Mar. 15, 2017

You will (Will you?) go on before the Lord to prepare His ways

Luke 1:57-80 from the daily reading in the One Year Bible

Now the time had come for Elizabeth to give birth, and she gave birth to a son. 58 Her neighbors and her relatives heard that the Lord had displayed His great mercy toward her; and they were rejoicing with her.

59 And it happened that on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to call him Zacharias, after his father. 60 But his mother answered and said, “No indeed; but he shall be called John.” 61 And they said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who is called by that name.” 62 And they made signs to his father, as to what he wanted him called. 63 And he asked for a tablet and wrote as follows, “His name is John.” And they were all astonished. 64 And at once his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he began to speak in praise of God. 65 Fear came on all those living around them; and all these matters were being talked about in all the hill country of Judea. 66 All who heard them kept them in mind, saying, “What then will this child turn out to be?” For the hand of the Lord was certainly with him.

67 And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying:

68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, For He has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people, 69 And has raised up a horn of salvation for us In the house of David His servant—
70 As He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from of old— 71 Salvation from our enemies,
And from the hand of all who hate us; 72 To show mercy toward our fathers, And to remember His holy covenant, 73 The oath which He swore to Abraham our father, 74 To grant us that we, being rescued from the hand of our enemies, Might serve Him without fear, 75 In holiness and righteousness before Him all our days. 76 “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; For you will go on before the Lord to prepare His ways; 77 To give to His people the knowledge of salvation By the forgiveness of their sins, 78 Because of the tender mercy of our God, With which the Sunrise from on high will visit us, 79 To shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, To guide our feet into the way of peace.”

80 And the child continued to grow and to become strong in spirit, and he lived in the deserts until the day of his public appearance to Israel.


Zacharias prophesied about his son John saying:    “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; For you will go on before the Lord to prepare His ways;  To give to His people the knowledge of salvation By the forgiveness of their sins,  Because of the tender mercy of our God, With which the Sunrise from on high will visit us, To shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, To guide our feet into the way of peace.”    As a cousin of Jesus, older by about 6 months, John did indeed begin his ministry just as his father prophesied, going before the Lord calling people to repentance and salvation for the forgivenss of sin. In Matthew 3:1-6 it speaks of John’s ministry saying:   In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.’” Now John wore a garment of camel's hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.     We know that Jesus Himself, even though He had not sinned, was baptized by John. Though it was not for His own sin, Jesus affirmed the need for repentance and to be baptized.

After being baptized Jesus began His public ministry. In Matthew 4:12-17 it says:   Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee. And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:  “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali,
the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— the people dwelling in darkness
have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.” From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
          So both John and Jesus declared the same message, the same call to the people: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Jesus preached and declared the gospel, the good news of the kingdom. He spoke of the benefits and the promises of God. He declared and demonstrated the love, the mercy and the grace of God. But foundational to all of the good news, all the benefits, the promises, the love, mercy and grace is repentance. John 3:16 says: “God so loved the world,  that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”    In order to believe in Christ, the Son of God, in order to receive salvation and forgiveness of sins a person must repent. To repent is to change both your way of thinking and acting. It is to acknowledge that you have sinned and need a savior. To believe in Christ one must believe that He does more than bring the goodness of the kingdom of heaven through love, mercy and grace, to believe in Christ means to acknowledge that He died for our sins. To enter into all that is available in the kingdom, we must repent.

Yet today that same message, which was preached and declared by both John and Jesus, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” is considered by many to be outdated. Many today believe that in order to be attractive to our society and culture, we need to focus on the love, the mercy, the grace and all the good things that come with the kingdom, they reason that because Jesus died once for all sin, sin is no longer an issue. Their flawed reasoning comes from treating the word of God in the same way we treat information on social and entertainment media. Highlighting and quoting snippets and sound bites which fit our preferred ideology or belief. Surely God is love and Jesus came by God’s grace and mercy to demonstrate that love. But as Romans 5:8 says:  God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.     To receive the love of God is to believe in the cross of Christ, to acknowledge that He died for our sins. To eliminate the need for repentance from the message of the gospel negates the love of God which ultimately was demonstrated in the cross.

In Matthew 11:11 Jesus makes a profound statement about John and all those who have repented and entered the kingdom of heaven. He says:   “Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist! Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.  We are called to be like Jesus and so to be greater than John. In John 14:12 Jesus says:  “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father.”  Jesus high calling for us is to be greater than John, to do greater works than He did. Jesus calling and commission to us is to continue their work and to declare the good news of the kingdom. He says: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20) Jesus says:  “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned. These signs will accompany those who have believed: in My name they will cast out demons, they will speak with new tongues; they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.” (Mark 16:15-18) Our message is to be the same as His, it is a message and the demonstration of God’s love, mercy and grace. It is a declaration of the good news of all the benefits and promises of the kingdom of heaven. It is: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Heavenly Father, Lord Jesus Christ; precious Holy Spirit thank You for Your grace and mercy and for Your love, demonstrated on the cross. May I live as an example, a demonstration of Your love, mercy and grace. But, may I never forget the truth and the necessity, that to enter the kingdom and receive the benefits and promises we must believe, we must repent.   Amen.