Where We End And He Begins | Luke 3:15-22

The following guest post is by Andy Whitley.

It is the manuscript of his sermon that was preached last Sunday evening. I trust that you will also be blessed by his exposition and proclamation of God’s Word as you read it. 

I remember the first few times I saw the human iris behind a microscope. As light hit the eye the pupil would shrink and move as the colorful magnified tissue contracted. I was captivated at this living miraculous eye that God had woven together to see light and experience life in vivid colors and motions. It took a special type of lens to magnify this beauty. It took light going through the lens. It took much skill to hold it all perfectly to view it and behold. For many centuries, it was not even known that this ability was possible.

In a similar way, watching micro-organisms moving under a microscope was once not a thing, and then it became a thing. People just did not know microbes even existed. All of this wasn’t even known about by humans until they were first seen in the 1600’s. With advancing technology in optics and microscopes we began to discover a hidden microscopic world within our world that has revolutionized the way we thrive as a species and understand the world around us. God made this stuff and then gave us insight to view it and see his handiwork within it. His invisible attributes and divine power were  being shown off by it, look at Romans 1. We just had to figure out how to magnify the seemingly infinite miniature world.

Flip that around to the glorious beauties that telescopes and other tech has revealed. A world of enormous beautiful creation endlessly floats on forever and ever for infinity so far as we know. The huge-ness of it all steals your breath when you get the right moment, everybody here has had those moments. Once again, a world unknown, now magnified has become more known. Infinitely more to discover yet we know more of it now than we once did.

This seems to be much of this thing we know called life. A process of knowing more and more of things. The soul of every human has a mouth watering desire to fully and intensely know and grasp the thing their heart desires most. The soul thirstiness of the Christian minister is for the magnification of the highest unknown mystery, the one true God. This is a summary statement of the Christian life, to magnify the name of the one we bow down to. He has revealed much to us and will reveal all we need in time, but He can never be fully known.

The outside world sits and laughs because they don’t see what we see. They don’t believe in our germs because they have no scope, they don’t believe in our radio waves, because they have no radio to hear the sound, they scoff because they cannot see or feel what we devote our entire life to.

Our joyous dutiful privilege as Christians is to use every moment we get and every intention to increase or magnify or glorify or beautify the name of Jesus in our hearts and those around us. There is no greater joy in life than to drink deeply in awe at God. It gives people a momentary thrill to pursue creation wonders such as discovery of planets, but it is just a shadow of the true Beauty. Everybody wants to stare at something beautiful and then reach for it with all their might, we are just wired that way.

As we look at the end of John the Baptists’ ministry today in Luke 3:15-22, we see a man who is gazing at this true joy and screaming and pointing at it for everyone to join him. John 3:30 says that Jesus must increase as John decreases. Jesus must be magnified as John is minified. John’s pursuit takes him to his persecution, imprisonment, and death.


Dustin preached to us the first half of chapter 3, verses 1-14. John is at the height of his ministry. He’s calling people to repent and be baptized to be cleansed of their sins. Many are coming out to him in droves and he rebukes the religious people because they are stirred up against him like snakes coming out of a brush pile that just got lit on fire. He says in vs. 7, “who warned you to flee the wrath to come?” He’s saying “don’t come out here to act like you’re part of this if you think you’re good to go, because of your religious heritage.”

It was a lot like that viral video called “the shocking youth message” when Paul Washer stares down a crowd who’s clapping for him and tells them “I don’t know what you’re clapping for, I’m talking about you.” The crowd was there for the spectacle yet their hearts could not care less, because they had “religion” in the bag, good to go.

The Jews were used to baptizing Gentiles into the Jewish religion, also known as proselytizing….John’s preaching a baptism at the Jews and Gentiles to repent into the True Kingdom. The people then get to taking him seriously, and they show signs of this message hitting home with them. They ask “what should we do?”, and he lays it out for them.

Be different.

Tax collectors, act this way and soldiers stop doing evil stuff with money, be content, share your stuff, and so on.

Stop being who you are and be different.

It’s reminds me of the counseling you see in Bob Newhart’s comedy video where a lady is struggling and asking for help for various fears and he says “just stop it!” John is saying, quit being like you are and be different. Just stop it!

But stopping is only half the battle. Repentance always involves a negative and positive. It always is a movement away from one thing and a movement toward something else. It is a turning away from sin and turning towards God. Nothing else will do. Nothing else can change a person.

Now don’t confuse what I’m saying. This power of repentance can only happen by the Holy Spirit through Faith. Up until the moment of repentance, the person has had nothing but self or something in the world to turn to. There is no real lasting power within ourselves to repent because we can only turn to objects or people without power.

In comes faith in Jesus. With faith, we an turn away from sin and let go as we cling to the object of faith, which can only be Christ. Faith is the stimulant or cause to repent. Without faith it is impossible to turn to God and let go of sin.

So here we are on the scene with John the baptizer in verse 15. He just preached hard for them to repent; they said: “What’s that look like?” His response is for them to be different and He gives examples of how that looks.

How do you feel when you see your faults and your sins? When someone comes along and tells you to stop being you and to start living different and you know they are right, what’s your first thought or feeling? When someone says you shouldn’t be addicted to your phone or food and you know they are right and want to change, what do you do? When someone tells you that you aren’t compassionate and you know it’s true, what do you think and do?

I’ll tell you what I think: I have no way to change myself. I just can’t be different. How? How God? How? No matter what I do, I keep doing the things I don’t want to do, I don’t give a flip about the things I should. Test me on this…Usually, when rebuked, we get angry or we turn to the person who rebuked us and who sees through us and sees the lies that we are living and then we try to be like them. We think that they can fix us.

This is what the people do in verse 15. They are so intrigued and convicted by what John says that they begin to think that He is the Savior. We usually go to man before we go to God for fixing us. Likewise, how does your google search history compare to your Bible search history for tough questions in your life?

These people want to know if John is the Christ. How does John respond? He magnifies Jesus and minifies himself. He does this by pointing to Jesus the Gracious and Jesus the Powerful, as he does this he calls himself a grace recipient and weak. The way he does this is by comparing his ministry to Jesus’s ministry, in other words he shows the power of Jesus’s baptism of people compared to the lack of real power of his own baptism of people. Lets look at that…


Verse 16 says “I baptize you with water.” John was quick to give credit to Jesus and not take any for himself. He does this by teaching that his baptism was something of significantly lesser value than what Jesus was going to do.

What was this water baptism performed by John? John doesn’t say. Most commentators say that this is not John’s point to discuss the differences in baptism, but that his only point is to show that Jesus’s baptism has power and that all that John can do is dunk in water. I think, however, that it is worth the time to sidestep and explain the basics differences between what John was doing and what Jesus would do.

Various Views:

  • One view is that the baptism of John is a continuation of washing Laws from Leviticus.
  • Another view is that this baptism of John is Proselyte baptism, which was Gentiles converting to become Jews. But in argument against that, we here have Jews being baptized which makes this argument incomplete.

I believe that there are elements of truth to the above views. John was calling the Jews to something that usually the Jews just saw the Gentiles doing. So, this was kind of like proselyte baptism, except where the Jews usually saw Gentiles repenting and taking up the Jews life now we see Jews being told that they need to repent and become “proselytized” into the Kingdom of God, which they thought they were. This brings up remembrance of Romans where Paul continually talks about God’s people not really being His people. Not all in Israel are Israel, Romans 9:6. A modern-day way of saying that would be that not all Christians are true Christians.

Most importantly in this passage is the contrast that John is giving his audience. He’s less concerned with explaining water baptism doctrine and is and more concerned with showing them the great difference between his own ministry and Jesus. At best, John baptizes with water, at best. This is like 1 Peter 3:21, which talks about the true meaning of Jesus’s baptism, it’s not about the water and the external, it’s about the inner spiritual reality of the person. It’s about the person and their conscience making an appeal to God. That’s what baptism represents, and we should agree with John that we cannot cause change in people by ministry efforts or baptism. Our role is to point them to one who can. By our life and our word, living and preaching the gospel, that’s all we can do.


Verse 16 John also calls Jesus “Mightier”

John has no desire to let the people trust in him. He says He is mightier than I. Doesn’t that sound flippant to us. Obviously Jesus is mightier. No brainer. But lost people don’t know that. They see the powerful preaching of John and He is quick to not let their hearts be carried away into John idolatry. He will take no glory or credit in this. Our American christian culture proves that this is our default: the preacher to seek his own glory, the listeners to give the preacher glory. John wants none of it. He wants Jesus to have it all.

John says he is “not even worthy to untie Jesus’s sandals.” This was the job of the lowest servant. John places himself below that. It’s easy to say such a thing, but for me a near impossibility to actually believe it. This reminds me of Peter, who didn’t want Jesus to wash his feet, because He knew his position. John is saying that he’s not even important enough to take off Jesus’ sandals which is not even to the foot washing part yet.

This reminds me of the parable that Jesus gave in Luke 18:13 of the tax collector who would not even lift his head to heaven because he was a sinner and knew he didn’t deserve mercy. What are you worthy of? Before God? Before men?

Regarding God, literally nothing do you deserve. You don’t even have the honor of the lowest amount of service. You’re not even free labor. That’s what John is saying regarding the honor that Jesus deserves. Why not? Because He’s God and you are a not. Because you have sin and He doesn’t. Infinitely below Him.

Yet if you’ve been saved you are now His and you’ve been made worthy. But here’s the thing, you are a brother who was given grace, a grace-recipient. You are not indebted to Him because you could never pay Him, yet you live in a way that is better than indebtedness. It is greater to live out of gratitude for grace than servitude from debt. You are the former. So you throw yourself low, humble yourself in the sight of the Lord. What about position toward other people?

This is that great theme of Jesus. The self denying service of your life should be evident. It should come from a heart that thinks of yourself not more highly than you ought to , but with sober judgement. It should be a heart that considers the interests of others above your own. YOU ARE AT BEST, A LOWLY SERVANT, AND NOT EVEN THAT WITHOUT GOD’S GRACE. YOU ARE PRIVILEGED TO SERVE OTHERS. PRIVILEGED. IT IS A GREAT HONOR TO SERVE.

People will strike you, serve them. When people hate or slander you or gossip about you, bless them. When you overhear someone cursing you, remember that you have cursed others. Regarding people, because of your sin, you don’t have the right to put yourself above others. Because you are a sinner and both you and others are made in God’s image, the right heart posture of your life is one of eagerness to lift other people up and serve them in each passing moment. When you wake up and go out and lay down to bed.

All of this needs to be brought into subjection to the passage point, back to a God-ward orientation. He’s talking about his unworthiness to the Creator-man Jesus. When you consider your own evil heart, His kindness toward you despite that, and you respond in Gratitude, your heart will reproduce His mercy to others. Getting Grace produces Grace. Getting Mercy multiplies mercy to others. Water droplets that are close run together to form eventually form a pool that is pleasing to dip in and cleanse. John’s humility comes because he was very near to Jesus. We must try to be near to Jesus. All by submitting to Him. Submit to Him. Submit. Submit to listen to Him.

This starts with whatever way you can take His Word in, audio Bible, reading, listening to others who are acquainted with Him. Drink His word in. Submit and drink. You must have intake or you will fall and bleed and hemorrhage and ache and sin and on and on. We must drink to be healthy. Submit by listening. Submit by responding to Him. You must speak to Him to have a relationship. If you do not speak to Him, you are not showing Him affection. You praise the thing you love. You pursue with your eyes and your mouth what your heart desires. If you are not speaking to Him, you may be like Zechariah who doubted the Lord and was shut up for 9 months unable to speak at all. Maybe you have closed your own mouth. Praise Him! If you have no praise for Him then you must repent. If you cannot speak one kind word to your Lord then you are in the midst of uncaring sin, you are not dwelling and basking in gratitude of His graces that fall all around your life sparkling like gemstones. The stones are shining, are you observing.? Listen to Him, Speak to Him. This is the way with all relationships grow. If you are worthy [in and of your own self] to untie His sandals, you will not listen; you will not praise. Be very careful.

The most humble are the grace-recipients, not the indebted servants. The servant says “I will serve this person because of my debt to them” The grace-recipient says “I don’t deserve to be near this person.”

So that is where John places his ministry, in complete dependence on God’s power to change people’s hearts. He knows he himself is a grace-recipient, and that unless the Lord builds the house the people strive in vain.


So John is now at the heart of His message. Now he proclaims a truth that makes all people stagger. Look at the end of 16 and verse 17. This truth is that Jesus will gather some and the rest he will burn eternally. That’s hard. There’s nothing harder. It’s good news and bad news. It’s fire for some and glory for others. Don’t get too caught up in the baptism terminology here. Baptism means immerse. He’s talking about how some will be immersed into the person of the Holy Spirit and others will be cast out into eternal torment. This makes my palms sweat a little bit. After wheat would be brought into the barn, they would take a big fork and throw the wheat up in the air with the other pieces that were not wheat, but were just waste pieces. The wheat is heavier and so it would fall to the ground into a pile and the waste pieces or chaff would fly up into the air. The wheat and the chaff would be gathered into separate piles and the wheat would be useful and the chaff would be burned in the fire as waste.

The good news, some will be gathered as wheat.

The bad news, some will be burned with eternal fire.

The real good news always comes after knowing the real bad news. Light always is contrasted with dark. Being embraced after long absences of touch. Listen closely to this, some people will be sent to burn forever in Hell and some will be embraced by Jesus forever. To know that I was once chaff and would have been burned forever in hell if God had not set His love on me is overwhelming. Was I really so bad? Yes, if I took each of my sinful thoughts and let them run full course and held them up next to the Holiness of God and His Law. Should they be Punished? For how long? For eternity? A thousand years? What is the measure of my sin? Isn’t it measured only next to the righteousness of God? How else can I measure evil? How would I know evil if I did not know good? If I wrote down my every thought about Courtnie and handed it to her, would she say “come stay with me my good and faithful husband?” Would she divorce me on the spot? What would she be justified to do? She is not God, but He is.

So what if I took all my thoughts about Jesus Christ in a video file on my computer and titled it : “Andy’s complete thought file about Jesus.” Where would I be left? Ok, so I still believe that I’m pretty good.

Ok, change the title of the file to “ a complete list of all the uncaring thoughts Andy has had toward the graces that Jesus Christ has given him.” How does that make you feel? Better or worse? Apathy, well of course it’s ok right because everyone else is doing it? All are apathetic. Nobody gives a flip about Jesus and what He created us for.

Title the file “all the good thoughts and deeds done by Andy of his own merit, apart from any source file relating to Jesus.” Unfortunately that File is completely empty. Really? Is it really? Now for sure I own some good deeds. Some credit? As evil as the murderer? Me? No, I never went that far. Why not? Why did I not become a killer or adulterer or drunkard? THE LIMITS OF MY EVIL ARE ONLY THERE BECAUSE GOD PLACED UNMEASURABLE FAVOR ON MY LIFE. THE LIMITS OF YOUR EVIL ARE ONLY THERE BECAUSE GOD PLACED UNMEASURABLE FAVOR ON YOUR LIFE. Much of your moral goodness is circumstantial, grace-circumstantial. Had He given you worse circumstances you might be in prison for some terrible crime.

You may still not believe me. Not really. Until you do, you cannot believe this verse applies to you. You cannot believe that this passage is relevant to your life until you believe that you deserved to be burned and tormented in Hell forever and that God would be just and fair and good and right to tell you to go to Hell and then make it happen, forever. You still don’t believe me. I mean I know some of you have said you believe it when you were saved. But do you believe it still that you once deserved it?

Many have left the Christian Faith because they cannot believe this teaching. They are embarrassed of it and cannot see how God can be good and send people to Hell. Rob Bell is the most popular heretic I know in this camp. His book called “Love Wins” is completely against this passage. He teaches that God’s love will eventually win out and all will be saved from Hell. This is nowhere in the Bible and it diminishes the goodness of God and abolishes the need for the Cross. How so? Bell cannot fathom a completely holy and good God that a sin against would be worthy of eternal punishment. So he doesn’t know God. It destroys the need for faith and you have to throw away most of the Bible. Hell exists because God is good and it is the place for those who are not.

There are 2 things that we are freed from when we are saved. The binding and condemning power of the Law and the paralyzing power of Hell (see the book of Romans). Christians can still benefit greatly by remembering law and hell, don’t just forget about it. The law of God is protective to the Christian in this way. When you hold yourself to it, like a mirror, if you are honest, it should cast you into eternal hell. What does this do for the saved person to think hard on this and weep over this? For the saved person, remembering how you were enslaved to sin and condemned, should again draw you to God, because you know that what you ought to get you won’t get. There is no condemnation for you (Romans 8). None, it’s impossible for you to be punished according to the law.

Don’t miss the benefit of the law as it draws us to Jesus. When was the last time you wept over your sin? When was that? Take your sin to the Law, follow it’s course, and it walks you to Jesus’s feet. Ask for righteous tears from God. For the unsaved person, the law is good in that it casts you at the mercy and grace of God and if you refuse that, then you are solidifying your death penalty in hell. If you find yourself unprotected and hanging an inch above hell, not a grace recipient, today is the day for you to repent and quit resisting. Jesus took your beating, He’s got scars all over His back to prove it. Don’t reject Him any longer.


I’m going to skip over John’s imprisonment and down to Jesus’s baptism for a moment in vs. 21. I would encourage you to personally study this section, it is worthy of it’s own sermon series.

Jesus asks John to baptize Him, we see this in the other gospels. We also know from other gospel accounts that Jesus said the reason that He was to be baptized is “to fulfill all righteousness.” What this means is this: Jesus not only died the death that we deserved, but every aspect of His life He lived in the exact way that He intends for us to live. So, he was baptized for us, not because of anything that He lacked. It was another way that Jesus shows us how “He who knew no sin became sin on our behalf.” He was baptized in order to identify with us, to please the Father, and to show the trinitarian nature of God as all three are seen in this passage. We have Jesus being baptized, the Holy Spirit descending, and the Father speaking. This is one of the great texts that reveal that God is 3 persons and one God.


Lastly, John gets locked up in prison because he is preaching hard at everyone he sees. When you preach the good news and rebuke people’s sin, you will get strong opposition. You will decrease as He increases. This can be from inside your own home or at work or all the way to rulers of the land. You will find yourself standing on peaceful solid truth as the world bends in chaos to destroy you. You may find yourself resolved to walk into Africa to unknown tribes and get speared to death. You may find your spouse telling you to curse God as Job’s wife did. You will know the truth and it will set you free no matter who comes against you.

Yet you may still fall in great seasons of doubt. We know John later in prison sent his followers to ask Jesus if He was the one to come or should he wait for another. Wait what? John was the man! Jesus called him the greatest man who ever lived and now he doesn’t even know if Jesus is the Messiah?

But John continued to be faithful even in prison. Eventually, Herod got deep into a lustful situation with his daughter in law and offered her anything on earth. You see how his drunken desires consumed him. She asked for John’s head to be cut off and put on a silver plate. Her greatest desire was His head. He must increase as we decrease. What a man, what a servant, what a grace recipient John was! What a preacher. What a beautiful example God has shown us of a man who was faithful even to death. He was set with the course of his life to take up his cross, deny himself, and follow Christ. One commentator [MacArthur] says: “It’s better to have a head like John’s that gets cut off than an ordinary head and keep it.”

And this is where it gets tough for you and me. We hop in our cars and go home and start a new workweek with all our usual habits and schedules and joys and pains. John’s life somewhat makes us feel like we are blowing it because he’s getting his head cut off and we can barely figure out a good plan to make sure we fit God into our work week. He’s dying for Jesus, and we usually are ticked because we ran out of milk and Wal-Mart is 2 miles away and it’s cold and almost bed time. That can ruin my evening. Do you feel that weight of having an Americanized life compared to what you read in the Bible?

Now to be fair, comparing getting milk at night to John’s persecution is kind of extreme. You aren’t John the Baptist, but what are you willing to set aside to magnify Jesus and His desires for your life rather than your own? Or would you like to just keep being a good person and going to Church and that’s it? Is that really it? Have you on a whole-life scale, let go of yourself to have Him?

You must decrease, repent to be saved. You must decrease, are you denying yourself to really live? You must decrease, are you living like a grace recipient? You must decrease, do you realize the same one who stands between you and the fires of Hell is the same one who calls you beloved and wants to be with you, to embrace you with his scarred up arms and hands?

He will never leave you or cast you out. Do you realize that? Is He increasing in your mind and in your desires? Is He increasing in your ministering to your spouse, your kids, your work, your churchy activities? In whatever grand-scale way or miniature way, ask God what all this means for you when you start your car up and drive home in a little bit.


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