In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness. And he 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. Every valley shall be filled, 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.’” He 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. 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.” 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.” As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ, John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
#1: The Setting is familiar.
Political and religious disagreements are higher in America than they have been in a long time.
#2: Here comes the King.
John’s calling was to proclaim the arrival of the Messiah.
He had a specific message to prepare people for Christ.
#3: John was following a calling, not a focus group.
John’s message was not popular, but it attracted a crowd. Modern religion preaches a popular message, but does not draw a crowd (evidenced by declining church attendance in most of the world.)
Simple message was to repent: Stop it! It’s a universal message that applies to every demographic. It is the message of the cross.
#4: Repentance always precedes grace.
You cannot experience grace without the awareness that you need it.
With only a message of grace, our standard becomes “not that bad.” We are all sinful. If we think we’re “ok”, we’re not ready for grace.
Repentance prepares us for Grace.
Repentance always precedes Forgiveness.
“The chief danger that confronts the coming century will be religion without the Holy Ghost, Christianity without Christ, forgiveness without repentance, salvation without regeneration, politics without God, heaven without hell.” William Booth
“Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession….Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer (The Cost of Discipleship)
Question #1: With the upheaval in political, cultural, and religious climate, how might we prepare our hearts to receive the King?
Question #2: Why is it difficult to stick to the message of repentance in today’s climate? Do you find yourself adapting the message to accommodate your audience?
Question #3: If modern religion tells people what they want to hear, why is church attendance declining? What is it that prevents us from inviting people to church on a Sunday? How persistent are you willing to be?
Question #4: Why is it important to understand our need to repent before we can receive grace? How do we recognize or practice/accept grace while practicing repentance?
Question #5: Knowing that the King is Coming, how do we prepare our hearts to receive Him? What in your life needs the “STOP IT” mentality? Recall that it’s not about how bad it is… it’s about “is it Holy?”