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A New Message Declared

(Luke 3:1-18)

Lesson 4 -- first quarter 2009
December 28, 2008

by Mark Roth
© Copyright 2008

Introductory questions to chew

Do I need to make His paths straight?

Have you tried any substitutes for repentance recently?

How do you respond to a message "tailored" uniquely to you?

How's the wheat harvest coming?

What chaff have you tried saving from the fire?

The need for repentance.

What do you do when you know you have done wrong? This question doesn't have to do with those ambiguous feelings of possibly having erred. I refer here to those instances in which you have no doubt at all of your guilt. What do you do?

Let's make this practical by imagining a simple, real-life scenario: You generally drive five miles an hour over the speed limit when you're on the highway. What shall you do about this?

Justify your deed and excuse yourself?

"OK, so what I did was wrong. But you've got to understand that I was running late for an appointment, an important meeting or whatever. Besides, other drivers still kept zooming around me. But since this issue bugs you, chew on this one: a police officer at a speed check didn't stop me."

Do all these justifications and excuses change the basic fact that you broke the law? Of course not! So you are guilty and no amount of self-justification will change that.

Balance your guilt with sacrifice?

"Oh dear, there I did it again! Why do I exceed the speed limit so consistently, especially when I feel so terrible about it afterwards?! I know, whenever I see stuff on the road that presents a hazard to drivers, I'll stop and move it off to the side of the road. Besides, I often let the other drivers go first at four-way stops."

Do any or all of these good deeds somehow undo your infraction of the law? Nope. Your guilt weighs more than any sacrifice you could ever make.


"I keep doing this and nothing I do gets me around the law that plainly says I shouldn't. Sometimes I feel bad for driving too fast, but most of the time, it doesn't bother me because I'm good at explaining it away and because I've done it for so long. But that is beside the point, because I want to do what is right. Dear God, please forgive my sin and my calloused conscience. I purpose not to exceed the speed limit. Please help me. Amen."

The only way to find justification from your sin is through repentance and accepting the justification that Jesus offers. The only sacrifice that will remove guilt (not just balance it) is the death of the Lord Jesus.

Genuine repentance is the only way to deal with sin in our lives. All other efforts constitute further sin and only serve to compound our failure.

What are you doing at the river?

John the Baptist had some very harsh words for those who wished to play with the message which he had. This prophet made it unmistakably clear that those claiming repentance had to demonstrate irrefutable evidence to back up their claim. This messenger from God did not feel at all backward about insisting that repentance is extremely visible.

Let's take our lives as we live them now and go back to the time of today's lesson. Supposing you and I had gone to the river that day to be baptized by the first prophet of God in 400 years. Would he have done so? Or would have we also heard his inspired condemnation?

What fruits meet for repentance has your life produced? Those about you, particularly those who know you well, ought to be able to see a complete change of mind, direction, and purpose. "But look!" you might protest. "I am a nine-generation believer. When I became a Christian, nobody could tell a difference! What was there to change?!" I understand the frustration you may feel, but surely your on-going sanctification is producing some tangible changes. Let me tell you a bit about myself.

I used to "devour" Egyptian reading, know what I mean? (Egypt represents the world for us, hence something Egyptian is worldly and heathen.) I can immerse myself in fictional (and real-life) spy stories, war stories, mystery stories, suspense stories, and "romantic adventure" stories. I eventually bought off my conscience by scaling back to one such book a month, then one every few months, then two a year. But God in His mercy continued to work me toward full repentance. The fruit? I have vowed to avoid such books. I still miss the fun of this kind of reading; I still miss the challenge of trying to figure out the plot. But that's my flesh, and I know that in it dwells no good thing. Though my flesh is not tamed, I expect God to gradually help me replace my fleshly appetites with stronger passions of a godly sort.

Perhaps your problem isn't in the "literary" department. Well, maybe God is calling you to fruitful repentance in some other areas that have troubled me. What about games that shoot-'em-up or emphasize laying up treasures on earth? What about gluttonous eating at your favorite smorgasbord? What about your car, boat or motorcycle? What about your bedroom furniture, stereo equipment or sewing gear? What about your attitudes and reactions toward people who gyp you at the counter, cut you off in speech or traffic, laugh at your singing or stare at you at the mall? I realize that not all these things fall in the same general category, but they may well raise issues that require repentance. God wants each of us to face these issues squarely and without making provision for our flesh.

John spoke of himself as one who baptized with water, then referred to the Lord as One Who would baptize with the Spirit and with fire. How we need His Spirit to search our the hidden, most deceptive parts of our hearts! How we need His fire to thoroughly destroy the chaff in our lives! How we need His Spirit to empower us to live after His will! How we need His fire to consume the sacrifice of our lives, our wills and our passions!

Our God is a consuming fire (Deuteronomy 4:24; Hebrews 12:29). The Word of our God is as a fire (Jeremiah 23:29). God's Word also works in us as water, washing, sanctifying, cleansing (Ephesians 5:26).

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