In 1954 he was called to pastor Friendly Will Missionary Baptist Church in Austin, Texas. Later, he was called to pastor Mount Corinth Baptist Church in Houston, Texas. It was there he developed a friendship with and was a confidant to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In 1961 he was called to pastor Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles, California. It was there while president that George H. W. Bush heard him preach. But it was there that he heard an elderly woman called “1800.”
She was called “1800” because no one knew for sure how old she was. Although it was a Baptist church, 1800 would sit at the front of the sanctuary. At the moment a preacher, any preacher, would begin his sermon she would shout, “Get him up!” After a few minutes, if 1800 did not think there was enough of Christ in a sermon, she would again shout, “Get him up!” And if a preacher did not “Get him up,” he was in for a rather long and perhaps hard morning of preaching.
He Preached Good News to the People
It may be that Luke 3:15-20 is for preachers when it comes to preaching. And it is because of this one sentence: “So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people” (3:18). But it also may be that Luke 3:15-20 is for those in the front of the sanctuary or in the back of the sanctuary or scattered throughout the sanctuary. And it is because of this one sentence: “So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people” (3:18). What is the point of preaching?
Notice the word exhortations. It can mean to warn or to help; to comfort or to encourage. Interestingly, this word is a verb. The noun form of this word is the same word to describe the Holy Spirit. “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26). And how does the Helper help? He teaches and he reminds all that Jesus has said. See that there is a certain content to the helping.
And this fits perfectly with Luke 3:18 and asking, what is the point of preaching? We might say that the point of preaching is to warn or to help or to comfort or to encourage, but Luke 3:18 does not allow us to say just that. It is because there is a certain content to the warning, the helping, the comforting, the encouraging. And what is that certain content? “So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people.” The certain content of the exhortations is good news. And so the point of preaching is for the one doing the preaching and for those in the front of the sanctuary or in the back of the sanctuary or scattered throughout the sanctuary. The point of preaching is good news whether it be a warning or a help or a comfort or an encouragement.
What is the Good News?
But the big question to ask is, what is good news? This is the third time that these two words have been used together so far in the Gospel of Luke.
In Luke 1:19, the angel Gabriel said to Zechariah (who just learned that he was going to be a father for the first time at an age when he should be a grandfather for the first time), “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news.” In Luke 2:10, to some shepherds out in some field an angel said, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people.” Then in Luke 3:18 there is this verse about the ministry of John the Baptist. “So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people.” But there is also Luke 4:43 and the ministry of Jesus Christ. “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well.” This means that in four consecutive chapters of Luke’s Gospel, Luke says something about good news. And I think the reason is that good news is the point of preaching.
But back to the big question. What is good news? Two angels at two separate times were sent with it. And two men at two separate times preached it. Another word for good news is gospel, So, essentially we are asking, what is the gospel?
It was mentioned last week that the Apostle Paul wrote to a local church in Rome that he was eager to preach the gospel to them (Romans 1:15). And then the Apostle Paul wrote to a local church in Corinth to remind them of the gospel. “…that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was he buried, that he was raised in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared” (1 Corinthians 15:1, 3-5). The small point is that it is good for us to be asking, what is the gospel?
I want to point out that Luke 3:18 describes the ministry of John the Baptist in reference to the previous verses. So, when we ask about the gospel we need to look at those previous verses. As we do, be reminded about something in the Gospel of Mark regarding the ministry of John the Baptist. Mark called it, “the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ” (1:1). There is a beginning to the good news.
The Beginning to the Good News
This beginning is everything we heard together in Luke 3:1-14. And this beginning is repentance. The good news is that there is repentance. Repentance is a turning, a turning toward God. It is a turning of the heart toward God which means the heart was turned away from God toward something else other than God. Something else had my heart! Repentance is a turning of the heart away from sin and turning the heart toward God. It is a turning away from a behavior God hates and turning toward a behavior God loves. It is a turning away from my own effort and my own strength and turning toward the strength of God. And what causes the turning? It is God; it is the riches of God’s kindness (Romans 2:4).
There is then a lifestyle, a distinctive lifestyle that is to accompany this repentance. It is a lifestyle that is gladly gives and gladly receives. It is a lifestyle that experiences daily contentment. It is a lifestyle that experiences contentment because of the experience of knowing God. “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).
And so why call this the beginning? It is because it is only the beginning. There is more. And there is more because John preached more. There is more because there is Luke 3:15-17.
Is John the Christ?
John was preaching this good news to the people and these people were in expectation (3:15). The word expectation means to watch in view of. In view of what John just said, the people were watching, watching and waiting, watching and waiting for more. Why? It is because there has to be more. This is really interesting. Why would the people be expecting more? Listen to the rest of Luke 3:15. The people “were questioning in their hearts concerning John.” Is he the Christ? Again, why are they thinking like this?
Now the text does not say that John heard their questions. He obviously saw the people and their reactions. John being a man filled with the Holy Spirit answered, meaning he is answering their expectation; he is answering their question.
Now just note, that John does not give a simple and straightforward “no.” He is not the Christ, but he does not say he is not the Christ, the Messiah, God’s promised King. Instead he says that the first part of his answer to their expectation is that he baptized with water. It is as if John said, “Of course there is more! This is just the beginning. I only baptized you with water.” And then he tells them that there is more to come. “But he who is mightier than I is coming.” Literally, “the One comes mightier than I.”
And I love this; John says concerning the One, the coming One, “the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.” John considered himself unworthy to untie the shoes of Jesus! Taking somebody’s sandals off and washing their feet was so low on the service ladder that you couldn’t get lower than having to do that job.
Then John gets to it. “He [the One coming who is mightier] will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” This is John’s answer to their expectation of more. Of course there is more! This is John’s answer about the Christ! John is not the Christ. John baptized with water. Anyone can baptize with water! John did something that was a visible and outward demonstration of an inner reality: the turning of the heart. John simply immersed a person with water. But there is more. The One coming, he is mightier, stronger, more powerful and therefore he can do what no mere man can do. Only he can baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. Only he can immerse a person with the Holy Spirit and fire. And what does that mean?
The Baptism with the Holy Spirit and Fire
Why were the people watching for more? The people were watching for more because they knew their Bible. The people were watching for more because they knew there was One coming. God promised that the Lord whom you seek [expect] will suddenly come to his temple. The people were watching for more because God promised that the messenger of the covenant, the covenant that promises a new heart, a revived heart, was coming (cf. Ezekiel 36:26). God promised that the Lord in whom you delight is coming. And the people were watching for more because God promised that first there would be a messenger that “will prepare the way before me” (Malachi 3:1). And who is John the Baptist? He is the one who will prepare the way before the Lord, the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
And the One coming, mightier than John, listen to what Malachi says about him. This is what God promised about him. “But who can endure [or who can comprehend or contain] the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and a fuller’s soap” (Malachi 3:2).
Luke 3:1-20 is a fulfillment of Malachi 3:1-4. And the baptism with the Holy Spirit and fire is like a fuller’s soap and a refiner’s fire. This baptism purifies and refines. When Isaiah prophesied Isaiah 7:14, he did so on the highway to the Washer’s [Fuller’s] field (cf. Isaiah 7:3). Now get this; a fuller was an individual who would take away the raw, filthy wool from sheep and purify it using a variety of techniques, including an extremely harsh soap that would ultimately help to make it clean. And get this; a refiner’s fire is a fire that refines, not a fire that destroys. It is a fire that improves and removes impurities. It is a fire that makes more accurate. It is a fire that completes in detail for final taste. It is a fire that is used for silver and gold. And it is said that a refiner knows that his metal is pure and improved and more accurate when he can see his own image in the mirror-like-surface of the metal.
This is the work and ministry of Jesus the Christ. And it is for all those who come to him to believe in him and receive him alone as Savior and Christ and Lord (the wheat). And those who reject him and reject this are like chaff that will be burned up in an unquenchable fire.
So how does Jesus do this? How does he baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire? How does he purify and refine? It happens at the moment of salvation when we are placed into the body of Christ, the church (1 Corinthians 12:13), a one-time experience of every genuine believer. It happens at the moment of salvation when by the Holy Spirit we are born again (John 3:3-6). It happens at the moment of salvation when the Holy Spirit takes up residence in our hearts (John 14:16, 17, 26). It happens at the moment of salvation when we are sealed by the Holy Spirit, a guarantee of our eternal destiny (Ephesians 1:13-14; 4:30; Romans 8:16-17). And it happens every day in our walk in this life – the Holy Spirit intercedes, actually prays for us (Romans 8:26-27)! It happens every day as we read God’s Word and His Spirit opens our eyes to behold wondrous things (Psalm 119:18). And it happens when I say no to sin each day by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:13). And it happens because of the great love with Jesus Christ loves me (Ephesians 5:25-27).