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O Lord, the words we have sung, indeed, that is our prayer, be near us, Jesus, and all that we have heard, all that we are about to hear, be near us. Send Your Spirit. Breathe upon Your Word. Speak to us now and give us ears to hear. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
We began at the end of October, and then we’ve had a couple of weeks off as I was gone one week and then our Faithful conference, this series on seven of the well-known 3:16 passages in the New Testament. Third chapter, 16th verse. I’ve chosen seven of these texts. There are others. Some, in fact, more famous than these, but I’ve chosen these seven because they teach us about the person and work of Christ.
We saw a few weeks ago Matthew 3:16, the beloved son of the Father. Next week John 3:16, the most well-known of all, and we will look at Christ the object of our faith. Galatians 3:16, Christ the promise of the covenant. 2 Thessalonians 3:16, Christ the Lord of peace. 1 Timothy 3:16, Christ the mystery of godliness. 1 John 3:16, Christ the lover of our souls.
This this morning, the second of these, Luke 3:16, Christ the giver of the Holy Spirit. Our focus this morning as in each of these is on the person of Christ. So a bit more theological exploration since we’re dealing with just one verse but also then to bring that home and what difference it makes that we understand this Christ to whom we’ve been praying and singing and worshiping.
So hopefully you have your Bibles open to Luke, the third of the Gospel accounts, Luke chapter 3. We’ll be looking at just one verse, verse 16, but let’s read the paragraph, verse 15 through 17.
“As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ, John,” that is, John the Baptist, “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.””
So we focus on verse 16. My outline is very simple. One, I want us to see why this statement is important. Two, what it means. And finally, three, why it matters. Why it’s important, what it means, why it matters.
So let’s just look at the statement itself. Why is this important? Why highlight this 3:16 verse? It would be easy to overlook this statement. It may be familiar to many of us, I baptize you with water but He’s mightier than I, I am not worthy to stoop down and untie His sandal. Reading it quickly, we might think that John is simply saying the same thing he says in John chapter 3, “I must decrease, Christ must increase.” That is part of what he’s saying.
But we would be mistaken if we just read this verse as a gloss on that single point, that John is just saying, “I’m little, He’s big, I’m pointing and He’s the point, I’m the minor, He’s the major, I’m the best man, He’s the groom, I’m the messenger, He’s the Messiah.”
Yes, all of those things are implicit, but notice the explicit statement of comparison. He says, “He is mightier than I,” and he gives this illustrative material, “I’m not even worthy to untie the strap of His sandal.” You’ve probably heard before and it’s easy to understand the people in the ancient world in Palestine, dry, dusty, often hot, walking around and they would usually have sandals and it was considered a very menial task, in fact, later in Jewish law they would forbid Jews from stooping down to this servile task of untying the straps of the sandal on someone’s foot. It was suitable for slaves or for servants, beneath them as a people.
So John is making quite an audacious claim that this man Jesus who is coming to be baptized by him, and lest people think that because John’s baptizing Him somehow John is the superior and He’s the inferior, and John will protest that but eventually give in and baptize him, no, no, no, this man is so much mightier that I’m not even worthy to stoop down and untie His sandal.
He’s making a statement we can understand that, but think of the contrast that he’s making in order to demonstrate that He is greater (Christ) and John is lesser, that the Christ is mightier and more worthy than John the Baptizer.
He makes a contrast between their baptism. Now that’s strange because think of what contrast he could have made. In fact, if we weren’t familiar with this verse, we might expect him to make a different kind of contrast, to say that the One who is coming after me is mightier than I because He is the Savior and I’m not,” or, “He has come to wash away your sins and I have not, He has come to die and I have not.”
But John doesn’t make any of those comparisons. That’s not the contrast he makes. John chooses instead a different comparison. He says, “I’ll tell you what makes us so different. Me, the forerunner; Him, the Messiah. Me, lesser; Him, greater. I’ll tell you why Jesus is so much mightier than I. It’s the baptism that He is going to give.”
That must have been head scratching because John was known for his baptism. That’s why we call him John the Baptist. That wasn’t his last name, that sort of sets you on a career path, but that’s just what we call him because that’s what he did. He was already a famous prophet. People were flocking to see him. He already had such a following that the authorities didn’t know what to do with him. They wanted to get rid of him but they knew that the people considered him a prophet. He was a big deal.
When you thought about John, maybe they thought about his bold statements, they thought about his austere living, but they certainly thought, he baptizes people. It’s a sign of moving into this new relationship, a sign of repentance for sins. He baptizes.
Yet John says, “I’ll tell you the difference between the two of us. Our baptisms are not at all alike. Or if they’re alike, they are worthy of a marked contrast.”
So his statement in verse 16 is a tale of two baptisms. John baptizes with water, Jesus is going to baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire.
That’s why this is important, because John is using this example of baptism to demonstrate why Christ is so much mightier than he is.
Which leads to our second big point. Okay, what does this mean? He will baptize you with Spirit and fire? Well, if you know the Bible, and if you don’t we’re glad you’re here to learn it, but if you’ve encountered the Bible before, you probably immediately think of Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit in Acts chapter 2, after Jesus’ death and resurrection and ascension.
Here’s what we read in Acts chapter 2: “When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind,” of course, “wind” in Hebrew and in Greek is the same word as “spirit,” “a mighty rushing wind [or spirit] and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.”
So this is obviously the fulfillment in time and space of what John is predicting. It’s at that moment at Pentecost, Jesus is in heaven, and He pours out His Spirit and manifests with wind and fire.
So we see the fulfillment of this. This is what John foretold and it took place at Pentecost.
But that still doesn’t quite answer the question. Okay, that’s when it took place, at least first in the moment of salvation history, but we’re still left with the question, well, what does it mean? What does it mean to be baptized with the Spirit? And, perhaps even more curiously, what does it mean that Jesus will be baptized with fire?
So let’s take both of those. First, what does it mean to be baptized with the Holy Spirit? We need to do a little theology and a little Bible study here. That phrase “baptism in/with/by the Spirit,” the Greek preposition en Pneumati, Spirit, that preposition can be translated in/with/by.
So that phrase, “baptism in/with/by the Spirit” occurs seven times in the New Testament. Four instances are in the Gospel, like this one, where John the Baptist prophesies that the Lord Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit. This prophecy is made in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, all four Gospels, so this is a really big deal. Four times we have this story, so that’s four of the seven occurrences.
The fifth occurrence is in Acts 1:5 where Jesus before His ascension alludes to John’s prediction. The sixth instance is in Acts 11:16 where again Peter recalls Jesus’ words before His ascension. So all six of those have to do either looking forward or looking back at the Pentecost event, that they’re all looking forward or looking back at the Pentecost event.
There’s one other, there’s a seventh one that is different. It’s in 1 Corinthians 12:13. It’s unique because it does not refer directly to Pentecost. There, Paul says, “for in one spirit we were all baptized into one body, Jews or Greek, slave or free, and all were made to drink of one spirit.” So that’s not just the Pentecost event but it’s something that Paul says is true for all of us, to be, all who are Christians, to be baptized into the Spirit.
There are some traditions of Christian theology that have argued that baptism with the Spirit is a second kind of blessing that only some Christians get, and that maybe then it manifests itself in particular in speaking in tongues and it’s a kind of second special blessing. Have you been baptized in the Holy Spirit?
Well, we know that’s not what Paul is talking about to the Corinthians because he underlines the “all,” “for in one Spirit we were all baptized, all were made to drink of one Spirit.” So Paul is not speaking there about some second blessing that only some Christians experience, or about something that happens subsequent to conversion that only some Christians enjoy. He’s saying, “Corinthians, all,” you know, he was in the South, “all y’all have been baptized in the Spirit.” All. He assumes everyone at Corinth who belongs to Jesus has been baptized with, in, or by the Spirit.
So it’s true. Every Christian in this room, every Christian hearing this message, if you have truly been born again, you have been baptized by the Holy Spirit. Christ has baptized you with His Spirit. It’s something that every Christian has experienced, because every Christian has been joined to Christ through the indwelling of the Spirit. Baptism with the Spirit, in other words, is nothing less than our union with Christ. Nothing less than our union with Christ. The same Spirit poured out at Pentecost now indwells and spills over every believer, joining us to Christ.
It’s the way in which the Bible describes being immersed in all of Christ’s benefits, coming upon us, to join with Christ in all of His blessings. So Christ accomplishes all of these things in His perfect life, His death, His resurrection, His ascension.
How do we receive all of these blessings and benefits? Well, He immerses us. He sprinkles us. He washes us with His Spirit, baptized by His Spirit.
Let me give you a picture of this. Maybe I’ve used this before and it’s going to stick with you. It’s also going to make you hungry.
Have you ever seen, I hope you have, the amazing conveyor belt of glazed donuts at Krispy Kreme? Just going through, just the waterfall of glaze, the donuts being baptized in glaze. First time I ever saw that, years ago, it almost made me a post-millennialist. It was just, we’re here, we’ve arrived. We had a Krispy Kreme near our house in Lansing, which sadly went out of business, but not, the DeYoungs weren’t to blame. We kept that thing afloat for a long time, when you can walk to a Krispy Kreme, and you just see that amazing waterfall of glaze.
The Spirit coming upon you, and it gets all in you, and I know it’s very earthy and that’s not quite how the Spirit works, but the picture shows you something of being doused with, of being baptized with. Every donut gets the glaze. It’s not an experience for just some of them. They all get it and they’re all better for it. So every believer gets baptized with the Spirit and with the baptism of the Spirit we have the blessings of Christ and we have the gifts of Christ.
Here’s how John Stott summarizes it, and John Stott typically summarizes it just perfectly: Spirit baptism is a distinctive blessing, he says, meaning it’s realized in the new covenant, and initial blessing given at conversion and a universal blessing because it is poured out on every believer.
So Jesus will baptize you with the Holy Spirit. He will douse in the blessings of Christ, give you new life, and join you to Him in this waterfall of His presence. He will baptize you with the Spirit.
The second image is perhaps harder to understand. He will baptize you with fire. Now he doesn’t exactly say who will be baptized with fire. Notice that. He just says He is coming with a baptism of the Spirit and of fire.
Let’s see if we can put together what this means. When you’re trying to figure out a difficult verse, it’s always best to start with the context. So look at the next verse, 17, because John is going to continue with this fire imagery: “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.”
So how does fire function in verse 17? Well, fire there is a metaphor for judgment. You’ve wheat and you have chaff. Fire speaks of judgment burning up the chaff and it also is emblematic here of separation, or division. He has the winnowing fork in His hand, He clears the floor, He gathers the wheat, He separates the wheat from the chaff. So the fire imagery here, just think of judgment and division. Judgment and separation. That’s what we’re leaning into in verse 17.
Now turn back in your Bible to Isaiah, because there’s one passage in the Old Testament, a messianic prophecy, that joins together, just one passage that joins together Spirit and fire. Look at Isaiah chapter 4. Isaiah chapter 4, verse 2. You see the heading in the ESV, “The Branch of the Lord Glorified.” This is a prophecy about the branch, which is sometimes a name given to the coming Messiah, because He’s a branch, or He’s a root or a shoot out of the stump of Jesse and David’s house. He’s a branch.
“In that day,” Isaiah 4, verse 2, “the branch of the Lord shall be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land shall be the pride and honor of the survivors of Israel. And he who is left in Zion and remains in Jerusalem will be called holy, everyone who has been recorded for life in Jerusalem, when the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion and cleansed the bloodstains of Jerusalem from its midst by a spirit of judgment and by a spirit of burning. Then the Lord will create over the whole site of Mount Zion and over her assemblies a cloud by day, and smoke and the shining of a flaming fire by night; for over all the glory there will be a canopy.”
So how does fire operate in this prophecy? We see the same things. Fire is a sign of judgment, verse 4, cleanse the bloodstains, spirit of judgment and a spirit of burning. So that’s used in parallel, spirit of judgment, spirit of burning, fire is judgment, and again we see the theme of separation, or division, because in verse 2 there are some who shall be the pride and the honor of the survivors of Israel and those who are left and remain will be called holy, everyone who has been recorded. But then there are those who are the filth of the daughters of Zion. Those, in verse 5, create over the whole site of Mount Zion and over her assemblies a cloud and glory.
So there is a division here: Those who are for glory and those who are of filth and to be washed.
We see once again as spirit and fire come together in this prophecy about the branch, that fire is a sign of division and fire is a sign of judgment, just like we saw in Luke 3:17.
One other passage. I read a few moments ago from Acts chapter 2, and remember again that vision, or that appearance at Pentecost, and divided tongues of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. I think that’s the, this is the explanation why, it’s already strange enough that tongues of fire, but why are they divided tongues of fire?
Because fire again is a sign of judgment and of division. Just like the John the Baptist says in verse 17 – you store away the wheat in the barns and the chaff goes into a pile and is burned up. Fire is a sign of judgment and division.
So what does John mean by saying that “the One coming after me will baptize with spirit and with fire”? I think he means this: Baptism with the Spirit means being joined to Christ and baptism with fire means being judged by Christ. Joined to Christ, judged by Christ.
Now we’re going to connect some of these dots and come back to this again in a moment to see what this means and what this application might be for our lives, but I think that’s what John is saying. I baptize with water but Christ is coming and He has not just a sign of something. The water that John used, like this water, has no special supernatural properties, but the Christ who is coming, He’s going to do a supernatural work to join you or to judge you.
So let’s think now third heading – Why does this matter for us? What’s, besides an interesting Bible study, why does all of this matter? I have three reasons.
One. This helps us to recall and remember that the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Christ. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Christ. After all, Christ is the One who said here to baptize with the Spirit. Too often we forget that the Son is the One who gifts the Spirit and that the Spirit indwelling every believer is the Spirit of the Son.
It’s very hard to conceptualize the Trinity because it doesn’t work in concrete terms. We don’t want to think of the Son and the Spirit as two different guys hanging out. They are, to use theological language, personal subsistences of the one Godhead. So this means the Spirit is not the replacement for the Son, or even worse that the Spirit is kind of the Son’s disappointing understudy.
Years ago when I was visiting Trisha she was studying in England and we went to London and we say Les Mis, of course a wonderful production, and they announced at the beginning I think it was Fantine was going to be played by the understudy. [sound effect] Now, of course, they’re also amazingly good, you can’t tell, but everyone sort of, “oh, really? We don’t get the real Fantine?”
Don’t think of the Spirit like, “We could have Jesus, and that was pretty great when Jesus was walking on earth, but He had to get back to heaven and so I guess we have the Spirit. It’s okay.”
Remember, Jesus actually says it’s better that I go away because Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, He’s bound to one locality, one place, so now it means you don’t have to go to Israel to meet God. The Spirit of Jesus can be everywhere. The Spirit of Christ is the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Christ.
Listen to Romans 8:9 & 10. Paul says, “You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to Him. But if Christ is in you… the Spirit is life because of righteousness.”
Did you notice those overlapping terms? “In the Spirit, the Spirit of God dwells in you, the Spirit of Christ belongs to you, Christ is in you.”
To say the Spirit of God lives in you, or to say the Spirit of Christ is in you, or to say Christ dwells in you, are three ways of saying the same thing.
The point that Jesus makes over and over again in the upper room discourse, that’s John 14, 15, 16 before His arrest and betrayal, is this connection between the Son as sent from the Father and that now the Spirit is going to be sent by the Father and the Son. It’s a reflection of this eternal procession that the Son is eternally begotten of the Father and that the Spirit eternally proceeds from the Father and the Son, and we see that eternal reality played out then in time.
I pointed out before Acts 1:1 says, Luke wrote Acts and Luke wrote Luke, Acts 1:1 says, refers back to Luke’s Gospel, and says that was the book “all that Jesus began to do and teach.” Which means by implication the book of Acts is about all that Jesus continues to do and teach. It’s not as if Jesus goes to heaven, bye bye, and Jesus will just sort of watch the rest of Church history play out. No, Jesus continues to minister and one of the ways He does is by gifting His Spirit.
It’s worth remembering as we come into the Christmas season, how at every point in Jesus’ ministry there is this intimate connection between the Son and the Spirit. Jesus is the One who can baptize with the Spirit because he has been empowered and anointed by the Spirit throughout every stage of His ministry.
Think about it. Mary conceived by the Holy Spirit, Matthew 1, Luke 1. The Holy Spirit was upon Simeon when he spoke about Jesus in the temple. The Spirit, as we saw three weeks ago, rested upon Jesus at His baptism. Then immediately following that, the Spirit led Jesus, and Luke says He was full of the Holy Spirit, into the wilderness. After the temptation, Jesus returned to Galilee and Luke tells us He returned in the power of the Spirit, and He announced in the synagogue in Luke chapter 4 that the Spirit of the Lord was upon him to preach good news to the poor.
Matthew 12, it was by the Spirit of God that Jesus cast out demons.
Hebrews 9 says it was through the eternal Spirit that Christ offered Himself as a sacrifice.
1 Peter 3:18 says Jesus was made alive by the Spirit.
Romans 1:4 says that through the Spirit of holiness, Jesus was declared to be the Son of God by His resurrection.
In other words, from His conception to His birth through His life, His baptism, His temptation, His miracles, His ministry, His death and His resurrection, all of those show the intimate connection between the Son and the Spirit, that the Spirit was at work in the Son in every one of those occurrences, and that’s why Christ of course is the One who will pour out and baptize us with the Spirit. When you get the Spirit, you get the Son; the Holy Spirit is always the Spirit of Christ.
Second. Second point. Why does this matter? It means that the ministry and message of Jesus divides people into two camps. This is what John the Baptist means by spirit and fire. Here we’re circling back as I said we would. Jesus comes, as it were, with two baptisms. You could say in a way everyone will be baptized by Christ. The question is which baptism you receive. Will Christ baptize you with the Spirit, joining you to Himself, immersing you in all His benefits, granting to you all His blessings? Or will Christ baptize you with fire? Punishing you for your sins, gathering you like chaff in the barn to be burned, pouring out upon you not blessing but cursing? Spirit or fire? We all get one and only one.
Remember here, this fiery imagery to communicate judgment and division, this comes first of all from Sodom and Gomorrah. Jesus will make that connection in Luke chapter 17. That’s why fire in biblical parlance so often means judgment and division, because Sodom and Gomorrah were wicked cities, they were to be judged by the Lord and Lot and his family were to get out and to flee to another town, the division of the righteous and the wicked, and then fire and sulfur fell from heaven and destroyed. Fire was from that time a symbol of division and of judgment.
I want you to listen to what Jesus says in Luke chapter 12. If you’re back in Luke’s Gospel, it would be good to turn there lest you think that I’m overstating the case about this fire and judgment.
Here’s what Jesus says in Luke 12:49, Luke 12:49 through 53: Jesus says, ““I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is My distress until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth?””
Now right there He’s saying uh, yes, right, and the angels sing that? Aren’t we going to sing that at Christmas time? Peace on earth, goodwill to men. Well, yes, that is true in one sense, that the coming of Christ was the announcement of peace, proclaimed to the world. How you can be right with God. But the Bible’s a big book. The Bible’s a complicated book. So there is a sense in which the coming of Christ was ultimately that message of peace, but now Jesus is going to say, “You’re going to misunderstand what sort of Messiah I am. If you think that I just came so just everyone can just have nice candy canes and stocking stuffers and enjoy the holidays and that’s all, just warm fuzzies, just feel good all the time, just everybody a blanket of goodness.”
No, because He came to bring peace to those who would believe in Him, but to those who would not, it would be fire.
““Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.””
That’s a hard word from Jesus. Praise God that often the Gospel does bring us together and many here have that heritage of faithfulness from generations in your family, and yet many here know all too well and will experience over the next month this sort of division, or if at least not division, an awkwardness, an uneasy, let’s not talk about the things that are most important, and some of you feel this pain all too exquisitely. Father against son, mother against daughter, in-law against in-law, because one has bowed the knee to Christ and the other says, “You’re such a fool, I want nothing to do with your Jesus.”
Don’t think that that’s strange. Jesus said this is exactly what will happen. Because Jesus and the cross has always been a stumbling block, no matter what sort of world you live in.
Notice here again that Jesus again, when He speaks of fire, we see those two things – fire is a sign of judgment and fire, verse 51, is a sign of division.
We cannot write this off and say, oh, well, you know, the Puritans. It’s those fundamentalists with their fire and brimstone.
This comes from Jesus. Jesus is the One who, a few chapters later in Luke 17, will reference Sodom and Gomorrah and fire. Jesus is the One here who says “I have come to bring division.” All of humanity across human history will receive a baptism from Christ, a baptism of the Spirit, with blessing and benefits or a baptism of fire, God’s righteous judgment upon sinners.
Jesus’ ministry and His message divides people into two camps.
There’s a third lesson for us. Jesus underwent another baptism after He was baptized by John. So if the second point is a warning and an admonition, this last point gives us the means of salvation, because Jesus, in Luke 3 He’s going to be baptized with water by John, but He received subsequent to that another baptism. You say, “Wait a minute. I didn’t think you were supposed to get baptized twice, and I don’t remember another baptism.” Well, you just heard about it. I just read it in verse 50.
Look again. Jesus says, “I have a baptism to be baptized with and how great is My distress until it is accomplished.” Jesus knows what is coming for Him.
All of humanity into two camps. Friend, here is how you move from one camp to the other, from the fire to the Spirit. It’s through faith in Christ, because Jesus received for the sake of sinners that baptism by fire. What have we seen? What is fire? Fire is judgment and division. Jesus says, “I have another baptism. It will be a baptism by fire. It will be a baptism of God’s judgment upon sin and I will be cut away, I will be cast off. Eli, Eli, Lama Sabachthani – Why have You forsaken Me, My Father. One counted accursed, stricken, smitten and afflicted. Christ knows He is to receive this baptism of judgment and division.
So there is a way, and when those tongues of fire fell upon the disciples in the upper room in Acts chapter 2, it was an admonition that this Christ will judge, but it was also a word of hope that if you belong to Him, if you are baptized by His Spirit, then that fire has fallen upon Him and you receive instead the great glory of God’s blessing.
Jesus was baptized with water by John. His Father baptized Him with the Spirit coming down as a dove. And because of our sins, He received a baptism of fire.
The good news for us is that through this baptism of Christ, you can be set free from any baptism of fire. Not that you can avoid all pain and suffering, we know of course we can’t in this life, but you can avoid the second death, you can avoid the pain that lasts forever if you repent and believe, if you turn and you trust, if you come to Him, if you ask Him.
Remember what Jesus says, just as those of us who are wicked love to give good gifts to our children, will not a man awaken in the middle of the night with a neighbor saying, “Can you give me a piece of bread?” you would not give him a stone or a serpent. How much more will our heavenly Father give to us the Holy Spirit when we ask him?
You do not have to receive the baptism by fire. The Father and the Son stand ready to pour out upon you the baptism of the Spirit if you will but come.
Let’s pray. Our Father in heaven, we thank You for this good news, the work of Your Spirit and so we pray, Spirit, that You would come and administer this Word to us now and through this week You would bless us, You would convict us, You would join us to Christ, you would set us free from the fear of death and the snare of the devil and give us hope, everlasting, eternal hope, in Christ alone. In His name we pray. Amen.