God's Wide Plan: Willing to Change - Luke 3:1-20 - Hope 103.2

God’s Wide Plan: Willing to Change – Luke 3:1-20

Before we face up to Jesus the adult,as we’ll do in the next mornings,we need to face up to John the Baptist-John the Voice.  And the message which John the Baptist brings which is so important-I want to say to you at the start,I think this message of repentance which John the Baptist brings is […]

By Simon ManchesterSunday 28 Sep 2014Christian Growth with Simon ManchesterFaithReading Time: 19 minutes

Before we face up to Jesus the adult,as we’ll do in the next mornings,we need to face up to John the Baptist-John the Voice.  And the message which John the Baptist brings which is so important-I want to say to you at the start,I think this message of repentance which John the Baptist brings is really the key which explains,listen carefully to this,why people never connect with Jesus or wonderfully connect with Jesus – it’s repentance which is going to sort out whether people ever really come to the joy of Christ or never come to the joy of Christ.  Why is it that so many people just never,in the face of the Good News and the obvious benefits of eternal life,never get to the point of a joyful union with Christ?  Again and again it’s the lack of repentance.  And even in the church as we think about the subject of repentance,I know in my life and I’m sure you do in yours,that one of the great keys to a joyful walk with Christ is repentance.  So let’s think about this this morning.
John’s message has two parts,it’s actually a call to repentance,you see that in Verse 3-he preached a baptism of repentance and you see it again in Verse 8-bare the fruits in keeping with repentance.  And the other part of his message is about Jesus – Verse 16 and 17,he says I baptise you with water,but one more powerful than I will come,someone who will baptise you with the Holy Spirit.  So he’s got a double message.  He wants them to repent of their sin and their idols and he wants them to know this great person called Jesus Christ.  And the first part of the message may seem negative,call on people to repent,but it’s completely necessary and wise and loving and helpful to tell people to repent.  Just as we would urge a man if he want sot get married to give up to idea of fooling around with other women if he wants to have a good marriage.  Just as we would urge someone if he wants to build house that he must clear the block of land.  Just as we would urge somebody who’s holding two guns in our face that if they want to be peaceful and reconciled and fellowshipping with us they’ve got to drop their guns.  So John teaches the crowds in Luke 3 that they must repent if there is to be any reconciliation,new life through Jesus Christ.  In other words,you’ve got to leave your sins and if there is a sin that keeps a person from fellowship from Jesus,whether it’s pride or whether it’s immorality,or whether it’s greed or power or stupidity,whatever it is that sin must be dropped,the idol must be dropped.

It’s interesting that Mike Ovey,who is the Principal of Oak Hill Theological College in England,is in Sydney at the moment. (He) used to be a member of this church with his family.  And he’s giving five lectures on the subject of repentance and he said in the first lecture that he’s doing it partly because we are in what is called 21st Century repentantless Christianity.  That’s a dreadful phrase – repentantless Christianity.  It smacks of rebellion – ‘I don’t repent’.  It smacks of arrogance and confusion and naivety.  And it ultimately is a tragedy.  Now if the phrase is true,if the world is marked today by lack of repentance and even the church is marked by lack of repentance,why do you think that might be?  And this is something that we might talk over today when we think about the subject of repentance.

It’s such a great subject and yet it’s such a neglected subject.  And I wonder if one of the reasons it’s neglected is because we think that it sounds negative and one of the things that we’re not allowed to be is negative.  But repentance is positive.  How does a person prepare for Christ? Well,by repenting. Or perhaps we don’t want to make people feel guilty.  And again,that’s one of the great bogey words – that a person must never feel guilty,but there is something worse than feeling guilty.  And that is being guilty and being completely clueless about it.  Our judicial system is built,isn’t it; on the very important role of helping the guilty to know they’re guilty.  At least to face up to the truth and the objectivity of their guilt.  And so,repentance,when faithfully explained shows that we care about somebody,we’re wanting to bring them to their senses.

Or maybe we’ve ignored repentance in the church because we don’t want to introduce works into Christianity.  It’s much easier isn’t it to say to somebody – look you’re a lovely person and there’s Jesus and you just join up with Him.  And what have we done when we’ve done that?  Well on the surface we’ve appeared to be friendly,but we haven’t actually helped that person really to deal with Jesus at all.

Now the subject of repentance doesn’t really mean that we’re introducing works into our faith.  Repentance is a gift of God and it enables us to drop our idols and take hold of Jesus Christ.  Again,to quote Mike Ovey’s lecture from the first Tuesday night,he says,repentance is not the sadness of climbing a ladder to God,but it is the joy of being found by God.

So I want to look with you at Luke 3,on Page 1016,I want you to see this ministry of God through  John the Baptist and I want to divide it into three parts this morning.  I just want you to notice this,see if you can get the flow.  The Word of God predicted the coming of John and then the Word of God came to John and arrested his attention and got him into a preaching role.  And then the Word of God went through John and got crowds interested in the subject of baptism.  Then the Word of God went through John and got people who were just being quite superficial to be broken,repentant and then the Word of God went through John and brought them to Jesus.  So this word from God brought the people all the way to God.  And that’s the way this chapter breaks,I think,that first of all there is the word to John,then there is the word through John and then there is the word fulfilled in Jesus.  That’s the break up.

So,first of all – the word to John the Baptist,Chapter 3,verses 1-7.  It says,well I won’t read Verse 1,cause that’s that long complicated verse with all the names in it,but in verse 2,we read (that) during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas the Word of God came to John,(we know,John the Baptist),in the dessert.  Now we’ve already met John the Baptist in Luke Chapter 1 and we’ve at least heard God’s plans for John – John the Baby.  And his father was told in Chapter 1 that this boy,this John the Baptist,would bring people back to God and would make people ready for the Lord and would prepare the way of the Lord.  But now John is an adult and God addresses him directly and brings the Word to him in the desert.  And of all the officials that are mentioned in Verse 1,you know Caesar,Pontius Pilot and Herod,none of them have the Word of God come to them.  Even Caiaphas and Annas,religious men,the Word of God doesn’t come to them.  The Word of God bypasses them and goes directly to John in the desert.  And we’re told about these men,Caesar and Pilot and Herod and all the others because it’s a very clear historical context. This is a piece of reality; this is a piece of history.  The Word of God really came to John the Baptist,transformed the world; completely bypassed all the leaders and the great ones.  So it’s a watershed moment and although these men were very powerful God doesn’t necessarily work through powerful,worldly people.  And although these men were pretty corrupt,Caesar,Pilot,Herod,even Annas and Caiaphas; pretty corrupt men,don’t be fooled God works – whatever the leadership,whatever secular leadership is like,God is wonderfully at work.  So the Word of God comes to John and it transform him and in Verse 3,he began to preach.  And you’ll notice that his ministry is mostly preaching.  We know him of course by the title,John the Baptist,but he’s mostly a preacher and he calls on people to repent and,he says I’m inviting you to take part in a symbolic action,which is being baptised,which is a way of saying ‘I wash off the sin,I’m cleansed from sin and I’m preparing for the Messiah,Jesus,who will give me brand new life’.  So that’s what John is doing – repent,symbolise it with a baptism and prepare to meet the Lord Jesus.

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Now the Jews of John’s day had ritual washings,but if they ever conducted a baptism it was to initiate a gentile into their covenant membership.  Here is John calling on everyone,especially the Jews,to be baptised; implying of course that they are outsiders.

Now some years ago we attempted to introduce a thing called membership,we were trying to sort of clarify who really was involved here and not just occasionally attending here.  And it was a very difficult thing to do because many of the people who were at St Thomas’ had been coming here for 10,20,30,40,50 years and to turn around and say to them,well you’ve been doing everything and seeing everything and hearing everything would you now like to become a member sounded extremely offensive; it was a hard thing to do.  But imagine I was to say to you this morning and this would be a heresy,but imagine I was to say to you,’you’re all outsiders,would you like to step forward and be baptised and become an insider?’  It’s a real shock to the system isn’t it and for the Jews to hear John the Baptist,saying ‘get baptised’ was saying to them you stand outside.  Well that was a wake up call for the people.  And of course it was done for their good.

Here is John; he’s at the Jordon River.  Jordon River used to be the gateway to the Promised Land and now,back in the Jordon River,John says to the people of Judea,’get into the river with true repentance and prepare yourself for the One who will bring you the Holy Spirit-Jesus.’  And this role of John’s as we have seen is not a new idea.  It wasn’t that John just suddenly thought it up or even God just suddenly thought it up,but it goes right back to the days of Isaiah in the 8th Century BC announcing that there would come someone who would prepare the way for the Lord God.  And then the person appears and it’s John preparing people for the Lord Jesus.  It’s a very clear explanation of Jesus’,God in his world.  And you see what repentance is like according to Isaiah,it means that you fill in the valley and you flatten the mountain and you straighten the road and you move the road in order that you connect with the Messiah.

So that’s the Word of God,told of John,long before now to John to begin his ministry.

Let’s think now about the word through John.  This is where he turns to the crowds,sees them coming in hordes for baptism but begins to address them most strongly.

Many years ago there was a famous American preacher called Donald Grey Barnhouse and Donald Grey Barnhouse was a very gifted many,a very loving man.  And I’ve got one of his commentaries on John’s Gospel and it’s extremely practical and helpful.  But Donald Grey Barnhouse was a very courageous preacher.  He was described as the person that God raises up when everyone is getting too polite.  And when Donald Grey Barnhouse went over to England and he spoke at one of the poshest girl’s schools in England,the headmistress asked him very sweetly what he would be speaking of and he said in his American accent,I will be speaking from Malachi 2 – I will spread dung on their faces.  That was his text for the girls’ school.  It must have been a tremendous occasion!  And John the Baptist was a faithful,Godly,fearless preacher and as the crowds rushed towards him for Baptism,Verse 7,he sees that they are faking.  And he says to them,you brood of vipers,who warned you to flee from the coming wrath,to produce fruit in keeping with repentance?  We’re not told about the crowds,whether they’re Jewish or Gentile or what their geographical background is – it’s just the crowds.  But they’re obviously coming for baptism as a quick way of being secure.  And they’re obviously not willing to repent and John can see they they’re not willing to repent.

And every pastor who ever conducts a baptism can work out reasonably well whether the parents of the child or the adult is repenting or not,whether it’s a superficial,shallow experience,or whether it’s a really profound,true experience.  And I want you to consider this question.  Do you think that the crowds would have actually repented if John had just said to them,’great to see you!  You’re coming to the river,great to see you!”?

The greatness of John,the faithfulness,the love of John is that he sees the absolute emptiness of their ritual and he speaks to them a second time to say to them,you must repent,because if there’s no repentance there’ll be no reconciliation.  If there’s no reconciliation,there’s going to be no eternal life.  You can see that what John is doing is totally loving.  The easiest thing for him to do and make him a very,very popular person would just be to say,great to see you.  But he doesn’t do that.  And we must not separate the courageous communication of some church leaders today outside this city and inside this city who speak the truth in love in order to see people really repent and really be reconciled. We mustn’t fall for the idea that to speak a hard word means that you’ve become unloving; often it’s the person who speaks a soft word who is unloving.  But it is the person who will say the hard thing who really cares about the person and not just themselves.

Now there’s some very important friends at a personal level,imagine within your own fellowship,your Bible study group,small group,you recognise there is somebody who is professing Christianity but they actually live an ungodly life or an immoral life. That is,they’re trying to hold a sin with one hand and Christ with the other hand.  The loving thing will be to work out a way to tell them.  The loving thing will be to work out a way to communicate with them that their lifestyle makes salvation either incongruous or impossible.  Somebody’s got to go that person and in a loving way say to them,you cannot,for example,hold onto sexual activity outside marriage AND pretend that you’re holding Christ,you’re just not!  It’s not working.  But when God brings real repentance and eternal life He brings that strength-ability to release and drop and turn away from sin and how great the joy that follows.

I was talking with a young man in the last week who has been trying to walk an immoral and Christian life.  And you could see the torn effect of it in his face for a long time.  And just in recent days he has renounced and repented of the sin.  And the freedom and joy and the peace that is apparent in his life is so obvious.  Well we know that. Every believer knows that.

Think about this lesson also of the church at your denominational level.  Because we know that part of the Anglican Church at the moment is trying to say that no one can criticise or judge homosexual behaviour and unfortunately,as we’ve said many times,homosexual behaviour has become the litmus test for this particular issue and therefore the church is being accused as having some kind of special interest or disinterest in this lifestyle.  And unbelievers of course completely agree with this,that the church should simply stop being disagreeable and critical and judgemental.  But I want to remind you that there is absolutely no love in this piece of thinking.  That type of thinking is the person who doesn’t understand the Gospel,who doesn’t believe,who doesn’t really love people,who doesn’t want to see them releasing and take hold of Jesus.  Because Christianity must be,always has been,always will be,a repenting faith.  Every believer who really walks with Jesus has repented in order to take hold of Jesus and continues to repent in order to enjoy Jesus and honour Jesus.

So loving Christians do proclaim repentance.  It’s not popular.  It will never by popular.  But it springs from love; it is truly loving so that a person can take hold of Christ.

The most terrible part of holding onto a sin or an idol,the most terrible part is that you deeply dishonour God.  Because what you’re saying is,that there is something more significant than Him and more wonderful than Him and He is more significant and more wonderful than any idol or any sin.  The next most terrible thing of holding onto a sin or an idol is that the sinner himself or herself is totally robbed because if you hold onto an idol or a sin and you lose Christ you lose the most valuable,precious person in the universe.

So John warns the crowd in two ways,Verse 8,show the fruit of repentance,maybe he can see their superficiality and he’s wanting them to have a ‘broken and contrite heart’ as the Bible says,a humble heart;  Verse 8,don’t think that the external,physical things will substitute for salvation.  Don’t think,he says,that because you’re physically linked to Abraham that you’re safe,don’t think that because you’ve been baptised an Anglican,don’t think that because you’ve had communion or you’re on a church role that all is well.  Don’t think that because you’re physically a good person all is well.  In the end there needs to be an utter repentance,a renouncing of all sin and all self rule and a taking hold of the Lord Jesus without which the Christian life,but with which the Christian life most wonderfully begins.

Now friends,if you think this is just talk.  If you think this is just jolly talk,look at Verse 9,John says,the axe is already at the root of the trees,it is just a very,very short time in space before the judgement.  And if a person has never really repented and taken hold of Jesus and therefore never bears the fruit of Life – capital ‘L’,it’s just a matter of time before they’re chopped down and thrown into the fire.

I do fear,I do fear for people who month after month,year after year never repent and never believe but still come to church.  And I do pray for,and others do as well,that people who are not yet repentant and with real faith in Jesus would quickly repent and quickly take hold of Him. That’s why Paul says in 2 Corinthians 13,at the end of his second letter to the Corinthians,examine yourself to see if you’re in the faith and if Christ is in you.

Now it is wonderful because the word affects the crowds.  What should we do,Verse 10,John says-got 2 shirts,give one away.  In other words,he says are you able to part with things that are very dear to you?  Are you able even to do something which is going to cost you?  The tax collectors turn around and they say,what should we do?  He doesn’t tell them to leave their job,he says ‘do your job honestly,give up your perks,give all that’s dishonest,do your job honestly.’  That’s to be repentant.  And the soldiers turn to him and say what should we do? And john says don’t extort money,literally don’t intimidate people,don’t bully people,don’t use your power and be content with your pay,because the real mark of repentance is that you will be a servant and not just someone who dominates.

It is good isn’t that he doesn’t ask them to leave these particular vocations but to be Godly in them,that he goes to the real heart of what it means to repent.  And as you and I think about this we need to think through not the sins that are easy to give away.  I have some sins which are not so difficult to repent of and I am aware of sins in other people,but the challenge for me is to work out the sins that beset me,the ones which really dog my footsteps,the ones that are always an arm’s length away,the one or two of which I really need to be wary of and repent of on a daily basis if not an hourly basis.  There’s one or two for me which are just always at hand.  And not doubt one or two for you as well.  That’s what John calls on the crowds to do if they are really to take hold of Jesus.

Now the last is the word – fulfilled.  Even more wonderful than repenting,though it is essential,is turning to Jesus.  Someone told be recently that they expected to go to Heaven because they’d repented.  That’s like saying I’ve cleared the block of land,I’ve said ‘no’ to the women of the world,I’ve dropped my guns.  No,no,no,there needs to be another step,which is taking hold of Jesus,going to Him,kneeling before Him in prayer,asking Him to be Lord and Saviour or all.   And that’s what John does in this last bit,15-20.  He says in Verse 6,I baptise with water,but one more powerful than I will come,the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.  There’s somebody much more significant.  I want you,says John,not to look at me and not to get caught up with me – go to Jesus and He will give you something infinitely more valuable.  I can give you H2o says John; He’ll give you the Holy Spirit.  So he could have collected a fan club ‘old’ John and his own followers and disciples but he was absolutely convinced that the only way to really love  a person was to get them dropping their idols and their sins and turning to Jesus for the Holy Spirit and,Verse 17,to escape the judgement.  See Verse 16,He’ll baptise you with the Holy Spirit and with fire,that means I suspect,He will baptise you with life or judgement and Verse 17,His fork is in His hands to clear the threshing floor and he will quickly,swiftly separate chaff from wheat.

Well we know of course that the Holy Spirit would come to us as a gift from God at the expense of the death of the Lord Jesus.  Why are we able to have the Holy Spirit live in us and bring eternal life? – Because Jesus died.  And as we take communion this morning it’s not a bad thing for us to remind ourselves we live eternally,whatever our feelings and whatever our experiences and whatever our failings,we live eternally if we put our faith in Jesus because he died for us.

So John is not satisfied you see with the crowds until they do real repenting and real faith in Jesus.

Last weekend I heard Joe Radkovic who is a doctor in the slums of Nairobi and he told us in a mission spot at the weekend where I was that he was doing everything he could to fix everybody he could and he said,but everybody I fix needs to come back to me; because in the end,he said there is failure built into my work,I cannot save and solve anybody’s problems.  So he said and this was his phrase,I try,he said to love them a little bit more all the way to Jesus.  And there on the wall of his surgery in the slums of Nairobi is the “Two Ways to Live” diagram in giant illustrations all down the wall of his surgery so that everybody that comes in and asks what those pictures are about can be told of the Eternal Gospel. Help physically… help spiritually,loving them all the way to Jesus.

And so faithful is John that he is willing to do the same and Verse 20,even to lose his freedom in prison for his ministry,even to lose his life; there’s the ministry,the public ministry of John summed up in all twenty verses.  How do you measure John?  Thousands,thousands heard and were challenged.

One of the things you and I need to do is ask the Lord to give us the courage to say to a friend,is it possible that the real thing that keeps you from Christ is sin and idols and pride and whatever else it is? And that may be the most loving thing you ever say.  And when we do surrender everything and we gain the Lord Jesus.  We gain of course,more than we ever lose.  Further on in Luke’s Gospel in Chapter 18,Peter says,Lord we’ve given up everything to follow You.  And Jesus,remember,turned and said,anybody who follows me will in this life receive infinitely more and in the life to come,eternal life.

Let’s pray,lets bow our heads.  Our Father we thank You for Your great love for people in raising up a spokesman like John the Baptist and giving to him a word which transformed him and speaking a word through him,which was not just friendly,but faithful.  We thank you for causing many people to be broken by the Word and open to the Lord Jesus and we pray that your Word,which we’ve heard this morning would have it’s full effect on each one of us. That we would be,if not believers repentant and taking hold of the Lord Jesus and,if believers continuing to repent of those things that dishonour You and displease You and destroy us and we ask that You would help us to be a repent,thankful,joyful,Christ holding,Christ honouring people.  And we ask it in His name,Amen.