I. Voices Calling
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.’”
We are bombarded by voices telling us what we should think and what we should do and what we should buy and how we should vote.
• Talking heads on the TV, faceless voices on the radio, pop-up adds on the computer, commercials, infomercials, signs, billboards, pamphlets, papers, books – parents and teachers and bosses, politicians and preachers, all trying to get through to me.
• Every voice telling me that I need to listen to what they are saying because they have the truth and the answers I’m searching for.
• Every voice telling me what I can’t live without and how much better my life will be if only I would listen to them.
And I don’t know about you, but after awhile I just want to tune them all out and turn the all off and go hiking. (And you’re welcome to come hiking with me but don’t expect a lot of talking.) Which of us wasn’t relieved when the election was finally over, if for no other reason than the carpet bombing of voices let up a bit?
And then amidst all of the voices coming at us and vying for our attention is the voice of the Church with its message that it insists must be heard. And sometimes, the voice of the Church is heard above all the other voices. But not so much as it used to be. Sometimes it just gets lost in the cacophony of chatter.
And sometimes it’s hard to distinguish the voice of the Church from that of the politicians and marketing gurus because they start to sound pretty similar – politicians promise to save the world and make our life better if we will only put our trust in them; and churches preach that our hope for a better world rests with one political party over another; and they promote their programs for success with marketing strategies that a lot of businesses would envy.
So maybe it’s our own fault that the majority of people today hear the voice of the church as just another voice among al the other that sounds pretty much like the same talk, talk, talk. If the voice of the church has nothing uniquely Christian to say, then it’s just another moving mouth to be tuned out and turned off.
C. John the Baptist
This morning, there is another voice that wants to be heard. We need to listen to this voice and not tune him out. It’s the voice of John, the cousin of Jesus. “In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” “Prepare the way of the Lord.”
II. The Church Comes To The Desert
Because the noise and the constant chatter of this world is what it is, John calls us to come to the wilderness. The wilderness is quite and far removed from all the commotion and noise in the city. The church makes its weekly trek from the noisy world, to the quite, solitude of the wilderness – so that it may hear the one voice it needs to hear, without confusion or distraction.
The wilderness is no place for debates, or campaigns, or current events, or 5 ways to improve your life. That’s the talk of the town. This is the wilderness. Here there are no soapboxes, only a pulpit, a font and a table. And all three speak with one voice saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Prepare the way of the Lord.”
III. The Meaning of Repentance
The voice in the wilderness says, “Repent.” The KINGDOM OF HEAVEN IS AT HAND. Whatever excuses you’ve been making and whatever interference you’ve been running to avoid this confrontation, NOW IS THE TIME to quit them – THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN IS AT HAND. The King of the Kingdom is coming to your town, to your very house, to you, today. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” (Rev. 3:20).
When He knocks, will you open the door and receive Him? Or will you say, “I’m not at that point in my life right now. Maybe later when I have more time or when I have children or when death is drawing near?”
Repentance is not just about acknowledging that you are a sinful brute, blind as a bat and deaf as a post to what really matters in life. That’s a part of it– a big part of it, but it’s only a part, not the whole.
Neither is repentance just about confessing your sins, as if as long as I say the right things and cough up a few faux pas from my past I’ve met the basic criteria. Confession is a part of repentance but it’s far from the whole of it.
Repentance is really all about change. Which no one likes except a baby with a dirty diaper.
– Change is hard because fundamentally it means that the current course that my life is on is the wrong one and I need to TURN and go a new direction.
– Change means that the gods that I worship and count on for all that is good in my life and to deliver me from all that is bad in this world, are the wrong gods and I’m going to have to DITCH them.
– Change means that the baggage that I’ve been carrying around with me now for as long as I can remember and that I’ve gotten so comfortable with is really weighing me down and draining the life right out of me and I need to LET GO of them.
Repentance happens by way of the ears. The preacher preaches the Law of God which shows us where we’re headed as long as we keep tuning out and turning off the Word of the Lord. And the preacher preaches the Gospel of God which tells us that the KINGDOM OF HEAVEN IS AT HAND. And He is coming to save you from hell and bring you to heaven. And the Holy Spirit, working through His Word. And we say, “Come, Lord Jesus.” “We want to be changed.”
IV. The People Come to John
Evidently, there were a lot of people in the city who were curious about this wild looking fellow who was dressed like a camel, who ate honey and had locust legs sticking in his teeth. “Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him…”
Was it curiosity that drew them to the wilderness? Or was it some feeling of discontentment with their life that they were aching to resolve? Or were they devout followers of Yahweh who had been waiting in expectation for the prophet Isaiah promised would come to announce the coming of the Messiah?
What does it matter really? Who cares why they came. They came and heard John’s preaching which they would have never heard if they had stayed home. And the Spirit filled Word entered their ears and changed their hearts.
John pointed them to that BOLD, RED STRIPE that we spoke about last Sunday, that begins in Genesis in the Garden of Eden and runs clear through the bible all the way to the Garden of Paradise in Revelation; the trail of blood that leads right to the pierced side of the judge of the living and the dead.
As it turns out, the BOLD, RED STRIPE runs right through the wilderness – and in the wilderness, it runs right through the Jordan River. And not everyone who came to the wilderness and heard the preaching, followed the BOLD, RED STRIPE into the water and were baptized, “confessing their sins.”
In fact there were many who came and saw and heard and were amused, or entertained, or turned off, but not at all interested in the kind of change for their life that John was preparing them for. In love and genuine concern for them, John preached the Law as though it were a double barreled tazer.
“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume 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.”
But some have so hardened their hearts that they refuse to be changed, they will not confess their sins, they will not let go of the baggage. They will not “bear fruit in keeping with repentance.”
But many heard John preach and point to the BOLD, RED STRIPE and they followed it into the Jordan River and were baptized, “confessing their sins.” And we can only imagine that the water of the Jordan River became the most polluted body of water there ever was, teeming with all that sin and all that baggage.
But John’s baptism was only a baptism of repentance. It was a baptism that got the baptized ready for Jesus to come to them. But Jesus had not yet gotten into the water. And so John has to add this disclaimer to his baptism, “I baptize you water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptized you the Holy Spirit and fire.”
And there in the distance, you can see a man just breaking the line of the horizon. He is coming toward the Jordan River where John is. He is coming to be baptized by John in this water, polluted with the sins and all the baggage of the people. And all of the sin and the baggage will cling to Him like leaches. And all of His holiness and righteousness will cling to the baptized. And we will all be changed.
For Christ has come. And baptism is no longer just a baptism of repentance. It is not only the place were the old is drowned and dies, but where the new raised up and lives. Baptism is the place where we intersect with the BOLD, RED STRIPE for the first time, ready to follow it wherever it leads.
And it leads right back into the city again, with all of the talk, talk, talk of the town. But we return to the city, a different person than when we left to come into the wilderness. We’ve been changed. We return to the city with the “Spirit of the Lord resting upon us.” “The Spirit of wisdom and understanding; the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord” resting upon us. We return, ready to ‘bear fruits of repentance,’ until it’s is time to return to the wilderness again next week.