Series: Jesus’s Preparation For Ministry (3:1-4:13)
One of the great needs of Christians is to have a humble boldness. Many of us are humble and some of us are bold, but very few have a humble boldness.
A bold Christian is a good thing to be, until pride causes a fall. A humble Christian is a good thing to be, unless one never stands up for Jesus at all.
What does a humble and bold Christian look like? We have Jesus, of course, as the best model we copy. But John the Baptist is also a fine example of what it means to be humble and bold.
THE HUMILITY OF JOHN THE BAPTIST (3:15-17)
Luke 3:15 And as the people were in expectation, and all men mused [pondered] in their hearts of John, whether he were the Christ, or not;
15 Προσδοκῶντος [look for, προσδοκάω, VPAP-SGM] δὲ τοῦ λαοῦ, καὶ διαλογιζομένων πάντων ἐν ταῖς καρδίαις αὐτῶν περὶ τοῦ Ἰωάννου, μήποτε αὐτὸς εἴη ὁ Χριστός,
The first century was a time of Messianic expectation among the Jews. Perhaps you could say their level of anticipation was similar to how we are anticipating the return of Christ today.
They were wondering if this unique man or that miracle-worker could be the Messiah. Naturally, John the Baptist was an unique man that people were curious about. He fit some of the profile that they had in their minds.
John the Baptist, however, would have none of that sort of speculation:
Luke 3:16 John answered, saying unto them all, I indeed baptize [immerse] you with water; but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet [strap] of whose shoes [sandals] I am not worthy to unloose: he shall baptize [immerse] you with the Holy Ghost and with fire:
16 ἀπεκρίνατο ὁ Ἰωάννης, ἅπασι λέγων, Ἐγὼ μὲν ὕδατι βαπτίζω ὑμᾶς· ἔρχεται δὲ ὁ ἰσχυρότερός μου, οὗ οὐκ εἰμὶ ἱκανὸς λῦσαι τὸν ἱμάντα τῶν ὑποδημάτων αὐτοῦ· αὐτὸς ὑμᾶς βαπτίσει ἐν Πνεύματι Ἁγίῳ καὶ πυρί·
John says, “No, no…you got it wrong. Your profile of the Messiah is a bit off. Here is some clarification about the coming Messiah.” Here, then are three points about Jesus, the mighty Messiah and why John was so humble before Him.
1. The Messiah Is Mightier Than John
John says that there is a “mightier” one that is coming, “the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose.”
We get that this means that John is being humble, but there are a couple illustrations from the ancient world that help us feel the full force of what John is saying.
First, in those days, a rich person who have lowly slaves untie their sandals. So John was saying that he was lower than a lowly slave.
Second, teachers in Bible times would have a group of students, or disciples, that they would work with. John the Baptist had disciples and Jesus had disciples.
A teacher’s disciples were expected to do more than just learn information, they were expected to perform services for their teacher.
For example, Jesus’s disciples are recorded doing such services as preparing the upper room for a Passover meal, or running into a village to get food while Jesus rested by the water well. However,
There was a rabbinic saying: ‘Every service which a slave performs for his master shall a disciple do for his teacher, except the loosing of his sandal thongs.’ (Sproul, 55)
John wouldn’t even place himself on the level of being the Messiah’s disciple! He was lower than the lowest of people when compared to Jesus.
This is a lesson we need to learn also. We are prone to, even without actually voicing it, put Jesus on the same level as ourselves. We might say that He is our Lord, but, in our practice, He is a distant advisor.
We like to shape Him in our image by ignoring the things He said that bug us and only accepting the things He said that we agree with.
So we quote with complete agreement Matthew 7:1, “Judge not, that ye be not judged” (ignoring, by the way, the rest of the passage). But we ignore verses like, “love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44) or…
26 If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26)
As disciples of Jesus, we must be completely humble and ready to obey what He says. Even if it means that our pride or our traditions needs to be set aside.
3 And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:3–4)
John goes on to explain one way that the Messiah will be better than him.
2. The MEssiah’s Baptism Is Mightier Than John’s
“he shall baptize [immerse] you with the Holy Ghost and with fire.”
This statement here is a very important and widely discussed among Bible scholars, so we aren’t going to be able to give it the attention that it deserves without getting sidetracked.
John says this statement to point out why the Messiah’s baptism is better than his baptism. “I indeed baptize you with water…[but] he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire.”
So the question we need to answer now is: in what way is the Messiah’s baptism better than John’s?
John baptized people after they repented as a symbol of their repentance. In a sense, it did nothing but demonstrate that they had an experience where they repented. It was merely a symbol.
The Messiah’s baptism, on the other hand, actually does something to the person.
First, the Messiah will baptize (really, the word should be “immerse”) believers with (or in) “the Holy Ghost.”
This is no symbolic baptism with water! Instead, it is the Spirit gathering a people together, and pouring out His power and blessing on them. We see the first time this happens in Acts 2—
1 And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. 2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. 3 And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. (Acts 2:1–4)
The second part of the Messiah’s baptism is that it is with or in “fire.” Now, some people take this to be two baptisms: one with or in the Holy Spirit (for believers) and one with fire (In the Bible, “fire” often refers to judgment on unbelievers).
This way of reading it has the support of verse 17, where the wheat and chaff are separated in a judgment kind of image.
However, in the Greek, there is only one preposition, “with,” connecting the two phrases, “Holy Ghost” and “fire.” That means that this seems to be one baptism—although it’s possible that it has different applications for believers and unbelievers.
Rather than getting confused with the different possibilities, let me just stick with what this baptism of the Holy Spirit does for believers. What does it mean, for the believer, to be immersed “with fire”?
The mention of a baptism with “fire” tends to make us think of judgment. And, indeed, the scripture often uses the image of “fire” to describe judgment. But not all the time. Sometimes fire is seen as a purifying agent.
Peter, for instance, talks about trials being a means that our faith is “tried with fire” so that it might be “found unto praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:7).
The prophet Malachi said that John the Baptist would prepare the way for the Messiah and announce that He would bring a refining fire—
1 Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: And the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, Even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: Behold, he shall come, saith the Lord of hosts. 2 But who may abide the day of his coming? And who shall stand when he appeareth? For he is like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers’ soap: 3 And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: And he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, That they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness. (Malachi 3:1–3; cf. 1 Peter 1:7, Isaiah 6:6-7, Zechariah 13:9)
Also, remember what appeared on the believers when the the Holy Spirit came upon the believers on the day of Pentecost? There were “tongues of fire.”
John’s baptism was symbolic of a person’s repentant heart. Jesus’s baptism would bring about the purifying of a person’s heart! So, in every way, Jesus’s baptism would be mightier than John the Baptist’s.
And what’s more, John was fine with that. He wasn’t jealous, or offended, or threatened—He didn’t try to argue that his baptizing was better. He was humble.
Finally, John pointed out another way that Jesus would be mightier than he was—
3. The Messiah Is A Mightier Judge
Luke 3:17 Whose fan [winnowing fork] is in his hand, and he will throughly purge [clear] his floor, and will gather the wheat into his garner [storehouse]; but the chaff he will burn with fire unquenchable.
17 οὗ τὸ πτύον ἐν τῇ χειρὶ αὐτοῦ, καὶ διακαθᾶριεῖ τὴν ἅλωνα αὐτοῦ, καὶ συναξεῖ τὸν σῖτον εἰς τὴν ἀποθήκην αὐτοῦ, τὸ δὲ ἄχυρον κατακαύσει πυρὶ ἀσβέστῳ.
Now we jump ahead to the return of Jesus. When He comes back He will bring judgment. John pictures His judgment with a harvest image of winnowing the worthless chaff from the good grain.
This was done in the open on a flat surface of rock or ground, about 40–50 ft. in diameter, preferably on the top of a hill…The threshed grain was usually winnowed in the evening, when there was likely to be a wind. It was thrown into the air by means of a six-pronged fork, called in KJV a “fan”…the chaff would be blown away, while the grain, being heavier, would fall to the ground. (Silva, 1088)
The “chaff” was worthless, sometimes the farmer would burn it, which is the image that John uses. Jesus is the ultimate Judge (Acts 10:42), and we must call on Him to be saved from His judgment.
We mustn’t think of Jesus as merely a great teacher or even a good friend—He is the Judge. He will one day judge unbelievers and even believers—
10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. (2 Corinthians 5:10)
Christian, please don’t let the culture make you lose your respect and awe of Jesus. Keep a proper understanding of all who He is and you will be humble before Him.
Because John the Baptist had a proper understanding of who the coming Messiah was, he was humble. He did not dare to place himself even close to the level of Jesus Christ.
But John’s humbleness also made him bold.
THE BOLDNESS OF JOHN THE BAPTIST (3:18-20)
Luke 3:18 And many other things in his exhortation preached [the good news] he unto the people.
18 Πολλὰ μὲν οὖν καὶ ἕτερα παρακαλῶν εὐηγγελίζετο [εὐαγγελίζω, VIMI3S] τὸν λαόν·
Luke 3:19 But Herod the tetrarch, being reproved by him for Herodias his brother Philip’s wife, and for all the evils which Herod had done,
19 ὁ δὲ Ἡρώδης ὁ τετράρχης, ἐλεγχόμενος ὑπʼ αὐτοῦ περὶ Ἡρωδιάδος τῆς γυναικὸς Φιλίππου τοῦ ἀδελφοῦ αὐτοῦ, καὶ περὶ πάντων ὧν ἐποίησε πονηρῶν ὁ Ἡρώδης,
In the mold of an Old Testament prophet, John the Baptist took on a king. Herod Antipas had taken his brother’s wife as his own—this was wrong in that they both left their spouses to marry each other.
What Herod did was also wrong in that the law forbade taking the wife of one’s brother, except in the case of Levirate marriage to produce offspring for a dead brother—but Philip had offspring, so there wasn’t a need to produce an heir and, more importantly, he was still alive (Leviticus 20:21)!
John also confronted Herod about other “evils” that he had done, but Luke doesn’t tell us what they might have been.
As a result, Herod had John locked up…
Luke 3:20 Added yet this above all, that he shut up John in prison.
20 προσέθηκε καὶ τοῦτο ἐπὶ πᾶσι, καὶ κατέκλεισε τὸν Ἰωάννην ἐν τῇ φυλακῇ.
I think we can say that Herod didn’t respond well to John’s bold rebuke! There’s a lesson in there for us when we are confronted by someone who exposes a sin in our life. How do we respond? Do we strike back, or do we go away and humbly examine ourselves to see if they are right?
But the main thing we need to see here is the boldness of John the Baptist. Is his boldness something that we can and should copy? Many would say no, that we can’t confront others, especially unbelievers, about their sin and moral standards.
Yet, this is a clear pattern in scripture: God’s people are sometimes called to confront immoral unbelievers, even high-ranking government officials, about their sin.
Daniel, for instance, confronted King Nebuchadnezzar:
27 Wherefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable unto thee [notice he shows him respect], and break off thy sins by righteousness, and thine iniquities by shewing mercy to the poor; if it may be a lengthening of thy tranquillity. (Daniel 4:27)
And Jonah, even though he was reluctant, confronted an entire city with a message of impeding judgment.
4 And Jonah began to enter into the city a day’s journey, and he cried, and said, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown. (Jonah 3:4)
We may not have a message that says God’s judgment is coming in 40 days, but we do have a warning to give that God’s judgment will come to those who don’t trust in Christ.
12 Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved. (Acts 4:12)
The point is, that as Christians, we do have the responsibility to boldly stand up for what God says is right in His word, even in the public square.
We need to be respectful, like Daniel was to Nebuchadnezzar (and being humble will help us to be respectful), but we must boldly speak, for it’s not just a matter of a difference of opinion. It’s right versus wrong. It’s God’s standards versus Satan’s deception.
The big issues aren’t muddy—abortion is murder, homosexuality is wrong, and so one. It’s not just some ancient morality we’re trying to declare to the world—it’s God’s truth!
Granted, our boldness might lead to problems for us—the shunning of a friend or family member. It might lead to the loss of a job or to jail time. It could even lead to death. Spiritual success in our lives does not necessarily correlate with financial or material success. Yet we must boldly do what God says.
So where do we get that boldness? Might I suggest that John’s boldness came from his humility? We don’t often put humbleness and boldness in the same bucket, but John was humble and he was bold. Is it possible that John was bold because he was humble?
John’s humility came from the fact that he believed that Jesus was mightier than he was in every way. Jesus had a better baptism—a better way of bringing people to God and changing them.
Jesus was a better judge…His judgment would be completely accurate and eternal. John looked at Jesus and said, “He is so much more mightier!”
Now, because John humbly believed that Jesus was so much more mightier, it made him so much more bolder. How so?
This isn’t the best illustration, but it gets the point across. Pretend there are three boys in a schoolyard arguing over whose father can beat up the other fathers.
One boy’s father is an accountant. The second boy’s father works at McDonald’s. The third boy’s father is a professional football linebacker. Which boy will be the boldest?
John was made humble because Jesus was so much more mightier than he. But John was made bold because Jesus was and is so much more mightier than anyone!
When we go out into the world we should be humble because Jesus is so much greater than us. He has done so much for us in saving us from our sins.
But we can be bold in presenting Jesus to others because Jesus so much greater than anyone we’ll talk to. Jesus is the only one who can save them from their sins. I mentioned Acts 4:12 earlier, but I didn’t read the verse that comes after—
12 Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved. 13 Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus. (Acts 4:12–13)
Why were they bold? For the same reason that they were humble—Jesus is mightier…the only name under Heaven whereby we must be saved!
Silva, Moisés, and Merrill Chapin Tenney. The Zondervan Encyclopedia of the Bible, Q-Z. Grand Rapids, MI: The Zondervan Corporation, 2009.
Sproul, R. C. A Walk with God: An Exposition of Luke. Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications, 1999.