Pastor Scott Andrews | November 5, 2023
Many of us have heard of or even read it. It was first published in 1936 by Simon and Schuster. The author, Dale Carnagie; the book – How to Win Friends and Influence People. It sold 250,000 copies in its first three months and made it to the New York Times Bestseller list by year’s end where it remained for two years. It has since sold over 30 million copies worldwide and is still available on Amazon, selling over 250,000 copies annually, making it one of the best-selling books of all time. In a 2013 Library of Congress survey, it was listed as the seventh most influential book in American history. Amazing credentials. How many of you have heard of it or read it? The book went through a major revision in 1981, and since then, newer editions include the following four sections:
- Fundamental Techniques in Handling People – includes the idea that you don’t criticize, condemn or complain. Sounds reasonable.
- Six Ways to Make People Like You – includes being genuinely interested in other people, smiling, and making the other person feel important.
- How to Win People to Your way of Thinking – includes showing respect for the other person’s opinions, never saying “You’re wrong,” and beginning in a friendly way.
- Be a Leader: How to Change People Without Giving Offense or Arousing Resentment –includes beginning with praise and honest appreciation; only calling attention to other people’s mistakes indirectly; talking about your own mistakes before criticizing others; asking questions instead of giving direct orders; letting the other person save face; using encouragement; and making the other person happy about doing what you suggest.
Good advice, right? So, let’s read our text today to see how John the Baptist used these principles to win friends and influence people – Luke 3:7-14.
Undoubtedly, John the Baptist would not make the list of the 100 most influential people in America today. In fact, John would probably not be invited to speak at most evangelical churches or conferences – certainly those trying to be seeker-sensitive. He would need a bath, a haircut, and a change of clothes. And he’d need to learn how to smile. John, you need to be more winsome – read a book on how to do evangelism. The truth is, his message – his ministry – only lasted for about six months, no wonder, before he was arrested and ultimately beheaded for his less-than-civil criticism – even condemnation – of a leading governmental official of the day. And yet, Jesus later called John the greatest man who ever lived – at least till that time. You see, you can be greater than John – how? By reading the right book, learning and applying some proper social decorum? Maybe not.
I’m not suggesting there’s no place for being kind and gentle with our words. I’m not suggesting we be harsh and unloving. I am suggesting that our message should also contain truth, even difficult truth, and a sense of urgency. That our message might just offend people and their lifestyles – and if it doesn’t, maybe, just maybe our message is not a biblical one. Jesus did not come to make our lives happy and prosperous – He came to change us, because we desperately need to be changed.
And His coming started with this uncivil forerunner called John the Baptist. What evangelist would model their lives after him? What church would adopt his style? The last time we were together, we found at the end of Luke 1 that John, presumably after his aged parents Zacharias and Elizabeth died, moved to the wilderness. Other gospels tell us his diet consisted of locusts and wild honey, his attire was camel hair and a leather belt. As he was not allowed to drink wine or liquor, we assume he may have been a Nazarite from birth – which means he’d never cut his hair, making him quite the sight.
There in the Judean wilderness, he waited for the word of God to come to him. At about thirty years of age, it came. He began preaching in all the district of the Jordan – to the east of Jerusalem. His message, generally, was one of a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. We also found this was in fulfillment of the prophecies made in Isaiah and Malachi concerning him – that he would be the voice of one crying in the wilderness – make ready the way of the Lord. He would be the forerunner to the coming Messiah – the Christ.
Which brings us to our text today. Here, Luke gives a little more information about John’s message, and its effectiveness. Let me give you the very simple outline of the text:
- The Need for Repentance (7-9)
- The Fruit of Repentance, or we could call it the Proof of Repentance (10-14)
As he began preaching, many came out to hear him. You see, there were those looking for the Messiah – those looking for deliverance and rescue from their oppressive overlords. But in his preaching, John zeroed in on a greater need – the same need we have today – rescue from personal sin, not public oppression. That’s all we seem to focus on today – who is oppressing who. But our biggest problem is our own sin and its result. And while John’s was a hard message, it was a true message. He preached the need for repentance from sin and transformation. Unfortunately, that message is largely missing in many churches and gospel presentations today. Jesus is presented as sort of cosmic genie – rub the lamp and get what you want. A celestial vending machine – put in a little prayer, and good things will come out.
God did not send His Son to leave us in our miserable conditions, pursuing things that lead to death. He sent His Son to save us – from our sin and the deserved, coming wrath. Let’s look at the need for repentance and, well, John’s need for winning friends and influencing people.
Look at verse 7 – the crowds were coming out to hear him and be baptized by him. As we talked about a couple weeks ago, this baptism was a sign that pointed to or signified something greater than itself. It wasn’t being dunked that was the end goal. In other words, baptism is not efficacious in washing away sin – it’s an outward symbol of an inward reality. What the people needed was repentance – and the external washing was a picture pointing to that which had taken place inwardly. That they had turned from their sin. You see, it’s not enough to do some religious things – to observe some religious rite and then be okay. No, it’s always been a matter of the heart. A changed heart. A repentant heart. A new heart.
It’s the same today. To be clear, John’s baptism was not Christian baptism – it was simply preparing for the coming of the Messiah. But now, Jesus has come – His death and resurrection for sinners is an accomplished fact and the foundation of our faith. Our baptism points to sins being washed away, yes – by faith looking back to the finished work of Christ. But like John’s baptism, it does not wash away sins – Jesus did that in His work on the cross. But repentance – that is, turning from sin – is as necessary for receiving Christ today as it was in preparing for Christ then. The challenge today is many come to Jesus but have not intention of leaving their sin. That will not work. It’s not that leaving your sin saves you, but it is proof you have been saved.
So, the crowds came to John – out in the wilderness – a journey of a day or two – to hear his message and be baptized by him. He was gaining some popularity. John, you’ve got a movement going here – careful what you say. This is the makings of megachurch. Guard your words – be nice – don’t be offensive. Wins some friends. And John’s very welcoming words were, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” Was he smiling when he said that? Literally, he says, you offspring of snakes – very inviting, don’t you think? And if we are trying to win friends, this is not the way to do it. Don’t miss this – by such welcoming words, John was actually accusing them of being the offspring of the great serpent, the devil. Jesus did the same thing in John 8. There, they were claiming Abraham as their father, and Jesus said, you are of your father the devil. Seems like Jesus could have used Carnagie’s book.
What’s going on here – what’s the point? If you’ve been around, you’ve heard me say it many times. The gospel includes some very bad news. In fact, there must be bad news before there can be good news. The bad news is – we are bad. We’re sinners. We have a need that only One can meet. No amount of being good, doing good, will help – because we are by nature – at the core of our beings, evil – sinful – the offspring of the great serpent, the snake, the devil. I know, I need to read the book – I have – this one. And it declares me a sinner in need of a savior – helpless and hopeless to do anything about my lost, miserable condition. Any gospel that does not present the need is no gospel at all. (Die – get to heaven…)
So, John began with bad news – highlighting their need. The good news of the gospel must include the bad news of the need. There can be no good news without bad news. How is it good if there is no need? And that’s the problem today – I’ll just add some Jesus to my already wonderful life. Your life isn’t wonderful – it’s terribly depraved. Is that the way you received Christ – and the remedy of your sin and need of redemption and rescue? Realizing there was nothing you bring to the table of your salvation except your own sin and need? If you approached Christ simply as a means of escaping hell – of making your life better in some way –I’m concerned for you. I don’t want you to hear the words of Jesus from Matthew 7 – depart from me, you sinner – I never knew you.
Notice, John asks, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? What wrath – whose wrath? Clearly, he is speaking of divine wrath – God’s wrath against sinners and their sin. It is coming – that truth is all over the Scripture. God is a holy God, and we have offended Him. Most notably:
Romans 1:18 – The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness. That is God’s current wrath seen in a number of ways – all pointing to our need – and portending the great day of the Lord and wrath to come.
Romans 2:5 – But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant hearts you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God.
Colossian 3:6 – at the end of one of Paul’s famous vice lists, he writes, For it is because of these things that the wrath of God will come upon the sons of disobedience.
II Thessalonians 1:7-8 – the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.
Revelation 19:15 – at the return of Christ, From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron, and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty.
It’s all over the place. God’s wrath is coming – and while everyone wants to talk about the brokenness of this world and the evil that exist in it – if there is a God, how can this be – all the brokenness and evil, as C. S. Lewis says, act as megaphones calling us to repentance. God’s wrath is good and right and proper. J. I. Packer says in his famous work, Knowing God, “God’s wrath in the Bible is never the capricious, self-indulgent, irritable, morally ignoble thing that human anger so often is. It is, instead, a right and necessary reaction to objective moral evil.”
And so John warns them. Who warned you to flee from God’s coming wrath? Obviously the Scripture does – again, it is found throughout the Scripture – to include 18 OT references to the coming eschatological Day of the Lord – the coming day of His judgment.
Verse 8, therefore, since God’s unstayed hand is coming, bear fruits in keeping with repentance. In other words, having repented – and not just felt a twinge of guilt or even sorrow and remorse over your sin – having actually repented and turned away from your sin, prove it by bearing fruit in keeping with repentance. And we know John is talking to Jewish people who were convinced they were alright because of the blood flowing through their veins. They had some special dispensation – Rabbis even taught all Jews, children of Abraham, have a place in the kingdom. When God’s judgment comes, we’ll be fine – we’re descendants of Abraham – we’re God’s chosen people.
In essence, John says that does not matter. Don’t rely on your family connections. Don’t miss it – physical descent does not matter. Jesus said the same thing to Pharisees that day in John 8 – you’re counting on your physical descent from Abraham. But your spiritual descent is of greater importance – you are of your father, the devil. Family connections do not matter – they have never mattered. For our purposes – it does not matter that your family has brought you to church your whole life. What matters is a right relationship with God through repentance and faith.
Without these, you are hopelessly lost, and in danger of the coming judgment – the wrath of God. After all, God is able to raise up children of Abraham from these rocks. And we remember the Jews were told to remember the rock, Abraham, from which they were hewn. Just as God chose Abraham, He can do it again – using rocks to be his children. And we also remember Jesus will later say at the triumphal entry as the people are calling out His praises – blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. The religious leaders told Jesus to command His followers to be quiet. To which Jesus responded, if I do, even these stones will cry out.
Verse 9 – listen, John says, the axe is already laid at the root of the trees. The image is that of God raising His axe in judgment, aimed at the roots to cut down the tree from the roots upward. Nothing would be left but to throw the fruitless, barren tree into the fire of judgment. He’s talking about hell, and he was not talking about trees – he is talking about those who do not repent and bring forth fruit proving their genuine repentance. All that remains for such people is a certain, fearful, eternal judgment. The passage I referenced earlier, when Jesus says to people, depart from Me, sinners – you who continue in sin, for I never knew you. The text in its context actually says:
17 “So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit.
18 “A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit.
19 “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
20 “So then, you will know them by their fruits.
21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.
22 “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’
23 “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’
John also warned of impending judgment and wrath. His words were heard, causing people to say, what then is true repentance. Leading to our second point – the Fruit of Repentance. What does it look like, if it’s not simply prophesying in Your name, casting out demons, and performing miracles? All of those are spectacular – but they are meaningless if not accompanied by true repentance. What does that look like? Can I tell you that what John then says in verses 10-14 has significant ramifications for us today – because he hits us right where it hurts – in our money and our possessions – even though these people had a fraction of what we have. He addresses three groups of people, who, having heard his message, asked, what should we do? What is legitimate fruit in keeping with repentance?
The first group is simply the crowds of people in verses 10-11. What shall we do? And he would answer, implying these words he spoke were quite customary for him, and the response of the people was customary as well. They were questioning him, and he would answer saying, some incredible words. And we are so well off, financially and materially, even the poorest among us, that the words almost seem nonsensical. The man who has two tunics – stop right there. The tunic was short, waist-length shirt worn as an undershirt. Think tee shirt that you wear under your outer shirt or dress shirt. The one who has two tunics – two tee shirts.
You say, what? Two – I have a couple dozen. I mean, I don’t want to have to do laundry – you know, in washing machine – every other day. That’s ridiculous. I have a drawer full of fruit of the loom tee shirts. Right. Recently, my wife said to me – we need to go through your tee shirt drawer – that’s right, drawer – to get rid of all the free tee shirts you’ve gotten that you never wear. That’s right – I have tee shirts I never wear.
And John says, you who have two should give to the one who has none. Nonsensical. What does that even mean – let’s move on. I mean, I occasionally take my extra, worn out shirts I don’t want any more to Goodwill – check, got that covered. What’s the principle? Simply this – the one who has more than he needs should share with the one who does not. And it’s proof of genuine repentance.
He says the same thing in the second part of verse 11 – the one who has food should share with the one who does not. Well, what does that mean – I’ve got a pantry and refrigerator and freezer full of food. Right. Then having more than we need, we should share with those who do not. Well, you say, I don’t know anyone starving. We have to look a bit harder in this country – but there are those around the world who don’t know where their next meal is coming from. Should we, as Christians, be concerned enough to do something about that? John says we should.
By the way – you want a definition of social justice – not one tainted by politics and racism? I know I’m an old white man, but let me venture into a minefield I’m told I don’t even understand. Social justice is simply this – those who have much should share with those who don’t. I’m not talking about systemic racism or white supremacy. I’m simply talking about God’s people being generous. Share what God has given us so abundantly – to people who have need. But then, I’ll have less. Yes, yes you will. Except, you’ll prove that you have truly repented, and God has changed your heart. Because to us, God has given grace – which we will never deserve. How can we not love and give more – even sacrificially?
The next group to approach John were tax collectors. The Roman system of taxation was oppressive, relentless, and ruthless. It was run like a business. The Roman Senate would put up for auction the opportunity to tax a certain region of the empire. Those who won the right to tax were called publicani or publicans. They would be required to pay Rome an agreed upon amount – anything the publicans collected beyond what they paid was profit to them. They would generally hire tax collectors in those regions to do the dirty work of collecting taxes. These tax collectors had the same agreement with the publicans as the publicans had with Rome. You collect this amount for us – anything over that amount is yours to keep. The local tax collectors were typically citizens of that area – meaning, tax collectors in Palestine were Jews. They were the lowest of the low – rightly seen as robbers and traitors to their own country. If you were touched by a tax collector, you were seen as unclean.
These despised people came to John to be baptized, and asked him, what shall we do. Very interestingly, John did not tell them to quit their jobs. He simply said, collect no more than what you have been ordered to. Don’t fleece the people. Collect what is required, and we assume enough to pay you – but don’t line your pockets on the backs of people. Again, John zeroes in on their wealth – true repentance does not result in self-enrichment, but in care for people – dare I call it biblical social justice. It’s not leveling the playing field, but it is caring for people in need. Lots in the health-wealth-prosperity gospel movement need to hear that today.
Lastly, some soldiers came to John and asked him the same question, what shall we do? Most agree, these soldiers were also likely Jews and comprised part of the local governing authorities’ police force. It’s clear they were underpaid, so they made up for that by extorting the people with their swords. Again, John doesn’t tell them to quit their jobs – but instead, to be content with their wages. Don’t steal, don’t threaten, don’t extort, don’t bring false witness to gain bribes – be content with your wages. Paul told Timothy, if Christians have food and clothing, with that be content, because that is far more than we deserve.
I’m out of time. So, maybe the best way to win friends and influence people – for eternity – is to tell them the truth. There is a God with whom we have to do. To whom we will one day give an account. And if you do not repent, you will perish. But that sounds so harsh – so condemning – not winsome. Actually, that is exactly what Jesus said – and I say it to you today. Turn from your sin – stop pursuing wealth as the ultimate goal in life. Prove your repentance by being generous with what God provides.