Pastor Scott Andrews | November 12, 2023
One of the biggest challenges for any public figure who reaches celebrity status is the temptation to start believing your own press clippings. People start talking about how great you are, and you start believing it – that you may be the G.O.A.T. – the greatest of all time. It’s built into the DNA of the wide world of sports. Whether it’s the Superbowl, the NBA Championship, the World Series, the Stanley Cup, the Masters, a tradition like no other. The rest of the world gets a little irritable when we start proclaiming our sport champions as the world champions.
But, we do have the World Cup to truly determine the world’s best national soccer team, the Tour de France to determine the best cyclists who don’t get caught cheating, or the Olympics – a worldwide competition to determine the fastest, the strongest, the longest, the highest, the…best. And if you own the world record, you may be considered the G.O.A.T. You can start endorsing products and make more money than in the actual sport – and before long, when you’re all washed up, start doing commercials to sell insurance, prescriptions or home security systems.
So, who is the G.O.A.T., generally, the greatest of all time? In Luke 7, Jesus said it was a guy named John the Baptist – among those born of women there is no one greater than John. We’ve found that people – all kinds of people – were coming from all over Israel to the Jordan River to hear John preach and be baptized by him. We’re talking crowds of people, to include from every stratum of society – tax collectors and soldiers, the religious elite, Pharisees and Sadducees. He truly had it going on – this was the beginning of a great movement. If John had taken his eyes off the mission, even for a moment…the notoriety, the fame, the potential endorsements could certainly have gone to his head. He could have had his own camel-hair clothing line, his own FDA unapproved locust diet. You see, the press clippings began reading – is John the Baptist the long-awaited Messiah? Could this be the Christ?[John] Well, now, I wouldn’t necessarily say that. I mean, my birth was announced by an angel, and it was rather miraculous. I am the son of a priest. And the Holy Spirit and I have been like that for as long as I can remember. I can see how you might think that – I really am kind of a special guy – line up over here and I’ll sign your Bibles. Let’s see how John responded to these acclamations in our text today – Luke 3:15-18.
Maybe we could all learn a little lesson on humility from John the Baptist. You see, Jesus actually went on to say in Luke 7, among those born of women no one is greater than John; yet he who is the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he. You mean it’s not the fastest, the strongest, the longest, the highest, the best? Who wants that on a certificate or trophy – the least of these. We’re going to find it’s not about having your name in lights – it’s not about you being the first in…well, anything, except being last. It’s about acknowledging the One who is greater, infinitely greater, in every way. Let me give you the outline of the text:
- The People Wonder About John (15)
- And John proclaims, The One Coming is Greater (16-18)
Very simply, in verse 15, the people crowding to see John were amazed by this wilderness man who looked a bit like Yosef. Remember, there had been no prophet in Israel for over 400 years. Their oppression for centuries had been acute and relentless. Some, maybe even many, were longing for the promised Christ – the deliverer – the One to come and lift them from their agonizing, miserable, oppressed lives. So, we see they were in a state of expectation – hoping, again, maybe even longing. Of course, they missed a couple of OT promises – namely, that before Messiah came, there would be a forerunner who would announce His coming – who would prepare the way of the Lord.
But John shows up – and he looked a lot like they imagined Elijah would have looked. Hairy and a leather belt – likely a cloak made of sheepskin or camel’s hair. And Elijah’s simple food and clothing would have been a visual reminder of their self-indulgence. He was fed by ravens. Not only that, Elijah came decrying the wickedness of the king and queen of that day – Ahab and Jezebel. The similarities could not be ignored. So, they began to wonder, could this be the Christ?
Which brings us to our second point – that’s right, already our second point – The One Coming is Greater. John immediately disabused them of all speculation. He didn’t fall for the press clippings – instead he continued his mission as forerunner – pointing to the One greater, the Messiah, preparing the way for Jesus. He continued decreasing, in the midst of skyrocketing fame, so that Jesus would increase. And he does it in three ways – pointing to Jesus’ infinite might, His infinite worth, and His greater baptism. And of course, John reminds them of the Messiah’s coming judgment.
He starts with, “As for me, I baptize you with water; but One is coming who is mightier than I.” He immediately points to, defers to, the greatness of Jesus. He doesn’t give into the temptation to make much of, well, himself. The word mighty speaks of strength or might or capacity. You’re impressed with me and all God is doing? You haven’t seen anything yet. The One coming is infinitely stronger, primarily in this: His work and baptism will accomplish much, much more. Mine is simply a baptism with water – remember, a symbol – to prepare you for His coming. This isn’t about Me – this is about Him. John took the opportunity – not to revel in the limelight – but to point the spotlight to Jesus, where it always, rightly belongs.
Now, John is not here talking about Jesus’ omnipotence, although he could. He was responding to the question, are you the Christ? No, there is One much mightier than I in His works – in what He will accomplish. Now stop to think about that. Even in the Christian world, we are so easily impressed, enamored with human effort and accomplishments – this leader, that pastor, this great church, this ministry, that program. But we must remember in all we do, all we accomplish, is built on the foundation of Jesus and His work. Without Him, we could do nothing, we would be nothing.
Next, John points to Jesus’ immense and immeasurable worth: “I am not fit to untie the thong of His sandal.” You’re impressed with me – the One coming – of whom I am simply the forerunner – is of infinite worth – He is infinitely more worthy than I. Why, I’m not even fit to untie His sandal. Several thoughts here.
As you likely know, roads and sanitation were quite lacking at this time. Animals were everywhere, waste was everywhere, garbage was prevalent. As you walked along the town streets or even out in the country, it was dusty, dirty, even unsanitary. So, the custom was to wash your nasty feet as you entered a house. If you were lucky or wealthy, you had a slave do the work. But only a Gentile slave. You see, the task was too menial and disgusting to be done by a Jew – even a Jewish slave. Jews could not be forced to wash feet.
Even disciples of rabbis at this time would not wash feet. It was said that rabbis had everything done for them – they lived like kings, they hardly lifted a finger. They were honored by their students, who served them in every way – food, drink, the best seats, in every way imaginable, except this – disciples did not wash rabbi’s feet. It was too banal, menial, degrading, base. And John says of the One coming, I am not fit – I am not worthy – to wash His feet. This would have been shocking. He could not have made the infinite worth of Jesus clearer. He could not have made the separation between them greater.
Which is interesting. Someone reminded me recently, if you knew you had 24 hours to live, what would you do? Think about that – spend time with family, eat like a pig [that’s what those on death row get], accomplish something on the bucket list – something dangerous – what would it matter? What did Jesus do when He knew He had less than 24 hours to live? He washed feet.
We all know the story. It was the night of His betrayal. He told His disciples – His followers – they called Him rabbi or teacher – He told them to prepare the Passover meal for them to eat. It would be the last Passover, and become the first Lord’s Supper. It would hereafter remind them of His body broken and His blood shed for their redemption. So, they go to prepare the supper in an upper room. When they arrived, it was apparently just them. No Gentile slave, you see, to prepare them to sit at a table at almost floor level, to eat. Well, the disciples didn’t offer to do the job – wash feet? It was beneath them. You see, they always seemed to be arguing about who among them was the G.O.A.T. – the greatest.
So, Jesus took a towel, wrapped it around His waist, took a basin of water and begin the nasty job of washing twelve sets of feet – notice, twelve, to include Judas who was still there. I wonder what look passed between them as Jesus stooped to wash his feet. They were all astonished, and no doubt sat in stunned silence. Well, except for Peter, who always seemed to fille the silence – always had something to say. No way Lord, you will never wash my feet. To which Jesus said, If I don’t wash your feet, you have no part of Me. So impetuous Peter responded, then wash all of me. I can see Jesus popping him with the towel.
Jesus sat down and asked, do you know what I have done for you? You call Me teacher and Lord, and rightly, for so I am. If I have stooped to perform this menial, degrading task, you should also do to one another. You see, nothing is beneath the least in the kingdom. Again, I’m sure, stunned silence.
Back to our story. Jesus is getting ready to enter His ministry. He hasn’t done anything yet – John is doing his job of preparing the way. But he knows who Jesus is – he’s known since conception. He was filled with the Spirit prenatally. None of that means John was sinless or perfect – there’s only One – the coming One – who has that on His resume. And being acutely aware of who Jesus was, and who he was, John said, I’m overwhelmed by this One. I can’t even approach Him. I can’t even bow at His feet and untie his sandals.
Here’s a simple question – does Jesus do that to us? Are we overwhelmed by His worth, by His greatness, and our comparative nothingness? You say, I’m not nothing. I’m sorry, the G.O.A.T., the greatest of all time, the greatest man who ever lived, said, I’m not worthy, I’m unfit to loosen the strap of His sandal. Perhaps a little humility before our Lord would be in order.
You say, well yes, I understand that. I’d wash Jesus’ feet, or realize I’m unworthy to wash Jesus’ feet. But did we hear what Jesus said – in the same way, do what I’ve done to one another. Love one another, serve one another in the most menial ways. Remember at the judgment, He will divide the sheep from the goats. Look at the familiar text:
31 “But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne.
32 “All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats;
33 and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left.
34 “Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
35 ‘For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in;
36 naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink?
38 ‘And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You?
39 ‘When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’
40 “The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’
41 “Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels;
42 for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink;
43 I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’
44 “Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’
45 “Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’
46 “These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
To one of the least of these. That’s an important part of the Christian life – to strive to be the least in the kingdom, and to serve one another. But, do you see in this text the universal division of all humankind here? This is what our last point will expose – after winnowing, some will be gathered into barns, the rest will be burned up with unquenchable fire.
The last comparison John makes is between their baptisms. Jesus is infinitely stronger, He is infinitely more worthy, and His baptism is infinitely greater. You see, I baptize you with water, simply a symbol of repentance, which is good and necessary. But the coming One – He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. Water baptism is external and physical, Spirit baptism is internal and spiritual. One is a symbol of inward cleansing, one is the reality of inward cleansing.
Lots of confusion about this verse in a couple ways. First, what is the baptism of the Holy Spirit? Some want to teach it as a so-called second work of grace. That is, sometime after salvation, usually by seeking it, you’re baptized by the Spirit, and this baptism is evidenced by some spiritual gift – usually speaking in tongues. It’s called the evidence doctrine.
However, many others teach, with which I agree, that baptism of or by or in the Holy Spirit takes place at the moment of salvation, when the Spirit makes you alive in Christ, washes away your sin, sanctifies you, indwells the believer, empowers you for service by some spiritual gift, gives you the ability to understand Scripture, and seals you or keeps you saved and safe until the day of redemption. That’s just some of the things, but it all happens at conversion, salvation. Paul wrote in I Corinthians 12:13, “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” We’ve all been baptized by the Spirit and placed into the body of Christ – the universal church. I say this gently, but you don’t have to seek the baptism of the Spirit after salvation – you already have it. You already have Him.
But the second challenge is in this word fire. What does that mean? Is John talking about two baptisms – one by or in the Spirit, and one by or in fire? Meaning, one for believers, and one for unbelievers? Lots of discussion. Some point to the coming of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, when there appeared as tongues of fire, distributed among the disciples, resting on each of them, and they were filled with the Holy Spirit. So certainly, there is some connection with the Spirit and fire. Others point to the context of Luke 3 where John warned of the wrath to come, and the next verse speaks of the fire of judgment. Listen, there are good reasons for both. I’ve generally thought John was referring to two baptisms – one of the Spirit at salvation, and one of fire at the judgment.
But don’t miss the point – John cites this as a superior baptism – mine is with water, the one Coming will baptize you with the Spirit, which results in eternal consequences. Mine is a baptism of symbol – His is a baptism of the Spirit – it’s the real deal. This baptism of the Spirit – receiving the Spirit, being immersed in the Spirit, was promised in the New Covenant in Ezekiel 36:26,27, “Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes…”
And then John reminds them of the coming judgment. The One coming has a winnowing fork in His hands. A winnowing fork or shovel was used in those days to separate the desired wheat from the undesired chaff. The winnower would stand in a threshing floor of grain and toss it up in the air – the wind would blow away the chaff – usually into pile a few feet away – and the heavier wheat would fall to the ground. The wheat was valuable – the fruit you wanted, and would be gathered into barns. The chaff, however, would be gathered and burned – it was useless for anything.
Clearly, the teaching is this division of the sheep from the goats; the repentant ones producing fruit in keeping with repentance from the ones who do not repent and face the coming judgment and wrath of God. Notice, this chaff is burned with unquenchable fire. This is consistent with the teaching of Scripture that hell’s fires burn forever – consuming those in eternal torment – what Jesus called in the text we read a few moments ago – eternal punishment – contrasted to eternal life.
I know it’s not a popular teaching today – and many are abandoning any idea of a literal hell and eternal punishment. Some teach all will eventually be saved – it’s called universalism; some teach those cast into hell are consumed and cease to exist – it’s called annihilationism. Certainly, from our perspective, both are palatable – nicer. But the clear teaching of Scripture is of a real hell with real inhabitants – those who have rejected the gospel – with eternal punishment.
But back to the humble mission of John the Baptist. He was the most famous and successful preacher of his day. People flocked to see him. His message was challenging, but they speculated, could this the One? But John would have none of it. His mission was simply to point people to Christ. Was that what made him the GOAT – the greatest of all time? One author suggests this is the hallmark of authentic Christianity – to exalt the person and work of Jesus. An old pastor named J. C. Ryle wrote that a faithful pastor “will never allow anything credited to him, or his office, which belongs to his divine Master….To commend Christ dying, and rising again for the ungodly—to make known Christ’s love and power to save sinners—this will be the main object of his ministry….He will be content that his own name be forgotten, so long as Christ crucified is exalted.” May that be my sole ambition, and the desire of this church. The passion of every believer should be to decrease as Christ increases – to make much of Him.
Verse 18 – So, with many other exhortations – meaning, this is not all John said, but simply a sampling, but notice, with many other exhortations – he preached the gospel, the good news to the people. Even Luke considered John’s message good news – because in order for there to be good news, there must first be bad news. John preached it clearly – the One coming will bring a baptism of the Holy Spirit – and one of fire. His winnowing fork is in His hand. Which baptism have you, or will you, receive?