It’s Christmas!!

It’s Christmas Time!?
December 17, 2017
Luke 3:7-16

Christmas is all about expectation and preparation! It seems to go back and forth between the two. We are expectant, but we must prepare to receive. We plan and prepare to meet and celebrate the arrival of the King of kings and Lord of lords. Even as we are expectant, so were the people prior to Jesus’ arrival.

The Jewish people lived with the same kind of expectation about “Christmas.” They lived with the hope of the coming of the Messiah. For centuries the coming of God’s Chosen One had been proclaimed by the prophets, and all of Israel waited in expectation for His arrival, for the day when He would usher in a new kingdom of peace, prosperity, dominion and justice for all Israel.

Because of this, every time a preacher, a prophet or a military leader became popular, people would want ask: Are you the Messiah?

The people asked John the Baptist if he was the Messiah. John replied, “Nope, but He’s coming.”

He told the people when the Messiah comes, He will change your heart, your soul, your being. He will fill your spirit with the presence of God and will fill your life with purpose.

John preached a message of expectation and preparation. He preached that it’s time to get ready for the arrival of the Messiah.

John also preached repentance. He told his listeners they needed to turn from their sins and be baptized.

Today, two thousand years later, we recognize baptism is an integral part of the Christian tradition. After we embrace Jesus as our Lord and Savior we become baptized. It’s part of our stating to the church and the world, who we are in Christ.

The first century Jews saw it differently. Baptism had 2 meanings for the Jews. Firstly it was a ritual cleansing. You did it often. It had the sense that you were now clean before God. It was also a ritual for the gentile converting to Judaism. Gentiles were considered to be totally unclean because they never followed Jewish law. In order to be thoroughly cleansed, they needed to be baptized. This baptism represented the washing away of their sinful gentile nature, making them a new person, cleansed in the Jewish faith.

The Jews also believed they didn’t enter the world bearing the same sinfulness the gentiles did; they believed they had a favored-nation status with God.

So John the Baptist comes on the scene and he’s telling the people something radical. Simply being Jewish isn’t enough. You must turn from your sins and live the right kind of life. To demonstrate this repentance, he challenged his listeners to follow the ritual of baptism, because baptism symbolized the end of the old life and the start of a new life.

So what does this have to do with Christmas?

John the Baptist preached a message telling the people to prepare and expect the coming of Jesus, the Messiah.

Last week we saw how John proclaimed, “Prepare the way for the Lord.” He was saying, “Make room in your life for Him. Beat a path to God’s throne room. Straighten out those crooked roads and smooth out the bumpy places. Help those whom you have the ability to help. Be God’s light to the world, showing His love and grace and power.”

I believe there are so many people who proclaim Christ as Lord and Savior, yet, who are in desperate need of experiencing the power and passion of Christ in their lives. Life often seems meaningless, and maybe your soul feels empty and cold … and you need that experience that John the Baptist is talking about.

The deep meaning behind John’s message was for the people to be open to Jesus, so could fill them with His Spirit, passion, purpose, joy; abundant and everlasting life.

We are looking at Luke 3:7-16, listen to the words of John ~
7 He said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him,

“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?

8 Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin 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.

9 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

10 And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?”

11 And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.”

12 Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?”

13 And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.”

14 Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them,

“Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.”

15 As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ,

16 John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water,

but He who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.

He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

17 His winnowing fork is in His hand, to clear His threshing floor and to gather the wheat into His barn,

but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire.”

18 So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people. – Luke 3:7-16

John’s words to the people are phenomenally radical. Firstly, he’s telling the people just because you have Abraham as your father, don’t think you’ve got it made. God could raise stones to replace you as His children. Because they were Jewish and God’s chosen people, they thought they didn’t have to do anything more.

Sometimes as Christ followers, we believe we are in the door, we believe, so we have heaven. So we don’t think we have to do anything else, as well. But that’s not true. We’re called to live lives which honor and glorify God. Lives which seek to serve God, not to rest on our salvation. This helps to brings us purpose.

John’s message is radical! It’s radical because he focused on possessions and money. When the people asked what they should do, he never said go to the temple an extra day, or Sunday School, or Bible study. Those are all great, but he focused on what grabs our hearts. John told them to practice generosity.

10 And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?”

11 And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.”

Isn’t that amazing? BE GENEROUS! He’s not asking anybody to do without, he’s asking us to share from our abundance with those who have little.

Some might say, “I don’t have much to give.” Mother Teresa once said, “If you can’t feed a hundred people, just feed one.” Do what you can.

To some extent, most people are generous. I don’t know anyone who refuses to ever do anything for anyone at anytime. You’re already a generous person, and today I’m challenging you to look for ways you can increase your generosity.

If you give a certain amount of money to charitable organizations, consider increasing the amount — even just a little bit.

If you volunteer your time to serve others, consider increasing it — look for ways to increase it next year.

Where ever you give, look for ways to be more generous.

Ask yourself: Can I be more generous than I already am? Can I help more people than I already help? How can I stretch myself to do more than I already do? Can you even be more creative with your giving? At the same time . . . I am not asking you to exhaust yourself in the name of Jesus, that would not be healthy.

Did you know that for a measly 80-100 billion dollars, we – – – the church – – – could virtually eliminate world poverty? Everyone could have clean water and sanitation, basic medical care, basic job training. It’s only 80-100 billion dollars.

It sounds like a lot of money, but the fact is – – if American churches would increase their giving to a tithe — to 10% — there would be an increase of more than 90 billion dollars in donations. The average church members give between 2-3% of their income to the church. This year FBC will receive about $ . Imagine if we tripled that number and received over $1 million. Imagine what could happen in our community.

The church has the economic power to wipe out poverty. I’m not saying this to make you feel guilty, but I’m challenging us to increasing our generosity. [This illustration was taken from the emptytomb.org]

Here’s the amazing thing. God said…
10 Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of Hosts,

if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. – Malachi 3:10

God is saying practice generosity. Try to out-give me. Just try and see what will happen. God says I will bless you like you’ve never been blessed before. It doesn’t mean if you give extra money, more money will magically appear in your bank account. It may not be a financial blessing, but a spiritual blessing.

So, practice generosity. Along with that, is the call by John to practice being a person of integrity.

12 Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?”

13 And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.”

14 Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them,

“Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.”

He didn’t say stop doing your jobs. He said, “Do your job with integrity. Do the job you’re paid to do. Don’t take advantage of people. Don’t exploit people.”

Francis Bacon said, “It’s not what we profess but what we practice that gives us integrity.” Integrity is defined by what you do, much more than what you believe. Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is looking.

Wherever you go, whatever you do, whether at home, school, work, at the store, at church . . . wherever you are – – you always have the opportunity to practice integrity. Whether people would say you have a lot or a little integrity, can you seek to grow a little more, which increases your statement to the world that you are a follower of Jesus Christ.

Living with integrity is an act of preparation. It’s an act of getting yourself ready for the blessing of God in your life. In the last week before Christmas and the move into the new year, can you look for ways to practice integrity in all you do. Make that a key word in 2018.

I love the way John spoke to the people and the way Luke reports it.

He started this section, not with a funny intro – – but coming head on . . .

7 He said “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?

8 Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin 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.

9 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

How’s that for the start of the message of the day?! Just a little direct and harsh. John was trying to shake up a very complacent crowd. Remember, many in the crowd thought, “Because I was born a Jew, I’m better than all the others. I have the favor of God.”

There were also those who liked the messages but never put into practice what they heard.

This even exists today. We have people who are holding onto their parents or grandparents faith. They’ve never made faith / belief in Jesus their own. They still really don’t know who Jesus is, so it’s tough to make it through the difficult times when your faith isn’t your own. To practice generosity and integrity, and to be consistent with your faith is not easy when Jesus is a distant reality.

There are also people who hear, but are not listening to the call of God in their lives. Because they miss the message, they miss the deep hope and purpose God has for them. Sometimes, it’s assumed someone else needs that message. We struggle with facing the reality that we need to do some changing as well in our lives.

So John the Baptist was saying to the crowd, “Quit playing religious games and get serious about living a life devoted to God.” This is why he said ~

8 Bear fruits in keeping with repentance.

He’s saying – The way you prepare for the coming of the Messiah is to practice being the same, day after day after day . . . in public and private. If you’re serious about turning your life over to God, then be serious every day. Be consistent! Practice it.

If you’re waiting for God to do something in your life, if you’re living in a season of expectation, you need to prepare yourself for God’s blessing by practicing consistency, day after day, hour by hour.

If you’re serious about wanting to experience the power of God in your life, be consistent about beating a path to God’s throne room. Straighten and smooth out those roads, for yourself and others. Practice generosity, be a person of integrity, be consistent in who you are in Christ. Don’t be a fence sitter on bad days, and be all in on good days.

Confess your sinfulness, but more than confessing, John says turn away from your sins, rebuke the power of evil. James tells us ~
7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

8 Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. – James 4:7-8

Submit yourself to God, draw closer and closer, beat down that path to God and resist the devil, not on your power, but on the power of Christ. And when we do – the devil will flee from you, because you have the power of the Holy Spirit.

That means you don’t live by your emotions, you live by your commitments. When you hear a word from God, you follow it. When the Spirit convicts you of sin, you turn from it. When you have an opportunity to do good, you take it. Day after day, live with a radical consistency in your walk with Christ.

This is why –
16 John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water,

but He who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.

He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. – Luke 3:16

When we truly embrace Christ. When we’ve submitted our lives to Him, we are not only baptized in water, but the power of the Holy Spirit comes upon us. We have the opportunity to become people who seek to constantly draw closer and closer to God so that we can become the very person God wants us to become.

It’s a gift and a blessing for us. It’s not always easy work. It takes time and energy and submission to God. But when we do . . . oh, the beauty and the power and the glory and the majesty and the strength that is available to us to live in the midst of this crazy world. It’s all there. . . but we need to say yes to Jesus with our heart, spirit, mind and with our whole being and the kingdom is ours.

This is a season of expectation and preparation. Christmas reminds us that God comes to us, God entered into our world. John the Baptist’s message was: He’s here, He’s among us, prepare and expect to meet Him.

Jesus wants to enter your existence and baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. He wants to fill you with life and passion and purpose.

Just as Jesus came into the world over 2,000 years ago, He wants to enter your world today. He’s ready . . . are you? Let this be a time in which you prepare your heart to receive the promises of God.

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