BAPTISM FOR THE HOPELESS
Luke 3, beginning at verse 2, says, “While Annas and Caiaphas were high priests, the word of God came to John, the Son of Zacharias and the wilderness.” These people are supposed to be in the promised land, but somehow it’s described as a wilderness. It's a season when no one has heard the voice of God for many years. They heard about God in some measure in the temple, but it was a dry place. Then, after 400 years of drought, the word of God suddenly comes to a man who goes to preach a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins all around Jordan. America has been in this same dry place for a very long time.
Verse 4 continues: “As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, saying: ‘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 brought low; the crooked places shall be made straight and the rough ways smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”’” You prepare your heart to receive Him. When you give Him an entrance into your life and heart, every obstacle and mountain will be brought down. God will lift those places of depression. Every rough way is made smooth, all the crooked places will be straightened, and you will see the salvation of God.
Verse 7: “Then he said to the multitudes that came out to be baptized by him, ‘Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?’” Another translation says John was saying this to the scribes and Pharisees, those that had done their best in the religious system to bear the fruit of God. “Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God can raise children to Abraham from these stones.” In the Old Testament, God promised Abraham: I'm going to bless you, multiply you, increase you, and through you, your descendants will be as numerous as the stars in the sky. Through you, all the earth's families will be blessed. God says He will do this even though Abraham is too old.
God is fulfilling this promise through us today as the church of Jesus Christ. We are the stars that God spoke to Abraham about, not just the nation of Israel but the Church born through the tribe of Judah. The work of God is supernatural. He does in us what we cannot do for ourselves, what we could never do, to honor His name. God takes us where we could never go, makes us what we could never be, and gives us what we could never possess. The scripture says, “It's all of him that no flesh should glory in this presence.” At the end of my days, my testimony is one name: Jesus. His power, love, redemptions, mercy, and carrying power. Everything in my life is about Jesus Christ alone.
Verse 9: “And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” That doesn't sound like a very comforting evangelistic message, does it? Either bear the fruit of God or prepare to be cut down and burned. John’s baptism was the culmination of a very long, challenging, and impossible journey. It began in Genesis 3:5 when the Devil told Adam and Eve they could be godly without God—the essential sinful nature of the human heart. It drags us down like gravity, and there's no way out.
Repentance Is Incomplete
The redemption story is in the Old Testament. There were descendants of Abraham who believed they could be godly without God. God says, “Okay, if you think you can be godly without me, I will give you 600 plus laws to obey. All you have to do is obey these laws, and it proves you’re right. If you break one, you've broken them all, and there must be a sacrifice.” In Galatians 3:24, Paul, the apostle, says that the law was a schoolmaster, a teacher, and an instructor, to bring us to the understanding that we can't be godly through human effort. We don't know the difference between right and wrong without God. That is why the religious system produced a river of blood with constant sacrifices. What a hopeless way of life.
Can you imagine the depression of being raised in that era, trying to be godly without God? Even if you were sincere, sin is sewn inside of your human life. Imagine going to the temple and you bringing in your lamb. You give it to the priest, you do your cleansing rituals, and he offers the sacrifice and pronounces you clean. Out you go. It must have felt so good. Then you're only 50 feet from the temple, and somebody runs over your new shoes with their cart, and you curse him out as he goes down the road. Oh no. Time to buy another lamb.
It was a hopeless religion of hypocrisy. Eventually, everybody tried to hide behind homemade robes, and they couldn't come clean. I'm so glad we’re not part of that system. In Romans 7:14, Paul said, “For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin, for I do not understand my actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” Can I get an amen? Does anybody know what that's like when you want to change? How many people make New Year’s resolutions lasting about ten seconds? Paul continues: “Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.” Most sinners hate themselves. After many years of this suffering, God's voice suddenly comes.
It must have been a relief, but the message wasn’t complete. John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. People began to recognize God's calling, even though they didn't know where it led. A stream of people went to the Jordan river to John and confessed their inability to be godly in their strength. Everyone is getting baptized, but it’s under the water, hopeless, and out hopeless. There's no solution in John's baptism. I understand this because I did it for years, but making people aware of their sins is not the end. There’s no victory in that. Many people think revival is just repentance, but it’s just the beginning.
Revival After Repentance
Revival happened when suddenly, one day, somebody showed up in the same water at the same time who didn't need to be baptized. John looked at Jesus and said, “I need to be baptized of you. What are you doing coming into this pool, this water of baptism?” Jesus said, “Let it be done this way because this has to happen for righteousness to be fulfilled.” This sinless, spotless lamb of God entered the dirty water of everyone's failure. The water was brimming with hypocrisy, depression, suicide, alcohol, addiction, selfishness, and anger. The Son of God immersed Himself in all of it. When He emerged, He led us from hopelessness to a cross where He triumphed over all the powers of darkness. Jesus destroyed the power of sin, death, Hell, and the grave.
Revival is when you see Jesus after your repentance. It’s when we walk with Him, and as the scripture says, as we behold the Lamb of God, His mercy, His cross, His victory, and every promise He's ever made us, we are changed by the Spirit of God. Revival is glory to glory; it’s glory to God. In John's gospel, when the people entered the waters of baptism, they saw the Lamb of God. You don't see Him while you're still trying to be holy or when you still think you can do everything in your strength. You don't see Jesus when you're still trying to hide your spiritual bankruptcy with nice clothes and sweet talk. You see the Lamb when you go under the water and say, “I'm done. I'm dirty. I'm finished. I can't do this.” When you come out of the water, that voice that came to you in the wilderness says, “There's the Lamb of God. Follow Him.” Praise be to God. Revival is when we begin to follow the Lamb. He becomes our source of life and our righteousness. Jesus becomes our future, hope, and victory. Everything is about Jesus Christ.
The Lightning of Jesus
Verse 16 says, “John answered, saying to all, ‘I indeed baptize you with water; but One mightier than I is coming, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.’” I looked up the word fire today in my Greek concordance, and there are only two words. One is fire, and the other is lightning; I think I like lightning better. Jesus baptizes with lightning—Hallelujah! Glory to God. That's power! We can create fire on the earth but can't create lightning. Lightning comes from Heaven, and you better get out of the way because it will burn you. Nobody is going to stand when lightning comes down.
America is over 400 years old, almost like the scripture is being fulfilled again. The voice of God is calling one more time. Open your heart; that's the straight path God needs. That was John’s ministry and what Isaiah prophesied. Admit your condition, and God will come to you. Don't try to hide it any longer. Believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross and took your place so that you might be forgiven. Confess Him as your Lord and Savior, then start shouting and dancing. We are proud to be called the children of God. Keep it simple, folks; don't make this thing complicated. There’s a prayer I’ve said my whole life that has never failed: “Jesus, save me.” If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. That's the truth of the gospel—a new life. That’s the lightning of Jesus.