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Luke 3:7 You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?

John the Baptist was less concerned to win people’s approval than to confront them with their sin. By calling them a brood of vipers he alluded to the Garden of Eden where Satan took the form of a serpent (Genesis 3:1). They proved they were the devil’s offspring (Genesis 3:15) by their sinful ways. And without a serious change, they should expect God’s wrath.

Luke 3:9 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

John was thinking of an orchard owner who was checking his trees for fruit. Whenever he found a tree that did not bear fruit, he put his ax to the root, and prepared to swing. Once the tree was down, it was thrown into the fire. 

John was not thinking of trees, however, but of people who should be living for God. Those who are not should feel the ax at their feet, and the heat of the fire nearby. God is doing nothing inappropriate since he owns the orchard and has a right to expect fruit: the character and lifestyle that come from knowing him (Galatians 5:22-23). 

Some of John’s listeners would have found this idea objectionable, and many still do. God with an ax is not a popular image. But John was not afraid to use it, and neither was Jesus. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire (Matthew 7:19), he said.

Luke 3:16 I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie

Removing a master’s sandals was such a humble task that some Jewish masters did not require it from their slaves. John had such a high view of Jesus, however, that he felt unworthy to even remove his sandals. Serving Jesus Christ is the highest honor there is, regardless how humble the task.

Luke 3:17 His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire

After the grain was harvested it was brought to a threshing floor to be winnowed with a wooden pitchfork. When it was tossed into the air, the grain would fall to the ground, and the lighter chaff would blow off to the side. Then it was burned in a fire. But unlike literal chaff, the ungodly will suffer unquenchable fire

A friend of mine was badly burned at work, hospitalized for weeks, and required multiple skin grafts. It was the worst suffering I have ever seen, so the idea of fire as punishment is troubling to me. I would rather do away with it, but this is the second time John used fire to describe the punishment of the wicked. In fact, it appears throughout the Bible.

For a fire will be kindled by my wrath, one that burns down to the realm of the dead below (Deuteronomy 32:22). Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41). Sodom and Gomorrah. . . . serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire (Jude 7). And, Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:15).

Preachers who talk this way are sometimes mocked as fire and brimstone preachers. But any preacher who never talks this way is being unfaithful to God, unfaithful to the Bible, and unfaithful to his listeners. The Bible describes hell as fire, and that is how we should think of it. 

Luke 3:21 When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too

This took John by surprise, and at first he resisted (Matthew 3:14-15). We understand his reluctance, since John was merely a prophet, and Jesus was the Messiah. Furthermore, John preached a baptism of repentance, but Jesus never sinned. So why would a sinless Messiah want to be baptized? 

There are at least three answers to this question. First, Jesus was endorsing John’s ministry. Second, Jesus was modeling the right thing for others to do. Third, and primarily, Jesus was identifying with those he came to save.

Imagine a party at which everyone was wearing a name tag that also identified their worst sin. There was Mark the Murderer, Bonnie the Blasphemer, Ron the Rapist, Sally the Slanderer, Larry the Luster, Lynn the Liar, Erica the Embezzler, Paul the Pornographer, Amy the Adulteress, Charlie the Cheat, and Alyssa the Addict. Everyone was wearing a name tag, but no one was having a good time, because everyone felt so ashamed.

Then Jesus arrived, but they would not give him a name tag, since he never committed a sin. So Jesus took everyone else’s name tag and put them on himself. Then he stepped into the pool and went under water. When he came out, the names were still on the tags, but the sins were washed away. Jesus’ baptism anticipates his work on the cross and the removal of our sins. 

We can think of the church as a party of redeemed sinners whose sins have been washed away by Jesus Christ. It is illustrated in baptism, and was fulfilled at the cross. Jesus was baptized, not for himself, but for those who would believe in him. He washed all our sins away (1 John 1:7).

Luke 3:21b-22 And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.

All three members of the Trinity were evident at Jesus’ baptism. The Son was on the earth, the Father spoke from heaven, and the Spirit descended like a dove. The idea of the Trinity is not easy to grasp, but the Bible teaches that God is triune. The one true God eternally exists in three persons. 

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:20), said Jesus. The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Spirit is God—but there is only one God. The biblical concept of the Trinity is one God in three persons. 

Reflection and Review
Should pastors preach like John the Baptist?
Why was Jesus baptized?
How does Jesus’ baptism reveal the Trinity?