COMING READY OR NOT! That’s what you yell when you’re playing HIDE AND SEEK. The hiders have hidden – hopefully. The seeker’s counting to ten or 100 or 23 – depending on how old he is. And then, with a loud “COMING READY OR NOT!”, HE’S OFF.
And I guess the point is when the seeker yells it that some hiders WILL be ready. And others WON’T. But that doesn’t matter to the seeker, because he’s coming ANYWAY.
I read a little story in the paper the other week about the difference between kids TODAY and kids a generation ago. How GOOD they are with technology.
And to prove his point the writer described how he’d recently been playing hide and seek with his niece and nephew – aged three and eight. They were seeking. He was hiding.
He’d just found a good spot to hide. He heard the cry, “Coming ready or not”. Then the pattering of little feet running all over the house for a few minutes.
And then there was quiet. Which was interrupted about 30 seconds later by the ringing of a mobile phone. The WRITER’S mobile phone. And then, within 10 seconds, his nephew had found him. Followed the ringing. The nephew had given up looking, and just phoned his uncle’s mobile instead!
The writer had THOUGHT he was ready. But he’d forgotten to turn his mobile onto silent. And his 8 yr old nephew had been smart enough to think LATERALLY. Think outside the box. And his uncle had been FOUND OUT.
And it’s the same here in today’s passage. Lk 3. With the people of Israel. They THOUGHT they were ready. But they’re going to be found out.
They’d been waiting for God’s Messiah – his RESCUER – to come. A king like the ones they used to have, a king with God at his right hand who would throw out the Romans.
The prophets have been calling out, “He’s coming, ready or not!” for centuries. And the people in John’s time THOUGHT they were ready. A rescuer was just what they needed. They couldn’t WAIT. And as soon as God gave the party, they’d be there like a shot, no hanging back.
But WERE they ready? And what would it LOOK LIKE to be ready?
In today’s passage, thirty or so years after the birth of Jesus, his cousin John appears on the public stage. He’s out in the desert, doing what other prophets have been doing for centuries, preparing people for God’s arrival. He’s sending the warning, “Coming, ready or not!”
His fellow prophet Isaiah, 500 years earlier, described what he was doing. There in v4. He’d be a voice calling in the desert. “GET READY! God’s coming. Build the new expressway to make it EASIER for him to arrive. Fill in the valleys, Chop off the hills. Straighten out the windey bits, smooth out the rough bits.”
How to respond
But HOW do you do that? How to respond to the message that God’s coming. How do you get ready? It’s got NOTHING to do with BITUMEN AND ROCKS, and EVERYTHING to do with REPENTING OF YOUR SINS. There in v3.
3 He went into all the country around the Jordan, PREACHING A BAPTISM OF REPENTANCE FOR THE FORGIVENESS OF SINS.
That’s what it means to smooth the way for God to arrive.
The word “baptism” just means WASHING. But for the Jews of John’s time, this was more than just splashing about. There was a SYMBOLISM in the washing. There were two sides to it. On the HUMAN side, to be baptised was a public declaration that you REPENTED OF YOUR SIN. That you’d turned around from walking AWAY from God. And were committing to walk TOWARD God. To live according to HIS agenda, rather than YOURS.
And the OTHER side of it was GOD’S side. The washing shows GOD’S FORGIVENESS. His wiping your slate clean. Cancelling out your sins. Removing your guilt.
You can see both sides in what John was preaching. V3 again. He preached a baptism of REPENTANCE (that’s OUR part) for the FORGIVENESS OF SINS (that’s God’s part).
Turn from your sin and rebellion SO THAT God will forgive your sin.
It was the way to get ready for God THEN. And it’s the same TODAY. To turn away from living life YOUR way. To recognise your rebellion, to admit you’ve ignored God.
It’s something everyone’s guilty of. No one’s immune. No one escapes. We’ve all lived as his ENEMY, and we need to become his FRIEND.
And if you DO repent God’s promise is FORGIVENESS. Just like John said. A removal of guilt. A restoration of relationship. All symbolised in baptism – a washing with water.
You might remember Kelly did that a of months ago. To symbolise what SHE’D done, and what GOD had done.
But the thing to remember is that baptism is just a SYMBOL. It’s the EASY bit. Religious ceremony is ALWAYS easier than the reality it represents. And so John has to give TWO WARNINGS.
The REAL bit – the MEANINGFUL bit – happens on the INSIDE. And it’s much HARDER. Takes a lot more determination than splashing around a bit of water.
And it seems like that’s what the PEOPLE were forgetting.
You can see the sort of things John was preaching to them. The crowds have all left the cities and towns and come out into the wilderness. A bit like Woodstock, or Splendour in the Grass, or Jazz in the Vines.
Perhaps they just turned up to watch the show. Thinking it would be a bit of fun. Or perhaps they’re genuinely interested in getting baptised to get ready for God. But John’s got a of warnings for them. And he’s not too POLITE about it either. Look there in v7.
“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.
An APPEARANCE of repentance isn’t enough – it has to be genuine. It has to BEAR FRUIT. Being washed in the river doesn’t make someone a righteous follower of God – there has to be some long-term change. Something that goes on, that’s still with them – after they’ve dried their hair and gone home.
Real repentance – real turning around – involves tough decisions and costly actions. To change attitudes and orientations. To change your HEART is where it has to START. And then you’ll SEE that by its FRUIT. The internal change will SHOW ITSELF in external transformations.
Do you see the problem? The king’s on his way, and there’s a big crowd here to welcome him. But while the crowd seems to think it’s a simple matter of washing up to get ready for the king. John wants to declare as forcefully as he can that THERE’S WORK TO BE DONE first.
The people realise it’s more serious than they thought. So they ask the question “What’s this fruit look like?” Verse 10. “what shall we do then?” And John gives them three examples.
Verse 11. “The man with two tunics should share with him who has none. And the one who has food should do the same.” You see, repentance is more than just words. More than just sitting back in luxury and thanking God for his blessings. Repentance is obedience to God. And that affects your hip pocket. It affects your free time. Your comfortable and easy lifestyle.
It might mean giving some of your possessions or your money to help someone who needs it. It might mean spending your holidays on a mission instead of on the beach. It might mean putting your hand up to do a job in the church, even though it’s the last thing you feel like on top of everything else you do all week. It might mean changing who you hang out with or what you do in our spare time. It might be difficult. It probably won’t be glamorous.
But repentance is something that EVERYONE has to do. In verse 12, we see even some TAX COLLECTORS were there. “What does it mean for US?”
John says, “Don’t over charge”. It was actually LEGAL for them to charge whatever they wanted. But John’s point is, “Don’t take ADVANTAGE of that”. If you’re in the position to take advantage of someone – don’t. If you’re an employer – pay a fair wage. Expect a fair day’s work. If you work for someone else, give it your best. Don’t short-change your boss.
Repentance means not taking advantage of your connections if it means someone ELSE is DIS-advantaged.
Don’t assume that because you’ve got a mate who’s a builder or a plumber or a doctor that they’ll do your job for free, or for mate’s rates. They might OFFER it, but don’t EXPECT it.
And some soldiers chimed in as well. Verse 14. “And what should WE do?” They could take advantage of just about ANYONE THEY LIKED – the law of the land said the Jews HAD to help them. To refuse was treason.
Same thing goes for them, John says, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely. Be content with your pay” He’s telling them, “Don’t have your eye out for a way to rip someone off.”
That’s a tough one isn’t it? Be content! Be happy with what you’ve got. It’s tough with the ardment of catalogues that land in our mailboxes. The ads on TV – you can’t POSSIBLY be happy with an old TV, or old clothes, or a holiday at home. You’ve got to get something new and better.
If being content is hard for you Why not try comparing yourself to a Christian brother or sister in Africa or Egypt or Indonesia or Jamaica, rather than your neighbour across the street? That’s a good way to learn contentment.
Be content. Learn to find you satisfaction IN GOD. In his beauty and his holiness and goodness. In his infinite worth and love. Commit yourself to getting know God better in his Word. Pray that your desire for him will grow. And that your contentment in him will grow. That he’ll satisfy you.
Listen to what he promises in Ps 37 v3-4
3 Trust in the LORD and do good;
dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
4 Delight yourself in the LORD
and he will give you the desires of your heart.
In other words, be content with God, and he’ll SATISFY your desires and give you a greater knowledge of himself. That’s the key to being content.
If you can get rid of the hunger, (the coveting, the idolatry), then you won’t be as tempted to GET STUFF at any cost. To rip people off. To be dishonest.
Now perhaps you’re thinking, “Phew, I’m not a soldier, or a tax-collector”. But John’s point is that repentance has to mean something concrete – something real – WHOEVER YOU ARE. And that means you. Doctor or garbage collector, whether you’re still at school or you’re retired.
The challenge for you may NOT be in being content, or in helping people. But it’s going to be something REAL. And it’s not going to be EASY. That’s what repentance will look like.
If you’ve repented – if you’ve decided to turn to God – it must make A DIFFERENCE to how you live.
Is your life different today compared to 5 years ago? How are you at controlling your temper? How do you treat your children? How do you treat people less important or influential than yourself?
Does your repentance HAVE FRUIT?
And don’t assume the answer’s “yes” just because you’ve been in the church for years! If you’re tempted to think like that, then John’s got a word for you, too. You see, some of the people there were confident like that. They were descendants of Abraham – and God had promised that Abraham’s descendants would be his chosen people. So they reckoned they could do whatever they liked – they were God’s chosen people. No strings attached.
But look at what John says. “Don’t get too big for your boots.” Same message. God’s TRUE people will SHOW it by their actions. Half way through v 8.
“Don’t begin to say to yourselves ‘we have Abraham as our father’. For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham” 9 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.”
John says “Don’t think you’re immune to God’s judgement just because of your parents”. If you want to avoid the coming judgement, what you need is true repentance. Not teaching kids church for years, not a theology degree. Not being MARRIED to a Christian, or being in the same seat in church every Sunday of the year.
None of that matters. Just like getting washed with water won’t do it. It’s what’s happened on the INSIDE that makes you one of God’s children. When you repent, and God forgives you. Not your family tree, or your memberships, or your accomplishments, or your education.
Because, after all, it’s GOD who makes children of God? (the end of v8) He can raise up children out of STONES. HE’S the one who forgives your sin. Who washes you clean on the inside, where it MATTERS.
In fact, he’s the one who turns you around, and opens your eyes to START WITH. He’s the one who CAUSES you to repent. To recognise that you’re a rebel and a sinner. No one can do it on their own. No one’s clever enough or good enough to make that sort of change on their own. Only GOD can do it. And he can make children of God out of ANYONE. Not just Jews. But even Aussies like YOU and ME.
But it’s ALL GOD, and NONE of YOU. So don’t be trusting your status or your connections. Your performance or your intelligence. God is coming to JUDGE, says John, and the only thing he’ll recognise is the fruit in keeping with repentance.
Who to get ready for
This is all powerful stuff John’s preaching. And the people think John’s the best thing since sliced bread. And, in a sense, they’re right. Dynamic, relevant preaching. If people took it to heart, it would be revolutionary. Societies would be REVOLUTIONISED.
And the baptism symbolism just tops it all off. Makes it all sink home even more.
And the people even wonder whether John might be the Messiah, the Christ – God’s chosen king. There in v15.
But we know different. Luke’s already TOLD us. We know that John’s just the road-builder, the bump smoother, the corner straightener. Getting people READY for God’s king.
And so John has to throw cold water, not just on their HEADS when he baptises them, but on their EXPECTATIONS about HIM, TOO. When Jesus DID appear, he’d be as different from John as chalk and cheese. Look at v16-17.
I baptise you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.
John could only work on THE EXTERNALS. But Jesus was someone with the power to change from THE INSIDE OUT. Sure, John said you need TRUE REPENTANCE. Repentance that bears fruit in changed lives. But that’s only POSSIBLE when Jesus comes along and gives the Holy Spirit. Because without the Holy Spirit none of us is able to do it. To either REPENT OR BEAR FRUIT.
When John baptises with WATER – it’s like taking a lump of iron ore and washing it – the outside of the rock now looks cleaner, but what’s inside stays the same.
But Jesus will baptise with the Holy Spirit and with FIRE – like putting the ore in a furnace, burning away all the rubbish and leaving the pure metal. Completely transforming it. Bright, shiny steel. It’s precious, it’s hard, it’s useful. Completely different from what was there before. That’s real change. That’s permanent change! That’s what God’s Holy Spirit does when he arrives in someone.
How not to respond
We’re told in v18 that with MANY OTHER WORDS John exhorted the people and preached the good news to them. The good news about Jesus who would come to judge with fire. Who would be looking for REPENTANCE.
We’re not told how THE PEOPLE responded to John’s preaching. But we ARE given one FINAL example of how NOT to respond. V19. At this point John bows out of Luke’s story, and the focus becomes Jesus. Just like John would have wanted it.
He’s preached repentance to THE CROWDS. But when he preaches repentance to HEROD, the local ruler, who’s married his brother’s wife, Herod doesn’t like being told what God thinks about his sin. He locks John up in prison, and before long BEHEADS him.
That’s the response of a REBEL. God’s king is coming to JUDGE. He’s coming demanding REPENTANCE. And the rebel refuses to listen.
And John’s colourful words ring true for Herod. V17.
17 His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
That’s the fate of rebels. The fate of HEROD. Don’t let that be YOU!
Jesus is COMING. Ready, or NOT.
Perhaps you remember when the Berlin wall came down, and the power of the Communist party in East Germany was broken. For MOST people, it was a GREAT day, and they celebrated in the streets, dancing, shouting, waving flags, drinking whatever Germans like to drink on such occasions…
But if you were an officer of the secret police, it WASN’T such good news – you knew the time of judgement was close. And they weren’t dancing on the wall – they were desperately trying to hide the evidence of what they’d been doing for the past 30 years.
(slow down) Maybe the idea of Jesus coming to judge frightens you. But you don’t have to run away or hide. You get to choose where you stand – whether you’re ready for Jesus to come.
You can choose to turn around – with true repentance, bearing fruit in your life – in which case Jesus’ arrival will be a party like you’ve never seen before. Or you can choose NOT to – in which case his fiery judgement is coming for you.
The message John brought to the Jewish people BACK THEN is the same one we have THIS MORNING: King Jesus is COMING READY OR NOT!