(You can listen to the sermon in its entirety here. It was preached on Sunday, January 13, 2007.)
During a good portion of this past year, we were seeing a number of out-of-control wildfires in California. Acres and acres of land were consumed by the fires. There was time when we lived in Florida, during a time where the rains failed to come and brought a time of great dryness. It was a time when we lived in a town on the southern edge of Lake Okeechobee where the water level was down 4”. This condition would be a prime time for a fire, wouldn’t it?
Now, on the surface, there is a lot to dread concerning a fire. Fires can take beautiful forests and reduce them to ashes. Fires can take Malibu mansions and turn them into kindling. Fires can take highways and melt them into a ball of tar. Fires bring about destruction — acres and acres of it. So nothing good can come about from the fire, right?
Turns out that many scientists say that fires serve a good purpose. While fires do destroy, they also help renew. God uses that fire to help start over the terrain of that particular piece of property.
When you think of being baptized by fire, you may relate that expression to some particular trials you’re going through or have entered into. If you start a new job, and if you are thrown into a situation where you learn more by on-the-job experience, some will say you are being “baptized by fire?”
In this passage, we see two differing types of baptism, don’t we? We see where John the Baptizer baptized by what mode? Water. Yet, one was to come after him to baptize by fire. One was a type of preparation, one was a purification. Yet both were facilitated by one thing.
What is it? Let’s read Luke 3:1-17.
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene,  during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness.  And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet,
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
 Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall become straight,
and the rough places shall become level ways,
 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”
 He said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?  Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.  Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
 And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?”  And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.”  Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?”  And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.”  Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.”
 As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ,  John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.  His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
When you read through this passage, did it not seem clear who the main player was?
The main character is the Word of God. And please know that …
1. The Word prompts (John 3:1-3).
Luke 3:1-3 tells us:
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene,  during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness.  And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
John the Baptist was a bigger than life character in the drama of biblical history. For over 400 years, God had not sent a prophet. He was a wild character, for sure. Dressed in camel’s hair with a diet of locust and wild honey, no one could forget him.
When many read this passage of Scripture, they automatically go to the bigger than life figure. Why? Just the nature of who we are! Whether it’s a run for the White House or the governor’s mansion, or even a bigger than life figure on the television (beit politician or preacher or evangelist) who commands our attention. But the question is: What made John move? In verses
2-3, John is not the main issue on display, is it? He is merely reacting to that which is on display. Let me ask you: what moves you? Is it a bigger than life character? Is it the hope of notoriety? Is it the latest pet program?
No, it is the Spirit-inspired Word! It is the Word that God speaks to us even now through the pages of Scripture that must move us. The Spirit moves us by illuminating His Word. John did not make a move until the Word of the Lord came to him. And how did he respond? It says that he went — and the Word was a word of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
So often we fail to move on something because we wait for something else. If the Word of God fails to move us, either to service or, as is the case here, to repentance, we need to ask the Spirit make us aware of what Psalm 139:23-24:
Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting!
You see, there is no faith without repentance. If you walked the aisle and prayed a prayer thinking that was all, and you did not repent of your sin before a holy God, you did not get saved, dear friends. If you are living now saying you have faith, but are not convicted about your sin and see no need to repent but just say, “Well, once saved, always saved — God has to forgive me,” you need to examine yourselves and test yourselves to see if you are in the faith. Because a heart of faith has with it a heart of repentance whenever sin occurs in any form.
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