8 “Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. 9 And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Luke 3:8–9, NKJV)
It is tempting to trust in our spiritual heritage for divine approval. We can put our confidence in our parents’ faith without developing our own. Merely trusting in a spiritual heritage is a futile and fatal approach to our present faith and future hope. John the Baptist’s preaching reminded his audience to take a personal inventory of their hearts and lives. This reminder still holds. He warned the Jewish people not to put their confidence in their ancestral heritage. It was God who chose Abraham and blessed him for his faith (Gen. 12:1-3; 15:6). God must be trusted and obeyed because His purposes prevail. His judgment of Israel was imminent when John preached (“the ax is laid to the root of the trees”). God’s judgment destroys the unfruitful (those who do not repent and bear its fruits). Repentance is a change that takes place in the heart. It is a fundamental reordering of perspectives and priorities to put away sin and do God’s will (Lk. 3:10-14). Repentance is not being sorry for our iniquities; it results from godly sorrow (2 Cor. 7:9-10). Without repentance toward God and faith in Jesus Christ, we cannot bear good fruit (Acts 20:21). But, when we change our hearts toward God (repent), we will conform our lives to His will – “bear fruits worthy of repentance.”
19 Now this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” 21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” 22 Then they said to him, “Who are you, that we may give an answer to those who sent us? What do you say about yourself?” 23 He said: “I am ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Make straight the way of the Lord,” ’ as the prophet Isaiah said. (John 1:19–23, NKJV)
We must know who we are. Christians are the children of God, disciples of Jesus, and servants of righteousness (1 Jno. 3:1-3; Acts 11:26; Rom. 6:17-18). John knew who he was. Being repeatedly asked, “Who are you?” John quoted Isaiah 40:3, declaring himself to be the prophesied forerunner of the Messiah. John was not the Christ; he announced the Christ to Israel (Jno. 1:29-34; 3:28). John was not Elijah. He came “in the spirit and power of Elijah,” and called on Israel to repent (“to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just”) “to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Lk. 1:16-17). Jesus identified John as Malachi’s prophesied Elijah (Mal. 4:5-6; Matt. 11:14; 17:10-12). John was not “the Prophet” predicted by Moses (Deut. 18:18-19). He would decrease as Jesus increased and spoke the words of God (Jno. 3:30-34). John knew who he was. He fulfilled his God-given work. Do you know who you are? If so, then use today to do the work God has given you (Rom. 12:3-8).
22 And when Herodias’ daughter herself came in and danced, and pleased Herod and those who sat with him, the king said to the girl, “Ask me whatever you want, and I will give it to you.” 23 He also swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, up to half my kingdom.” 24 So she went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask?” And she said, “The head of John the Baptist!” (Mark 6:22–24, NKJV)
John the Baptist was a preacher who lost his head because he dared to speak truth to powerful sinners. I wonder how many preachers would lose their heads under similar circumstances today. 1) John lost his head because he preached against adultery (Mk. 6:17-18). It was a sin for Herod and Herodias to be married. Both of them had previous spouses whom they divorced, then married each other (Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus, 18.5.1, 4). Today, many preachers encourage churches to receive into fellowship those who are in adulterous remarriages in violation of Matthew 19:9. 2) John lost his head because of a rash vow (Mk. 6:23). Rash promises often lead to foolish actions (Matt. 14:9). We should think before we speak (Jas. 1:19-20). 3) John lost his head because of a dancing daughter (Mk. 6:22). Dancing continues to stir sinful lusts of the flesh and eye (Gal. 5:19; Col. 3:5; 1 Jno. 2:15-16). Herodias’ parental permission precipitated passion in Herod, leading to his rash oath and John’s death. Dancing still incites lusts in participants and those who watch it. Yet, many Christians approve of it. Would our head be on a platter next to John’s for preaching God’s truth to powerful sinners (Mk. 6:27-28)?
1 In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, 2 and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” 3 For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; Make His paths straight.’” (Matthew 3:1–3, NKJV)
John was preaching God’s message of repentance in the wilderness of Judea. People were coming out to hear him, confessing their sins and being baptized by him for the remission of sins (Matthew 3:3-6; Mark 1:4-5). In this way John was preparing the path for the Lord as He soon brought the gospel of the kingdom to Israel, then the nations. Have you ever felt like you were “preaching in the wilderness” while trying to persuade a friend, a companion, or a loved one to repent and follow the word of God? Keep on doing your work, and trust God to do His. Rely on the power of God’s gospel to convict and convert the lost (Romans 1:16-17). Preach it fully and faithfully, and it will accomplish the purpose for which God sent it, just like John’s message did (2 Timothy 4:1-5; Isaiah 55:10-11).