Wednesday, December 8, 2010

John the Baptist: Desert Storm

Every Advent John the Baptist makes his often unwelcome appearance. He’s not going to win any popularity contests when he shows up. To many, John is like your crazy Cousin Eddie who shows up every Christmas uninvited, unwanted, and seen in general as an embarrassment to the rest of the family. To others, John is like opening a day on your Advent calendar and instead of finding a delicious piece of chocolate behind the little door, you get a punch in the gut. He’s different. It shows in his dress. While most religious leaders dressed in their finely tailored clothes from Dillard’s, John got his stuff off a rack at the outpost. While most ate a diet filled with rich foods and expensive meats, John ate locusts and wild honey. While most religious types lived in community among people, John lived like a hermit in the desert. Strange, eccentric, and odd are all terms that you could hang on John.

And after years in the desert, He heard the stirring, the prompting, the voice that called him out of the desert to prepare the way for Messiah. His message was simple: “Repent! The kingdom of God is here! Turn from your sins. Clean up your life. And get yourself ready for Messiah!” He baptized those who did as a sign of their repentance and God’s forgiveness. He made quite a stir. The common people loved him; the religious leaders didn’t know what to make of him. Was he a prophet or a crackpot? Anyway, they were his biggest obstacle and harshest critics. But he preached on, getting people ready for Jesus.

So I got to thinking—what would John have to say to the American church in this Advent season? And you’ll find below what I think his message might be. I’m casting it in the first person, as if John was doing the preaching. Fasten your seatbelt; it might not be easy to hear.


“REPENT!! Repent of your sins!! The kingdom of God is near. Take stock of your life. What sins are you harboring? What sins do you feel entitled to? Well you’re not entitled to a single one. Repent! Be relentlessly honest with yourself. Name your sins and repent! Do you gossip? Do you cheat? Do you lie? Are you filled with lust? Are you greedy and envious and covetous? Do you seek to do the will of God or do you do your own thing without thought of God’s will for your life? Do you share faith? Do you reach out to those in need? Are you prayerless? Are you self-righteous? Do you sit in judgment on others? Repent! Do you think God doesn’t notice your sins? Do you think God doesn’t care? He notices. He cares. That’s why He sent me. So repent! Turn from your sins and get ready for the coming of Christ.

And in this Advent season you need to repent of sins that are particular to this time of year and to the American church.

Repent of worshiping Christmas instead of Christ. Don’t love the season; love the Savior. To get caught up in the trappings of the season is a trap for your soul. Don’t you realize that most of the stuff that occupies your attention in this season is man-made not God-made. Repent of such nonsense and turn your attention to Christ. Christmas cannot save your soul; only Christ can save your soul. Worship Christ, not Christmas. Repent!

Repent of preparing your house but not your heart. Ask yourself a question: do I spend more time getting my house or my heart ready for the coming of Christ? Do I spend more time in stores or in the Word, more time wrapping gifts or worshiping the gift of Messiah Christ? Be honest with yourself—the well-being of your soul is at stake. Quit fussing about your house and start fussing about your heart. Reflect on what God has done for you in Christ. Give praise that the Word who was with God in the beginning and who is God became flesh to dwell among us and bring us salvation and life. Spend time thinking about that. And spend time thinking about the second coming of Christ. Are you ready for that coming? What if it were today? Would you be prepared? Would you be ready? To heck with your house and your tree and your shopping and all that jazz; prepare your heart for the coming of Christ. Repent!

And repent of giving your best gifts to others instead of Christ. You say, “We give gifts because the Magi gave gifts.” The Magi gave their gifts to Christ not to each other. Do you think it is consistent with the Spirit of Christ to go into debt giving presents to people who already have everything they need? Please!! This is the season in which you celebrate the truth that Christ left the riches of heaven and became poor on earth so that you could become rich in the things that matter. He didn’t come so that you could be rich in sweaters and shoes and jewelry and gadgets. He came to make you rich in the giving, serving life on earth and the eternal life He has prepared for His people in heaven. Quit being so foolish by giving a bunch of extra junk to people who have what they need. Give your best gifts to Christ—to missions, to the poor, to charities that serve those in real need. These are the gifts that matter. These are the gifts that make a difference. These are the gifts that carry Jesus’ name on the tag. Repent and give your best gifts to Christ.

Jesus is coming. And when He comes He will have a winnowing fork in His hands and He’ll do the great sorting out. If you know Him, if you have repented of your sins and followed Him, then you have no doubt produced fruit in keeping with repentance and have lived a Christ-filled, Christ-centered generous, gracious life. You He will gather you into the place that He has prepared for you in the Father’s house: a place of life and peace and fellowship and joy!

But if you do not know Him and if your repentance is only word-deep instead of heart-deep (and Jesus knows the difference), then He will scoop you up with His winnowing fork, pitch you into the fire like so much useless chaff. And nobody will ever extinguish that fire.

You say, “That’s not very pleasant talk here at Christmas and all.” No, it’s not. You’ll never see this message on one of your Christmas cards. It’s not sophisticated. It’s not nuanced to fit your tastes. It’s not polite conversation. You know what it is? It’s the truth. So repent! The kingdom of God is near. Jesus Messiah is on His way! And you better be ready for Him when He comes.


Ouch! But thanks anyway, John … I think.

1 comment:

  1. I often wonder what I would label one of God's prophets if I saw them today. I root for them when I read about them. But if they should up today I pretty sure I would think they were crazy and wouldn't pay them much attention. Good word John.