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 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. The first item is our willingness to look for opportunities…and there needs to be someone interested.
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 usual response to any demand that the Israelites of that day should repent was to the effect that they did not need to repent, since they were sons of Abraham. The fact that all the promises were not to Abraham’s fleshly descendants, but to his spiritual seed (the people who were of the character and faith of Abraham), was unknown to the Israel of that generation.
Paul spelled it out in Romans; but here, the nigh impossible task of enlightenment fell on John the Baptist. He succeeded in such instances as John the apostle, and others who became followers of Jesus; but the majority of fleshly Israel only scoffed at the truth.
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.
Keep in mind that John did much more than preach against sin; he also proclaimed the Gospel. The word preached in Luke 3:18 gives us the English word evangelize (“to preach the Good News”). John introduced Jesus as the Lamb of God (John 1:29) and told people to trust in Him. John was only the best man at the wedding: Jesus was the Bridegroom (John 3:25-30). John rejoiced at the opportunity of introducing people to the Saviour, and then getting out of the way.
Luke 3:7-17 (ESV) 7 He said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
8 Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.
9 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
10 And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?”
11 And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.”
12 Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?”
13 And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.”
14 Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.”
15 As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ,
16 John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap 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 the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
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).
John is prophesying the impact that Jesus’ ministry would have, forcing people to choose either to follow Jesus (and therefore receive God’s Spirit) or to oppose Jesus (and receive a fiery punishment).
Luke 3:19-20 (NIV) But when John rebuked Herod the tetrarch because of 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.
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 evangelism 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. 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.
2. Pointing people to Christ requires warning of the reality of the coming judgment.
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. 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. 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 3:17 (ESV) 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.
2 Peter 3:9 (ESV) The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.
11 Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness,
12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn!
Romans 1:18-21 (ESV) For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.
19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.
20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.
21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.
Acts 17:22-31 (ESV) So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious.
23 For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.
24 The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man,
25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.
26 And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place,
27 that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us,
28 for “‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, “‘For we are indeed his offspring.’
29 Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man.
30 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent,
31 because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”
3. Pointing people to Christ requires exalting His supremacy over all.
A. We must humble ourselves.
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.
B. We must exalt Jesus Christ as supreme.
By saying that he was not worthy to untie Jesus’ sandal thong, John was acknowledging the inherent holiness of Jesus’ person. Jesus repeatedly claimed that He was obedient to the Father’s will and spoke only what the Father commanded (John5:19, 30; 8:28, 29). As the sinless Son of God, only Jesus is worthy to bear our sins. We must lift Him up as the all-powerful and holy One.
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.
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 heaven was opened shows that in Jesus, God was breaking into human history. 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.
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).
Hebrews 1:1-3 (ESV) Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets,
2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.
3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.
Even if you have not seen the popular movie,“ Titanic”, 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.