Let us pray: Dear Savior, Your call for us to recognize and repent of our various sins often falls on deaf ears during this time of the year. Most people are too busy with the fluff of the holidays to focus on the health of their hearts. However, for us to have a truly Merry Christmas, heart health is all-important. So, today we ask You to refocus our attention upon exactly what we need salvation from and what we are saved for—a life of thankfulness and inner peace. Amen
GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE COMING CHRISTMAS KING!
TEXT: Matthew 3: 1-12
Dearly Beloved in the Coming Christ:
“The Emperor has no clothes!” Remember that little children’s story? Lately I’ve been thinking about it in view of all the political shenanigans around the world. Our leaders weave an imaginary tapestry of sugar-coated truth about almost everything, sell it to us with countless press conferences, and most happily swallowed the Kool-Aid. Yet, increasingly voices are being heard.—”The emperor has no clothes!” My mother was correct when she would say: “The truth will always win out.”
The general populace of Israel during John the Baptist’s time were treated to the same phenomenon. Israel was ruled by basically two groups: the Pharisees and the Sadducees. The Pharisees only numbered about 5000 adherents at their zenith. Yet, they exerted great influence. They were outwardly very “godly.” They lived very pious lives and dressed in a very religious manner. If you were to pick from a crowd someone who you wanted to follow in order to have a pipe-line to God, it would have been a Pharisee. Yet, they were “all hat and no cattle.” They were into religiosity. They went through what they considered to be the motions of godliness, but their hearts were dominated by their egos instead of by God. Meanwhile, the Sadducees were just plan corrupt. They comprised the mass of the ruling class. Their leader was Caiaphas the high priest. They had a love/hate relationship with the Romans. Why? Because it kept the money flowing. Yes, if you followed the money trail of that time it would end with a Sadducee. Religion was their club to keep people in line and the money flowing. They believed in nothing other than power, money, and using it to further their own egos, too. Needless to say, the Pharisees hated the Sadducees and vice-versa. But they had an uneasy peace because their relationship was parasitical. They fed off each other—all under the name of being “holy,” all under the umbrella of fake godliness.
“In those days, John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea and saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near!’ This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: ‘A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.'”
John’s message of repentance was much like someone saying to the ruling class today: “The emperor has no clothes!” It was his way of saying: “You are filled with naked greediness. Your mouths are filled with lies about what God expects and demands from His people. Your hearts are filled with bare, naked pride over your supposed lives of goodness. You’re leading people to believe in a god of their own imagination instead of the God of creation Who demands total respect and honesty.”
John dressed as austere as he spoke. He ate simple food. He got at the heart of what was eating the nation from the inside out because he got at the heart! Life is about you, one-on-One with God almighty. You cannot con God. You cannot act like His child outwardly when you harbor greed and lust within. You cannot merely go to temple or synagogue, pray on occasion, or even all the time, and expect that because of it God owes you anything. Your entire existence is tainted, sin-corrupted. God demands perfection from you and none of you can give it to Him no matter how hard you try. So, rouse your conscience! Recognize your inner need for forgiveness! Repent of your many sins! Turn to God in humbleness. You can offer Him nothing but your own empty heart. But then God will, out of pure grace, give you something to fill up your heart. He will provide forgiveness, help, peace, and joy in the form of His Son, the coming Messiah. Yes, just as Adam and Eve made fig-leaf clothing to hide their shame from God, you need to strip off the fig-leaves of pride and self-aggrandizement, realize you have no clothes, and in humility let God put His robe or righteousness upon you! In other words: Repent!
This message resonated with the “little” people. They came to John confessing their sins and asking for him to baptize them, to set them apart for God via this cleansing. Some of the Pharisees and Sadducees, upon seeing such popular support, wanted to join the bandwagon and ingratiate themselves with the masses. They came to be baptized, too. However, to them, John basically says: the emperor has no clothes! You are fakes and hypocrites. You go through the motions of religion but your hearts betray you because you don’t mean any of it. It’s a lie. “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”
Put into modern terms this diatribe would go something like this: “Just because your grandparents went to church doesn’t mean you’ll be saved. Just because you come for a Christmas service and put something into the collection plate doesn’t insure you God’s blessing. Where are you the other 364 days of the year? What were you doing then? And why do you put a few coins in the Salvation Army kettle? Is it because you love God and are appreciative for His love for you in Christ, or because you feel guilty over your human good fortune? Did you put up Christmas decorations to proclaim your joy over Christ’s birth, or because it’s expected in your neighborhood, or you want to “outshine” the fellow down the street and congratulate yourself?”—That’s the Pharisee viewpoint. Or, do you think these holy days are all about “making money?”—That’s the Sadducee view. Well, you get the point. Why do you do what you do? What is your motivation? The fruit of repentance is: keeping God’s commandments, all of them; fighting off temptation at every turn, and continuing to both live and plead for God’s mercy purchased for you by Jesus on the cross.
If Christ appeared tonight, before you, at the foot of your bed, how would you feel? Would you be happy and elated, or fearful and apprehensive? If you’re living a life of daily repentance, your emotions would be the former. If you’re living a lie, the response would be the latter, wouldn’t it? So, what are you doing about it?
John ends by saying: “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering the wheat into his barn and burning the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
Do not be deceived, God cannot be mocked! John is merely a human forerunner of the Divine Savior. The Messiah, the Deliverer from Satan’s tyranny is coming. The Holy Spirit will accompany Him. He will see all of our shameful words, deeds, and thoughts. He will lay bare our souls. And He will separate us according to one thing and one thing alone: faith born of genuine repentance. Faith which isn’t ashamed to put on His clothes of righteousness. If you truly wish to have a Merry Christmas, it doesn’t begin with decorations or gifts, it doesn’t end with a feast or a gathering of loved ones. It begins and ends with Christ, lying in a manger and reaching out in pure love, grabbing our beating hearts and injecting His love into our formerly empty lives. YES, THE MESSAGE OF JOHN LIVES ON! Amen