Let us pray: Dear Savior, today we ask for Your help. Remove the blinders from our eyes and show us our shortcomings and sins. So us the naked truth about our lives—that apart from You and Your goodness, we can do nothing. And then armed with such truth, send the Spirit to prompt us to act on it. Cause us to embrace You and live Your forgiveness on a daily basis. For when we do, then and only then will our lives be rich, full, and fear-free. Amen
GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE COMING CHRISTMAS KING!
TEXT: Luke 3: 1-6
Fellow Redeemed Sinners:
I’m amazed at the hypocrisy of sexism portrayed in many television commercials. I’m amazed that no one speaks out against it, either. It seems in our politically correct society, it’s a huge sin to stereotype women, but it’s o.k. to do the same stereotyping when it comes to men. I’ve seen this especially in commercials in which the man is driving the car, the woman reading the map, and although he’s hopelessly lost in the desert he ignores her advice and continues on the road to nowhere. Are all men that stiff-necked and stupid about directions and taking advice?
For many years Debra Ann and I vacationed in northern Vermont—before it became trendy. We purchased topographical maps of the area in order to find our way around. I well recall the map telling us about a dirt road shortcut across the mountains. We thought: Why not? It started out just fine, but eventually became so rough that I had to get out of the car to direct my lovely wife over the rocks and ruts so as not to bottom out the car. The map said it would get better. But it just got worse and worse. Finally, we both agreed to find a turn-around and go back. We did. Otherwise I suppose we’d still be on the back side of Valley Mountain today! When you’re lost, even with a map in hand, you need to throw aside pride and hard-headedness, you need to act.
As I read over this lesson I thought of the two scenarios I’ve just laid out. And taken together they help illustrate this truth:
ADMITTING YOUR LOSTNESS IS THE FIRST STEP TOWARD FOUNDNESS
Sometimes we forget just how short John the Baptist’s ministry actually was. His God-ordained task was to be the Forerunner of Christ. Or, as Isaiah prophesied: “To prepare the way for the Lord.” Considering how well-known John was and the disciples he attracted, his work was a success, too. But, the amazing thing is that he labored only about 6 months before Christ appeared on the scene beginning His public ministry. Just think about that. In 6 months John went from a nobody to a huge somebody. And this without benefit of mass media! Ah, but God was behind his work and God’s work always bears fruit.
John’s task, his job, is outlined for us. “He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” And then St. Luke goes on to quote from Isaiah to describe this work in poetic terms: “A voice of one calling in the desert, Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight paths for him. Every valley shall be filled in every mountains and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. And all mankind will see God’s salvation.’”
Of course, Isaiah isn’t talking about logging roads in Vermont. He’s talking about the rough, stony hearts of human beings. He’s talking about our pride and stiff-necked assuredness that gets us into trouble. He’s talking about sin. There’s a recurring motto in the movie: “Field of Dreams” about the farmer in Iowa who builds a baseball field in the middle of nowhere. It is: “If you build it, they will come.” Well, not unless they have good roads to get there!
Christ is the “Way, the truth and the life.” He has the roadmap to heaven. He has and is the source of fulfillment in life, a happy heart, a clean conscience, and just plain joy. That’s because Jesus owns those sought-after ideals because He purchased them for us on a cross with His blood and with His life. But unless and until we’re willing to turn off the road to lostness, we’ll never discover His foundness. Unless and until we repent of: our-way-or-the-highway, we’ll just stay stuck in neutral bottomed out on the rock of our sinfulness.
John’s job was to build good roads to lead people to Christ. He did so by confronting them with their lies, lust, envy, hatred, and jealousy. And once they had admitted that lostness, they soon found by the Spirit’s power in John’s baptism that the way to heaven through Christ was easy and smooth. For Christ was coming, the Messiah was coming, to purchase their souls and put them on heaven’s superhighway fueled by His boundless love for them, for us. We humans go through life thinking we have to do everything on our own, knowing we’re not really up to the task. But in Christ, we know that we’re not alone. We know that He has blazed the trail for us. We know that His love and guidance will propel us along. And if, if, a pothole appears His forgiving love will cause us to roll right over it—because He already has! Yes, in Christ there is no lostness, only foundness!
In Luke chapter 15, Christ talks at great length about the lost and the found. In one parable about a lost sheep, He makes the point that God is willing to leave the flock behind in order to find that one precious sheep. In another parable, the lost coin, He makes the same point and adds this: “I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” And finally, in the parable of the lost, or prodigal son, Jesus again makes the same point. For what does the father say in response to the other angry son over the prodigal’s return? “But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”
Once upon a time I had a member who got caught in the sin of slander against another. At first they would not admit it and defended their actions. After running after them on numerous occasions, eventually they admitted they had gone too far. But they never sought out, on their own, the person they hurt. They never exhibited a truly penitent heart in the matter. And then, when I told them: “I cannot minister to you.” They responded by trotting out the parable of the prodigal son so as to make me the scapegoat. But, of course, the prodigal son exhibited real repentance in that he went to his father on his own and admitted his sin on his own and asked for nothing in return other than becoming a slave. Repentance, or the active admitting of our lostness, must always proceed foundness, or genuine forgiveness. That’s John’s ministry in a nutshell. That’s the way of salvation in a nutshell. And never forget this last point: There are no shortcuts on this road…For Jesus Himself did not and could not take any on the way to the cross. Amen