Bear Fruit Worthy of Repentance
How’s your Christmas shopping going? How many of you are early Christmas shoppers? How many of you are last-minute shoppers?
Typical of last-minute Christmas shoppers, a mother was running furiously from store to store. Suddenly she became aware that the pudgy little hand of her three-year-old son was no longer clutched in hers. In a panic, she retraced her steps and found him standing with his little nose pressed flatly against a frosty window.
He was gazing at a manger scene. Hearing his mother’s near hysterical call, he turned and shouted with innocent glee: "look mommy! it’s Jesus - baby Jesus in the hay".
With obvious indifference to his joy and wonder, she impatiently jerked him away saying, "We don’t have time for that!" (From "The Wonder of Christmas” by Glenn Pease.)
No matter how busy you are, don’t forget the reason for the season. What’s more important is, not just for the season, but in your entire life, don’t forget what matters most. We frequently need to do some self-examination to make sure our way of life is aligned with our calling. Socrates said, “Unexamined life is not worth living.”
Advent is a time for self-examination as we prepare for the coming of Christ. Today’s scripture lesson talks about John the Baptist, the greatest man ever born of women according to Jesus. His job was to prepare people’s hearts for the coming of Christ. From this passage, we are reminded to conduct three important self-examinations frequently to live a fruitful life. The first one is that you must...
1 – Examine Your Message
1 – Examine Your Message
You are here on earth to deliver a message—a unique message that no one else can deliver. You are not here on earth just to fill the space for a hundred year, eating, drinking, and getting busy. Everyday, you must ask this question to yourself, “What is my message? And how is it being delivered?”
The Bible said, John was born to deliver a message and he did it effectively. It says, “This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, ‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”’” (Matthew 3:3).
The Bible says John’s wardrobe is very simple; he wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist; and his diet is even simpler; he ate locusts and wild honey. His lifestyle tell us that life doesn’t need much to survive, and he didn’t want what he wore and what he ate to become a distraction to his message.
Douglas W. Oldenburg, our former moderator, told us a story about a young man who had worked hard and struck it rich. He became very successful and wealthy but found himself working 70-80 hours a week.
He woke up one day and discovered that his hectic schedule was keeping him from doing so many of the things he valued most of all. He found that whenever he wasn't working at his job, he spent maintaining all the things he had, including two cars and two homes. He had always enjoyed visiting with friends, reading good books, listening to classical music, and serving the community but because of his work schedule and maintaining all his possessions, he wasn't able to spend much time on those things.
So he decided to undertake a rather radical experiment for a year: he decided to reduce the number of things he owned to 250 things—every pair of socks was one, every dish was one, every eating utensil, pair of pants, book, chair, and so on. Each time he bought something new, he had to give away something he owned, so the number would remain at 250.
After a year of that self-imposed discipline, he found that he had actually done all the things he valued and had not been able to do before. He had spent more time visited with friends, he had read more books, he had had more time listening to classical music, he had more time serving the community, and his life was much fuller and richer. And he decided to spend the rest of his life owning only 250 things.
John the Baptist might have owned less than 25 things. He simplified his life to deliver an impactful message. It makes us examine our own message. Are we impactful? What’s preventing us from being so? Someone says, “If Satan cannot make you bad, he will make you busy.” If you become possessed by your possessions, you become ineffective in delivering your message.
So, first, examine your message. What is your message? And how is it being delivered?
The second examination is that you must…
2 – Examine Your Thoughts
2 – Examine Your Thoughts
John said “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” The word “repent” in Greek literally means “to change your mind” or “to change the way you think,” just like Paul said in Romans 12:2a, “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.” (NLT)
The Hebrew word for repent “naham” means “regret and change.” However, the word “repent” in English normally conveys only “regret” and does not include “change.” The Chinese translation of this word “huigai” accurately convey both regret and change.
The point is repenting without changing our behavior is useless repentance. John said in verse 8, “Bear fruit worthy of repentance.” Ultimately our fruit will tell whether our repentance is real.
As John preached his message, he saw the religious leaders came to listen to him. He called them “brood of vipers.” It was a very strong word in those days because people commonly believed that vipers hatched inside their mothers’ wombs, then gnawed their way out to freedom, killing their mothers in the process; and parent murder was the most reprehensible of sins. [Source: Roger Van Harn, The Lectionary Commentary : Theological Exegesis for Sunday's Texts (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2001), 13.]
What’s interesting about John’s baptism is that the Jews came to receive his baptism. In those days, they only baptize the gentiles that came to join Judaism, to wash them and cleanse them from their past way of life. But John’s made it clear that our ancestor’s faith cannot be passed on to us. Being Abraham’s descent doesn’t mean that they are automatically saved. They must repent from their old way of thinking to the new godly way of thinking and change their behavior accordingly.
If our message is not impactful, it’s likely that our thoughts are scattered. So, we must constantly examine our thoughts so that we can repent and renew them. Ultimately, you must...
3 – Examine Your Fruit
3 – Examine Your Fruit
Don’t examine your faith, examine your fruit. Faith is futile without fruit. The message of every other church is “faith alone,” and they often quote Paul’s letters saying that we are saved by faith. However, they never quote Jesus. Jesus spent an entire chapter in John 15 talking about the importance of fruit, saying “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” (John 15:8).
Only those who cherry-pick the Bible verses teach you that faith is all you need. Over and over in the Bible, it talks about the importance of fruit. We are saved by God’s grace, yet grace is free but not cheap. Faith without fruit is the message of cheap grace. The epistles of Peter remind us repeatedly not to take grace for granted. God expects to see our fruit.
Jesus told many parables about vineyards, wheat, and fig trees that do not bear fruit and make God angry. Those who teach “faith alone” is teaching only half the truth.
Here, John the Baptist also demands fruit, saying, “Bear fruit worthy of repentance. … Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (v. 8, 10).
He said to the Pharisees and Sadducees that came for baptism that their baptism of repentance would not save them unless they bear fruit worthy of repentance. He didn’t say that Jesus will come to ask you whether you believe in him and have faith, but he will look at your fruit. Then he will separate the wheat from the chaff,
“His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” (v. 12).
So, in this second week of Advent, as we wait for the coming of the Lord, let us examine our message by asking, “What’s my message? And how effectively is it being delivered?” Let’s examine our thoughts so that we are not spreading thin. Most importantly, let us examine our fruit because Jesus said, “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” (John 15:8).
May God bless you all. Amen!