December 7, 2014  Luke 3:1 – 18   Prepare


     I love the introduction that Luke gives us in this passage.  I want to read it again and let the word of God come alive to us at least I am praying that it will come alive to us.  In verse 1 we read about the governors and the tetrarchs of the regions.  Here is the political environment in the area.   Then in verse 2 the mention of the high priests and then we read the word of God came to John.  John is out in the desert and I do not know what he is doing out there.   Maybe he is fasting and praying and seeking the Lord.    That is a good way to prepare for ministry.   But then the word of God comes to him and immediately Luke tells us that he is preaching.  When the word of God comes to a person it changes them.  John preaches the word of God.   His word comes and we listen to it, we live it, and we preach it.

      God put John to work to minister.   Would to the good Lord that all of us would get a word from God.  Sometimes a word from God gets us out of a jam and brings blessing and healing.  Sometimes it is a commission.    Maybe you do not want a word from God.  We see that the word of God came to John in the desert.   Luke does not say it came to the high priests.  It did not come to the political leaders.  It came to lowly John out in the desert.   If you have a word from God it is important.  Today we do not care about the governor of Judea nor the tetrarchs nor do we care about the high priests but we do care about the word of God that came to John.   Today we will talk about the word of God that came to John and not the religious and political leaders of his day.   We will stick with the meat and let the fluff go by the wayside.  

     Jesus spoke highly of John the Baptist.  Jesus said there has been none greater born of woman than John.  John was a prophet and he lived and carried the burden of a prophet.  He was a black and white hell fire and brim stone type of guy.   I have been blessed to have 2 such men serve with me since I have been in NH.  These are the guys that keep you on the straight and narrow.  Sin is sin to them and they have no room for sin in their life or anyone else’s.   A little white lie is still wrong and not to be tolerated.  It is good for us to hang around people like that but unfortunately many folks would not want to be close to anyone like that.  Our prayer should be Lord put someone like that in my life. 

    Luke and Matthew both gospel writers make it plain that John’s ministry was from heaven.  The Jewish leaders never accepted that John’s ministry and message was from heaven.  Both Matthew and Luke quote Isaiah regarding prophecy about John the Baptist.  John’s ministry was prophesied about 700 years before he started his ministry.   John’s ministry was from the Lord.  That makes John’s ministry very important.  John was a voice calling in the desert prepare the way of the Lord. 

    That is what we think of in this season.  This is the advent season and we are advent Christians.  A secular dictionary defines advent as a coming or arrival.  The period of 4 Sundays before Christmas and the coming of Jesus at the incarnation and it also means to come to.   This is a very busy time for many people.   There are shopping lists and things to buy and often those folks are contacted to see what they want for Christmas.  There are Christmas cards to prepare.    We get 100 cards to send.  Often there are guests or visitors that come and for many there are travel plans on top of all the rest.  For many it is year end and there is additional work to do for taxes and reports.  It is church year end and we are working on next year’s budget and other reports and preparing for the annual meeting the end of January.   Oh yes there is much to do.  Busyness is looked up to in our culture.   Even in some churches some believe if the pastor is praying he is not using his time wisely.   No time for prayer rest and reflection.  Thank the Lord we know better in this church. 

      We have bought into the idea that the busier you are, the more important your life is.  The book, Time for Life (Pennsylvania State University Press, 1997), surveyed ten thousand people and found that, after tracking their true working hours, they actually worked fewer hours than they thought. The survey found that people tend to overstate the number of hours they work because it elevates their professional status, which elevates their imaged self-worth. 
Another report from the “Americans’ Use of Time Project” at the University of Maryland (Los Angeles Times, December 11, 1996) agreed that there was a big gap between perception and reality in time use.   If that’s so, then why does it feel as if there’s not a minute to spare?    The report concluded, “A culture that promotes instant gratification also helps explain why life seems more hectic than it is. ‘We want everything fast – fast food, eyeglasses in an hour, drive-through banking. Internally, we feel rushed.   And the more rushed someone feels, the more they feel pressed for time.’”   People are in a hurry on the road and people in a hurry to get their shopping done.  People are in a hurry with their whole life.   You cannot rush holiness.    People are in a hurry but all too often their life is empty.  An empty life is not fun – I have been there.  You can have a full stomach but also have an empty life.  You can be crazy busy but still have an empty life. 

     I suspect that things were pretty busy in John’s day and God had a word or 2 for them.  Prepare the way of the Lord.   Change your focus.   Turn your hearts and thoughts away from normal life and begin to look up.  Turn some of your energy and thoughts from the world and put them on God.  Get ready because God is coming.  The proud will be humbled and the humble will be exalted.  The cooked lives will be changed and straightened out.  That was his commission right?   That the hills will be flattened and valleys exalted and crooked places will be made strait.  

    How do you preach to people to get them ready for Jesus?   Well John’s methods might not work too well today for many in this culture but some I suspect need to hear a fire and brimstone message.   What was the word of God to John?   What did he preach?   Well we see right here in this passage that those that came out to be baptized by him that John told them you brood of vipers.   You guys are a bunch of snakes.   John said in essence the way you live your lives you are the rotten bottom of the barrel bottom feeders.  Ouch.   I do not think there were any apologies.   He did not write a book on how to win friends you have influenced.  It was hard solid preaching right into their life.  Get right with God.   Well that is a good message because all of us could do better.   But you brothers and sisters are neither snakes nor a brood of vipers.   Does anyone feel like they are a snake?   Patton

    John told them do not just talk about repentance.   John wanted to see changes in their life.    Change how you live.  Do not hide behind Abraham.  He is speaking to Jews here of course.   Just because you are born into the Jewish race that will not save you.  You can’t live like the devil and think you got a pass to get to heaven.   It does not work that way.  James said if you have faith your life will reflect it.   It will show in how you carry yourself and your talk and what you do with your time and your money.  Let the walk speak of the talk.  Let your walk do the talking and that does not mean do not share the gospel.  People need to hear the message of God’s love and forgiveness.   The lost need to hear the story of the cross.  John was telling them you can be spit shined looking your best in the temple on the Sabbath but live that way the rest of the week.  You come out to be baptized and look great but how are you doing when you go to work?   How about the rest of your life?  Prepare for the Lord.   God’s wrath is coming.  God’s judgment is coming and it will be here soon enough. 

     Robert Louis Stevenson wrote, Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde.    "Stevenson’s man found a trick by which he could change himself into the person of another man, make an actual transformation of himself.   He could change not only his internal thoughts and feelings, but also his external looks and actions. Whenever he wanted to turn himself into Mr. Hyde, he took a drug and the miracle was accomplished.   He changed his handwriting.    He had a separate bank account for Mr. Hyde--everything in life was separate.   When Mr. Hyde, (who went down into sin and constantly wallowed in those depths of iniquity) wanted to get away from being Mr. Hyde, he took the drug and went back to being Dr. Jekyl.   When the officers were after him, he had simply to go into the laboratory and swallow a pill, and when they arrived the man they were looking for was not there.     I suppose some folks would like to do that today. 

      That process went on through the years, but there was an issue with it.    Not only by his will could he change himself into another man, and so on back and forth, but he discovered at last, when it was too late that, every time he transformed himself from the good Dr. Jekyl into the evil Mr. Hyde, then Mr. Hyde became increasingly the stronger, until at last the climax was reached.    It became harder and harder to make the transfer, and then, it could not be made at all.    Dr. Jekyl was dead, and Mr. Hyde still lived, but he was damned to eternal darkness and death, helpless and hopeless."  We have an old sin nature that we can feed but it never helps us.   The bible tells us be not overcome with evil but overcome evil with good.  James tells us if you love the world the love of the father is not in you.   John tells the people to prepare for the Lord.  Draw near to Jesus. 

       "In a stately church a noticeably untidy man visited the church for the first time. He was met by one of the smartly-dressed ushers who immediately ushered him to a back pew so that his unkempt appearance and foul odor would not upset the decorum of the church.   Another first time visitor stood in the foyer.   He was neatly groomed and made a striking appearance in his dark pinned stripped suit.  One of the ushers strode proudly down the aisle with him and seated him in the front of the church.    Following the service, the pastor of the congregation invited the man to dinner at his home.  As they were seated around the table, the food was passed.   The visitor helped himself to the delicious looking potatoes and other food placing them on his plate.   But then he did a strange thing, he scooped the potatoes into his suit coat pocket. The family watched as he proceeded to do the same with the carrots and the meat.   Unable to keep silent any longer the pastor asked, "Why are you pouring the food into your coat pocket?"   The visitor smiled and answered politely, "Judging from where you seated the visitor who came in before me I gather that you invited my suit to lunch so I’m feeding it."   God loves people.  How people are treated is played out in the world we live in. 

     I am disturbed with the news today.  How man y of you believe that unarmed white people have been shot and killed by black police?   We do not hear anything of that.    I read of one recently of just an event.    The media is creating terrible discord and a distrust of law enforcement.   Only 7% of blacks in one of the recent cases thought justice was served.    One of the 7 sins that God hates mentioned in Proverbs 6 is the one who sows discord.   Yes I have experienced angry police officers who in my mind were acting with power and arrogance and showed no mercy but I would rather have police than not.   People are people and God loves all people and not the just the guys with nice suits.  John expressed how the people were to relate to others.   Do not abuse power.  Do not falsely accuse someone and extorting money are abuses of power.   Do not charge more than you are supposed to John told them.  He told them to be content with their wages. 

    John tells the people the good trees will be spared about the bad ones will be burned.   The people said wow what do we need to do?  In other words how do I get right with God?  That is a good question.   I trust that we do know how to get right with God.  I think John might say to us today if you spend all your spare time watching TV and are not spending time with the Lord you love the world and you do not love God.   Some of us need to consider our giving.  Maybe some have a pet sin that they hide from others and that needs to be given over to God.  Prepare the way of the Lord.  Let’s make Jesus the center of our lives.   Let’s make sure that Jesus is central and the center of Christmas for us.  Prepare the way of the Lord.