Skip to content
Dec 7 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

December 6, 2015 – Malachi 3:1-4; Luke 3:1-6

Second Sunday of Advent
Preparing for Christmas

“Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, He is coming,” says the LORD of hosts. “But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. He will sit as a smelter and purifier of silver, and He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, so that they may present to the LORD offerings in righteousness. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD as in the days of old and as in former years.” Malachi 3:1-4

Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip was tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was the tetrarch of Abilene, in the high priesthood of Anna and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John, the son of Zacharias, in the wilderness. And he came into all the district around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins; as it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet,
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness,
‘Make ready the way of the LORD,
Make His paths straight.
Every ravine will be filled,
And every mountain and hill will be brought low;
The crooked will become straight,
And the rough roads smooth;
And all flesh will see the salvation of God.’ ” Luke 3:1-6

Intro: I noticed a city crew working one night a few days before Thanksgiving

They were hanging Christmas decorations on street lights
– now this is one of those things some of us love to gripe about
• rushing the seasons
• not only merchandisers, advertisers and local city governments,
◦ there are those OCD types who have their Christmas shopping done by October
– maybe those who anticipate the next season have the right idea
• just the wrong reasons
• both of our biblical passages have to do with preparation for Advent
◦ they tell of a messenger appointed to deliver the Advent announcement
◦ as it turns out, John the Baptist is that person

Let’s explore a little deeper into John’s message (vv. 7-9)

John’s rhetoric has all the earthiness of a desert dweller
– vipers, fruit, stones, axe laid at root of trees (and in vv. 16-17, water, fire and wheat)
• all these are allusions to basic elements
– in Matthew’s gospel “brood of vipers” was aimed at Pharisees and Sadducees
• what a word picture!
◦ but was it a fair analogy? does it really describe the ultra-religious?
• yes, because fanatical, dogmatic religion can become venomous
◦ it can run too far in the wrong direction, become more serpent than Spirit
◦ a painfully clear example of its bloody violence occurred this last week in Redlands

John called people to prepare themselves for God’s next great work
– this entailed baptism, which symbolized purification
• for their part, they needed to repent (make a dramatic change or turn)
• for God’s part, he would forgive their sins
– sin is not simply a matter of breaking a rule (like one of the Ten Commandments)
• to misrepresent God, to twist the truth or misuse his gifts are forms of sin
◦ creativity used for evil defaces the image of God in a human person

C. S. Lewis referred to a type of sin that was “a distortion of an energy breathed into us–an energy which, if not thus distorted, would have blossomed into one of those holy acts . . . . We poison the wine as He decants it into us; murder a melody He would play with us as the instrument. We caricature the self-portrait He would paint. Hence all sin, whatever else it is, is sacrilege.”

• John’s work was to let people know they could start over
◦ that the past that haunted or enslaved them could be erased
◦ if they were ready to change, God was ready to forgive

A message like John’s invites self-examination

Notice how John had people asking, “What should we do?” (vv. 10-14)
– a huge piece of life is missing for many people
• apart from self-examination we do not catch the deficits that diminish who we are
◦ there’s lots of introspection with therapists and the self-help industry
◦ but not a lot of serious personal interrogation like Paul recommends:

Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you–unless indeed you fail the test. (2 Cor. 13:5)

• even a simple self-examination each evening could be spiritually beneficial

  • how did I use words today: for right or wrong, good or bad, help or harm?
  • did my actions today make the world better, worse or leave it the same?
  • where was my heart today? What is its devotion? Was it willful or surrendered?
  • where was my mind today? What occupied my thoughts?
    – did I try to understand others or was I quick to judge?
  • when all is said and done, am I a good person?

– ongoing self-exam eventually produces humility, surrender and gratitude
• apart from self-examination there is little personal change, growth, or healing

Self-examination, however, is a means and not an end
– the goal is not to live flawlessly
• rather, to prepare us for next opportunity God brings our way

Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work. 2 Ti. 2:21

In the words of Louis Pasteur, “In the field of observation, chance favors the prepared mind.”

– Malachi and Luke–and the Isaiah quotation in Luke–say the same thing
• as the angel told John’s father (regarding John’s destiny):

It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. (Lk. 1:17)

• John was not enlisting a road crew to fill potholes, he was changing lives
◦ he was not repairing a highway but preparing a people

So we are brought back to our theme: Preparing for Christmas

In scripture, preparation was a way of life
– every meal had to be prepared from scratch
• buildings and homes, worship and warfare all required preparation
– but most important from biblical perspective, was preparing one’s heart for God
• Israel failed God in the wilderness because they were

A generation that did not prepare its heart
And whose spirit was not faithful to God. (Ps. 78:8)

◦ which is why Samuel’s advised Israel to make this their first step back to God

If you return to the LORD with all your heart, remove the foreign gods . . . from among you and [prepare your hearts for] the LORD and serve Him alone . . . (1 Sam. 3:7)

• how are we going to prepare our hearts?
◦  of course, God comes to us at some point every day, not just Christmas

My first thought was inspired by something I read in Helmut Thielicke
– touring Asia he had opportunity to meet with a Buddhist Zen master in Japan
• Thielicke he was deeply impressed by him in spite of significant differences in their spiritual beliefs
• he wrote:

“By meditation I mean a deeply penetrating reflection which aims at far more than analyzing and understanding something. I mean the kind of reflection by which one opens oneself to the subject at hand and allows oneself to be changed.”
“. . . this man had something at his disposal which Christians, alas, largely lack–that silent immersion into oneself which we call mediation. [He] lived and breathed what he understood to be an authentic reality. Do we who call ourselves Christians and say that we are ‘in Christ’ do the same? Or do we not rather concern ourselves (especially we theologians) with intellectual mastery or sentimental relationship to the Lord?”

– this got me thinking; Paul used the term “in Christ” frequently and extensively
• for him, it was the central Christian experience
• but what does “in Christ” actually mean?
◦ if you want to know, reflect on those two words until the meaning comes to you
– I can hear some of my friends object:
“But I am not able to feel my way into understanding. That’s not how I learn”
• so I’ll ask you this: Are you able to ride a bike?
◦ if so, how did you learn to balance yourself on a bike? by thinking or feeling?
◦ how did you learn to walk? how do you know when you’re sitting up straight?
• we need the experience of being in Christ far more than the concept
◦ definitions are of no use here

John had a specific agenda for people who were ready to prepare their hearts
– he had something for the crowds, the tax-collectors and soldiers (vv. 10-14)
• and his instructions are surprisingly non-religious
◦ he did not tell them they needed to pray more, attend synagogue more often, etc.
• his advice was more personally and socially oriented
◦ and had to do with the stuff of everyday life
◦ practical things they could do and things they could stop doing
– we see that this preparation is not isolated to the inner life
• the heart and body are one
◦ we cannot easily escape it John’s type of preparation
◦ opportunities follow us home, to work, to the grocery store and coffee shop

Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. (Jas 1:27)

• this kind of preparation of heart and body prevents self-exam from becoming:
◦ a fixation, in which we get trapped in ongoing inner exploration
◦ a morbid preoccupation with one’s sin or sinfulness

Conc: Does our Advent preparation have to be drudgery?

Do we think John the Baptist (or God) is telling us, “No pain, no gain”?
– if that is how it seems to you, you’re doing something wrong
• is trimming the Christmas tree with family an unpleasant chore?
• are the bride and groom in misery while preparing themselves for the wedding?
– in verse 16, John described the difference between his ministry and the Lord’s
• his baptism in water was ritual and symbol
• but from Jesus, people would receive “the Holy Spirit”
◦ and if you know God’s Spirit at all, you know he produces joy (Ro. 14:17; Gal. 5:22)

And the disciples were continually filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit. (Acts 13:52)

One Comment

Leave a comment
  1. JoAnna Tupman / Dec 8 2015

    Beautiful, Chuck… Thank You! I might borrow some of this for FB! God’s love to you and to yours this holiday season AND always!

Leave a comment