“Prepare Ye The Way: Why?”
Last week, as we prepared for the ‘when’ of Jesus’ return, we talked about the need to be ready. How we need to prepare ourselves and be ready for his return, which could come at any time. This is what Advent is about. It is a time of preparation, a time to ready ourselves as we get ready to celebrate the birth of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
To be ready, we need to know where Jesus is in our lives. We need to know where we need to grow in our faith and learn to get even closer to our God who loves us more than we will ever know. If we are ready, then it really doesn’t matter when he’s coming, because we are already prepared. Each day can be a life lived in the presence of God when we seek to be His children.
This week we’ll look at why this is important. Why is it important to recognize Jesus Christ as the Lord of our lives?
What do we think of the next few statements you hear people say? “If I am a good person that’s good enough, right?” “I went to church when I was a kid, when my parents made me, that’s good enough, right?” “When the census comes out, a check the right religion box, that’s good enough, right?”
How about this one? “I go to church almost every Sunday, I sing the songs and say the prayers, I maybe even drop a few coins on the plate, that’s good enough, right?”
That’s a tricky one, isn’t it?
So what do we do? Why do we do the things we do? Preparing is hard work, what’s the use? Why is it important?
Looking at John the Baptist this morning is one place to start. John came at a time when there was a strong occupation by the Romans in the region. It was a tough time to live in the area. There was increasing conflict around how much control the Jews really had over their local government. For the most part, they were more of an occupied territory. Yes they could continue to live their normal lives, not much changed for them. But, they were watched closely. The Romans would only put up with so much trouble, and they were quick to “take care of” any troublemakers.
The role of the local Roman representative was to keep things peaceful, to not draw a lot of attention to the region. To take care of problems quickly and with a strong message to those who might consider stirring up trouble.
For the most part, John the Baptist would have been seen as a bit of a one-off, a strange, maybe even a bit of a crazy hermit, a traveller who didn’t cause a lot of harm. Yet this man had a strong message people were curious about.
John the Baptist was more than a wandering vagrant, he was a strong preacher, a prophet who was warning people of the immanent arrival of the Messiah. After all, it was his cousin, though I don’t think they really knew each other all that well.
So, what do we know of what he preached? We know what we said in Matthew this morning, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Seems we’ve heard that somewhere before haven’t we? The warning that the kingdom of God is near, or at hand is mentioned by Jesus too. Yet John is telling us the kingdom is near, it is about to be revealed. Jesus is coming soon, and wants them to be ready.
He goes on to share,
“Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
Wow! Merry Christmas! Brings a tear to the eye doesn’t it?
Let’s break it down a little bit so that it might help us out.
First, we learn we need to “bear fruit worthy of repentance.” The God’s Word Translation Bible says it this way, “Do those things that prove you have turned to God and have changed the way you think and act.” The Message Bible translation says, “It is your life that must change…”
But think about the bearing fruit aspect. A healthy tree produces better fruit, right? What about unhealthy trees? If they produce fruit at all, it doesn’t seem quite as good. Maybe it’s full of worms or other pests, and the fruit is just as bad.
The fruit that we bear is an indicator of how we are on the inside, the ‘real’ person we are. If we hold a lot of anger in us, then over time what sort of fruit do we produce? But if we do as other Bible translations say, if we change our lives and repent of the evil within us, is not our fruit much more pleasing? Pleasing fruit is the fruit worthy of repentance. Fruit that is produced from a plant, a body, which is seeking to rid itself of the disease which inhabits it, the sin it carries, that is fruit showing the plant is worthy of repentance from the evil within.
This is why John the Baptist is baptizing people. He wants them to turn away from the sin in their lives. He wants people to start afresh so that when the Messiah appears, they are ready to receive the gift of his saving word.
So, if we say we are “a good person”, or “went to church once”, or “try and make it out every Sunday” but don’t really seek to change our lives and turn away from the sins we carry, we will miss out.
It’s not hard to be a “good person”. It’s not hard to makes claims on something. John said God can makes stones a descendant of Abraham, so claiming to be Christian by inheritance is not the right approach. Being a Christian means you make the decision. Not your parents or grandparents… you make the life altering decision, on your own, to become a child of God. You ask Jesus to wash you clean of your sin and to prepare you for the coming of the Kingdom.
Jesus is the one who can do these things. Not us. Not giving money to a charity. Not being nice. We might be able to change the small things for a little while. But it’s God, through a relationship with Jesus Christ who changes the big things when we allow ourselves to be washed clean by what John the Baptist calls “the Holy Spirit and fire.”
I’m not sure I answered the question “Why?” yet.
John says, “Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire… one who is more powerful than I is coming after me… his winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
This is why. God sees into our hearts. He sees our true selves. To be perfectly honest, this scares me a little bit. I don’t know about you, but I know my heart is not always pure, in fact it probably rarely is if one were to look too closely. If our hearts cause us to bear poor fruit, the answer is clear. Those trees are cut and thrown away, destroyed, no more are they part of the orchard. They are removed to allow the healthy trees to grow and flourish without the risk of some bad influence from a rotten, diseased, worthless bush.
In the end, the good fruit is gathered. The harvest comes and the fruit from the trees which are seen as good are harvested. The rest are thrown away.
This is why. This is our motivation to “be prepared”. This is why we should seek to be a child of God, one who allows Jesus Christ to send his Holy Spirit upon us to make us into new creations. To turn our rotten hearts into hearts ripe for the harvest. To give us strength to stay on the right path, to walk away from the sin which threatens our eternal lives in God’s glorious kingdom.
Advent is about getting prepared. So while the world is preparing for a celebration of gifts and parties, what are we preparing for? What gifts do we seek to receive this holiday season?
So as we continue to prepare the way, why are you getting prepared?
Does it really matter to you that Jesus is coming?
God offers us an amazing gift in Jesus Christ. Jesus has come to offer us a place in God’s glorious kingdom. A kingdom of hope, peace, love and joy, a place where all God’s fruitful people gather for eternity.
A place we don’t want to miss. Why would we?