Several years ago, one of my sisters was attending a missions banquet, and she heard that the President of our Southern Baptist International Mission Board was going to be in attendance, so she was looking forward to meeting him. She had seen his picture before but she didn’t really know him by sight, so when she arrived she began looking for him, but she didn’t see him. The meal began, and they were serving the food and the drinks, and still no sight of the President. So she leaned over and asked someone next to her: “I thought the IMB President was supposed to be here tonight; is he not?” The person said “Yes, he is right over there” — and pointed to a man who was carrying a hand towel and a pitcher of water. It turned out that my sister HAD already seen him — but she had mistakenly thought that he was a waiter!
That’s the kind of mistake that we OUGHT to make in our Christian churches and ministries. Our churches are not about US being “something” — not the pastor, ministers, deacons, teachers, leaders or people. We are only servants who should be pointing people to the Lord.
We see this attitude modeled in the ministry of John the Baptist here in Matthew 3. Last week we studied how John warned us in :9 not to trust our nationality, our religious heritage, or our family background to save us, but that each of us must personally repent of our sins and follow Jesus as our Savior, in order to be saved. Now in :11 we find that John makes an important statement both about HIMSELF, and about the LORD:
“As for me, I baptize you in water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
There is a striking contrast in this verse: John first speaks about Himself, and he speaks about Jesus. He says, “As for ME, I baptize you with water for repentance” but then he says: “BUT HE” — and there is a real emphasis; a real contrast here in Greek: “BUT HE”! — is mightier than I … HE will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” He says, I am one thing, BUT HE is another; I have one ministry, but He has another. And John makes it very clear here, that he is merely the humble servant of a powerful Savior! And we need to make sure that we realize the same thing about ourselves today too! Let’s look at what God has to teach us through this verse:
I. THE MINISTRY OF THE HUMBLE SERVANT
John says two important things about himself here: He speaks of the ministry that God gave him, but also of his own humble importance compared to Christ
A. The Ministry of the Servant.
John did recognize the ministry that God had given him to do: “As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance …”
As we saw a couple of weeks ago, John’s ministry had been prophesied in the last book of the Old Testament, the Book of Malachi. God said, “I am going to send you Elijah the prophet …” and Jesus tells us later here in New Testament that John IS that Elijah who was foretold. God gave him the ministry of calling His people to repentance, and to baptize those who were coming. And as this chapter describes, God was using John to do that in a great way. He was fulfilling the ministry that God had called him to.
Every one of us should seek to do the same thing. If you are a Christian today, then God has called you to be a part of some ministry in His kingdom.
In the Middle Ages, one of the misconceptions that plagued the church was the division between what came to be known as the “clergy” and “laity”: that there was one group of people, the professional priests, who were supposed to do all the ministering, and then there were the “lay people” who would just come to mass and sit and listen and receive all the ministry. That was NEVER how God intended it to be. He said in Ephesians 4:11-12 that He gave to the church “pastors and teachers to equip the SAINTS for the work of service.” This verse clearly teaches us that ALL of God’s people are to serve; pastors and ministers do NOT exist to do all the work of the ministry; pastors and ministers exist to train the saints for the work of the ministry. I Peter 4:10 says “as EACH ONE has received a gift” we are to use that gift to minister to God’s glory. So EVERY Christian has a gift, and is to use it to serve in God’s kingdom work.
“Each one” means YOU, if you are a Christian! YOU have something that God has called and gifted you to do in the church. One of the most important priorities of your life should be finding that place of service that God has for you.
One of the things we talked about in our “Discovering The Ridge” new members class last week is how what kind of “ship” we see the church as, will determine our attitude about the church. Do we see the church as a “cruise ship” or a “battleship”? If we view the church as a cruise ship, then we will expect everyone to cater to our preferences and serve us. But if we view the church as a “battleship”, then we will find our “battle station” and begin to serve!
This is true not only for new members, but for all of us. Folks Jesus did not call us to join a cruise ship, where the staff caters to our every desire and preference. The Church of the Lord Jesus Christ is a battleship, in an eternally important war against the world, the flesh and the devil. Can’t you tell there is a war going on in our world? It is time right now for every one of us in God’s church to hear the call, “All hands on deck!” You need to find your “battle station”!
John recognized the importance of the ministry that God called him to, and so must we. If you do not have a regular place of service in the church, you need to make it a top prayer request to find the “battle station” God has called you to, and get in and serve.
B. The Attitude of the Servant.
But as important as John knew that his ministry was, he knew this was not all about him; he was only a very humble servant. He said, “He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not worthy to remove His sandals.” John was saying, the focus of my ministry is not ME; I am not “anything” here.
We’ve all known people who were supposed to be servants on behalf of others, who someone ended up thinking that they were in charge. Like on an airplane: the “steward” or “stewardess” has the responsibility to distribute the food and drinks to the passengers. Those food and drinks are not “theirs”; the airline has given them a “stewardship” of those things, as servants, to see that they are distributed properly. But perhaps you have seen one of them act like they “own” the airline; as if they bought the food and they were “in charge” of it. Few things are uglier than a servant who makes things all about them. It is not about them; it is about their master or employer, and the ones they are to be serving, not them.
And the same thing is true in the Kingdom of God. Those of us who serve in His church have been given the responsibility of serving others in Jesus’ name. This is not “our” church; we are not “in charge”; and nothing stinks to high heaven more than a servant of God who starts making things all about “them.” It’s not about us! “We are not worthy to remove His sandals.” We are not anything but servants here, and we always need to act like it.
This week I read the testimony of a young man who had a dramatic testimony of salvation from drugs and immorality, and so right after he was saved, he was asked to go around a speak at a lot of churches. He said that looking back now, he probably got into it too quickly, and he realized that he became very egotistical about his ministry, as if “he” were the star of what was going on, and not the Lord. He said it really hit home when he was invited to intern at a large church ministry, and he thought they were going to feature him as a speaker at their big college service. Instead the (very wise) college minister had him stand backstage and pull the cord to bring the curtain up and down. This young man said at first it made him SO mad; every time the curtain went up, he thought his skills were being “wasted” while he was consigned to this “menial task.” But even as he was pulling that curtain cord, he said the Lord convicted that his priorities in ministry were wrong; that he was becoming all about himself being in the spotlight, and not focusing on the Lord. He said, basically, “I was photobombing Jesus”!
You know what a “photobomb” is — where a person sticks their head in and ruins a picture. How many times do we do that with the Lord’s work. We are supposed to be humble servants, but we stick our egotistical “big head” into it, and ruin it, with our pride, because “we” didn’t get our way; or we didn’t get recognized; or we didn’t get the thanks or attention we think we deserved. But who are “we”? We are nothing! We are servants of the Lord. Like John, we aren’t worthy to remove His sandals! We are His servants; we are His “stewards”; we are His little “John the Baptists”, who need to make sure we don’t “photobomb” Jesus in our church or ministry — but make sure we point people to HIM instead.
II. THE POWER OF THE COMING SAVIOR
So John knew that he was just a humble servant, to whom God had entrusted a ministry to which he was to be faithful. BUT, John said — and this whole verse turns on this “BUT HE” — there is coming another One, who is a greater Person than I am, and who will have a greater ministry than I do.
A. The Superiority of His Person
“But He who is coming after me is mightier than I …”. But he was not merely speaking of the physical or even spiritual power of Jesus who was coming, but of His superiority to him in every way. He said “I am not worthy to remove His sandal.” This is something more than just “power.” John is saying, this One is more HOLY than I am.
Now this is an amazing statement. John the Baptist was undoubtedly the most holy person that any of these people knew. Jesus would say later in Matthew 11:11, “Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist.” Among mere mortal human beings, there had been NO ONE greater, or more holy than John!
And yet John would say here in Matthew 3 of this Coming One, that he was “not fit to remove His sandal.” We’ll see in a week or two that when Jesus came to be baptized, that John would say, “I have need to be baptized by YOU, and do You come to ME?” John was the greatest man who had ever lived. How could that be?
Because this Coming One was no mere man; He was and is God Himself who came to earth. This is the whole story of the Bible right here: that God created us to know Him, but in the Garden of Eden mankind walked away from Him in our sin and we have continued to do that ever since. The story of the whole Bible springs out of that: that after man fell, God began the process of the redemption of mankind: He chose a man, Abraham, to begin a special nation, Israel, to whom God would give His word, which would help us to understand our sin, and He gave them sacrifices, which would help us to understand that a payment in blood could be made for our sins; and along the way He promised through His prophets that a Messiah was coming, Who would make that sacrifice with His own body, as a once-for-all payment for our sins.
And at just the right moment in history, the forerunner that God promised in Malachi came: John the Baptist, who called the people to repentance to prepare for this Messiah — and then came Jesus, not just another prophet, but GOD HIMSELF, so much greater than than the greatest man who had ever lived, that John wasn’t worthy to remove His shoe! The whole Old Testament had pointed to this moment, when God Himself would come down to earth as man, to take our place and die for us on the cross, and buy us back to Himself, and change our lives forever.
And that’s the next thing John tells us about Him: not only His superior Person, but His life-changing power.
B. His Life-changing power
“He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
John had said, “As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance. BUT HE”, John said, emphasizing again, “BUT HE” will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” John was saying, I am baptizing you in water in this Jordan River, which is a symbol, a picture — we have talked about this a number of times when we baptize, that there is no saving power in baptism; it’s just water. But, he said, this Coming Messiah has the power to do something to you that is not just symbolic; He will “immerse” your life not just in water, but in His Holy Spirit who will come upon you, and His Spirit in you will change your life!
John was saying, I am not the one who can change your life — this One coming after me will; through His Holy Spirit. You see, after this God-Man Jesus Christ came to earth, He did die on the cross for our sins, and then He rose from the dead, appeared to over 500 people at one time. He spent some time teaching His disciples how the whole Old Testament pointed to Him, then He ascended back to heaven. And then He sent His Holy Spirit to His Church on the Day of Pentecost, and now, whenever a person follows Him as their Lord & Savior, He sends His Holy Spirit into their hearts immediately. Ephesians 1 tells us that when you believe, you are sealed with His Holy Spirit — He comes into your life. So the Holy Spirit of God now lives in the life of every follower of Jesus Christ. THAT is life-changing. (We will talk some more about what this “baptism of the Holy Spirit” means next week, Lord willing.)
But what John wanted everyone to know, and what we all need to understand today, is that it is JESUS who does this, and Jesus alone. John was saying, I can’t do this. I can only preach and dunk you under some water. I can’t save you. I can’t send the Holy Spirit into your life. I can’t change you. And following in the steps of John the Baptist, this pastor and this church says the same thing. WE can’t save you; we change you. But we know someone Who can!
Matthew doesn’t record it here, but the Gospel of John tells us that when John the Baptist saw Jesus, he pointed to Him and declared: “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” Then John 3 tells us that when Jesus then began His ministry, people flocked to HIM instead of John. John’s disciples were hurt by that, and they said to John in :26, “all are coming to HIM”! But John told them: “You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, ‘I am not the Christ …” and then in one of the greatest verses of the word of God that every Christian should imitate, John said to them: “He must increase, BUT I must decrease.”
He was saying, this is not about ME! I am here to point people to JESUS, not to myself.
That needs to be our attitude as well. We are not here merely to draw people to ourselves, to our church, or our pastor, or our programs. Listen, we in ourselves can’t do anything to save and help people — but we know Someone who can! We are here to point people to HIM!
Let’s say that you are an assistant in a dentist’s office, and someone comes in with a tooth that has worn down, and is about to break. But you show them an xray of their tooth, and tell them that the doctor is going to come in, and he can fill that tooth in, and build it up, and they won’t have to worry about it breaking any more. And what if they got all excited and said: “OH thank you so much! You are so wonderful; I can’t believe you can do all this for me!” If you were that assistant you’d be going, well, it’s not really “me”; the dentist is going to do all that for you; I am just his assistant; I am just telling you about what HE can do!
That’s very much like our position as God’s servants. We have no power in ourselves to save or change anyone. There is nothing great about US. We are just His servants; His “assistants”; His messengers. We can tell people about Him, but the soul-saving, life-changing power is not in US at all; it is in HIM. We are just here to point people to HIM!
That’s why we’ve got to be careful about telling people things like: “You’ve got to come to church to hear our preacher.” No, there’s nothing in HIM; tell people “the word of GOD will change your life.” DO NOT say: “You’ve got to come hear our choir.” Say: “You’ve got to come worship our GOD with us. Don’t act like we’re anything; like John the Baptist, point people to Jesus.
You & I need to exhibit that same “AS FOR ME … BUT HE” attitude that John the Baptist had:
— “As for me”, I’m not anything; but I know Someone Who is!
— “AS FOR ME”, I have no power to change your life. BUT I KNOW SOMEONE WHO CAN!
— As for me, I did not love you from before the world began; BUT I know Someone who did!
— As for me, I don’t know what it is like to live in your shoes and I don’t know what it’s like to have all the problems you face — but I know Someone who DOES!
— As for me, I do not live a perfect life — and you’ll see that if you look very closely for very long — but I know Someone who DID!
— As for me, I did not die on the cross because I loved you, and I did not pay for every sin that you would ever commit — but I DO know someone who did!
— As for me, I did not rise from the dead after three days — but I know Someone who did!
— As for me, I do not have the power to come into your life, and forgive your sins, and save you, and change your life — but I know Someone who CAN!
— As for me, I have no power to fix all the evils of this messed-up world, but I know Someone who can, and one day He will return to this world, His face shining like the sun, riding a white horse, the armies of heaven behind Him, who will slay all evil with one word from His mouth, and He will judge the living and the dead and HE SHALL REIGN FOREVER & EVER!!
— As for me, I’m not Him — but praise God, Jesus is!
It’s NOT ME, BUT HE … It’s NOT YOU, BUT HE … It’s NOT US, BUT HE … It’s NOT THIS CHURCH, BUT HE! As for us, we’re nothing; but as for Him, He’s something!
It’s just like Psalm 115 says; “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but to Thy name give glory.”
Almost 200 years ago, a young Charles Spurgeon walked into a little Methodist chapel burdened with his sin. He said there was a lay preacher filling in that day, a shoemaker, because there was a snowstorm and the regular pastor couldn’t come. Spurgeon would say later that preacher “was really stupid”, and one of the worst preachers he would ever hear. He tried his best, but could only preach for 10 minutes. But that preacher did one thing right: he read Isaiah 45:22 which says, “Look to ME and be saved, all ye ends of the earth.” And he told the little congregation that day: “Look to Jesus.” Don’t try to earn it or deserve it; just look to Jesus; look to Him who died on the cross for you! Spurgeon said the preacher looked at him under the balcony there and said to him, “Young man, you look very miserable. Look to Jesus.” And Charles Spurgeon did look to Jesus that day, and his life was miraculously saved and changed forever.
That is what John the Baptist is saying in our text here today: don’t look to ME; look to Jesus. HE will save you. And this poor, stupid, lisping, stammering preacher can’t say it any better than John did: I can’t save you; I can’t change you; this church, these people, are not the answer for you — but we know Someone who is! “Look to Jesus” — God Himself, who loves you, and died on the cross to pay for your sins, and rose again with the power to save you and change YOU forever — if you will repent of your sins and follow Him. If you never have, why don’t you look to Jesus — and give your life to Him today?