Sunday, July 03, 2016

Humbling Man to See God

(My message from this Sunday over Luke 3:1-14)

True to form, Luke opens chapter 3 with more close attention to historical detail and accuracy.

Luke wants his readers to see that the truth about Jesus is verifiable and utterly consistent.

Though the names listed here were as famous as Obama and Abe-san at the time,

they would have been forgotten long ago if not for a poor, simple preacher who lived in the wilderness at the time named John.

Perhaps this helps us to remember two principles about life:

One: that God has a sense of humor, and two: that God loves to put down the pride of man and lift up the humble.

We have already met Zechariah, John's father, who was humbled by blindness and eventually praised God as he saw God's goodness.

And now we jump ahead about 30 years to the beginning of John's ministry in the wilderness.

From chapter 1, we know that John was related to Mary and Jesus.

But John became more than just a relative to Jesus, he became the prophesied one who would prepare the way of the promised Savior.

But it wasn't because John was so great; it was because God had chosen that His Word would go out through this simple man even before he was born. (
show v.2)

And this Word from God comes directly through him to us today also, so let us pray that we will receive it just as it is, the very Word of God given to us by direct inspiration.

Dear Lord, please humble us under your Word, by your Holy Spirit's power today,

so that we can look up and see You in all of your great love, mercy, and holiness,

and receive You today and live with you daily as our wonderful Lord and Savior.

It's in Jesus' Name we pray, Amen.
v.3 says, And he (John) went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough places shall become level ways, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”

Here we find the first lengthy OT quotation in Luke.

And this quotation from Isaiah 40:3-5 should not be seen as just one isolated quotation to introduce the ministry of John the Baptist.

Rather, this fulfilled prophecy is significant to complete the foundation of the entire Old Testament and paves the way for all nations to see our need for our Savior, Jesus Christ.

This good news of salvation in Christ was not just for Israel, it was for all flesh, for all nations.

If you are going to prepare the foundation for a good house or a road, the first thing you need to do is to level the way and make it flat, smooth, and straight. (show picture)

Before Jesus came announcing salvation to the world, John was sent to prepare the way by announcing the utter neediness of man to the entire world.

Jesus, and Jesus alone has dealt with the problem of our rebellion against our Creator.

But the way all people will be prepared to
see salvation when it comes is first through seeing our own rebellion, and then seeing our need to turn to God for help and salvation.

This turning is called “repentance” in the Bible.

It means to have a complete change of mind about God and our sin.

Our hearts, minds and actions are naturally pointed away from God and towards rebellion because of the sin nature we inherited from Adam.

But then, by the Holy Spirit's working through God's Word, we begin to
recognize and feel how horrible our sin is, and at the same time how good God is to give us mercy.

As a result, a change of mind occurs and we turn away from sin and towards God.

This is repentance, and this is the work for which God's Word and God's Spirit was given to John.

To help people see a clear physical picture of what was going on inside their hearts, John was called to baptize, or immerse the people into water.

If you go to some temples and other religious places of worship around the world today, you may also see water for which to wash.

Deep inside people is a desire to be clean, not just on the outside of our bodies, but deep in our hearts.

By revealing the stench of our sin, John was not condemning, rather he was calling for
repentance in order for the people to find real cleansing and forgiveness from God.

If you do not know you are dirty, you will not seek to be washed.

If you do not know you are a sinner in need of forgiveness before God, you will not seek mercy from Him.

John was
preparing the way for the people to welcome the good news of the free gift of salvation and freedom from our sin and hell through Jesus Christ.

This explains a bit of why John is so bluntly honest with the crowds of people who were coming out to the wilderness to be baptized.

He doesn't welcome them politely, he begins by calling out to the crowds,
You brood of vipers!” (v.7)

The prophecy had said,
Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low,”

Every gap and valley of our understanding regarding sin against God must be filled in with the truth!

Every mountain and hill of pride that leads to our sin must be cut down and leveled low.

Every crooked and hidden way about us must be made straight and righteous.

And only
God's Word, working by His Spirit, can do this job right!

Imagine God's Word to be a bulldozer that can create new landforms in our hearts that human words and human hands cannot.

The Holy Spirit is the both the fuel and the driver for God's Word to work.

If I would try to level the land for the foundation of my new house with just my own two hands, I would be frustrated beyond belief.

But sometimes we try to live the Christian life on our own without God's Word and Spirit.

In a similar way, we think by our own wise words or actions we can lead someone to salvation in Christ.

It becomes a very frustrating way to live when those plans continue to fail.

But if, by the Spirit of God, we are working
with Him and the bulldozer of His Word, we can be like John and humbly prepare the hearts of ourselves and others to know Christ.

Even with these tools, preparing hearts and building a house of faith takes a lot of time and prayer.

But when we humbly admit our need for Him,
we will be built up and we can build up others as well.

In Isaiah 57:14-15 it says,
And it shall be said, “Build up, build up, prepare the way, remove every obstruction from my people's way.” For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.”

True salvation levels and humbles man even as it lifts up God as rightful King over all.

Christian, do you feel contrite and lowly?

you feel as low as a poisonous snake apart from God's work in your life?

I'm not talking about if you see the sins of others, I am asking, “Do you see and feel that there is
nothing to commend you to God right now apart from His grace?”

Do you know and feel
deep down that you truly deserve nothing but judgment from Christ?

The more we know and feel that, the more our hearts will be humbled to exult in and love the amazing grace of God that has saved such wretches as you and me.
He (John) said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.

Apparently people were coming with prideful hearts saying, “We're already pretty much guaranteed favor with God since we are Israelites, the children of Abraham.”

According to Matthew, in this crowd were the Pharisees and Sadducees, who were also coming to baptized, loving to appear righteous and religious to others.

But it also included crowds of others who just wanted to be known as “good people”.

At heart, many really believed that they were
already good people and already partakers of all the promises of God, and already prepared to go to heaven when they died.

God had promised to bless the offspring of Abraham, whom they were
already a part of, right?

Yes God did, but as Paul said later, not all physical descendants of the chosen nation of Israel really belong to the true spiritual Israel, the true chosen people of God.

In other words, People are not saved from God's judgment just because their whole family happens to be Israelites!

Or we could say today, “You are not saved just because your whole family are Christians or because you prayed a prayer once and were baptized.”

God graciously promised to bless the seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,

but that did not mean that every physical descendant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would be a part of the promised blessing.

It was only
through these forefathers that the promise of the one offspring, the Savior Jesus Christ, would come!

Galatians 3:16 says,
Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ.

So true Israel or spiritual Israel are those people from every nation who have the same faith as Abraham in his offspring, the one offspring, Jesus Christ!

believed God that he would have this offspring, though because he and Sarah were too old, he knew it was impossible for him unless God did it for him.

In the same way we too must believe that while it is
impossible for us to go to heaven by our own strength or goodness; God has sent us His promised offspring, Jesus.

By faith in God's promise, we rest in and trust in Jesus alone for our salvation.

Galatians 3:7 says,
Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham.”

Those of
faith are the real sons of Abraham that are considered righteous before God;

those that look away from themselves and believe that it is because of what
Christ has done for us on the cross we are saved, and not by what we can do for ourselves.

Paul sums up the difference in Romans 2:28-29:

A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a person’s praise is not from other people, but from God.”

The religious leaders and many others were looking for the praise from other people instead of the pleasure that comes by being loved by God.

They thought the greatest thing was to be seen and respected among their peers.

So John scolds them, Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? (v7)

In other words, “Do you even understand what you are doing here?”

I'm sure many in the crowd were only interested in having some kind of spiritual or emotional experience.

Possibly others thought they might even be healed if they just jumped through the right religious hoops for God.

They are all like vipers because just like the serpent in the garden of Eden their motives are hidden, and they deceive many people by their appearance of righteousness.

And even today this still happens, and it happens even in church.

Many people seem to make a confession of faith, and truly seem to make life changes, only to later fall away from the faith and reject it all together.

Like the crowds here, they may have only been interested in the attention and kind friendship of others, or in the feelings of goodness and spirituality that they felt,

but whatever their motivation, their hearts were never truly focused on God; He was only a means to their own self-centered desires and plans.

By the fruit of their lives we see that they never loved their Creator more than the things and people of this world.

So John would say to these, Bear fruits in keeping with repentance...For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.” (v. 8)

In other words, true conversion changes your whole life, your heart turns from sin to God.

This is the same message Paul preached, as he said in Acts 26:20.

[I] declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance.

Having a good family, checking boxes on papers, praying prayers, and getting baptized do not save people, only Jesus does!

It is not hard for Jesus to keep His promise to raise up spiritual descendants for Abraham from every nation and people group.

He works and He changes our stone-like hearts into soft hearts that can respond to Him.

That is what He did for each of us who are real Christians here today!

When He works, our hearts and our minds are humbled under His Word and our lives change forever.

We are born again into a new life in Christ that cannot continue on in sin, as 1 John says!

A good tree is known by the good fruit it bears.

In other words a true child of Abraham or a Christian, is one whose heart has been changed, however imperfectly, to love God and hate their own sin.

1 John 3:9 says, No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God.

The fruit of the Holy Spirit living in a Christian is, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control”. (Gal. 5:22-23)

The true Christian is one who has realized his or her great need for salvation and has trusted and is resting in Christ for it and has the Holy Spirit living inside their heart.

Obviously, that does not mean we are perfect, as Paul says in Philippians 3:12.

But if you have not experienced this kind of change, and if you don't love God more than your sin, then you may not really be a Christian yet.

Now if you feel any doubt about your salvation right now, maybe that is okay!

May our pride be humbled and leveled by the Word of God so that we can trust Christ alone for salvation and not our own strong faith or good works!

Today is the day to think about whether or not you are saved and in Christ, or whether you are still embracing your sin and headed for eternal judgment instead.

John says, Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (verse 9)

We are not guaranteed tomorrow, even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees.

Are you right now, however imperfectly, bearing the fruit of love to God and love for others, or are you dead to God with no real love for Him in your heart?

If so, repent of your sin and cast yourself on His great arms of mercy, love and grace in Jesus Christ today, and He will begin to transform your heart.

He will save you and begin to fill your heart with every good thing you need to do His will, and then you will be ready to face the judgment of God.

But perhaps you wonder, if I have already repented for my sins and I already am a Christian, “What good fruit should a good tree be bearing?”

We already saw the fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5, but let's see how John answers.

And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.” (v. 10-14)

John is saying, you cannot be converted and not feel compassion for other people around you.

Each of these commands has to do with loving other people more than money and material possessions.

As we saw earlier, truly loving God and truly loving others around you is a fruit of God's Spirit inside of us – it is not something we can do on our own.

But a heart that is focused on material things more than on loving people is not a heart from God and it cannot please God; and in the end it leads only to judgment in hell.

1 John 2:15 says, Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”

1 John 3:17 says,If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?”

But why is money and material possessions the issue here?

Because they have the ability to expose what we truly value in life.

Many people say that they value the church and mission work, and that they want to help those in need, and yet when the time comes to give, they are nowhere to be seen.

Jesus says in Matthew 6:24, No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”

Maybe you say, “But I don't have much money.”

No matter how much money we have, we are to love God first and trust Him, and He will fill our hearts with love and the ability to help others for His glory.

In the Scriptures, some of the most generous people had little money, but were rich in love.

In an overflow of love for God they used their money and resources to bring honor to God.

So let us humble ourselves and confess our need for His help today, knowing that He is ready and able to help us and lift us up.

As He fills our hearts and minds, we will become the kind of people that are truly satisfied and are able to give love and grace to others too.

He will provide us with all we need to do His will both for now and for eternity.

Jesus has come to save sinners and bring us to God, but first we must see our sinfulness and neediness for Him and turn to Him with humble hearts.

We will then begin to experience all of the great things our Creator has planned for us!

Let us humble ourselves now together as we bow our heads to pray.

Dear Lord, We confess that we have sin and cannot break free from its control unless you work in us.

You say in 1 Peter, Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”

Lord, we are sorry for how we have not loved you or respected you as our Creator.

We have deceived ourselves into sin and been deceived by sin, such that we have become like lowly vipers.

But we thank you that you still love us and we can still come to you because of your great love shown at the cross of Christ.

By your death and resurrection on the cross, Jesus, you can heal us and give us new life that is full of love, joy and peace and continues forever in heaven.

We thank you that while we cannot save ourselves, you can, and you love to help us!

We come to you and ask you to change our hearts and make them new and alive in you today and each day as we walk with you as our Lord and Savior.

In Jesus' Name we pray, Amen.

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