Caron and Elyse arrived home on Saturday from 10 days in Hervey Bay. And, I can tell you, there was some HARD WORK GETTING READY for their return.
There were BEDS to be made, CLOTHES to be folded, the floor to be vacuumed and mopped. The bathroom and kitchen to be scrubbed.
One thing I’ve worked out after 22 years of marriage. I can SAY I’m glad to have Caron back, that I’ve missed her, and that I love her. But there’s nothing like A CLEAN HOUSE to SHOW her. For Caron, ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER THAN WORDS.
And it’s exactly the same with GOD. Actions speak louder than words. He doesn’t want to hear us TALK about being ready to meet him. Doesn’t want our good intentions, or our excuses.
And with Caron, she’s worked out that if she thinks I’ve been a bit distracted to PHONE AHEAD OF TIME. And REMIND me what time she’s coming home. Just to make sure I’m ready. TO make sure THE HOUSE is ready.
You’re the voice
And THAT’S like God TOO. Before he sent Jesus, he wanted to make sure his people were READY. So he sent them a message. Through this messenger John the Baptist. And his job was WARN people. To be God’s VOICE. Tell them what was coming. And make sure they were all set.
And John arrives, and he’s out in the wilderness, and he’s PREACHING.
And, just to prove God was the one sending him, we get a quote from Isaiah in v3. Written hundreds of years before, but talking about this moment in time. When God would use John to give the people a heads-up. His disaster early-warning system. V3.
John 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.'”
Smooth out the road. Grade out the corrugations. Round off the corners. He’s on the way! Just like Caron’s warning phone call. “Prepare the way, make straight paths, I’m coming home. And you better be ready!”
So, what was John’s MESSAGE? What was he preaching? HOW do you get ready for God to visit? It’s the big question, isn’t it? Is there a question that matters MORE? How do you get ready to meet the Maker of the Universe? The one who’s got your life in his hands?
There in v2. It’s fairly simple. REPENT, FOR THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN IS NEAR.
God’s kingdom is coming. His REIGN. The region of his authority. It’s NEAR. Close. Almost arrived. Jesus is on his way.
And the way to get ready for it? REPENT. The word literally means to change your mind. But when the Bible uses it / it’s specifically about changing from EVIL/ and turning towards GOOD. Turning away from an orientation of pleasing self. And turning TOWARDS pleasing GOD INSTEAD. Travelling from the kingdom of King SELF to the kingdom of GOD.
And we ALL live like that, don’t we? We ALL people telling us what to do, and when to do it. We’d rather be our own boss, than recognise Jesus’ right to rule.
A friend of mine went to visit a dying man. He was waiting for a heart-lung transplant, and his life consisted of a ten foot long tube attached to a large oxygen bottle. He’d sit in a chair sucking on this mouthpiece for all he was worth. This was all that was keeping him alive. And he waited for someone else to die so that he could live.
Over the course of a few weeks my friend did Christianity Explained with the man. And he was confident that if ANYONE would become a Christian – THIS MAN would!
But at the end of the course, there was no response. And the reason? HE DIDN’T WANT TO LOSE CONTROL OF HIS LIFE! He was in charge of his life, and he wouldn’t submit to anyone!
He died a few weeks later… completely in control of his own life… a life that consisted of a 10 foot length of plastic tube!
We all love to control our own lives. And we’ll love to do that even to our dying breath!
But John’s message is “That’s got to stop!” “You need to recognise Jesus’ right to rule over you as king”. To bow the knee to him, and to let HIM be boss.
Coming, Ready or not
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near”. And that WARNING about what’s coming. And the teaching about what people have to DO, it strikes a chord with people. They’re LAPPING IT UP. John’s running his “royalty-preparation courses” at his desert retreat. And people are flocking to hear him. His services are in HOT DEMAND. His speaking calendar’s BOOKED SOLID. V5 tells us he was drawing people from all over Jerusalem and Judea and the whole region of the Jordan.
And part of the attraction was his COSTUME. Taken straight out of the pages of the OT prophets, people who were the mouthpieces of God. He wore a camel hair tunic, with a leather belt. He ate locusts and wild honey.
And if THAT sort of character is telling you God’s RULE is close. And you get ready by REPENTING. By turning away from your sin. Then it’s a good idea to LISTEN. Which is what the people DID. V6. They SHOWED they were READY.
6 Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.
They admit their SIN. Their REBELLION against God. And then they CONFESS it. Publicly DECLARE it. And they SHOW THAT by letting John BAPTISE them. Which just means WASH.
And it was the sort of washing that was going on in John’s day whenever a non-Jew became a Jew. He’d WASH HIMSELF to show he was RITUALLY clean. That he’d done all the things required to become a Jew. Ticked all the boxes.
But here John’s baptising JEWS. They’re NOT CLEAN. They NEED FORGIVING. Just as much as NON-JEWS.
And they’re not doing it THEMSELVES. It’s not D.I.Y. baptism. Because you CAN’T make yourself clean in God’s sight. He’s got to forgive you. Which is what baptism symbolises. Where someone else washes you, and you just stand there, and take it. It’s a sign of God’s FORGIVENESS. Of him washing you clean of your sin. Nothing to do with what YOU do/ or DON’T do. Apart from REPENT.
And while there were LOTS of people who WERE repenting. Who WERE getting ready for Jesus to visit. There was ONE group of people who WEREN’T ready. There in v7. The religious leaders. For THEM confessing their sins was ESPECIALLY difficult.
7 But when John saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.
Both groups prided themselves on their ability to keep all the rules that OTHER PEOPLE COULDN’T keep. For the Pharisees, there were hundreds of EXTRA rules. About keeping clean, and not eating the wrong stuff, and not doing the wrong thing. And the more of those you kept for more of the time. The more confident you could be of God’s blessing.
And there’s no place for repentance and forgiveness in THAT sort of scheme. Just trying HARDER.
And so, they arrive at the side of the river, thinking John’s baptism is one more DEED for them to do. One more RULE to keep. One more box to tick. To earn a bit more favour with God. To shore up their position as one of God’s good guys.
But instead John calls them a pack of snakes. Poisonous, deceitful, and dangerous.
It takes more to get ready for God than splashing a bit of water about. Or, for that matter, giving some money to a charity, or attending church, or being nice to people. There’s got to be A CHANGE OF HEART. It’s got to be something REAL. It’s got to be INTERNAL, not EXTERNAL. A change of MIND and DIRECTION. Or orientation, or priorities.
And then, V8, You’ve got to Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. SHOW your change of direction with a changed LIFE.
Which is a MUCH HARDER thing to do. Much easier just to DO SOMETHING. WORK at something to EARN approval.
Repenting and confessing your sin is such an UN HUMAN thing to do. No one likes to admit they’re wrong.
Let me return to a personal example. Caron and I. I don’t remember what the disagreement was about. But I was arguing my case, Caron was putting across HER side.
And then, just as I was assembling some particularly effective arguments in my head about why I was right and Caron was WRONG. Caron came out with, “You’re being SELFISH!”
Now, in hindsight, I can see she was perfectly right. I WAS being selfish. But do you think I liked to hear it at the time? NO! It was like I’d been mortally wounded. I was horrified! Who, ME! Selfish! Surely not! Don’t you know how LONG I’ve been a Christian? I’ve written ESSAYS on the history of selfishness. I wouldn’t fall for such a beginner’s mistake as being SELFISH, would I?
Of COURSE I would!
It’s our , human reaction to try to justify ourselves. To blame someone else. How good are YOU at recognising your own mistakes? Your own shortcomings? Your own SIN?
Let me ask you, as a diagnostic question, “How good are you at APOLOGISING?” Are you QUICK to apologise? To recognise your wrong, and say sorry? Or is it like pulling teeth? Are you the LAST to apologise? Always SECOND? Always waiting until the OTHER person apologises FIRST.
Make sure that’s not you. Because that sort of attitude stinks of Pharisees and Sadducees. They were SLOW to repent. Slow to confess their sins. They wanted to DO THE ACTION, but without admitting their sin.
But John says, Produce FRUIT to show your repentance. Where’s the change in priorities, in attitudes, in orientation, in desires, in goals? Where’s the fruit of your repentance to God in the way you treat people? The way you talk to them?
The way your treat GOD. How HIS priorities are more important than YOURS.
Father Abraham had many sons
(pause) And part of the reason the leaders were slow to repent. Was because they were proud of their heritage. It wasn’t just about what THEY DID. But they were proud of WHO THEY WERE. Sons of Abraham. Children of the PROMISE. God had promised to be their God.
But John says. V9. Don’t take that for granted. God can make sons out of ROCKS.
And it’s no different with YOU. There’s nothing about your upbringing, or your education, or your background, or your experience. Nothing is worth leaning on when it comes to your standing before God. Nothing will stand up to the hot breath of his judgment… Except REPENTANCE.
That’s the only way to get ready for the arrival of Jesus. The only way to be confident that when he arrives, he’ll find everything in order.
And as Jesus AAL begins. It’s a question people are going to be asking. Perhaps even asking YOU. What do I do with Jesus? How do I respond to him?
And the answer you give/ is JOHN’S answer. Repent. Hard as it may seem. As un and difficult to swallow. It’s the sort of response God LOVES. Turn from your independence. And recognise your dependence on the one who holds your life in his hands.
But it’s not just for OTHERS. It’s for YOU TOO. In the next few months we’ll be looking at Jesus’ words from the sermon on the mount. Chapters 5-7 of Matthew.
And it’s that same attitude to have as we work through those words. As we hear Jesus speak. As Jesus COMES TO VISIT. To recognise the TRUTH of his words. To respond with a humble, repentant attitude. That confesses your failings and your shortcomings. Hands them over to Jesus. Turns your life in HIS direction.
(pause) Or what about us as a CHURCH? How can WE be getting ready for royalty? How can church be a place WHERE PEOPLE ARE ENCOURAGED TO REPENT?
1. First, We need to keep making sure we’re giving non-Christians the opportunity to repent. To keep presenting the good news about Jesus, and about how they can have peace with God through him.
And all of our events coming up will be opportunities for people to do that. Be courageous, and invite your friends and family to them. That’s the only way the events will work. If YOU invite someone. Don’t leave it to the person next to you. YOU do it!
2. This church needs to be a place where repenting is on the agenda. And one of the ways we can do that is to make sure part of our prayer during the service is repentance.
For 2000 years church services have changed hugely, but lots of things HAVEN’T changed. And one of them is that we begin church by APPROACHING GOD. By recognising who HE is. And recognising who WE are in comparision. And that will always cause us to confess how sinful we are. To REPENT. And to recognise our need for Jesus.
Let me encourage you SERVICE LEADERS. Let me encourage you who are ROSTERED TO PRAY. THINK about what things you pray for. PLAN and PREPARE what things you ask forgiveness for. Because as you confess certain things on behalf of all of us, it’s one of the ways God can show US things we need to change. And it’s one of the ways we make sure that REPENTING stays on our agenda.
3. Church also needs to be a place where, INDIVIDUALLY, people are changing. Repenting. Turning from what they ONCE were like, and becoming more like Jesus. A continual, gradual process. A journey of repenting. Of getting ready.
This needs to be a place where we can SEE each other becoming more like Jesus. Let’s be open and honest and real with each other. Conversations SEASONED WITH SALT. Genuine, significant, personal conversations.
Home groups are a great place for that to happen. Why not JOIN one? We’d LOVE to have to start new groups.
Hearing people’s testimonies is a good way of encouraging that. Seeing how God works in people encourages us to allow him to work in OUR lives.
4. It also needs to be a place where it’s OKAY TO FAIL. We need to be transparent with each other. To not pretend that we’ve got everything together.
I don’t have everything together. I struggle with sin. I argue with my wife. I make mistakes with my children. I REPENT.
This needs to be a place where we can be HONEST. Where we can SUPPORT each other. Without being judgemental. And help each other to repent, and to become more like Jesus.
5. And if repentance is going to become part of the culture. Then FORGIVENESS needs to as well. If we want to encourage repentance, then we need to make sure that if someone hurts us, that we FORGIVE them.
Repentance is encouraged by PROCLAIMING THE GOSPEL.
Repentance is encouraged by PEOPLE REPENTING and becoming more like Jesus.
Repentance is encouraged by being OPEN.
Repentance is encouraged by being SUPPORTIVE.
Repentance is encouraged by being FORGIVING.
Let’s work hard at GETTING READY FOR ROYALTY.