there preparing people for the ministry of Jesus, the one who could truly provide salvation for their sins.
What would happen if the church grew to 50 regular attenders every Sunday? What would happen if it grew to 75? 100? Does it matter? on the one hand, it does not. We keep pointing people to Jesus, the savior of souls, the satisfier of our spiritual hunger and thirst. It does not matter the size of one’s audience. What matters is what the audience is being pointed to. What we must all realize is we have been given a platform. Every one of us has a measure of influence over someone else. Are we seeking to be influencers so we can point to ourselves, or are we consciously pointing others to something and someone greater than ourselves? Jesus is the eternal life-giving, light-shining creator of the world who grants us access to a forever family. All of our deepest longings are satisfied in him. May our words and our actions both individually and collectively point people to Jesus.
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