The courage for fruit-bearing

The courage for fruit-bearing

Luke 3:8 “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.”

It takes courage to change and begin to do things not only differently but positively different, to make an impact and to influence.

It takes courage to bear fruit in ways you haven’t before.

To do good.

To speak well.

To be gracious.

In fact John will take the people into some behavioural practices that they can implement showing signs of such ‘fruit’.

It takes courage not to use people or your experience or heritage to make you better than you really are. Abraham was indeed the Father but they were not to hide behind him. It takes courage knowing no one or nothing can help you to avoid the fruitful repentant life.

It takes courage not to be another statistic of being given the chance to be all you can be but missing it. It takes courage not to allow other sons and daughters of God to be born to take your place that you will not occupy.

Pastor to the baptismal candidates: You brood of vipers!

Pastor to the baptismal candidates: You brood of vipers!

Luke 3:7 “John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?”

John’s name means ‘Yahweh is gracious’ so it is strange that the first thing we read of what comes out of his mouth is ‘You brood of vipers!’

Luke says he said this to the crowds. Matthew says he said it to the Pharisees and Sadducees. Jesus would repeat the term to the Pharisees later.

Why did he say that?

I talked with a friend yesterday who is attending a baptismal service.

Can you imagine today the Pastor calling the baptismal candidates forward with the announcement, “You brood of vipers!”?

John’s identity and his words seem so at odds.

Should the church follow suit and slander those outside the church?

Or did it have a meaning that we are unaware of?

Jesus told his disciples to be as wise as serpents. So it is all a bit confusing.

Jesus used the serpent as a powerful symbol of healing in John 3:14-16.

So here is the question: why did John call those coming to be baptised ‘brood of vipers’? Why did he slander them?

Maybe it wasn’t slander!

  1. John doesn’t call them vipers but children of vipers (the Pharisees/Sadducees – religion)
  2. The religious rejected John and would reject Jesus for they believed they didn’t need to repent and were warning the people against him. ‘Who warned you ..?’ (Who did you listen to?)
  3. Adult snakes do not take care of their baby snakes. The babies are born and then left. They don’t live as families.

So maybe John wasn’t being slanderous to the baptismal candidates.

To those coming to him with repentance and for forgiveness he says to them:

You need to depart from your history (Religious duty/oppression). Jesus would say later ‘Do not say we have Abraham as our ancestor’ (no one can call upon their previous generation to bring them into the kingdom whether Jew or Christian)

Who warned you to ignore my message? Come away from them!

Now that’s a good message.

Comfort, comfort my people

Comfort, comfort my people

Luke 3:6 “And all people will see God’s salvation.”

Luke has already given us the context with naming the leaders of the time, 5 Gentiles and 2 Jews who all were guilty of oppression and abuse of power in many ways.

Then we have seen that John’s ministry is in the wilderness and it is a call to return to God to be ceremonially baptised in water as an act of cleansing.

John doesn’t speak as a voice with no authority. He blends his message within their famous prophet, Isaiah. He knows the Messiah is about to come. He knows he is the forerunner preparing the way. In quoting and referring to Isaiah 40 he can see that he is fulfilling this prophecy.

The prophecy is beautiful and powerful.

“Comfort, comfort my people …”

What I can remember from my bible college days is this: 39 chapters of severe judgment on God’s people and other nations. The northern part has already been taken into exile and the south (which is modern day Israel) is also receiving equal judgment for straying from walking with God. So by the time you finish reading chapter 39 it is a pretty gloomy picture. Until chapter 40 begins! With the tone being so different some have said it was authored by someone different. How could a person carry polar-opposite messages? I always found it nonsense and still do today. I believe Isaiah wrote the whole thing.

Basically the message is this, ‘speak kindly to Israel, the judgment is over, her sin has been removed, the payment has been made. Basically for the next 27 chapters it is all about salvation. The message of the whole book is this: God who judges Israel and the nations will soon bring salvation.

This is the gospel.

We don’t dismiss the Jew, telling them that they have missed their way and that all that is left is judgment. We don’t point out the terrors of Hitler and the suffering of today as signs of that judgment. We bring comfort. “God has seen your suffering but He has come with salvation.”

Neither do we dismiss the Gentile focusing only on their sinful lifestyle. We talk of a Saviour who comes to comfort, who comes to rescue, to lift them up, to comfort them and to restore them.

Salvation must be seen and offered to all. There is no one too far removed, too broken or sinful to find salvation.

Less judgment more gospel.

Getting sorted to meet Jesus

Getting sorted to meet Jesus

Luke 3: 5 “Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low.
The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth.”

 

John uses Isaiah in preparation for the coming of Jesus with imagery all too familiar at that time, making the way for the king. It still happens today when escorting officials and royalty. A fleet of cars would go ahead and clear the road so that the important car can come through.

John calls people back to the wilderness, the place all too familiar in Israel’s story where they met with God and He provided and protected them. The message is symbolic:

The poor are to be lifted.

The proud brought down.

The dishonest changed.

The harsh becoming mild.

The Church needs to hear this loud and clear.

Let’s make it easier for people to meet Jesus not harder.

There are those who think they would not be welcome in Church because of their life and what has happened. They need to be given a hand and lifted up from that lowly place of unacceptance.

There are those who think themselves too lofty and full of their own success and righteous achievement. They need to be given a hand to bring them down into humility.

There are those whose lives are a web of brokenness, twisted stories and complexities. They need a hand to counsel, to hold accountable and to help them live simpler, uncomplicated lives.

There are those that are rude and harsh in their comments. They need a hand to smooth out their hurt or disappointments that cause such obstacles.

Everyone accepted and everyone helped to get ready to meet Jesus.

The punctuation of the wilderness

The punctuation of the wilderness

Luke 3: 4 “As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet: “A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.”

Luke is quoting from Isaiah 40:3 “A voice cries out: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”

Can you see a difference?

The punctuation makes all the difference doesn’t it?

In Luke the focus is of John who is Isaiah’s lone voice in the wilderness with a message to prepare the way.

In Isaiah where John quotes from there is a voice instructing us that in the wilderness we need to prepare the way.

The punctuation marks have most probably been added centuries later and at times though they don’t change the text they can change its focus.

I don’t think the point is that John is a voice in the wilderness calling those outside the wilderness to repent.

The point is that John was quoting Isaiah in telling people to prepare a way in the wilderness for the Lord to come.

In a dramatic turnaround for the Israelites who had journeyed through the wilderness to the Jordan River and into the Promised Land he now calls for them to return to the wilderness at the Jordan. Generations later they were celebrating in many rituals the wilderness years and yet John sees they need to return to once again engage with God.

It is difficult for us Christians to appreciate the enormous impact the wilderness plays in a Jewish mind. The Christian runs from it for it is an enemy. For the Jew it was where God fed the people with miraculous food, where He gave them the instructions for living, where their culture was refined, He led them day and night with a cloud and a pillar of fire, He defended them from their enemies, He supplied water from the Rock, it was here where they truly experienced His Presence, in the wilderness.

They didn’t come out of the wilderness because they sinned and died there. Now John is calling them to return through Isaiah’s eyes because the Lord is going to appear again. This time they must repent and be forgiven of their sins and live.

It is in the wilderness where we discover His Presence, His Protection and His Provision.

If you describe your situation or your soul as a wilderness today then clear out the rubbish, make way, get ready for the Lord will come. He never leaves His children alone in the wilderness for them who want Him.

The Mikveh

The Mikveh

Luke 3:3 “He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”

 

 

Israel’s freedom came because they left Egypt, crossed the Red Sea, died in the wilderness, crossed the Jordan and entered the Promised Land.

They are now in slavery again and this was John’s re-enactment, a new Exodus, not a fleeing to a Promised Land but a return to God.

The Mikveh was common to the people and is still practiced by Jews today. The ritual baths outside the temples helped worshippers rid themselves of the inner dirt that they had become contaminated by prior to them worshipping Jehovah. It symbolised confession of sin with a hope of forgiveness. It also indicated that the person was walking from the old into the new. It was a common and regular practice. There was nothing unusual.

Except that is until John comes along.

Granted the river Jordan would be seen as an unusual Mikveh, but where is the temple? This was not for John about worship

John had brought the people back to the Jordan where they had gone through to their Promised Land to show them that they were still after all these years in need not of the Mosaic Law with all of its 613 commandments which they couldn’t keep, but in need of a Redeemer! They were still needing a Moses figure.

The Law cannot do it. The Redeemer can.

Stop trying to satisfy and fulfil and do in order to be acceptable rather come away from the old life, from your Egypt, through the Mikveh.

The importance of the wilderness

The importance of the wilderness

Luke 3: 2 “…the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.”

John had positioned himself in the wilderness ready for God.

There is no better place than the wilderness.

The wilderness is a special place for us in the Bible because it teaches us many lessons from the story of the Israelites.

The wilderness years were not wandering years. Nearly 1 year was spent at Mount Sinai where Moses was up and down the mountain getting revelation and instruction for the building of the tabernacle. They then at the foot of Sinai built the tabernacle and then moved on. But for 38 years they were in Kadesh Barnea because spies had brought a bad report, they never moved on and a generation died. Their total travelling time took less than 2 years arriving at the Promised Land with a fresh generation of leaders. It was the wilderness where they died except for 2 men, Joshua and Caleb.

 

The goal of the Exodus was to take Egypt out of the Israelites. The people at the Exodus are a fearful and frightened people. By the time they get to the Jordan they are ready to fight as an army. It was the wilderness that changed them.

 

‘Wilderness’ in Hebrew is ‘Midbar’ and it means ‘word’. Where did the Torah (first 5 OT books) come from? It wasn’t from Egypt nor the Promised Land. Where did they encounter God? It was the wilderness where revelation was given and they experienced God.

 

We need the wilderness years.

The place where we die in order to live.

The place where we are changed.

The place where we hear from God and encounter Him.

He will be here soon!

He will be here soon!

Luke 3: 1-2

“In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene— during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas …”

Luke mentions a group of leaders and he does so to show that the world at that time was run by evil men. And we are later shown that this is to be expected because Luke believes very much that they were appointed by the devil. In the temptation of Jesus Luke records how the devil has been given all the kingdoms of the world and he can appoint and remove as he wants, so he thinks.

So let’s look at these men

Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus, simply called Tiberius, was the Roman emperor during the life of Jesus.  A Roman author of the first century called Pliny the Elder wrote of Tiberius “the gloomiest of men” He certainly was the most evil of men.

Bi-sexual, paedophile, a dark horrible man.

According to Josephus, he “made death the penalty for the slightest offenses” and people would be killed for even speaking ill of him.

He was considered borderline mad.

The term “old goat” meaning a lecherous old man preying on younger people was coined because of his sexual deviances.

Yet bizarrely, he was worshipped as a god, honoured by having the Sea of Galilee renamed after him and also Herod Antipas built a city in honour of him (John 6).

 

Pontius Pilate, governor of Judea and of nervous disposition in the north which wasn’t completely under Roman control, not like the south. The Jews hated him for his disgraceful behaviour towards their Temple. He brought in the Roman standards into their Holy City; put golden shields of names and images of Roman deities in the Temple and according to Luke in 13 he killed men in their Temple worship and mixed their blood with that of their animal sacrifice.

 

Herod the tetrarch of Galilee is the son of Herod the Great. Luke portrays Herod as a complete evil man. He arrests and beheads John and he seeks to kill Jesus, mocking him, dressing him up as a royal in one big humiliation of Jesus.

 

Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis has a ¼ of the Roman Empire to rule. He built Paneas, which became Ceasarea Philippi in honour of himself, this was a pagan shrine with every god and goddess you could imagine where the infamous rock of ages stood and where Jesus announced he would build his church (on that rock).

Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene ruled this tiny stretch of land.  It was a small but busy area without any defensive borders which had been competed over for many years.

Anna and Caiaphas both high priests. Anna was the father in law of Caiaphas. All his sons became high priests. It was a dynasty and a mafia. Caiaphas was responsible for the persecution of Christians.

So Luke begins:

At a time when

  • Evil was being honoured
  • The setting up idols and names to match the name of God.
  • The attempts to humiliate Jesus.
  • The worship of every false god imaginable.
  • There are battles over territory.
  • Religion was persecuting followers of Jesus.

 

It was tense and it was ruthless.

Their world was on a precipice.

It couldn’t go on any longer.

Something had to happen.

Someone had to come and sort it out.

The world was set for God to move.

Little did they realise at that time He had already come and positioned people where He wanted them. The preparation was nearly over.

He would soon burst onto centre stage.

He would be here soon.

It could be 2019.

Grow up!

Grow up!

Luke 2: 52 And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.

 

“So apart from Jesus, what kind of Pastor would you like?” That was my question to a Church leadership team this week.

We all want Jesus, because He is perfect in every way.

We all want the finished article and we want it now.

If you plant a Chinese bamboo seed, it will sit in the ground for five years and appear to not be making any changes. Then, over a six-week period, it will grow 90 feet.

There is a giant Himalayan lily which spends most of its life looking like nothing at all but then after 5-7 years it grows to 9-10 feet tall and produces the most amazing delicately shaped flowers.

The national tree of Sri Lanka is the talipot, it is a palm tree that grows to a height of 82 feet. It only flowers once but it happens some time when it is between 30 – 80 years old.

However, when it comes to human achievement and maybe even our own process of maturing, we are the most impatient.

Yet no human, not even Jesus moves from baby to man without the need to grow. This is done before God and man.

Within that growth comes many challenges and pains attached to the process. These are necessary for development.

The truth is one day you will stand before Him the finished article. Until then you are in the growing phase, being perfected for eternity.

Today is another day to grow. Embrace it

 

Maybe we should just do some more thinking

Maybe we should just do some more thinking

Luke 2: 50-51 But they did not understand what he was saying to them. 51 Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart.

There are seasons and times for everything.

Today may not be the day of understanding. Joseph and Mary had not understood why Jesus had said he had to be in his Father’s house when they had been anxiously searching for him.

(It is difficult for us to understand why they didn’t understand!).

Luke tells us that they didn’t argue with Jesus, “What do you mean? What are you saying?”

They didn’t interpret what Jesus had said for themselves, “I think Jesus meant this …”

Neither did they choose to sweep it all under the carpet, “Let’s forget it!”

But at that time, Mary did what was the most important thing, she continually kept on thinking about it and other things that Jesus and others had said.

Perhaps there is a lesson here.

When God speaks to us in whatever way He chooses either as individuals or as a church then maybe we shouldn’t jump in immediately with our understanding, application and interpretation responses. Maybe we should consider a little pondering? Maybe we should treasure them, continually thinking them over, holding them dear, deep in our heart.

The day of the message is not necessarily the day of the revelation.

Perhaps we should get some more mystery back into our lives?

I think the message from God can influence and change our life if we receive it into our hearts for meditation like Mary did.