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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:John preaches: ‘Repent, for Christ is on his way!’
Text:Luke 3:7-9 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 78:1,2,3                                                                                  

Ps 32:1,2

Reading – Luke 3:1-20

Ps 51:1,3,4

Sermon – Luke 3:7-9

Hy 70:1,2,3,4

Hy 15:1,2,3

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved in Christ, it’s a great privilege, being a minister of God’s Word. Yet preaching is a difficult job. What makes it hard is not really the years of study beforehand. It’s not the many hours spent every week writing sermons. It’s not even getting over the fear of public speaking. Preaching is difficult because of what that Word means. It’s a serious word, a word of great consequence. A minister has the privilege of bringing the Word of salvation—but that very same message is also a word of judgment.

In the Bible, those two always go together: salvation and judgment. They’re inseparable. Because if I tell you that salvation is available through faith in Christ, then the opposite is also true: those who don’t believe will miss out on this gift, and are under God’s holy wrath forever.

Even if we don’t say it exactly like that every Sunday, that’s always the implication. If you don’t accept this gospel, there’s no life or redemption, only death. For if the text has been faithfully explained, if Christ has been preached, then the minister’s words must be received for what they actually are: the Word of the living God.

Many receive the Word with faith—we thank the LORD for this grace! But sadly, other people, maybe even some who are here today, reject it. They don’t care for the gospel. They haven’t believed in Christ or really repented from their sins.

This makes preaching hard. You wish you could be more convincing, more persuasive—that you could cause everyone to respond in the right way. But in the end, one who brings the Word knows that it’s not his own. It’s God’s Word. And that means that God takes care of the results. Almighty God works all the change that’s needed.

These are the truths that John the Baptist surely held onto. For him too, being a “minister of the Word” wasn’t easy. He preached to all who would listen, calling them to repentance and faith. But even as he did, some turned away. And some others didn’t care. But this was God’s Word—a word of salvation and judgment—so he’d continue to bring it boldly. That’s our theme,

John preaches: ‘Repent, for Christ is on his way!’

  1. the time is urgent
  2. some are complacent
  3. the repentance must be real


1) the time is urgent: Something big is about to happen in the gospel of Luke. It happens in verse 2, “The word of God came to John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness.” This is the same kind of language used to describe the Old Testament prophets: “The word of God came to Ezekiel, or Jeremiah, or whomever.” And whenever the word of God comes, his messengers must speak. So John begins. He goes into the region of the Jordan, “preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins” (v 3). When we hear “baptism,” we probably picture our nice baptismal font. We see an infant presented by her parents, and that solemn ceremony of sprinkled water. We’re used to baptism.

And the Jews knew something about ceremonies of washing. There was lots of this in the law, as a part of being cleansed from impurity. There were also some fringe groups in Israel who had a ritual something like baptism. And if there were Gentiles who wanted to join God’s people, but they didn’t want to undergo the pain of being circumcised, they’d be “baptized.”

So people knew about different kinds of “baptism,” washings with water. But John’s message was something new. For he stood at the edge of the Jordan, and called people to come into the water. Baptism was for everyone, for everyone who saw the need to change their ways.

The Word of God came to John in the wilderness, who said that now is the time for repentance. Now—and not later—is the time for you to begin a different way of life. What makes his call so urgent? Why does he preach with such conviction? Well, think of what John’s main task was: to prepare for the coming Christ. Jesus was on his way, coming to deal with human sin, once and for all. He was going to take away guilt and shame and make possible a new relationship with the LORD.

“When He comes, He’ll open up God’s grace to you in a new way,” John said to everyone gathered. “When Christ comes, He’ll bring salvation with Him. But to receive him, you’ve got something to do. You need to confess your sins. To be ready, you need to repent.”

The same call comes with the preaching of the gospel, every Sunday. We hear the Word of salvation, and we have to believe: accept it with a heart of faith and trust. But we must also repent! What does that mean? The Greek word here for “repentance” is literally “a change of mind.” It means we change our minds about ourselves. We change our minds about our sin. We change our minds about God.

And that isn’t something merely intellectual or mental. Repentance isn’t only a matter of having the right information, knowing proper theology. It is deeply personal, a matter of our heart. Repentance is coming to see how lowly we are, how helpless we are, how sinful. It means coming to grips with our secret idols and our addictions and unholy ways and sinful reactions.

We change our minds about ourselves, because we see how much we need grace. At the same time, repentance is seeing that God is our one and only hope. We come to understand that it’s only because of the Lord’s great mercies that we are not consumed. By the grace of his Spirit, this is the beginning of new life.

And true forgiveness cannot take place without it. That is John’s point. If you will receive this Christ, and share in his salvation, your heart has to be ready. Be ready with a broken heart, a contrite heart. It’s when I finally realize my own responsibility for all the sins I’ve committed. I can’t blame anyone else—I won’t blame anyone else—but I completely accept my guilt. And I admit that what I’ve done causes deep offense to God.

In our life, nothing will get better if we don’t face up to our sin. If we don’t repent, our guilt will only be deepened, and we’ll drift further away from God. But by repentance, we’re made ready to approach the throne of grace. And it’s then that God will receive us.

This was the message that John brought in all urgency. And he attracted big crowds with these words. This preaching was a breath of fresh air, after all the legalistic ramblings of the Pharisees. Lots of people came, but unfortunately, not everyone was serious about starting over. “He said to the multitudes that came out to be baptized by him, ‘Brood of vipers!’” (v 7). No one could miss the point of these words. In the Old Testament, vipers represented the enemies of God; a viper is deceitful, and dangerous, and full of venom.

And there’s something else about snakes: they always know when danger is near. That’s exactly what brought some people to John. They could sense that the time was urgent, could feel the heat being turned up. So they want some life insurance by getting baptized.

John sees through their deceit: “Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (v 7). Baptism won’t save you, he says. It’s not an immunity card, in case you run into trouble. No, if we’ve received baptism, then our lives must also change. More on that, a bit later.

But first we remember that whenever salvation is near, judgment is close behind. That beautiful opportunity you once had can become a terrible tragedy if you don’t respond in time. Those gospel words that I heard every Sunday, the baptism that I once received, these might be the very things that testify against me.

"Even now,” John warns, “the ax is laid to the root of the trees” (v 9). Picture being out in the forest looking for firewood, and you see a good tree. You fuel up your chainsaw, get it ready, place it near the tree. All it takes is someone to pick it up and start sawing. That’s what these days are like, says John: the ax is ready, judgment is near. The coming of Jesus means that it’s decision-time. The thoughts of many hearts will soon be revealed. What do you think of the Christ?

And if the time was urgent back then, it can only be more urgent now! The Saviour has already come, and He has gone, and soon He’s coming again. The days are short. The end is near—we see the evidence. Even now, the ax is laid to the root of the tree.

So before judgment comes, we announce that there is available new life in Christ. There is a way to move beyond the guilt of your past sins. There is a way to be cleansed, not just outwardly, but inwardly, even to the deep places of the soul. Even the worst things we’ve done can be covered in the blood of Christ, scrubbed away forever. You can be free to live in the joy of salvation. Ask for God’s help to change your mind: to think differently about yourself, about the living God, about your total need for his grace. If you come in a lowly spirit to God, He’ll never reject you.

It’s wonderful to hear this gospel. But it also needs to be declared that when there is no repentance, God’s wrath will come. It’s for our own good that Scripture says: If there is no fruit, then the tree should be cut down and thrown in the fire. That sounds very serious—because it is. It’s urgent. It’s time to be repentant, and not complacent.


2) some are complacent: There’s an old saying that a preacher’s job has two parts, that he is “to comfort the afflicted, and to afflict the comfortable.” To guilty people and hurting people, the Word of God gives rich consolation. And to people who are lukewarm and lazy, the Word gives a strong admonition.

This is precisely what John the Baptist does. Many people who came to him assumed they were good people. After all, they were God’s chosen ones, part of Israel, members of the covenant. Wasn’t their salvation practically guaranteed? So when John preached about repentance, they asked, “That might be necessary for the really sinful people, but do we also need to repent, like he’s saying? There’s not too much we need to prepare ourselves, is there? We’re God’s covenant people, after all.”

But John knows what his audience is like. So he cuts them short: “Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father’” (v 8). This was just the answer, some people thought. They had their status as the children of Abraham, a place before God.

And it’s true, belonging to the covenant of grace is an incredible blessing. So many people live and die without hearing what we have heard, or receiving what we have received. Yet do you hear what John says? Baptism or church membership is no substitute for a changed life. God seeks a repentant heart. You must be born again!

Think about how we’re not so different from John’s audience. We too, are members of the covenant, part of God’s people. Being baptized is a great gift, together with receiving God’s promises. But what if you’ve never truly confessed your sin and put them to death? What does it mean if we still haven’t gone to Christ for cleansing?

It’s easy to be complacent. If you’ve grown up in a Christian home, and always gone to church and even a Christian school, there is probably much that is good in your life: you have good habits, good manners—much that is outwardly acceptable. People might even commend you for being a hard and honest worker, and having lots of Bible knowledge. Yet these good things sometimes give a false sense of comfort. They can keep us from facing the hard question of what lies beneath: Is there humble faith in Christ? Is there repentance from sin? Do I have a real love for God and a real love for other people?

Somewhere along the line, people might trust in entirely the wrong thing: “We have Abraham as our Father. We belong to the right church. We have the water on our forehead.” It’s something for all of us to reflect on. Have we missed the one thing that God really seeks?

Thankfully, John puts on the right path. It’s the path of repentance. With our whole life, we must turn to the Lord. We seek to depend on Christ with all our heart. And that begins simply, with recognizing our sins and repenting from them.

So what are my sins? Can I name them? Can I bring them into the open? This takes some self-reflection, some soul searching. What sins do we tolerate in ourselves? Are there any bad habits which I’ve come to accept in my life? Maybe it’s wrong ways—like proud ways, hostile ways—of thinking about other people, or it is impure sexual desires, or it is some treasured idol. Are there any sins I’ve tried to hide from the eyes of everyone? Will we be honest about these sins, and acknowledge them?

And if we will confess our sins, where do we go? If you know how you’ve failed, that you can’t do it on your own, go to the Saviour in faith and love and worship. Put your trust in Him as Lord. Depend on Him as your one hope and comfort in this fallen world.

And let’s realize something else as the covenant people of God, as his church. The truth is, God doesn’t need us. Yes, God has sworn his faithfulness to us. But the LORD can raise up believers anywhere. God can receive worship well enough without us. This is what John says to the Jews, “I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones” (v 8). If God can create the whole world out of nothing, He can do this. If He can create a nation out of senior citizens like Abraham and Sarah, then God can create people who will love and obey him.

That is a real warning. If He doesn’t find faith, God can move on. And in the years after Christ, this is what God did. Many of the Jews wouldn’t accept the Messiah. So God sent his gospel to the Gentiles, even to all nations. “From these stones,” He would raise up the children of Abraham!

Beloved, we are those stones. We’ve been graciously included, now invited into God’s family through Christ. But there’s still no room for false comfort. From his covenant people, from you and me and everyone here, God is seeking faith. And He is seeking the fruits of faith.


3) the repentance must be real: After calling, warning, and baptizing, John had another question for the people at the Jordan. The question was this: What will they look like, after they’ve received baptism? They’d be dripping wet, sure. They might’ve gone on their way, smiling and relieved.

But if we have really believed in God, and repented of sins, then our life will look different from before. That’s the force of verse 8, “Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance.” Baptism has value, but what does it produce? It requires that we live in daily gratitude for forgiveness, that we show we’re now committed servants of the Lord.

In other words, repentance isn’t an abstract activity. It’s not just a word from the Catechism. Repentance is something you can see. It’s a visible response to the grace of God. As we draw on the sweet waters of his grace, there will surely grow fruits on our branches!

In the first place, true repentance changes our relationship with God. If you know yourself to be a desperate sinner, but now a forgiven and cleansed sinner, you will begin to love God. You will thank God and worship him. Repentance transforms how you relate to God. Now you want to spend time with the Lord. You want to listen to him. Your greatest joy is knowing God, and knowing him better.

In the second place, repentance shifts our relationship with other people. It’s this aspect which receives the emphasis in our text. Turning away from sin must shape how we treat those around us. We treat them with grace and gentleness. We treat them with mercy and meekness. The person who is forgiven becomes a forgiving person.

You hear this in John’s answers to the crowd. In the following verse, they ask, “What shall we do then?” (v 10). They have understood his point about bearing fruit. So they seek application: what are the results of this repenting? John says: “He who has two tunics, let him give to him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise” (v 11). In other words: show kindness and be loving. That is always the mark of true repentance, when it changes what you actually do toward others, and you share your possessions and relieve suffering.

And this will mean different things for every different person. There are two more examples in our chapter. The tax collectors ask what they should do, and John tells them to collect only what is required, and to stop stealing. Some soldiers too, ask what they should do, and John says they should no longer take advantage of people. If you’ve repented, then these the real and concrete changes you’ll make.

We should all say the same thing: “What shall we do?” It’s asked by the repentant husband, and the repentant wife. It’s asked by the young person who wants to repent from his sin, and by the child, and by the older member: What will be the results of repentance in my life? How will I show my response to the gospel?

We always want to answer that in practical ways. Repentance is concrete. If there has been a specific sin, then we seek to change. If I have been making an idol out of money, I stop, and begin to delight in the Lord alone. If I have been putting impure things in front of my eyes, I stop, and pursue better things. If I have been getting furious with my family, repentance means I stop, and I seek God’s grace for self-control. If I have been neglecting prayer, then I seek to begin again, and to create new habits. There are countless examples.

The point is that repentance means change. What was I doing before I repented? What kind of life was I leading before? And how will things be different now? How will I begin to put things right? And that’s not a one-time question, but it’s asked again and again, day after day. What shall we do? We bear fruit, for the glory of the God who saved us.

In all this, let’s remember that the time is urgent: “Even now the ax is laid at the root of the tree.” That’s a serious warning, but it’s spoken in love. Because God wants us to live! For all those who repent from sin, He promises his never-failing grace. For all who turn in faith to Jesus Christ, there is the joy and peace and comfort of knowing him. So pray for God’s help to change. Ask for his strength for repentance. And He will surely come near and show grace.  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2021, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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