We’ve all heard the saying, “he saved the best for last.” In fact we’ve all probably participated in saving the best for last at some time or another. When I was a child I was always told to clean my plate because everybody loves a “happy plate”…whatever. But the things I cared for least are what I would typically eat first, thus saving the best for last.
There is a man in the Bible by the name of John who also saved the best for last, but his best wasn’t food. In fact Scripture tells us he ate locusts and honey…gross. Despite his affinity for glazed insects, Jesus spoke of John in the highest regard: “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” (Matthew 11:11 ESV)
Through the leading of the Holy Spirit, John saved his best sermon for last. The most meaningful message he ever preached would set the stage for the salvation of humanity.
Luke 3:7-22 begins:
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.”
Truth #1 – “Your heritage won’t save you”
Even today, our society is wrought with the pride of ethinicity, family name, home state or country. Guess what? You care more about that than God ever will. When we see our earthly heritage of greater significance than being created in the image of God himself, we have completely missed the mark; its time to bear fruit…beginning with repentance.
Luke’s Gospel continues:
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.”
Truth #2 – “Life is about giving it away”
After John told them to repent for their pride in the family name, he told them what life was really about. John stressed the importance of generosity and grace for those less fortunate. Generosity and compassion for others won’t save you, but they open the door for you to taste and see that the Lord is good. If ordinary people, government leaders, and those charged with keeping the peace all pursue honesty and genuine care for others, the Spirit of Christ will have an open door to change the world one life at a time. Luke would later record Jesus’ words as he drove this point home: “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” (Luke 9:24 ESV)
As John begins to wrap up his proclamation, the people began to ask if perhaps he was the Messiah to come:
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 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.”
Truth #3: “Fame is reserved for Christ alone”
John was preaching so much truth about life, and he was so full of the Holy Spirit as he did it, the people recognized the presence of God. When people who have never felt God’s presence get their first taste of His holiness, a common mistake can be to hero-worship the person through which God’s presence was felt. Pastors alike today must be continuously aware that they aren’t Jesus. When people begin to follow the pastor more than the follow the Savior we all tread on dangerous ground.
This is where our story ends and a new story begins. Luke finished by writing:
So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people. But Herod the tetrarch, who had been reproved by him for Herodias, his brother’s wife, and for all the evil things that Herod had done, added this to them all, that he locked up John in prison. Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (ESV)
This was to be John’s last sermon. Soon, Herod would lock him up in prison and he would eventually be beheaded. But before that happened, Jesus showed up. He was baptized to give us an example to follow. The heavens opened up and the voice of God’s approval was heard. Jesus began his public ministry that would also lead to His death, burial and resurrection so that we could all be set free from the pain of sin for eternity.
The last truth here is more of a summary. Jesus wants to use each of us in unique ways to let the world know of His grace and His offer of eternity. We each have a purpose in His plan to ransom humanity from itself. But being used by God to complete His will for your life and mine does not necessarily lead to an accumulation of wealth, posterity, success, and early retirement to play with the grandkids between golf games. Although these things may be in your future, remember it was also God’s will that the most influential person to ever walk the planet, sans Jesus himself, would die in prison. Yes, Jesus came that we might have life and have it to the fullest (John 10:10). But the satisfaction of having lived a good life will not be found tracing our steps in human accomplishment. The last word Jesus ever heard from John was his need to be reassured that he pointed people to the Messiah. When John’s disciples showed up on his behalf to inquire of Jesus something amazing happens:
In that hour he [Jesus] healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind he bestowed sight. And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” (Luke 7:21-23 ESV)
John didn’t look back on his life from a prison cell jealous of those who were actually walking with Jesus while he was left to rot in jail. He didn’t look back and wish he had done something else with his life. He saw his life as a job well done and approved by Jesus. There is no greater satisfaction we can ever attain than to know God used us to change the world. How will you do that today?