CAN WE HOPE TO START OUR LIVES OVER?
SERIES: JESUS, SAVIOR OF THE LOST
by Ron Ritchie
We had a wonderful experience in our Couples' Class on Sunday last. One
of our young couples taught the class, and afterwards an older gentleman
told the husband that he enjoyed what he had shared from his life and from
the Word of God. He had been coming to our services for the last few months,
he said. Observing the people with whom he interacted, he shared, he had
become interested in the Christian experience people were having at our
The conversation revealed that, like most of us, the older man's life had
much failure, fear, and that he was facing some serious medical problems.
When the younger man asked if he were a Christian, he replied no. He said
that he could not understand the place that Jesus had in the Trinity. As
the two men discussed the cross of Christ, the older man admitted that he
was a sinner, but thought he was "getting better." They went on
to talk about the resurrection of Jesus Christ and its implications for
his life. The younger man shared that by repenting of his sins and acknowledging
Jesus as his personal Lord and Savior he would become "born again"
to a new, eternal life in Christ. His sins would be forgiven, and he would
receive the gift of the person and power of the Holy Spirit to cope with
his present realities. He would be a new creature, with a new mind and a
new heart, and could start his life over. The new life would not be a rebuilt
old life, but a new life in Jesus.
When the younger man asked if he would like to begin a new life in Christ,
the man said, "Yes, but I don't know how to do it." My young friend
said, "I know how to introduce you to Jesus as your Lord and Savior.
Let's pray." According to John 3:1-17, the older man was "born
again" one week ago. Chronologically, he is over 70-years-old, but
spiritually, he is seven days old. He is a child of God now, an old man
with a new life and a new direction for living.
Can we hope to start our lives over? Is there a second chance for life on
earth? Today, in our studies in the gospel of Luke, we will discover a resoundingly
positive two-part answer to this question. Here is the first answer:
I. Yes! If We Know WhereWe Are! Luke 3:1-14
Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when
Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee,
and his brother Philip was tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis,
and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene, in the high priesthood of Annas and
Caiaphas, the word of God came to John, the son of Zacharias, in the wilderness.
And he came into all the district around the Jordan, preaching 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,
'Make ready the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every ravine shall
be filled up, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the
crooked shall become straight, and the rough roads smooth; and all flesh
shall see the salvation of God.'"
He therefore began saying to the multitudes who were going out to be baptized
by him, "You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath
to come? Therefore, bring forth fruits in keeping with repentance, and do
not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham for our father,' for I
say to you that God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.
And also the axe is already laid at the root of the trees; every tree therefore
that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire."
And the multitudes were questioning him, saying, "Then what shall we
do?' And he would answer and say to them, "Let the man who has two
tunics share with him who has none; and let him who has food do likewise."
And some tax-gatherers also came to be baptized, and they said to him, "Teacher,
what shall we do?" And he said to them, "Collect no more than
what you have been ordered to." And some soldiers were questioning
him, saying, "And what about us, what shall we do?" And he said
to them, "Do not take money from anyone by force, or accuse anyone
falsely, and be content with your wages."
Approximately 18 years had passed since Mary and Joseph found their "lost"12-year-old
son Jesus in the temple going about "his Father's business." During
the years after their return to Nazareth, Luke says, "Jesus kept increasing
in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man" (2:52). At the
same time Luke writes that our Lord's cousin, John ". . . continued
to grow and to become strong in spirit, and he lived in the deserts until
the day of his public appearance to Israel" (1:80). Our passage deals
with John the Baptist, the forerunner who would prepare the way for the
Messiah's public appearance.
With a broad brush stroke Luke paints a picture of the cruel and political
scene and the spiritually corrupt religious setting which John the Baptist
and his cousin Jesus were destined to impact. In the year 29 A.D., the Roman
Empire was ruled by Caesar Tiberius (14-37 A.D. ). His 23-year reign was
characterized by cruelty. Israel, together with the other Roman colonies,
suffered under his heavy hand. The Romans divided the nation into different
territories. Pontius Pilate (26-36 A.D.) was the military governor of Judea,
the southern part of Israel that included the city of Jerusalem and the
Temple; Herod Antipas (4-34 A.D.), whom Jesus would later call "the
fox," was governor of Galilee in the north; Philip II (4-34 A.D.),
son of Herod the Great and Cleopatra, was responsible for the area north
of Galilee, which is now modern Syria; and Lysanias was responsible for
the area north of Mount Hermon and west of Damascus. All four governors
were responsible to the Roman Emperor to govern their territories under
Roman law, a harsh system which produced tremendous pain and grief for the
citizens of the world, especially Israel.
The religious scene in Israel was dominated by the high priesthood of Annas
and Caiaphas, who in turn were dominated by the Romans. Rome deposed the
original high priest and appointed puppets to control the people. First,
the ungodly Annas, who ruled from 6-15 A.D. Although the Romans eventually
set him aside, Annas' legacy ruled over the Sanhedrin through his five sons
and his son-in-law Caiaphas (18-36 A.D.), all of whom held this office.
In the three years of Jesus' public ministry, several of these political
and religious characters would cross the paths of both John and Jesus. Luke
wanted his friend Theophilus to remember how spiritually dark the world
scene was before the forerunner, John the Baptist, began "preaching
a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins;" and John's cousin
Jesus Christ, the "Light of the World," was revealed as "the
lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." These political and
religious rulers possessed the highest authority in the land, but John and
Jesus would come from a higher authority.
Verse 2 says, "the word of God came to John. . ." John was placed
in a class of prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. Under the direct
inspiration of God, these men counseled, and at times rebuked and denounced
emperors, kings, and priests, as well as the nations at large. This phrase
was the formula for a prophetic message from God to be delivered to the
nation of Israel, the first recorded word in some 400 years. God had used
the prophets in the past to share what was in his heart. Likewise, John's
purpose was to challenge rulers who had fallen out of a relationship with
God, and to call his people back to himself. But, as he would later say
of himself later, "I am a voice crying aloud in the wilderness"
From Luke 1:1-25, we know that nearly 30 years earlier the angel Gabriel
had appeared to the priest Zacharias, who was married to Elizabeth, a barren
woman from a priestly family. The angel told Zacharias that his wife would
conceive and give birth to a son whom they should call John. Gabriel declared
that many would rejoice at his birth; he would be great in the sight of
the Lord; he would become a Nazarene; he would be filled with the Holy Spirit
while yet in his mother's womb; he would turn many Jews back to the Lord
their God; and he would go as a forerunner before the long-promised Messiah
in the spirit and power of Elijah, "'to turn the hearts of the fathers
back to the children,'" and the disobedient to the attitude of the
righteous; so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord" (1:17).
John would reflect the person of Elijah, a prophet who ministered during
the days of the divided kingdom of Israel, some 800 years earlier. Elijah
was a recluse who lived most of his time in the desert until he was asked
by God to prophecy against the wicked kings and the nation that had forsaken
God for idols. He loved and obeyed God at enormous cost to his own life,
rebuking both the northern and southern kings when they lived in wickedness.
Likewise, Luke compared John to the prophet Elijah. Jesus would say of John
later ". . . among those born of women none is greater than John"
(7:28); "he is a shining light" (John 5:35); and "more than
a prophet" (Matt 11:9).
Eight days after his birth, John was named at his circumcision. Filled with
the Holy Spirit, Zacharias prophesied about the position, ministry, and
message of his son: "And you, child, will be called the prophet of
the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare his way; to
give to his people the knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their
sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, with which the sunrise from
on high shall visit us, to shine upon those who sit in darkness and the
shadow of death" (Luke 1:76-79).
Our text continues, "And the word of God came to John in the wilderness
and he came into all the district around Jordan, preaching a baptism of
repentance for the forgiveness of sins." As a son of a legitimate priestly
family John could have served in the temple, dressed in fine robes and belt,
and eaten from the best of the meat and bread sacrifices. However, he came
dressed in a camel coat, a leather belt, and had a daily diet of locusts
and wild honey. He confronted the nation of Israel like a prophet of old,
as God's messenger, with God's message, declaring judgment to God's people.
He was essentially saying, "What you see in me and where I am from
is what you are spiritually." The wilderness where John preached was
a symbol of the spiritual barrenness that Israel was experiencing.
Matt. 3:4-6 says that the Jews from Jerusalem, Judea, and the district around
Jordan were being baptized by John in the Jordan River as they confessed
their sins. He began his ministry in the area of the northern tip of the
Dead Sea, around the Quraum village, and then north a few miles to the oasis
city of Jericho by the shores of the Jordan River.
In Luke 3:3-6 John's message was directed to the common people. He preached
"a baptism of repentance for [with a view towards] the forgiveness
of sins" (Matthew 3:2: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at
hand"). The Jews were used to seeing an unclean Gentile enter the waters
of baptism, or the Levitical washings to restore an unclean Jew to his former
condition. However, John was saying that the children of Abraham were unclean
and needed preparation for an entirely new condition. This was not an offer
of salvation to the people. Only the Messiah could extend that offer. Rather,
his task as the forerunner was to prepare their hearts for the Messiah's
arrival. The Messiah would then forgive the sins of the people and baptize
them with the Holy Spirit. John's role would employ the symbol of cleansing
that they understood to ready their hearts for the forgiveness of their
sins. Repentance involved the expression of sorrow for sin, and then a complete
turning away from it so one could receive forgiveness for sins. Entering
the waters of the Jordan physically demonstrated the person's spiritual
willingness to have the Messiah forgive his sins.
In verses 4-6 Luke quoted Isaiah 40 for the benefit of Theophilus. John
understood his office as the prophetic "forerunner" of Isaiah
40. He knew that he was not the Messiah, but the one who would go before
the Lord to prepare his way, giving his people the knowledge of salvation
by the forgiveness of their sins. The heart of this prophecy was a metaphor
drawn from an ancient custom. When visited by a king, a citizen could be
approached to prepare a well constructed road so that the king could approach
the city in dignity and honor. In its immediate context Isaiah 40 referred
to the redemption which God the king brought to Israel with the return of
the Jewish exiles from the Babylonian captivity. However, Zacharias prophesied
that his son John would be the fulfillment of the messianic forerunner "to
go on before the Lord (Yahweh incarnate in his son Jesus) to prepare his
ways; to give to his people the knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness
of their sins" (Luke 1:76-77).
In his day, Isaiah told the people that they would have to construct a road
for the Lord if they were to see his glory. John's message reminded them
of that same truth. If people hoped to see the salvation of God in the form
of forgiveness of sins, they must first build Messiah a smooth road named
"repentance." In calling the nation to repent John was functioning
as an Old Testament prophet, according to the principles in Deuteronomy
28, 30. Before the blessings of Messiah could come the people would have
to turn from their sins to God, and then seek his forgiveness.
John, like Isaiah, gave the people of Israel a six-fold plan to prepare
their hearts for the coming king. The individual needed to repent in the
following areas. First, he would have to "Make his paths straight"-men
who changed God's ways and made their own paths needed to get back on the
Lord's course. Second, "Every ravine shall be filled up"-the hope
for the lowly was that all would be put on the same level in his kingdom.
Third, "Every mountain and hill shall be brought low"-when this
king came he would want to find a people of humility, without pride and
lust for power. Fourth, "the crooked shall become straight"-thieves,
robbers and corrupt officials would turn away from their old ways. Fifth,
"rough roads, smooth"-tension and difficult situations would give
way to the joy of living. And sixth, "All flesh shall see the salvation
of the Lord"-as God's salvation was being offered in the coming Christ
it could be seen and experienced by all who repented of their sins. If any
man, woman, or child would travel down the road of humility, repentance,
and confession to call upon the Lord, they would experience the salvation
of the Lord.
After speaking to common people, John then turned to the Jewish leaders.
"He therefore began saying to the multitudes . . ."
This multitude was made up of the common Jews, the hated tax collectors,
and the temple soldiers, as well as the men from the religious community.
The multitudes were arriving from Jerusalem, Judea, and the districts of
Jordan. According to Matthew 3:7-10, in the the midst of the crowds that
were coming down to the Jordan from Jerusalem, John saw many of the Pharisees
and Sadducees coming for baptism, and he said to them, "You brood of
vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?"
According to the Law of Moses, the snake was an unclean animal that was
unacceptable to God; it defiled anything it touched. John questioned the
Pharisees and Sadducees as to who told them that the fire of God's pure
judgment was coming to destroy them like fire to a brood of vipers. Remember,
John's mind was fixed on all who were spiritually unclean and unprepared
for the coming of Messiah. Anyone who refused to repent of their sins would
soon suffer eternal judgment, the wrath to come, which the Jews understood
would immediately proceed "the day of the Lord." In order to escape
this judgment, the Sadducees had to lay aside their worldliness, and the
Pharisees their self-righteousness. John perceived that these religious
leaders were willing to participate in an outward baptism, but not repent
of their sins because they were falsely secure in their status as children
The sign of spiritual repentance was the fruit of a changed life. John repudiated
the teaching of the spiritual leaders that "all Jews are true Jews."
In reality, all Jews were not true Jews; all Israel was not Israel. The
religious Jew believed that they were under the Abrahamic Covenant. They
had been circumcised on the eighth day according to the Law; thus their
salvation was already assured, they felt. However, John's response was that
salvation was independent of being Jewish. If God wanted children of Abraham
he could speak to the rocks and they would become all that he desired in
a man. Righteous trees bear righteous fruit. If there is no fruit on the
branches of one's life the ax of God's righteous judgment is already laid
at the root and it will be cut down and thrown into the eternal fire of
Many of the Jews within the crowd were deeply moved by John's message of
hope and judgment, and were forced to ask the question, "Then what
must we do?" to show their willingness to change. Water baptism was
the first evidence of a sincere desire to have one's heart prepared to receive
the Messiah and his gift of salvation. In Acts 19, however, we see that
it was only one half of the coin. When Paul met some of John's disciples
20 years later, he realized that they had been baptized into John's baptism,
but had not received the Holy Spirit. Paul said, "John baptized with
the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in Him who was
coming after him" (19:4).
Speaking to the common man, John stated that the fruit of righteousness
was evidenced by deeds of mercy. For example, if a person was blessed by
having two coats, then he should give one to the person without. If one
had his portion of daily food, but someone was without, he should share
his portion. John directed the Jewish tax collector, who was hated by both
Romans and Jews because he was a traitor and thief, to collect only what
they had been ordered. To the soldiers, who were either God-fearing Roman
Gentiles or Jewish temple guards, he said, "Do not take money from
anyone by force, or accuse anyone falsely, and be content with your wages."
One night a few years ago a man, who I will call "Bob," came by
our home to talk to me about spiritual things. He had lost his wife and
children in a divorce, and his life was empty and fruitless. We talked for
awhile about his empty and enslaved life, and then I explained to him that
there was hope for him in Jesus Christ. That hope rested in the fact that
God loved Bob so much that his son Jesus was willing to go to the cross
to die for the sins that were separating him from the love and life of God
the Father. The only thing Bob needed to do in order to fully experience
God's love and forgiveness was to place his faith in the person and work
of Jesus Christ and confess him as his Lord and Savior. When I finished,
Bob stood up, thanked me for my time, and walked out into the night. I assumed
that he had clearly heard the gospel, but had chosen to reject it.
Can we hope to start our lives over? Yes! If we realize who we are-sinners
who need to be saved by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. As Paul would
write later to the Ephesians, "For by grace you have been saved through
faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God" (2:8).
Can we hope to start our lives over? Here is the second part of our answer,
II. Yes! If We Give Our Lives to Jesus Luke 3: 15-20
Now while the people were in a state of expectation and all were wondering
in their hearts about John, as to whether he might be the Christ; John answered
and said to them all, "As for me, I baptize you with water; but he
who is mightier than I is coming, and I am not fit to untie the thong of
his sandals; he himself will baptize you in the Holy Spirit and fire. And
his winnowing fork is in his hand to clean out his threshing floor, and
to gather the wheat into his barn; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable
fire." So with many other exhortations also he preached the gospel
to the people. But when Herod the tetrarch was reproved by him on account
of Herodias, his brother's wife, and on account of all the wicked things
which Herod had done, he added this also to them all, that he locked John
up in prison.
Here was a first century hippie, the son of a priestly family, ministering
not in Jerusalem but in the desert, dressed in a camel hair coat, eating
locusts and honey, preaching a heretofore unheard of doctrine called a "baptism
of repentance," and asking the Jewish people to prepare their hearts
for the coming of the long awaited Messiah. Pharisees and Sadducees were
denounced as an unclean "brood of snakes." The crowd was deeply
affected spiritually as they watched the common man, the tax-collectors,
and the temple soldiers take the first steps towards repentance.
There people were in a "state of expectation," wondering if John
was the Messiah, the suffering servant of Isaiah 40. They were hoping that
he was the political Christ who would rid Israel of its hated Roman yoke,
and restore the nation to a position of power for the benefit of all mankind.
There was a feeling of hope in the air, as well as a feeling of uncertainty.
John said, "As for me, I baptize you with water . . ." The prophets
such as Zechariah and Jeremiah knew that God was the only one who could
cleanse the nation of Israel (Zech. 13:1, Jer. 33:5). Therefore, John used
the outward symbol of water baptism to show an inward reality. John's baptism
was at once a preparation and a promise of the spiritual cleansing which
only Messiah could accomplish for his people. John stated clearly, "No!
I am not the Messiah. I am his forerunner, not even worthy to untie his
sandals, but he who is coming is mightier than I am."
For the following reasons, the Messiah would overshadow John's ministry:
"He himself will baptize you in the Holy Spirit . . ." John could
place people in the water, but the Messiah would place all who repented
into the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit into the believer. Thus, the very
life of God would be given to those who repented of their sins. John did
not understand this fully, but was looking forward three years to the Day
of Pentecost when Joel 2: 32,38 would be fulfilled: "And afterward,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions."
"And with fire . . ." Fire was a symbol of cleansing and judgment.
The immediate statement referred to the forgiveness of sins, removing all
that is worthless, useless, and lifeless. John also was talking about an
ultimate judgment of world in the final days (see II Peter 3:7, I Thess.
1:8, Joel 2: 32, Mal 3:1). Judgment would be for those who are not filled
with the Holy Spirit, Gentiles and Jews alike.
"And His winnowing fork is in his hand to clean out his threshing floor,
and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with
unquenchable fire." John proclaimed that the Messiah who would come
after him was mightier in salvation and judgment. He challenged the people
to get sober: If they received the Christ he would give them his Holy Spirit.
However, if they rejected him, they would be judged like the chaff on a
wheat floor, burned up (a symbol of hell). John warned the people to check
their hearts because the Messiah would be able to test the hearts of the
true and false believers.
I want to share what happened to "Bob". Later that night he called
me to say he had accepted Jesus as Lord. He could not do it at my house,
he said, because he needed to go home to clean out the pornographic movies,
books, magazines that filled his house. He had placed a large trunk in the
middle of his living room, threw every piece of porn from his house into
the trunk, and then locked it. He then arranged for a friend to take it
to the dump the next day. Bob knew that before he accepted Jesus, he needed
to show the Lord that he wanted to change. Ridding himself of pornography
was evidence of that heart attitude. Having repented, taking a 180 degree
turn, he made his road smooth for the King to come into his heart.
At this point, Luke explained to Theophilus that John the Baptist continued
to preach the gospel to the people, but in time his message would reach
the heart of Herod Antipas, the governor of Galilee. Herod had violated
the the Law of Moses by committing adultery with his half-brother's wife,
Herodias. As a result of John's preaching Herod later arrested the prophet
and placed him in jail, where he eventually lost his head to the whims of
Can we hope to start our lives over? Yes! If we realize who we are: Sinners
who need to be saved by the loving grace of God in and through his Son Jesus.
We need to make ready the road of the Lord so he can come into our hearts.
It will not be our old rebuilt life that is filled with a sin nature; rather
it will be a brand new life in Christ.
Can we hope to start our lives over? Yes! If we will turn our lives over
to Jesus. We must repent of our false views of Jesus, and ask God to show
us who he really is-the Son of God, the Savior of the world, the Lamb of
God who takes away the sin of the world. Jesus is the only hope man has
for his sin, shame, and guilt. We must ask him to forgive us of our sins
against him and others, and then invite him into our lives as Lord and Savior.
As a result of that act of faith our Lord will come into our lives, forgive
our sins, give us the gift of the person and power of the Holy Spirit, and
give us eternal life beginning right now.
If our Lord Jesus Christ is willing to save a 70-year-old man in our midst
who has now become a child of God, then that same grace is available to
you right now. Do not put off this wonderful offer of eternal life, for,
as the Scripture declares, "today is the day of salvation."
Catalog No. 4121
Ron R. Ritchie
July 2, 1989
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