Faithlife Sermons

12.04.16 - A Word For The Wilderness

Sunday Morning  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  56:43
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Pastor Wells lifts up John’s message for wilderness life that guides our advent preparation. Repent, the kingdom is at hand!

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Four hundred years had passed since the voice of the Lord had been heard in Israel. Seemingly all of a sudden, the words have come to life straight out of the pages of Isaiah 40:3. What were those words?
Isaiah 40:3 NKJV
The voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the LORD; Make straight in the desert A highway for our God.
A stirring "rumor" had been heard throughout Israel about a new prophet that was being talked about. "Where can I hear him? Is he at the Palace?" "No." Is he at the Temple? "No." Is he speaking with the elders out at the city gate?" "No!" "Then where is he?" "You wouldn't believe it, they say that fool is out in the desert preaching. He is in the desert! He is in the wilderness preaching! How does he expect people to come out to the desert to hear a prophet preaching? Well, that's where he is. They say he has an unusual message for the people to hear." "What's he saying to them that would make them leave their places of residence to come out into the desert to hear a man that eats locusts and wild honey and dresses in a coat of camel's hair with a leather belt? I want to know!!!"
The person of John the Baptist is one of the most colorful in Bible literature and is much like the Biblical description of Elijah, whose attire was similar. However, regardless of how colorful John was, we must remember that he was a major prophet in the Word of God.
James Boice reminds us that John the Baptist had three separate sections to his message and it would help us today to consider all three of them. Note firstly,

A. John Issued A Warning

1. "The kingdom of heaven is near" Matthew 3:2

Matthew 3:2 NKJV
and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”
The expression "kingdom of heaven" occurs only in the gospel of Matthew. It can be found in Matthew thirty-two times. However, Mark uses the term; "kingdom of God" fourteen times and Luke uses the same term thirty-two times.Though I understand the implications of the difference between "The kingdom of God" and "The kingdom of Heaven," in this case both terms present the same issue. And that issue has to do with the reign and rule of God! Jesus was now incarnate here on planet earth and the kingdom was now at hand because Jesus Christ was being revealed to all of humankind. The long-awaited kingdom had come. God's promises through the prophets of old had come to pass and the kingdom was now at hand!
What then, was this "warning" that John had shared with all of those within earshot? First, we must understand that what sounds like a great proclamation to us was a clear warning to the people of that day. Why was it a warning? Well, Jesus not only makes His earthly entrance as Israel's Messiah and our Savior, He is also divinely employed as a judge! It is easily seen that the advent of our Savior was a period of judgement as well as a time of adulation.

2. Savior & Judge

John clearly warns that the coming of the kingdom would be a revelation of God's wrath against the ungodly! The "day of the Lord" had come and Isaiah tells us that the people that walked in darkness have now seen a great light! Isaiah 9:2
Isaiah 9:2 NKJV
The people who walked in darkness Have seen a great light; Those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, Upon them a light has shined.
However, that same light that was now provided for all the world to see, at the same time emphasized the darkness that many people had lived under and amplified the choices of those that refused to walk in the light.
Jesus is that light! However, He came not only as that light but is soon to come as a judge of those that are determined to still walk in darkness!
John told the Pharisees and the Sadducees that had come to the baptism rather than coming to be baptised, that the ax to cut down their tree was already in place. Matthew 3:10
Matthew 3:10 NKJV
And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
Though his first coming was not as a judge, the second coming will display Jesus as a judge to the entire world. Moreover, all humankind will be required to take sides either with or against Him.
Not only did John issue a warning, He came to give us a promise!

B. John Gave A Promise

1. "There is one coming after me..." Matthew 3:11

Matthew 3:11 NKJV
I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
in verse 11 John gives us a huge promise to "hang our hats on!" He let all the world in His day know– the long-awaited King is coming. In fact, He is here! It had been 400 years since a prophet of the Lord had been heard on earth. Now, John had come as a herald and proclaimer of the coming of Jesus. The world had waited and know the moment had come!

2. John's Humility

John is a Giant-sized figure because he is great. However, he operates with an attitude of humility, knowing that his calling was to herald the arrival of Jesus the Christ. In Matthew 11, Jesus said "of those that were born of a woman there had not risen one that was greater than John the Baptist." Yet, today as we hear him speak to us, with one leg in the old covenant and the other in the new, John proclaims to the world, "He must increase, and I must decrease."
He knows the limits of his own power, and gladly recognizes the infinite superiority of the coming One.

C. John Issued A Demand

"Repent!" Matthew 3:2

Matthew 3:2 NKJV
and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”
Those that heard the message of John were urged in no uncertain terms to repent of their sins.
This understanding of repentance is that it is more than just a turning. He is the process of changing our minds that brings about a change in behavior.

2. The Process of Repenting

a. Repentance is a requirement for fellowship with God
Isaiah 55:7 NKJV
Let the wicked forsake his way, And the unrighteous man his thoughts; Let him return to the LORD, And He will have mercy on him; And to our God, For He will abundantly pardon.
b. Repentance involves turning from sin
Psalm 55:17 NKJV
Evening and morning and at noon I will pray, and cry aloud, And He shall hear my voice.
c. Making appropriate restitution
Luke 19:8 NKJV
Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.”
Acts 11:21 NKJV
And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord.
d. Repentance involves turning to God
Acts 11:21 NKJV
And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord.
Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations 4977 Epigram on Repentance

• True repentance has a double aspect; it looks upon things past with a weeping eye, and upon the future with a watchful eye.

Commentary on the Gospel according to Matthew 1. The Forerunner Himself the Fulfilment of Prophecy, 3:1–3

John made a call upon those who heard him to make a radical and fundamental turn in their whole spiritual attitude. It was a spiritual revolution that he demanded.

This is the gift that God is looking for is each and every one of us! Not Christmas trees and tinsel and lights and decorations. But as we prepare for the Advent of Jesus, He is looking for us to repent of our sins!
1 John 1:8–9 NKJV
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
There is a story that comes from the American Revolution that helps us to understand the kind of radical change in thinking and action that John is endorsing here.
When Mr. John Callendar, who was a captain of the Massachusetts militia, saw the fury of battle and the men that were losing their lives around him he ran from the famous battle of Bunker Hill, when his men needed him most! After that battle took place George Washington became the Supreme Commander of the newly formed United States Army. One of his first duties was to order the court martial of Captain Callendar. Washington was overcome with "inexpressible concern" due to the fact that he now had to find an officer that was to be sentenced by a General Court Martial upon his first arrival in the army. He said that the charge of "Cowardice" was "a crime of all others, the most infamous in a soldier, the most injurious to an Army and the last to be forgiven." It was clear that Callendar's career as a captain in the Army was now ended. But his story was not ended. As soon as he had been sentenced, Callendar turned around and re-enlisted as a private in the Union Army. Later, in the Battle of Long Island, he exhibited such courage and exemplary fighting skill that Washington publicly revoked the sentence and reinstated him as a captain in the Army once again. This is true repentance in action. This man was sorry for his earlier cowardice, sorry enough to change his mind as well as his behavior. He proved that he was a different person for all the world to see!
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