Pastor James J. Barker

Text: LUKE 3:1-20


  1. One of the most fascinating characters in the Bible is John the Baptist. He was a priest, a preacher, and a prophet. He was a priest by birth, because his father, Zacharias, was a priest.
  2. Not only was John a priest, but he was also a great preacher. God called John to be a preacher before he was born. He was also a prophet who preached "in the spirit and power of Elijah" (Luke 1:17). In fact, many people thought he was the prophet Elijah.
  3. Our Lord said, "Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist" (Luke 7:28).
  4. John the Baptist was determined that the people of his day would grasp and understand the urgency of his message. I think no other Scripture captures this urgency better than Luke 3:9 (cf. Matt.3:10).
  5. John did not intend to come in and shake a few leaves off some trees. God did not call him to pull down a few branches. No Ė John said, "And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the treesÖ" (Luke 3:9).
  6. This was John the Baptistís main emphasis. This was the main thrust of his preaching. This point was stressed most strongly by John, but unfortunately it is not stressed by most preachers today. They are content to shake a few leaves, and many of them canít even do that.
  7. I heard about one preacher who was so weak and wishy-washy that half his congregation slept through his message. One morning, he said, "Now what shall we do with this man called John the Baptist?" A member, who was having a difficult time stating awake, yelled out: "You can give him my seat. Iíve had enough!" And he walked out.
  8. I do not think people fell asleep when John the Baptist preached. And I do not think many people walked away when John preached. The Bible says there was a "multitude that came forth to be baptized of him" (Luke 3:7a). And John would not baptize just any one. They first had to repent of their sin (3:7,8).
  9. Luke 3:19 and 20 tells us that Herod the tetrarch had John put in prison. He eventually had Johnís head cut off. Why? Because John "reproved" Herod for his adulterous relationship with Herodias, his brother Philipís wife, "and for all the evils which Herod had done" (3:19).
  10. The axe was laid unto the root of the tree Ė lust and adultery, and Herodias did not like it. And Herod did not like it. And for this John the Baptist was killed.
  11. There are very few men like John around today, and thatís why America is in such bad shape. Today, we will look at the preaching of John the Baptist, and will look primarily at Luke 3:9.



    1. Johnís message was one of repentance. When the axe is sharp, and when the axe hits the right spot, there will be repentance. When the axe is laid "unto the root of the trees," there must be repentance.
    2. What is repentance? It is self-judgment. It is a complete change of mind, change of heart, change of attitude, and change of direction.
    3. The sinner must see sin for what it really is Ė dirty, vile, wicked, ugly, and disgusting. And the sinner must see God for who He really is Ė holy, righteous, omniscient, eternal, omnipresent, and omnipotent.
    4. Beloved, if you have truly repented, then you have faced your sins before God. The axe has been laid at the root of the trees.
    5. But if you are making excuses for your sins, then you need to repent. Let us sharpen the axe and start chopping at the root of the trees.
    • Pride, jealousy, laziness, carnality, bitterness, bad attitude, gossiping, lust, etc. What is the besetting sin that is keeping you from getting right with God? Letís keep chopping, till we get to the root of the problem.
    • Preachers can preach against rock music, but some people in the church will continue to listen to it. Why? We must chop at the root Ė at the root, we see the that the problem is rebelliousness, and worldliness.
    • "For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry" (I Sam.15:23).
    • "Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God" (James 4:4). We need to get to the root of the problem, whether it is worldliness, rebelliousness, pride, jealousy, covetousness, etc.
    1. I have heard some strong preaching, but none (other than our Lord Himself) can compare to John the Baptist (Luke 3:7,8).
    2. "And the people asked him, saying, What shall we do then?" (3:10). John pointed the axe at their selfishness. They needed to repent (3:11-14). These are the "fruits worthy of repentance" (3:8).
    3. Repentance comes when a sinner agrees with God that God is right and the sinner is wrong. God says man is a sinner. Impenitent man makes excuses for his sin, denies heís a sinner, says "Iím not so bad; nobodyís perfect," etc.
    4. But the repentant man says, "I give up, Lord. Iím sorry. Youíre right. I am a wicked sinner. I deserve to go to hell, etc." Matthew 3:6 says that these repentant sinners were baptized by John in the Jordan River, "confessing their sins."



    1. When John was but a little baby, his father said, "And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways" (Luke 1:76). It was Johnís task to prepare the nation for the Messiah, and then to present the Messiah to them.
    2. You may recall in John 1:29 where John the Baptist says, "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world."
    3. And in John 3:30, John says, "He must increase, but I must decrease." John was not around very long, but while he was here he preached Christ, the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. Has the Lamb of God taken away your sin?
    4. You will notice that John said "sin," not "sins" (John 1:29). Our Lord said the Holy Spirit would come and "reprove (convict) the world of sin" (John 16:8). The greatest of all sins is the sin of unbelief (John 16:8). We need to lay the axe at the root of the trees Ė the sin of unbelief (cf. John 3:18).
    5. To lay the axe at the root of the trees signifies the total condemnation of the natural man Ė he is condemned already because of his unbelief. The Bible says that Christ died for his sins but he really does not believe it.
    6. To lay the axe at the root of the trees signifies the total condemnation of the flesh. The apostle Paul wrote, "For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing" (Rom.7:18).
    7. To lay the axe at the root of the trees means to make the Gospel message clear: those without genuine faith in Jesus Christ are lost and need to get saved.
    8. Johnís preaching ministry was prophesied by Isaiah (Luke 3:4-6; cf. Isa. 40:3-5). "All flesh shall see the salvation of God" (3:6) when the Lord returns.



    1. In Johnís day, trees that did not produce good fruit were cut down and used for firewood. So the axe was laid to the root of these dead, useless trees (3:9).
    2. The purpose of man is to glorify God. If man is not glorifying God, then what good is he? He is good for nothing but to be cut down and cast into the fire (3:9,17).
    3. In addition to the picture of chopping down dead trees, John also talks about separating the wheat from the chaff (Luke 3:17). The wheat (saved) will be safe in the garner, "but the chaff (unsaved) he will burn with fire unquenchable" (3:17).
    4. I want you to notice that word "unquenchable" (3:17). This signifies the certainty and the completeness of judgment (cf. Mark 9:43-48).
    5. The Bible has a lot to say about "the wrath to come" (Luke 3:7b). God hates sin. God judges sin. Unsaved friend, "Flee from the wrath to come" (3:7b).
    6. The great evangelist George Whitefield kept a journal of his travels. During his first trip from England to Georgia, he noted that the shipís cook was a wicked sinner Ė a vulgar, profane drunkard. When this cook was reproved for his wickedness, he boasted that he would continue being wicked until the last two years of his life, and then he would straighten out. Whitefield wrote in his journal that this drunken cook died within six hours after making his boastful statement. The axe was laid at the root of the tree, and this wicked sinner was cast into the fire.



  1. Luke 3:18 says, "And many other things in his exhortation preached he unto the people."
  2. As John exhorted, and as John preached, and as John laid his axe to the root of the trees, he was looking for one thing: souls that were genuinely saved.
  3. And after they were genuinely saved, John baptized them in the Jordan River (Luke 3:3).
  4. There are some here today that need to get saved. The axe has been laid to the root of the trees. Do not trifle with Godís grace and mercy and longsuffering. Do not wait till it is too late and you are cast off into the fire (3:9).
  5. And there are some that have been saved but you need to be obedient to Godís Word and get baptized. Baptism does not save, but if you truly are saved you need to get baptized.

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