Prepare the way for the Lord
Key Verse: 3:3
“He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”
Soon it is going to be March. Wind is not that cold anymore. It means that our special guest, Spring, is coming. How do you prepare for the coming spring? Someone might clean the house, opening all the windows wide. Someone might plant flower-seeds in garden. In this passage, John the Baptist help us to prepare not for the spring, but for the Lord, Jesus Christ. We may carefully listen to the message he delivered, so that we may receive the forgiveness of sin through repentance; we may see God’s salvation. Like John the Baptist, we may preach the message of repentance, so that campus students may come to the Lord, Jesus Christ.
First, the word of God came to John (1-2)
Look at verses 1-2. Luke begins with the historical background of the times. What do you know about these political and religious leaders? Caesar Tiberius, the second Roman emperor after Augustus was known the cruelest ruler. Pontius Pilate who later condemned Jesus to death was an opportunist. Archelaus, Herod and Philip, sons of Herod the Great, were evil kings. After the death of Herod, his kingdom was divided among them. The people of Israel suffered helplessly not only from the Roman rule, but also from the division of the kingdom, and the power struggle among the tetrarchs. These rulers did not care about justice nor righteousness, but only their benefit. What’s worse, the religious leaders who supposed to be shepherds for their own people became political animals. When Jesus began his earthly ministry by healing the sick, they were filled with envy and jealousy toward him and wanted to kill him. This tells how terribly they were corrupted. They were as evil as the devil, self-righteous and unrepentant.
By naming these leaders Luke, the historian tells us one truth about the Gospel. The gospel of Jesus is not fiction, but non-fiction which had happened in history. What we believe is not a man-made story, but the historical fact that happened. Many young people love fantasy stories like ‘Harry Potter’, ‘the Hobbit’, ‘the Lord of the ring.’ They are amazed by fantastic imaginary story. But here is more fantastic real story than any fictions. God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believed in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (Jn3:16) What a fantastic and amazing story of Jesus. This is real story. Jesus lived, died and rose again from the dead. The promise of salvation for sinners is not a dream, but true promise of God we can trust.
In this darkest time, it seemed like evil reigned over the world. But, God almighty is the sovereign ruler of the history of mankind. Now people are interested in US presidential election. To be elected, presidential candidates promise many thing about Health Care, Gun Control, Economic recovery, Emigration, Education, and Taxation and so on. Do they really care about middle class people? Can they really bring hope and joy as they promise? Look at what God did in this time of darkness. God did not give the people of Israel such empty promises. Look at verse 2b. “…the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.” The word of God came to John. God initiated the work of God, the work of salvation. God was not discouraged. God did not give upon sinners, because the world was so evil. Instead, God spoke to John. The word of God came to one person, John for those who live under the shadow of death; for those who live under the power of sin. Politicians’ empty promises cannot be our hope. They cannot bring them salvation. Money cannot bring them life; fame or power cannot bring them hope. However, the word of God bring them new life, living hope on the kingdom of God, and salvation from the power of sin and death. That is why the word of God came to John. Some of you might wonder what one man could do in this time of darkness; what change could John make against the Roman Emperor? Yes. John, the Baptist, had no power, no money, and no political authority. He had something. He had the word of God. The word of God is not like man’s word that can be changed anytime. The word of God is the power of God that created the heavens and the earth. The word of God is the word of life that even raises the dead to life. 1Peter 1:23 read “for you have been born again… through the living and enduring word of God.” Hebrew 4:12 read “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”
Even in the darkness of times, God began a life-giving and mighty work just by speaking his word to one man, John the Baptist. God began the work of salvation through one man who had the word of God. When the word of God came to John, he stirred up whole Israel, declaring the word of God. All people were trembled at his message. Then, why John? The word of God did not come to the high priests, nor kings, nor Ceaser, but John who lived in desert. John lived in the wilderness (1:80). It was a quiet place where there were no distractions; no internet connection; no phone service; no fancy shopping mall. He could meditate on the word of God and pray. Simply the word of God came to him because he was ready to listen to the word of God. The high priests were too busy with temple businesses. The kings were also too busy with politics; students are too busy with school study. They might have time to search internet to find out about what is going on the world, but they did not have come to Bible Study; too busy to gather DB; too busy to write or share testimonies.
To do the work of God, God does not need many who are busy, but one who listens to him and obeys him like John the Baptist. God has used UBF to pioneer campuses all over the world. Why? It is because they have struggled to listen to the word of God. They studied the Bible until one word of God came into their hearts and they obeyed the one word of God. To receive one word of God, they studied one bible passage, heard the Sunday message based on that passage, wrote deep personal testimonies, shared the testimony with sheep and with groups, and taught that word of God, the same passage. When they struggled to listen to the word of God, the word of God came to them and changed them into Bible Teachers, shepherds, and even missionaries. God has used not UBF, but one man/woman who listen to him and obey him. If we give up this spiritual struggle to listen to the word of God, there will be no hope; there is no way to receive the word of God. Let’s struggle to listen to the word of God; study the word of God until one word of God comes into our hearts.
Second, John preached a baptism of repentance (3-6).
After the word of God came to him, what did John do? Verse 3 says, “He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” After the word of God came, John no longer stayed in the wilderness by himself. He went into all the country and preach a baptism of repentance. What did he do? He went out to all the country around the Jordan. Thank God that we do not need to go far away for the campus is right there in front of this center. But, do you go out to preach or just sit under the power of death? Do you go out to share one word of God or just sit on a table under the heavy burden of school study? Spring is known as the season of fishing. Let’s go out.
What was John’s message about? It is the message of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. “Repent,” he cried, “for the kingdom of heaven is near.” In fact, his message hurt their pride; their feelings. Many were offended by his message of repentance. It might provoke their anger. Still he did not stop nor change his message. Why did he deliver the baptism of repentance, not the baptism of blessing; the message of judgment, not the message of comfort? There is no way out from sin, except repentance. There is no hope for those who do not repent; only God’s eternal punishments are waiting for them. Without repentance, there is no forgiveness of sins. That is why John boldly, courageously proclaim the message out of broken shepherd heart for sinners. Repentance is God’s love and God’s mercy given to sinners. In repentance, there is opportunity for all sinners to receive the forgiveness of sins from God and start a new life. People want to free from sin, hiding, ignoring, forgetting, or covering up their sins. But sin never let them go free, unless they repent of their sins and ask God’s mercy. When we accept God’s word with repentance, no matter who we are, no matter how many mistakes we may have made, we can start a new history. “Repent!” It is not harsh or condemning message. It is most wonderful and hopeful word for all sinners.
Then what is repentance? Firstly it is to acknowledge our sins before God. It is to acknowledge our powerlessness and hopelessness under the power of sin. Our self-righteousness is not sufficient to make us righteous no matter how hard we try. Acknowledging sin, we see sin as sin. We no longer view sin as something that is fun and exciting. Sin is something that destroy our relationship with God and with others. Sin causes so much pain and suffering and it breaks God’s heart and brings grief to God. Sin is so costly that the son of God had to shed his blood to pay for our sins. How should we view our sins? With serious sadness. As we understand sin more deeply, we can begin to feel godly sorrow for our sins. Paul said in 2 Co 7:10, “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” Do you know what Paul said about himself in the bible? “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst” (1Ti 1:15b). Paul called himself the worst sinner, and even a poisonous viper (Ro3:13). When Paul gladly accepted the title of viper and worst sinner, he could accept the amazing grace of God. This amazing grace of God is given to the sinner, not the self-righteous. Jesus said in Mark 2:17 “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” We all are sinners before God.
Secondly, repentance is turn away from sin. It means to turn from self to God in terms of purpose, life direction, value system and desires. It was to renounce self-rule and accept God’s reign. It is more than simply say, I am sorry.” 1 John 2 and 3 tells us about repentance. “Whoever says, “I know him”, but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did. No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.” We must turn away from sin. Repentance is not lip service toward God, but it is complete turn away from sin. One God’s servant rebukes a believer, saying “when you die, only your lips will go to the kingdom of God because you repented with lips only.” We should repent with our heart and with our lives.
Repentance itself does not solve our sin problem, but it prepares our hearts for the Lord Jesus, God’s salvation. Acknowledging our sins and our powerlessness, we come to realize that we need Savior. Repentance leads us to Jesus, the savior from God. In verses 4-6 Luke tells us about the ministry of John the Baptist according to Isaiah. His mission was to help all people come to Jesus; help people remove obstacles and see God’s salvation. What are the obstacles that we need to remove? According these verses, there are lots of obstacles, like deep valleys, high mountains and hills, crooked road and rough way. Every valley should be filled in. We should repent of our empty and meaningless life. Through repentance, we should fill our empty heart with the word of life. Every mountains and hills should be low. We have to repent of our unordinary pride. We need to deeply accept that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Ro 3:23) and humbly come, asking God’s grace. Crooked road should become straight. We should repent of our sinful, selfish, emotional way of thinking. Instead, we should think based on the word of God, denying our sinful natures. Rough way should become smooth. We should repent of our hot-tempter, selfish ambition, and self-righteousness, but be gentle and kind.
Repent! It is not going to be easy. It is hard work like building highway. Though it is hard, it is worth it. When we repent sincerely, we all see the salvation of God. Verse 6 says, "And all mankind will see God's salvation." The word “salvation” appears six times in Luke’s gospel (1:69,71,77; 2:30; 3:6; 19:9). What does “the salvation of God” means? It is the gospel of Jesus. Jesus is our salvation. Jesus is going to come to save his people from their enemies, forgive their sins, and restore their relationship with God. Jesus had done this through his suffering, death and resurrection. Those who prepare the way for the Lord through repentance will receive this amazing grace of salvation. Repent! It is hopeful message. Though we are sinners, we can repent of our sins, and begin new life in Christ Jesus. In Christ, there is hope for all sinners. “Repent!” Thank God for giving us the message of repentance.
Third, produce fruit in keeping with repentance (7-14).
Verses 7-14 tell us in detail the contents of John’s message and how people responded to his message. Many people came to him for his message cut their hearts deeply and also find the hope for the forgiveness of their sins. How did John welcome them? He welcomed them, saying “You brood of Vipers.” What a greeting! John did not praise them as children of Abraham. Rather, he challenged them sternly by calling them a brood of vipers which means lairs, deceivers, and evil doers like Satan. He crushed their human pride as the children of Abraham, saying “For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.” What John says is perfectly true. We are lairs, evil doers, and the object of God’s wrath. As sinner, we are the object of God’s wrath. Do not be despaired, but thank God! There is way to flee from the coming wrath. How can we flee from the wrath of God? Do you think you will be OK because you are a bible teacher; because you are a Jew by the blood; you are hard worker; you are smart? That is terrible misunderstanding. Out of these stones, God can raise up 100s of PHD, 100s of hard workers, and 100s of talented and smart people. How can we flee from God’s wrath? Look at verse 8. “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” John is calling for real, visible repentance in our lives. Repentance is bearing spiritual fruit in our lives. Repentance is not one time event. One time repentance is like planting a seed on the ground. This seed needs to grow thorough persistence repentance. That is what “keeping with repentance” means. The result of genuine and persistent repentance produces fruit which is changed lives. When we keep on repenting our unthankful heart, we will bear the fruit of thankfulness; when we keep on repenting our cold-heart, we will bear the fruit of loving heart; keep on repenting our pride, we will bear the fruit of humbleness; keep on repenting our selfishness, we will bear the fruit of compassion.
We may not postpone repenting our sins. Look at verse 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.” We may not say, “Let me think about it. I will repent tomorrow.” Tomorrow would be too late. God’ wrath is coming. The ax is already at the root of the trees. When we hear God’s word, we should repent of our sins right away today, and ask God’s forgiveness!
Look at verses 11-14. John helped the people to repent practically. Repentance is not doing something extra ordinary. But it is to start living Godly lives in where we are right now. To the selfish sinner who never share anything with others, he said, "Anyone who has two shirts should share with one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same." They should repent their selfish hearts. Instead, they should practice the love of God by sharing what they have with those who do not have. To the greedy sinner like tax collectors, John said "Don't collect any more than you are required to." As tax collectors, they have to bear fruit of integrity, and sacrificial love in their lives. To the cruel and heartless sinner like the soldiers, he said "Don't extort money and don't accuse people falsely—be content with your pay." As soldiers, they have to bear the fruit of kindness and gentleness, thankfulness in their lives.
Through repentance and the forgiveness of sins, such selfish sinner can be loving servants of God; such greedy sinner can be sacrificial shepherds; such cruel and heartless sinner can be compassionate bible teachers. In our home, in our work place, in our school, we need to start living godly life – obeying the word of Jesus. That is how we produce fruit of repentance. If we asked John “What should we do?”, then what might have John told us to do? To a student, he might say, “Do not cheat on exam. Do not use your study as excuses to sin. Study hard for the glory of God!” To a shepherd, he might say “Do not spend all your time and your money to entertain yourself, but feed sheep.” To a missionary, “Do not worry. Seek first God’s kingdom. Get up, go out campus, and preach the message of repentance!”
Today we have learned that God gives his word to us and we need to really listen to what he says until it comes into our hearts. We need to respond to his word with repentance and let the word of God works in our hearts. Let’s study Luke’s gospel with sincere repentance. We may listen to the word of God. We may go all around the campuses, and preach this message of salvation, so that those who hear our message may come to Jesus.
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