"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.” - Luke 3:16b
The story goes that a man died and was met by Peter at the pearly gates. Peter told him, “You need 100 points to make it into Heaven. Tell me all of the good things you’ve done and I’ll give you a certain number of points for each item, depending on how good it was. When you reach 100 points, you get in.” “Okay,” the man said. “I was married to the same woman for 50 years and never cheated on her, not even in my heart.” “That’s wonderful,” said Peter. “That’s worth three points.” “Three points!” the man exclaimed. He thought some more and added, “Well, I attended church all my life and supported its ministry with my tithes and service.” “Terrific!” said Peter. “That’s certainly worth a point.” “One point?” the man echoed. “Okay … well, I started a soup kitchen in my city and worked in a homeless shelter every weekend for 20 years.” Peter said, “Fantastic! That’s good for two more points.” “Two points!” the man cried out in frustration. “At this rate, the only way I’ll get into Heaven is by the grace of God!” Peter gave him a wide smile, stepped aside and said, “Come on in!”
You get the idea. It’s not possible for any of us to get into Heaven without God’s grace. And if that’s hard for many people to understand today, it was that much harder in the days of John the Baptist. Most Jews thought that if a person had been born into a Jewish family and pretty much followed God’s Old Testament laws, they would be saved. In their minds, salvation was simply a matter of being born into the right ethnic group and following Jewish law. If those two requirements were met, they’d be a shoo-in for salvation.
Then along came John the Baptist, From a very young age, I’m sure that John’s parents, Zechariah and Elizabeth, had told him what the angel Gabriel had prophesied about him before he was born: that John would turn the hearts of fathers to their children, turn the disobedient to obedience, and to get the people ready for the Messiah’s coming. When John embarked on his ministry, we’re told in Luke 3:3, “He went into all the country around the
preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” Jordan
Now, baptism was a pretty common thing in John’s day, but the kind of baptizing that John was doing was unprecedented. You see, in those days the only people who were baptized were non-Jews who wanted to convert to Judaism. If you were born into a Jewish family, you would never be baptized. But John the Baptist was insisting that Jews come to God the same way that non-Jews did. John was basically saying that everyone has to come to God on the same terms. Nobody has the advantage of being able to ride their ancestors’ shirt tails into heaven. What John was preaching was revolutionary.
John also made it clear that he was paving the way for a leader far greater than himself: “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” (Luke 3:16b). In other words, “The promised Savior and King is coming, and I’m not Him. He is much stronger than me. He is much more important than me. My job is simply to help get you ready for Him and then to get out of the way. When he gets here, you’ll need to leave me and go follow him instead.” How’s that for an unconventional approach to leadership?
And once John’s followers were baptized, they asked John what to do next to demonstrate their repentance. And John told them bluntly in verses 11:14: If you see someone in need, give him your jacket. If you are a tax collector or a soldier, stop using your job to cheat people. Stop strong-arming people and using your position to build your own bank account. Do what is right and good. Do what God would want you to do.
John packed a lot into his short ministry, but I believe it can be condensed into three points that still hold true for us today:
1. Everyone has to come to God on equal terms. We’re not that different from the Jews in John’s day. They believed that because they were born into a Jewish family and had studied the Bible, their salvation was secure. But they were dead wrong. Similarly, many people today believe their salvation is secure because their whole family is Catholic or because they were born into a Christian family. But the truth is, salvation is not transferrable. Your mom’s salvation is her salvation … not yours. You can’t ride anyone else’s shirt tails into heaven. You have to stand on your own two feet before God.
2. The way you have to come to God is through faith and repentance. You must place your faith—your trust—in Jesus Christ to save you from your sins. You will never get to 100 points on your own. Not even close! You need His grace. You need His forgiveness. You need His salvation. So, as I like to say it: You need to put Jesus Christ in the driver’s seat of your life.
3. True repentance always produces fruit. To repent doesn’t just mean to be sorry for your sin. To repent literally means “to change your mind.” And once your mind is changed, your life must be changed. So, I ask you today: If you’ve truly chosen to repent—to change your mind and turn from your sin and follow Jesus Christ—is there plenty of evidence in your life to back it up?
Dane Davis is the Lead Pastor of First Christian Church in Victorville. For more information,
visit www.YourVictorvilleChurch.com and join us for church Sundays at 10 a.m.