Let us pray: Dear Savior, today as we ponder the message of Your forerunner, John the Baptist, cause us to hear it, read it, learn it, mark it, and inwardly digest it. Cause us to take the profound meaning of repentance to heart so that we also may be ready to meet You with faith and joy in the manger. Amen
GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE COMING CHRISTMAS KING!
TEXT: Luke 3: 1-6
Dearly Beloved by the Baby Jesus:
Earlier this week when she asked: “What text are you preaching on this week?” I informed my lovely wife that it was Luke 3, John the Baptist coming and announcing the need to repent. Then I told her: “Can you imagine John serving as a pastor in some modern American church today? He wouldn’t last a week.” She agreed with my assessment. Do you?
Before you can answer that question, you need to ponder what we know of this great man. After all, Christ, the Son of God, once said of John: “Of all offspring born of woman, none is greater than John the Baptist.” 1. We know that John was born of the Aaronic line of the OT priesthood—both his mother and father were direct descendents of Aaron. 2. He was the special forerunner of Jesus already prophesied in the OT. In the words of Isaiah: “A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord.’” 3. He was Jesus’ 2nd cousin who “leaped in his mother’s womb” when the pregnant Mary went to live with Anna and Zechariah after she discovered she was “expecting a child.” 4. He wore rough clothes, had a big beard, was schooled directly by God in the desert, and ate “locusts and wild honey.” 5. He never, ever, minced words or played to political correctness. He called sinners exactly what they were and told them to clean up their act in no uncertain words. Tact wasn’t his strong suit, either. Within a year or so after he began his ministry he accused the Jewish leader, “King” Herod of adultery for marrying his niece, who was also the wife of his half-brother. Her name was Herodias. This eventually cost John his head, literally. 6. We know that John the Baptist had many disciples, too. The one that stands out is the Apostle Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. Andrew later followed Christ at John’s bidding. Peter obviously knew John the Baptist, too. And since they fished together with the sons of Zebedee, James and John, they must have know John as well, along with other followers who are mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles but are not named.
Getting back to my earlier point, can you imagine John showing up in his modern American congregation and preaching his first sermon? First, his austere clothing would have been off-putting to most. Second, he would not have engaged in platitudes about love and stroked people for their seemingly good intentions. He would have been quite accusatory: “You’re wrong to be lackadaisical about your worship life! You say you’ve put God first in your life—then prove it! You think God owes you for trying to keep the commandments this week?—Wrong! He owes you nothing, but you owe Him everything! Get rid of your potty mouth! Get rid of your greedy nature! Get rid of the sexual innuendo that seemingly dominates modern culture! Go to God and beg for your soul. Beg for your life! Turn every aspect of your life over to Him and never be ashamed of what others may say or think about it. If you say you’re a “new creation” in Christ, then actually show it and live it!”
It’s for all those reasons and more that I don’t think John would be a very popular pastor today. And yet, no human in the world’s history was greater than John the Baptist! So says Jesus Christ.
Of course, unlike today’s preachers like me, John had the benefit of being schooled directly by God. We call that direct revelation. He couldn’t read hearts like Jesus, but I’d say he was pretty close to it. Also, God appointed him directly to his office as forerunner and made John’s life an “action prophecy” of what he was all about. In other words, John’s words, clothing, diet, and lifestyle all mirrored the austere message of repentance. Repentance isn’t only an outward manifestation of humility, it is primarily inward. It is grieving in your heart over your sins—all of them. It is never holding anything back from God Who sees and judges all. It is begging forgiveness, meaning it, and most importantly of all, embracing in genuine faith the forgiveness that Christ brings. Truly, if you’re sorry you’ve done something to hurt God and He forgives you, you’ll show it in all you do. Such a living forgiveness will become a part, an integral part, of your very essence. And since God has saved your eternal soul, you’ll never back away from letting others know about it. Another famous action prophecy is the OT prophet Hosea and the wife God told him to take named Gomer. Gomer was a well-known prostitute of the time. She even cheated on Hosea after their marriage. And yet, God wanted Hosea to marry her and he did! Why? Because all of this was a literal reminder to the children of Israel that although they were whoring after false gods, Yahweh still loved them and wanted to forgive them, bless them, and uplift them! With God actions speak louder than words and that was John’s message, too.
Baptism, or the outward application of water connected with God’s Word to wash away the filth of human evil and self-absorption, was part of John’s work. That work was outlined by Isaiah 700 years before the fact: “A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. And all mankind will see God’s salvation.’”
Any pastor worth his salt today must, must, do these exact same things! The indirection of hypocrisy, the twists and turns of “not wanting to offend anyone or hurt their feelings” such things don’t jibe with real repentance. Honesty makes for a straight highway to heaven. The rough ways of lying to ourselves about what is truly valuable in life and what God views as truly important, those rough ways need to be smoothed out on a daily and weekly basis. How? By hearing and remembering that “Jesus Christ came to suffer, die for, and save sinners of whom I am chief.” Again, total honesty.
My friends, we live in a society that either celebrates, ignores, or softens sins against God. We live in a world where forgiveness is just a word meant to placate a guilty conscience momentarily. And because of this we live in a world where many will celebrate Christmas but few will see in it God’s salvation lying in a manger. Don’t be fooled! Don’t let that describe you! Use this Advent wisely to heed John’s message and to actually practice what he preached! For it is only then that the true merriment of Christmas will rest upon your soul! Amen